In Episode 8, "Jezebels," Offred discovers the seamy underbelly of Gilead.
The Story So Far:
Offred is becoming attached to Commander Waterford's driver Nick, even if her reasons aren't romantic. "I'm here because it feels good and because I don’t want to be alone," she tells herself. They smile and hold each other in his bed. The fact that she can't remember her husband Luke's face is troubling her.
Finding Fred waiting for her in her room is even more troubling. But now that Fred's wife Serena is at her mother's for the evening, he has a surprise for Offred. And it starts with him shaving her legs.
This is typically an intimate act between two lovers, but throughout the experience, Offred doesn't let up her wariness around the high-ranking officer of Gilead. Fred also gives her makeup, a good dress, high heels and no ideas as to what he has planned for her. They make their way across the Charles River to Boston — with Nick in the driver's seat, staring moodily at Offred — to forbidden territory: a sex club.
As the episode unfolds, we get a look at the lurid underworld that the commanders retreat to after a hard day of subjugating the masses. Orgies. Alcohol. Kinky pleasures. And women with brains and conversation to be had, women who couldn't assimilate.
"We've got quite a collection," Fred says, ignoring the fact that objects are collected, not people. Not that it matters to him. It's clear that while Fred delights in having a secret liaison with his handmaid, he's oblivious to the tears she sheds when he touches her. But in some ways, it made me cringe harder to hear Offred tell him everything he wanted to hear, just to keep in good standing with him.
Across a crowded brothel, Offred spies her beloved bestie, Moira. When they snatch time together, she learns that Moira had been captured trying to escape the country. She had been given a choice: the radioactive wasteland of the colonies or "the Jezebels." Moira chose a few years of sex work, even though she knows she'll soon end up dead. She's as coldly realistic as she's always been. If anyone survives this insanity, it'll be Moira. (Except that she'll probably die, because that's what happens to likable characters in The Handmaid's Tale.)
In an aside, Nick meets a female chef and exchanges illegal goods with her. But he brushes off the woman's sexual advances.
Later, at home, Nick tells Offred that he can no longer see her, that it's too dangerous. She breaks down and tells him she would rather wind up on the wall. At least someone would remember her.
At the end of the episode, Serena returns home to a loving, lying Fred with a present for Offred: a ballerina music box. Serena is oblivious to the fact that it's a contemptible present, fit for a child, not a grown woman. But Offred takes what she can, including the box and the box's key. With it, she scratches a message into the wall of the closet, "You are not alone."
Nick is the subject of a series of flashbacks, and we learn a little about the mysterious driver. He had been an unemployed laborer until he was recruited by a charming officer of the Sons of Jacob, Commander Price. Nick drove the commanders of Gilead around and was present when they architected their new society.
When Fred and Offred are in the club together, Nick watches her with what looks like jealousy; in fact, he's thinking of Fred's previous handmaid. How she hung herself. How he cut her body down. It seems he really is afraid for Offred.
We also learn that Nick isn't just a driver: He's a secret policeman, sent to spy on Commander Waterford.
This episode wasn't as solid as the first six showings, and along with the previous episode, "The Other Side," felt slightly padded. It was good to see the hypocrisy beneath the theocracy. But Offred seems even more stuck than before. She admitted in the beginning of the episode that she's a weakling. I'm hoping she begins to practice her own little civil disobediences.
The moments when Offred and Moira hold each other were the only moments of true intimacy in this episode. I loved their dynamic.
I also loved Fred's utter smarminess throughout this episode. He thinks Offred enjoys spending time with him because she likes to play dangerous games; in actuality, she just likes to play board games.
Nick broods well, but when she confronts him, he only says what's absolutely necessary. I had liked Nick's quiet, enigmatic nature. I was disappointed to learn he had little to say.
Offered, looking at the Serena's present: "A girl trapped in a box. She only dances when someone opens the lid. When someone winds her up. If this is a story I'm telling, I must be telling it to someone. There's always someone. Even when there is no one. I will not be that girl in the box."