I never want to watch this episode again, but damn was it good.
The Fall of Serena
I can’t remember the last time I hated AND loved a character as much as Serena Joy. Yvonne Strahovski is just so darn sensational in the role, and the writers have done an immaculate job of making her both vicious and oh so sympathetic. I genuinely felt sick to my stomach as I watched Waterford whip his wife in Women’s Work – it’s the kind of gut-wrenching sequence that proves just how powerful television can be as a medium. And yet as terrified as it was, I couldn’t look away because The Handmaid’s Tale is so mesmerizing in every single thing that it does.
The beating alone has many layers. Of course there’s the obvious reason that Fred assaulted his wife: she went behind his back and forged his signature. But, there’s an underlying reason as well: he had previously gone to June’s room to engage in one of his perverted trysts and was left empty-handed. Thus, he was also punishing his wife for depriving him of his favorite plaything. To force June to watch Serena’s humiliation is his cherry on top. It’s all so ridiculously twisted.
Vengeance Is Coming
Thankfully, Serena’s beating drives June to get even more proactive. With vengeance on her mind, she returns to the Commander and pretends to ask for forgiveness. I was almost sure she would barge her way into his office for a tryst, but it’s still a powerful moment, punctuated not just with her smile but some tears as well as she falls to the ground. I’m telling you this show is a masterpiece, because every character is constantly juggling ten zillion emotions at once, and that’s a pretty adept summary of the human psyche in general.
Baby in Peril
Intriguingly enough, Women’s Work ends on an optimistic note with baby Angela completely rejuvenated after spending the night with her biological mother Janine. Everything about the staging in that final scene is stunning: the snow, the fact that Janine is almost naked with her baby in her lap, and Aunt Lydia’s tears (Seriously I can’t for the life of me understand this complicated woman). Sadly, this hopeful sequence is also tinged with sadness, since we all know Janine’s reunion with her baby will be short-lived now that the child is better. How depressing is that?
Back In The Game
Although she doesn’t receive too much screen-time, this episode introduces us to Dr. Hodgson, a Martha who was one of the top neonatologists in the country pre-Gillead. Although she doesn’t actually solve baby Angela’s plight, her subplot is enormously moving. Just the simple act of watching her tearfully putting on her scrubs (as the young doctor fawns over her career) is very poignant, not to mention that epic moment where she is handed the stethoscope. Even more impactful is Serena’s silent glare, because you just know she’s envious of a capable women returning to her profession. Please show, bring back Dr. Hodgson soon!
Bits & Fruit
– How great is it to see Serena and June working together in the teaser? Even more glorious tidbits: Serena reveals that she actually detests knitting, and the duo’s disappointed “Praised Be”s when discussing their master’s impending arrival.
– Notice how Fred practically throws Serena out of his office. It’s not like he thinks she can be of any use after all.
– Serena leaves June two gifts: a music box she once gave her in season one, and a flower. That’s even sweetest than the two of them wishing each other goodnight.
– Eden is so eager to please Nick that he eventually snaps at her. His outburst has a real hint of darkness, and is an intriguing parallel to the Commander’s treatment of the women in his household. Oh Nick we thought you were better than him.
– Emily has a lot of rage within her. Who could blame her?
– Janine’s “May The Force Be With You” killed me. Seriously.
– This was the first appearance of the baby ambulance right? I could be wrong.
– I genuinely had so much anxiety as The Commander questioned June and Serena. The way he ominously dragged the chair and got ready to beat Serena – harrowing. It also made me so darn angry. I can’t wait to see Serena and June team up to take him down (hopefully).
– Heartbreaking scene with Serena taking off her clothes and looking at her bruises in the mirror while sobbing. And then of course she rejects June’s offer to help, because exerting control over the poor Handmaid is the only thing she can do.
– Brilliant touch: Janine’s singing continuing over the end credits.
June: We do our work in the evening. She writes, I read. This is the new normal. And an offense to God. In another life, maybe we could’ve been colleagues. And in this one, we’re heretics. I was already on the naughty list. An adulteress, a “fallen woman,” as Aunt Lydia used to say. But this is new territory for Serena, I think. How does she feel about falling? She seems pretty fucking happy.
June: Blessed be the fruit.
Janine: May the Force be with you. How are you feeling?
June: I’m fine.
Janine: Yeah? You’ll probably get to the cool part soon. The baby’s foot pushes out of your stomach like in Alien. Charlotte used to do that all the time. You haven’t seen Alien?
June: No, I just thought the sequel was better.
Janine: You’re nuts.
Janine: Thank God you’re pregnant. My posting’s great. It’s just the Ceremony.
No blow jobs. Seriously, it’s like a blessing from God.
Emily: Being raped is not a blessing.
Serena: I did it for the child. What greater responsibility is there in Gillead?
Fred: Obeying your husband.
June: Someone once said, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them.
Women are afraid that men will kill them.” We should’ve known better.
One of the strongest hours The Handmaid’s Tale has ever produced. Unforgettable television.