The Handmaid’s Tale: Episode Eight

The episode, the second to be directed by star Elisabeth Moss this season, opens to June standing in front of the bathroom mirror with scissors in her hand. She begins to cut her long blonde hair into a bob just above her shoulders. With the new haircut, she goes to a Gilead support group at a library, led by Moira. Emily is also in attendance, as well as others that had escaped Gilead. June will be testifying tomorrow and they are talking about it, saying that she must be so nervous, worried, and scared. But June is neither of those things. In fact, she “can’t fucking wait.”

After the meeting, Moira and June are talking, when they hear a commotion. Emily is walking away from a woman who is trying to talk to her, but Emily doesn’t want anything to do with her and looks very frazzled. June and Moira go over to see what is going on, but Emily is silent about who the woman is. The woman attempts to hand over her information but it is swatted away. June, very protective of Emily, then tells her to leave. Emily leaves shortly after, not telling them what that was all about. June picks up the note from the woman, seeing her name and information on it.

We cut to Luke, June, Emily, and Moira having dinner. June decides to bring up the woman from the library—Iris Baker. She almost demands Emily to tell her who she is to her. Emily says she knew her as Aunt Irene. She had been assigned to the district she was in before she had been moved and met June. June tries to make the case that she should get back at her and tell her her piece, to which Emily responds, “well, we’re not all like you.” Emily definitely has more of a quiet ferocity, and with what has happened to her, she isn’t ready to jump back into her “fuck the system” attitude at the same level as June. Later, Luke and June are in the kitchen cleaning the dishes. Luke asks her if she’s sure that she doesn’t want him at the testimony. She doesn’t want to have him hear what happened to her, and affirms her stance. That is when he reveals that he told Mark about her seeing Hannah at the lake house. June is upset at that, because he shouldn’t have told him, when it was something she had told Luke. It wasn’t information she wanted Mark to know. Moira comes into the room, and June walks out, upset, saying she’s going to go work on her testimony. Luke is unsure of what to do. “I don’t know what she wants. She is like a stranger half the time,” he laments. “Trauma is a bumpy fucking road,” Moira responds. She tries to explain to him that June went through a lot and that it will take time, and he will just have to be there for her as she recovers.

In their glamorous prison cell, Serena is reading testimony from one of the Handmaids as Fred comes in. Serena is still tepid about their unification in this legal struggle, due to her own experience with him and hearing the words of others. Ever so slightly this season, she has been drifting away from Gilead and its ways, it seems. But, Frank wants them to act like a family and show solidarity, as that is the only way he views them as getting out of this.

Elsewhere, in Gilead, Aunt Lydia enters a room where Handmaids are scrubbing the floors and windows. A few other Aunts are there supervising, however Lydia is upset with how badly and how slow they are doing their work. She picks on one of the Handmaids, telling her that she missed a spot. The Handmaid apologizes and scrubs harder, but Aunt Lydia, looking to assert her authority, tases her. When another Aunt tells Aunt Lydia to stop, she turns around and tases the Aunt as well. Quickly realizing what she has done, she leaves the room.

It is the morning of the testimony. June is sitting outside the courtroom when a man comes over and tells her that it is time. She walks over and the doors are opened for her as she walks in to a bright, white room. She gets sworn in (not on a Bible, as they apparently don’t do that in Canada) and steps forward to take the stand. In this process, Luke and Mark sneak in to the back of the courtroom. June is surprised at Luke being there despite her wishes for him not to be, but she continues anyways.

She begins her testimony, and while she describes the horrors done against her by Mr. and Mrs. Waterford, the camera stays on her and only her. She is the only focus. As she begins to close out her testimony, she looks right into the camera, breaking the fourth wall, as if she’s speaking directly to us, the audience. “I am grateful to be speaking to you today, but mine is just one voice,” June states.

She continues to speak to us as she describes a story very familiar to women, and anyone who has survived harassment, sexual assault and rape, as well as those who haven’t, but know that it is a reality of the world we live in. It’s incredibly powerful, especially knowing that Elisabeth Moss directed herself in this episode. In the testimony’s conclusion, she asks for the maximum possible sentence, and asks for justice. It is only after that that the camera goes to Luke and the Waterfords, all looking somber.

Now, it is time for the defense to ask questions. Immediately, as expected, the defense tries to corrupt June’s testimony by victim blaming—saying June made a choice to be a Handmaid and that she has committed bouts of adultery. Then, shockingly, Fred Waterford speaks up in defense of himself and the actions of Gilead, calling the rapes a “ritual” and that due to that practice, the birth rate has risen in Gilead. He claims God has rewarded them, as a state, and personally, as a “family” (he places his hand on Serena’s stomach). This irks June and she strides over to him and stares him right in the face. “I am done. I am done.” Anything more can be done at trial, she will not put up with the bullshit that comes out of his mouth. She walks out of the courtroom and we see Serena looking tense and concerned at Frank’s decision to speak up like that.

Returning to Gilead, we see Aunt Lydia in Commander Lawrence’s house. He’s upset at what she did, telling her that the Handmaid had been compliant, and that, in fact, most Handmaids are now, since they’ve known Gilead all their lives. He then makes a point to state how it must kill Lydia that June is free and out of her reach— that she’s won, because she knows how to make people like her, while Aunt Lydia does not. She asks Commander Lawrence if he will be terminating her. He responds by telling her that he doesn’t want to, but he wants her back in full form because the work they are doing is for the future of Gilead. He then pulls out a file on a fugitive Handmaid captured in Chicago. Janine. He tasks her with taking care of her, and “to do with her what you will.”

We then go to another support group meeting, where the other women in the group are talking about the testimony and the audacity Fred Waterford had to say those things. June then walks in and they all applaud her. But, she has a guest with her—Aunt Irene. She confronts Emily, saying that she should let her hear all that she has to say. Moira tries to stop it, telling June that “it’s not the time or place.” June ignores her and tells Emily, “I’m trying to help you, but it’s up to you.” Emily allows the woman to stay, and June puts a chair in the middle of their circle for the Aunt to sit down in, facing Emily. Aunt Irene begins to say how she’s done some terrible things, to which June tells her to say exactly what she did to Emily. She reveals that she had learned about Emily’s affair with a Martha and informed the Eyes of that. June retorts that she was the reason why they hung the woman and mutilated Emily. Moira is seemingly getting uncomfortable with what June is doing, but doesn’t interject. Emily looks at Aunt Irene and asks her, “What do you want?” The woman responds that she seeks forgiveneness. But June doesn’t think she deserves forgiveness because “you people hide behind God every time it serves you.” Emily tells Irene that there is nothing she could do to earn her forgiveness and walks out. The Aunt starts to sob and June leaves, but not before giving her a look of disdain.

Later in the evening, June is eating with Luke. He asks her how group was, and then apologizes about showing up to court, but that at least he now knows everything, and they can move on (both, in reality, are untrue). He begins to cry and June goes over to him and holds his face. They start kissing and she tries to unbutton his pants but he stops her and pulls away. “Talk to me! Talk to me,” he pleads. I almost expected him to say more, because they have yet to talk about what she did in the previous episode. But, he doesn’t, and June doesn’t say anything either. She has a look of anger on her face and just walks away.

We return to Aunt Lydia, who enters the cell that Janine has been in, telling her that she has been saved from starvation, or even worse. Janine asks he where June is and Aunt Lydia tells her that she’s in Canada. “I always knew she would make it,” Janine says softly. Aunt Lydia tries to make her think that June left her behind, but you can see that Janine doesn’t fall for that. Janine tells Aunt Lydia that she would rather die where she is than be a Handmaid again, which Aunt Lydia deflects, saying there is “no use in being theatrical. Whatever are we going to do with you.”

Back in Toronto, Moira and Emily are talking on a bench. Moira apologizes to Emily for June’s actions, that “we’re all searching for ways to move forward.” Emily isn’t sure if that is possible. Moira then brings up the idea of using the Aunt as a witness, and if Emily is comfortable in talking with her, they can get valuable information. Emily agrees, and drives to the address given on the note she had left last time. However, when she arrives, she sees Irene hanging from a tree, having committed suicide. She immediately turns around and drives back.

Serena, ready to go to another day at court, meets up with Fred in the hallway. There are chants of protestors outside, as she asks him if he believed what he said yesterday after June’s testimony. “Of course I did,” he responds. She lets out a simple “hmm,” and they walk out the doors together. As they exit, they hear cheers from the crowd. The protestors they heard from within were in fact supporters. Many of the voices are calling out specifically to Serena, but are in support of them both. This positive attention fuels Serena, and she grabs Fred’s hand, smiles, and walks forward with him hand in hand.

In support group, the women are talking about what happened to Irene. Everyone has their own opinions about her death, but June speaks up and says that they should let Emily tell them how she feels, if she wants to, since her opinion is the one that matters. After a pause, she says, “I feel…amazing. I’m glad she’s dead. And I hope I had something to do with it.” That instigates “what ifs” from the other women about what they would do to their Aunts, Commanders, or their wives if they were in front of them. As June looks on and listens to this violent rhetoric, she mutters, “There you go.” Moira hears her, shocked, and disturbed. She stops the women from continuing, saying that they need to stay away from these feelings, as they prevent healing. June challenges Moira’s leadership in the group, stating, “Why does healing have to be the only goal? Why can’t we be as furious as we feel?” With that, Moira ends the meeting, but, June, challenging her once more, says that she will stay longer if anyone wants to. Moira is not happy with the June she sees before her, because that June is thriving off this environment of rage and revenge. This seems to be the beginning of a big divide between these two longtime friends, unbeknownst to June. She is blinded by her own personal agenda.

Back at home, June walks through a dark house up to the bedroom, where Luke is sitting there. She goes to him, holds him in her arms, and tells him that she needs to tell him about the last time she saw Hannah. June is ready to make her move to save her daughter.

Isabel Maina

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