"A Woman's Place," Episode 6 of The Handmaid's Tale, shifts the focus away from Offred to Serena Joy.
The Story So Far:
In this episode, we learn more about Serena Joy, the wife of Commander Fred Waterford. In the novel by Margaret Atwood, Serena was a former televangelist, gospel singer and motivational speaker. In the show, her career has been updated to journalist, author and co-architect of Gilead.
Through her eyes, we see the overthrow of the United States—or rather, through conversations that she has with Fred. At first I thought, "What a way to show a war while keeping your budget to a minimum." But then I realized, that really is how she would get her information. The Republic she helped create doesn't want a woman taking active participation. The Republic she helped create immediately leaves her behind.
Another change from past to present: Fred was once a loving husband. He consulted her, made love to her (albeit for the purpose of having children), apologized to her when Gilead wouldn't let her be of more service.
We also see how much she still loves him.
Power has certainly gone to Fred's head. He and Offred are having one of their Scrabble games, when Offred is paying too much attention to her tile rack and not enough to him. He orders her to leave. When she desperately, seductively asks him to stay, he demands a kiss … and sends her to bed anyway. Offred's anger is enough for her to brush her teeth bloody.
Offred and Nick know their not-relationship is doomed, but it doesn't stop them from touching, and it doesn't stop Offred from meeting Nick in his room. They don't make love this time, but he holds her while her emotions cascade into a meltdown. He even calls her June.
And the reason she's triggered? The real plot of this week's episode is about a Mexican delegation come to Gilead for trade negotiations. The Ambassador, a woman, asks Offred if she is happy. Of course, she has no choice but to say yes. Poor Offred.
And Poor Ofwarren, the sanity-challenged handmaid who has now devolved into a child-like state. She and the other handmaids attend a party in honor of the delegation. But before they're able to enter, Serena orders the physically imperfect ones home.
For the first time, Aunt Lydia comes to the Handmaid's defense, and we see that she is a genuinely fair person. "They deserve to be honored like everyone else." But Serena, the PR genius, insists, "You don't put the bruised apples at the top of the crate." Aunt Lydia promises Ofwarren a tray full of desserts if she goes quietly.
At the party, Serena holds back the big reveal until the timing is right. Then the doors fling open … revealing the children of Gilead. The guests are enthralled. The handmaid's are heartbroken.
This is where we learn the true purpose of the delegation. They're not here to trade for fruit. They're here to trade for … handmaids.
Later, in the Commander's home, Offred confronts the ambassador and begs her to help them. The Ambassador is sad but firm—there have been no children born alive in her city for six years.
The Ambassador leaves the room, but her aide, a quiet man, stays behind. And this is where everything changes.
The aide tells Offred that her husband Luke is still alive, that he can get Luke a message. He even calls her June.
It was great to see the evolution of the character Serena. It was even better to see actress finally show a range of emotion, besides every color of the fury rainbow.
Offred has been reduced to playing the seductress in order to get in a game Scrabble. (Hey, if I lived in her world, I'd whore myself for Scrabble, too.) But where was her internal monologue? Her snarky commentary or the pain of her desperation? It's my favorite part of the show, and I haven't had enough of it here.
Serena and Fred, on their way to a quickie:
"I have a conference call at four."
"I'm not your boy toy. I need to be romanced."