The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 Episode 6 Review: First Blood

A tense episode about power relations is capped off by a dramatic ending. Spoilers ahead in our review…

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

This review contains spoilers.

The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2, Episode 6

So that’s why Mayday went quiet. After Offred’s escape attempt was thwarted, the underground resistance network appeared to have powered down. Now we know why. Mayday wasn’t  planning to help Handmaids; it was planning to kill Commanders. 

Job done, by the looks of things. Bar Oflgen, who detonated the blast, the Handmaids made it away from the new Rachel and Leah Centre alive, but that was surely the end of Fred Waterford and pals. 

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It’s a sound strategy; Gilead’s power is in the hands of the few. Take out those few, and who will fill the vacuum? It’s not as though the women who helped to bring about the regime change can take control. They shrink at the sight of a pencil. 

The explosion and its raucous punk-pop epilogue was an audacious ending to a quietly tense episode about the shifting weight of power in the various relationships inside the Waterford home. Serena and June, Eden and Nick, the Commander and Offred…  First Bloodshowed how carefully each pairing had to navigate their relationship with the monster of Gilead breathing down their necks. 

For a moment, against every instinct, it seemed possible for Serena and June to reach a kind of sororal affinity. The restraints holding each in place were stretched and stretched as a little more freedom, and a little more intimacy was allowed, until June over-stretched and both women pinged right back to their original positions: mistress and servant; married woman of faith, and slut. 

As long as June is pregnant though, she has power. “Milk it while you can,” Rita told her, both of them knowing that as soon as the baby is born, June will be newly vulnerable to Gilead’s cruelty.

That cruelty might have just been its undoing. Before her tongue was removed as punishment for the stoning rebellion, Ofglen was a Gilead fan. Before it, she’d been a homeless addict forced into sex work. As a handmaid, she had stable food and shelter to sweeten the pill of her sexual exploitation. To her, Gilead felt like a step up. Aunt Lydia’s punishments though, were so unusually brutal that Ofglen turned. And just like Emily before her, she acted.

Hubris was Gilead’s other mistake. Parading the Handmaids—women the Sons of Jacob had imprisoned, tortured, mutilated and raped—around the sparkling new Red Centre (about which Aunt Lydia had exclaimed delight at the prospect of the increased number of girls they would now be able to ‘process’) to show them off to the other district Commanders, was pride that may have led to Gilead’s fall. Trusting that the Handmaids had been duly subjugated, Gilead was overconfident about its power to win over hearts and minds. 

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It should have stuck with the kids. Fifteen-year-old Eden is clearly a devotee. She hasn’t merely drunk Gilead’s Kool-Aid but bathed in the stuff. That unshaken belief gave Eden unexpected power in this episode. Unable to see Nick’s refusal to complete his conjugal duties as an indication that he’s not one with Gilead’s policies, Eden assumed he must either hate her or be a gender traitor, an accusation that could end with him on the Wall. 

Faced with that threat, and urged by June (“Oh, you have to fuck somebody you don’t want to? Poor thing”), Nick went through with it, giving us another entry to add to The Handmaid’s Tale’s list of ‘most toe-curlingly awful sex scenes’. Those bedsheets with a hole in them are no Gilead invention. I once saw one on display in a French museum embroidered with the words “Dieu le veut” or “God wills it”. 

So little of The Handmaid’s Taleis invention, of course. Serena’s flashbacks to her controversial campus book tour could have happened this year. You can imagine the Twitter spats, the no-platforming argument, the ratings-grab TV bookings… it’s all so plausible. 

The look on Serena’s face when she belatedly realised that Ofglen couldn’t chat merrily at the Handmaids’ lunch because her tongue had been cut out shows that Mrs Waterford may not be able to reconcile with every aspect of Gilead when she comes face to face with it, but that hasn’t stopped her being a pillar of the regime. Like Fred, whose mob-style scene in the woods showed him as the two-eyes-for-an-eye zealot he is, Serena’s knitting needle scene revealed her petty cruelty, anger and absolute certainty in her right to her status. Like all fundamentalists, they both believe they’re on the side of right.

What change will the explosion have on that belief, with the power shifting suddenly from Gilead to the resistance, remains to be seen. 

Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, Seeds, here.

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