The Handmaid’s Tale: Season 2/ Episode 12 “Postpartum” – Recap/ Review (with Spoilers)

A portrait of the Waterfords featuring new baby Nichole.
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June may find herself responsible for yet another death as Emily finds herself in a rather peculiar commander’s home.


Network
Hulu
Director(s) Daina Reid
Writer(s) Eric Tuchman
Air Date 7/4/2018
Actors Introduced
Commander Joseph Lawrence Bradley Whitford
Cora Victoria Fodor
Eleanor Julie Dretzin

We Value Privacy Here: Joseph, Cora, Eleanor, Emily, Aunt Lydia

In order to not get sent back to the colonies, naturally, Emily needs a new commander. Problem is, her reputation is for any and all commanders to review and that makes her someone most commanders, we’re told 4, don’t want. However, Commander Joseph Lawrence is different. In fact, he also is rather private so no sooner does he see Aunt Lydia drop Emily off does he say she can leave.

Now, why is he so private? Well, it could be because, as seen with Cora, he isn’t as strict and by the book as most commanders. I mean, he leaves reading material, comics, out in the open, despite how they can lead to fingers being cut off, he has banter with his Martha Cora, and then there is his wife. When it comes to Eleanor, and her talking about Joseph coming up with the colonies, it isn’t clear if she is telling the truth or not. Not because it doesn’t seem like the truth, for Aunt Lydia notes Joseph is the architect of Gilead’s economy, but because of the way Joseph protects her.

After all, between her being some kind of radical or maybe having a mental illness, people like Aunt Lydia can’t see or hear her. Think about it, have we seen anyone with a mental illness in Gilead? Janine comes close, but she usually has some form of control over herself. Plus, she is a handmaid. With Eleanor, she is a wife and while higher up on the totem pole, that doesn’t mean being killed off or sent to the colonies isn’t an option. So perhaps part of Joseph’s desire for privacy isn’t just because he is secretly more liberal but also to protect his wife? And maybe, just maybe, he chose Emily because he is obligated to have a handmaid and knowing Emily’s file, surely she would appreciate some semblance of normalcy. To the point of keeping up with the rules he has set.

Commentary

Joseph noting to Emily that privacy is valued in his household.
Commander Joseph (Bradley Whitford): We value privacy here.

Friend or foe is the question here. Joseph seems to be the most eccentric of the commanders we have ever met and is probably one of the few who really pushes you to take note of the way his home is decorated. I mean, even Aunt Lydia seems astonished by him not having the most conservative of homes but does this mean Emily is safe?

Yes, Eleanor seems to be one of the few wives who seem rather nice, even asks Emily for her real name, but considering her husband keeps her locked in a room, is it her or him? Is she being locked up for her own good, since she can’t deal with the oppressive system, or is something wrong with her and Joseph keeps her locked up so that she doesn’t say the wrong thing to or around the wrong person?

But, in terms of Emily, taking note of how he talks to Cora and how he seems to sympathize with Emily’s situation, should he be seen as a bad guy? He didn’t try to rape her but have a conversation. Even allowed her to drink alcohol. So will it be, inside his house, things will be like how they used to be but outside things are what they are? Also, how long can they keep that up for Emily not eventually getting pregnant surely will raise some red flags, would it not?

Find Love Where You Can Get It: Nick, Eden, June, Isaac

Living in the Waterford house has been quite a struggle for Eden. Nick barely touches her, or speaks to her, June is a handmaid who seems to not really like her place in Gilead, and she has fallen for a guy who isn’t Nick. This leads her to try to get some advice from June who seems like a good person and it leads her to say just what Eden needed to hear to validate running away with Isaac. Problem is, even with Isaac being a guardian, it seems he didn’t really plan running away with Eden too well. Thus leading them to being caught and when neither decide to renounce their sins, in front of their families and the Waterfords, they are killed. Which sort of changes the dynamic of the house a little bit. If only because it becomes a bit of an eye-opener for those, unlike June, not used to someone’s death being partly their fault.

Commentary

Eden drowning.

Can we just go over how Nick not being dead seems very weird? We have been told and shown that guardians are ruthless and yet they seemingly let him punch one of them, while under suspicion, and let him live? Am I the only one who doesn’t understand how, in Gilead society, the ruthless guardians of the law didn’t shoot first and worry about questions later? Especially considering they were in the middle of nowhere in which there assumingly were no witnesses? Is Nick really that valuable to the story?

Then, in terms of Eden, am I heartless for kind of hunching when it came to her death? It’s just, Eden never did much but look doe-eyed and seem indoctrinated in the most pitiful way. And I know her innocence is supposed to be the key to the waterworks here, but it isn’t like she brought the full force of what it meant to be raised in Gilead. Heck, even in terms of June providing the idea that life doesn’t have to be as it was set up for her, it didn’t make her decision to die with Isaac powerful. It just made it into some kind of Romeo and Juliet kind of moment. One in which two kids infatuations got them killed.

Dr. Jekyll, Mrs. Hyde: Serena Joy, June, Fred

For nearly the entire episode, Serena Joy vehemently doesn’t want June anywhere near her or the baby. All she wants is her breast milk. However, Fred, being that he really does not respect his wife or wishes, because of whatever spell June has over him, or just him not wanting her to kill herself like the last handmaid, goes against her wishes. Not only does he bring the baby to June but brings June back to the house. A place where Serena Joy avoids her totally and continues to show she is a bit unhinged – including trying to breastfeed the baby who looks mad they got tricked.

However, after Eden’s death, it seems Mrs. Hyde turns back to Dr. Jekyll. You know, the person June could kind of see herself friends with. Anyone want to take bets how long this may last?

Commentary

This is the episode before the final and it hasn’t really set up anything to make you wonder what big thing may happen next. Serena Joy has flip-flopped again, wow! Eden died, okay you never really invested much into her anyway. Nick is alive – that seems lazy. Then with Emily, honestly, she has been on the fringe so long that leaving her to die in the colonies doesn’t seem all that horrible really.

So what exactly is supposed to be the big punch that leaves us winded for the next season? Fred’s incompetence, with Eden running away, finally being a known fact and leading to him being killed? Maybe Canada, or other countries, doing more than sanctions or some freedom force popping up? At this point, there seriously anything to be on the edge of your seat about. It just seems like just another episode and not the one which should be building up to an epic finale.

Question(s) Left Unanswered

  1. Does Nick generally just put the fact Luke exists out of his mind when talking about him and June as a thing? Even though it is very clear Luke still loves his wife?

Collected Quote(s) & .Gifs

One can’t let the perfect be the enemy of good. – Aunt Lydia

Low Points

  1. A character who we frequently saw died and there is no real punch to the gut about it. It’s unfortunate the child died but it isn’t something you necessarily get teary-eyed Even if everyone in the cast get a bit misty about it.
  2. There isn’t any real reason to get excited about the finale based off what happened this episode, or thus far. There isn’t any build to anything beside more cycles repeating. Like, for this episode, Serena Joy going from being nice to June to, eventually, when her jealousy or insecurity kicks in, going back to treating her as sub-human.

On The Fence

  1. What may come of this Emily x Joseph He is a weirdo but hasn’t been made to seem like someone who can become a real game changer.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. I get why it gets the hype it does though. For those who are inundated with tons of tv series, there becomes a low bar to hurdle over. With The Handmaid’s Tale, it doesn’t bring that bar up but it doesn’t trip over it either. It stands out and gets praise because the landscape is so diverse, with so many options, most of which are average to mediocre, just one program trying harder than the rest makes it seem like a flower growing out of manure.

  2. Perhaps I would be less disappointed if Hulu’s series hadn’t been hyped in the media as being a bold new landmark in the TV artform – and widely acclaimed for its supposed originality, intelligence and relevancy…. when really, everything this show does has already been done before and done more intelligently.

    Basically the hype about this being something different and a cut above the average makes it more grating whenever “The Handmaid’s Tale” rehashes some tired soap opera trope or dumbs down the source material in some way. It’s sad too, because “The Handmaid’s Tale” could so easily have lived up to the hype, with a few tweaks and there are moments where you can see something better struggling to get out from under the pile-up of formula-contrivances.

  3. I honestly tried to a few weeks ago, around the time of Amazon’s “Picnic at Hanging Rock,” but I couldn’t keep watching. Between being in a theater or watching with a friend, one of the two would need to be present to force me to finish them. Mostly because I find it difficult, even when I don’t have anything scheduled for that day, to just sit and watch a movie at home.

    As for your points: I don’t find it remarkable as much as I find it all very Hollywood. The industry, in general, has rarely done good adaptations of classic literature. Each issue you state is what happens to nearly all books – especially, in modern times. From making sure to have the most attractive, or popular, actors playing roles, even if they aren’t the best fit, to pushing for diversity, it has really become about money over being faithful. And while I understand no money for the budget means no movie, and no money made means no new movies, it still bothers me sometimes. Especially when it is clear that, like in the case of the Fantastic Four movie, the changes were more so pandering to modern audiences than adapting to modern times.

    In terms of the race thing? I think that must have been an idea they scrapped due to controversy. They promoted a Black guy to a commander in this season and, for the most part, their addressing of race was pretty much cutting out screen time of any character who isn’t white. I mean, Moira and Luke feel like tokens at this point. Sometimes I forget they are even part of this show. Heck, Rita, after season 1, I was fully expecting a flashback episode or a few scenes at the very least. Instead she gives an eye roll, or vents, and then off she goes.

  4. Would you consider watching/reviewing Volker Schlondorff’s 1990 film of “The Handmaid’s Tale”, Peter Weir’s 1975 film of “Picnic At Hanging Rock” and/or François Truffaut’s 1966 film of “Fahrenheit 451”?

    Much as it has been interesting getting a newbie’s perspective on the most recent television adaptations of these classic tales – I do think it is a pity that your introduction to these works was through screen adaptations which all in some way miss the point of the original works and clumsily attempt to modernise them in ways that make little sense.

    Do you find it remarkable that all three literary adaptations, made so close together, have much the same flaws? Namely:
    – Taking a book that was short and stretching it out way beyond its natural length. A strictly faithful adaptation of any of these three books would clock in at around three hours, and previous adaptations managed to condense it down to two.
    – Taking a text whose appeal was its mystery and ambiguity, then spelling out certain things in minute detail… and not the most interesting things the novel hinted at, but rather shining a light on the most banal conundrums in the book, that most readers didn’t care about knowing anyway.
    – Going out of their way to depict certain characters as younger and more conventionally attractive, whilst also changing the ethnicity of certain characters, though including actors of different races changes the world of the story in many ways. Mostly it removes a layer of social injustice that was treated critically in the original works.

    The films of Schlondorff, Weir and Truffaut have their own flaws, but they are not only more faithful to their sources, but also more respectful of the audience’s intelligence… these new TV versions of “Handmaid”, “Picnic” and “Fahrenheit” made me appreciate the subtle intelligence of the original films more. Schlondorff, Weir and Truffaut were less interested in shocking the audience than making them think, and the feel of desperate attention-grabbing present in these TV versions isn’t there in the originals… I’d be curious to know what you think, if you can stomach the thought of consuming any more media related to these three tales. It’d be a crying shame if your negative experience with these TV shows have tainted all iterations of these stories for you.

    With regards to your question of where this is all leading… in an interview, Bruce Miller said that Season 2 would tackle the race issues that Season 1 ignored. But so far that hasn’t happened, which baffles me… In the novel, Gilead is a white-supremacist regime that enslaves and executes people of colour. This aspect of the story has been ignored thus far, if it was revealed in the Season 2 finale that Gilead was changing its policy on race, that would be a rather shocking denouement. But if it’s introduced this late in the series then it might come as too sudden a change for some viewers to accept

  5. I think the main issue with Eden is, as you said, there wasn’t the perspective we needed out of her. She could have gave us an idea of what it is like to grow up in Gilead but she didn’t live up to that expectation really. The idea of her being a wild card, especially since she spent time around Serena Joy and June didn’t make it where you truly felt she could go either way. Be it enjoy the fact she was set on the course to be a commander’s wife or a potential revolutionary.

    The way I see it, just as she began questioning things, thanks to Nick and then June, she falls for Isaac and is quickly written off. And, again as you said, it would be one thing if Eden and Isaac snuck around like Nick and June did, or even June and Fred, and slowly but surely fell in love and came to a point where it was realized they would have to run away or accept the roles Gilead has given. However, it never led up to that. Eden was caught kissing Isaac one episode and next thing we know she is ready to die for him.

    To me, the purpose of Eden’s death was purely shock value. Which, if it wasn’t for most shows using violence over storytelling to elicit shock, maybe I would have been surprised or cared. However, Gilead is pretty well established to be a brutal place. We have seen handmaids get raped throughout the series, tortured, and people hung and shot to death. So Eden being drowned? While it is known that drowning is probably one of the worst ways to die, visually it didn’t have what I assume was the intended impact.

    Really pushing how this show is very much trapped in patterns. The kind where lead characters, no matter what they do, at worse get yelled at or admonished. With the exception of June being raped a few episodes back. But, considering all she did before that? The fact she isn’t at the colonies, much less dead, shows this program doesn’t have Game of Thrones type of gall. At most, they’ll use barely established characters for a pop big enough to get media outlets talking. Keep the show in conversation.

    Which, at this point, the only one, or thing, that’ll benefit from Eden’s death is Sweeney. Especially since her next role is on Sharp Objects which premieres Sunday. As for Handmaid’s Tale? It is starting to seem desperate to me.

  6. I personally found Eden to be the most interesting of all the characters introduced in this season, I had a great deal of emotional investment built up in her already and I was deeply saddened by her loss here.

    But perhaps my investment came more from the fine quality of Sydney Sweeney’s acting, and the sympathetic personality she displayed BEFORE the romance was introduced, rather than the patchy writing. I can understand why certain decisions on the writers’ part lead to your feeling underwhelmed. Personally, I felt angry that the writers had taken the easy way out with a challenging character by killing them off.

    I would’ve preferred if the romance with Isaac had never been introduced into the story at all. Don’t you think that would’ve been better? It would’ve been nice to have a character who was both a true believer and sympathetic, as well as providing insight into what it’s like being raised in a society like this with no knowledge of anything else. I would’ve liked to see her awakening from indoctrination come as a process of finding out about social injustice and trying to help others in need, as an expression of the true spirit of her faith – rather than have her lose her head over some boy she’s known for a very short period of time… given the society she grew up in and the conditioning she’d have been subjected to from an early age, didn’t it seem to you she fell too fast and too easily for Isaac? Surely there would’ve been a lot more inner conflict and wrestling with guilt over this relationship? Is it really believable that she’d take a chance like this after one brief pep talk?

    I suppose it doesn’t help that the entirety of their affair was kept offscreen, so the audience never actually gets to SEE their relationship develop. Just one kissing scene and a few longing glances here and there. We never once got to see the two have a meaningful conversation. Even now it’s not clear to me WHY exactly these two found each other attractive, let alone why they both were willing to die rather than renounce this relationship. If they were going to introduce this star crossed romance subplot in the first place, then the least the writers could’ve done is invest the screentime required for it to have some depth.

    Also, this show keeps inventing elaborate punishments that aren’t in the book. With each new crime exposed, there’s some new method of death, torture or mutilation… Does this seem to you a transparent bit of audience manipulation? A way to ensure that the audience never grows accustomed to a consistent, standard form of punishment and are always shocked anew.

    Joseph – I find him interesting and after just a few short scenes I find Whitford to be an eerily unsettling but compelling presence… by the way, in the book, Fred has two servants, Rita and Cora – I assumed Cora had been cut out of the series but she’s Joe’s servant here.

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