Excuse my pun, but there is a bomb in Gilead – and nothing will be the same again. At the end of last week’s episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, Ofglen (Tattiawna Jones) ferociously stormed the crowd of Commanders and foreign dignitaries at the Rachel and Leah Center and threw a grenade. The attack kills 26 Commanders and 31 handmaids. The handmaids are honoured in an elaborate funeral ceremony — like everything in Gilead, even funerals operate according to a scarily preordained order. What undersecretary wrote Gilead’s dogma?
Let’s focus on what happens with the death of 26 Commanders, including Commander Andrew Pryce (Robert Curtis Brown), the grey-haired head honcho — because that leaves a huge power vacuum. Ofglen's plan worked: Gilead is officially destabilised. For the first time, the Commanders' voices are chipped of some of their arrogance. Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) is alive, but badly charred and confined to a hospital bed. Since he’s incapacitated, Commander Pryce’s duties will be split between Commander Putnam (Stephen Kunken, aka Ari Spyros of Billions) and Commander Cushing (Greg Byrk), whose burn scars give his chiseled cheekbones the perfect villain look.
And a villain Commander Cushing certainly is. Now that he’s head of security, Gilead is under an even more violent, crushing arm (remember: "under his eye" really means under the commander’s eye). On her way home from the handmaids’ mass funeral, June (Elisabeth Moss) witnesses entire households hanged from their windows and trees. Cushing is ruthlessly hunting out Mayday and the organisers behind Ofglen’s attack, assuming she was working with others. His guards kill a Martha for no apparent reason while June watches from the window.
Unfortunately for June, Commander Cushing zeroes in on the Waterford household. He pays a visit to Junebug, wanting to know exactly where she went during her prolonged absence — and who helped her run away. Truthfully, I had been surprised, earlier this season, by how easily everyone accepted the Waterfords’ “Our handmaid was abducted!” lie.
Cushing’s suspicions pose an enormous threat to everyone in the Waterford household. Should he believe even one person is a Mayday collaborator, everyone in the Waterford household will be murdered. We have proof of his ruthlessness: Cushing ordered the execution of the members of Ofglen’s house, including the Commander. Not even Nick (Max Minghella), for all his promises and kisses to June, can protect June from Cushing’s determination.
But you know who can protect June? Surprisingly enough, Serena Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski) might actually work with June, not against her. After the attack, Serena spends every hour in the new regime of Gilead with her husband. Serena hopes he gets better to prevent Cushing’s reign of terror. She knew Cushing from their pre-Gilead days (I love that the Waterfords vacationed with the Cushings in Antigua; I love the idea of them talking revolution at an all-you-can-eat buffet. What hypocrites). Apparently, he has always been a turd.
Once Serena finds out that Cushing is after June (and potentially after all of them), she abandons the confines of her wifely role and gets into action. She becomes the Serena we saw in the college campus flashback last episode. She’s a capable Serena. A Serena who works independently of her husband. This episode, Serena becomes the voice for her incapacitated husband — and gives orders pretending to be him. With Nick’s help, she obtains the documentation necessary to accuse Cushing of terrorism. Serena and her new co-conspirators, June and Nick, watch on as Cushing is carried away in the Eyes’ black car. That’s one villain vanquished.
Serena and June’s relationship has taken a fascinating turn. After working together to get themselves out of a hairy situation, the women have officially abandoned the confines of their adversarial roles as Wife and handmaid. Now, they’re coworkers. Serena asks June to help her edit the drafts of laws she’s written as Fred. Men! Who needs ‘em?
June gains an ally (of sorts) in Serena. She’s also recovered two of her best friends. Due to the handmaid shortage, Janine (Madeline Brewer) and Emily (Alexis Bledel) are pulled from the Colonies and stationed back in Cambridge as handmaids. (Sidenote: I wonder if the radiation has rendered them infertile anyway). June reunites with them in the grocery store; it’s like seeing a ghost. Emily’s so not herself. How can she ever be again?
The bomb has definitely changed the way handmaids interact with one another. It’s like the elephant in the room has been vanquished. Even though Gilead’s watchful eye is more punitive than ever (and handmaids were killed), the handmaids know that someone is working for them. They know there’s a resistance. When the handmaids exchange names — their real names — in the grocery store, they do in the spirit of knowing Gilead does not define them. That Gilead didn’t always exist, and might not always exist.
News of the chink in Gilead’s armor also reaches the “Little America” settlement in Canada. The Canadian officials read the names of all the bomb victims, like Lillie Fuller — who we know better as Ofglen. This is the second time pre-Gilead names are exchanged this episode. Both instances are reminders of these women’s inherent humanity; that they are more than the “Ofroberts” and “Offreds” who hold places of utility in Gilead.
Unfortunately, even if Gilead is toppling, it’s already caused a tremendous amount of damage for people. In a tremendous revelation, we learn all that had been taken away from Moira (Samira Wiley). In exchange for $25,000, Moira was a surrogate for a British couple. June coached her through the entire pregnancy. Their friendship is so real! So genuine! During prenatal yoga, Moira was jealous of all the other couples and “perfect marriages” around her. She lashes out at June; June diffuses the situation with the confident ease of a real best friend. This, right here, is a simple example of what Gilead is so afraid of: Women banding together. We see instances of friendship throughout the episode – from June and Emily to, perhaps, June and Serena.
June is also there when Moira meets Odette (Rebecca Rittenhouse), the love of Moira’s life, for the first time. Odette is her OBGYN. After Moira gives the baby away, she runs into Odette at an outdoor Christmas market (it is something out of Love Actually). Eventually, Moira and Odette would get engaged.
Moira and Odette are another couple whose future was squashed by Gilead. During this episode, Moira gets access to Little America’s vast catalogue of unidentified victims of Gilead; binders full of dead people found on the border. After hours searching, she finds Odette, dead. Moira will never know what happened to Odette, and we probably won’t, either. Moira may have “survived” Gilead, but did she? Will anyone?