The Handmaid’s Tale: Season 2, Episode 8 “Women’s Work” – Recap/ Review (with Spoilers)

Serena Joy working.
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Many women get a taste of the old world and there is the slightest bit of hope things could get better for them. However, said blessing is finite.


Network
Hulu
Director(s) Kari Skogland
Writer(s) Nina Fiore, John Herrera
Air Date 6/6/2018
Actors Introduced
Dr. Hodgson Karen Glave

Back To Work: Serena Joy, June, Commander Fred, Janine

With Fred in recovery and Serena Joy acting as his “conduit,” she is able to get back into the swing of having influence and writing memos and documents of importance. That is, rather than knitting and loathing her life as a domesticated housewife. June too, with being able to read and edit words, people seek her opinion, Serena Joy of all people, finds a sort of bliss as well.

Yet, all good things come to an end and with Commander Fred back, he relieves Serena Joy and doesn’t find out until later how far she and June went. But, his return doesn’t mean the last act. With Janine’s biological daughter, now belonging to Warren and Naomi Putnam, sick, the best doctor around, a Martha, is temporarily transferred with Fred’s forged signature.

Which, as much as it was relieving for June and Serena Joy to go to work? Oh, Dr. Hodgson could be so happy she could cry. But, alas, after running test and doing all she knew how, based off where medicine was when she was last in practice, the results bring up no reason Janine’s 10-month-old baby is in the state it’s in.

Commentary

June saying that she enjoys working with Serena Joy and could imagine them as colleagues.
June: In another life, maybe we could’ve been colleagues.

Imagine that. After a little more than a year, maybe two or more, of oppression and having as few rights as a woman in the 1800s, being able to live like you’re in modern times again. Serena got to write policy, take back that autonomy and power stripped of her despite being one of the architects for Gilead. June, in a strange way, got to be an editor again. Granted, an editor for the oppressive regime which stole her life and child from her, but it’s the taste of alcohol and the freedom you are led to believe which matters. Not thinking about the hangover and depression which comes the following day.

But what I will always find interesting about the peaceful times between Serena Joy and June is how much they seem like they could get along. Yes, ideology-wise, they are on opposite ends but Serena Joy humbling herself to the point of recognizing she needed June was something. And I truly believe June didn’t just help for the sake of gaining a favor or to work again. She may not believe in Gilead but something about working with Serena I think appealed to her. Having a greater purpose than growing a baby which, at this point, she may not be able to save from this world.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Serena Joy, June, Commander Fred

As soon as Fred realizes what Serena Joy and June have done, he calls them in and confronts them. Leading to it being admitted what they did and Serena Joy trying to remind Fred that she did nothing different from what she used to. However, with him noting that was then and this is now, she is given a reality check. If not a reminder that the man and country she built up has long turned their back on her.

Which leads to Fred, to remind Serena Joy of her place, beating her with his belt and coercing June to act as a witness. And after everything they’ve gone through, she tries to see if the friendship is still there and she can do anything but it seems Fred stole her joy, no pun intended. So it seems she’ll be back to being Mrs. Waterford and as for Fred? With Serena Joy seemingly going back to her old ways, June tries to test waters with Fred and it seems that may have become a cold link as well.

Commentary

Fred beating Serena Joy with a belt.

In the play Fruit Trilogy, within the first segment, there is this argument about how one action doesn’t change a person. No matter how terrible the action or decision. Which I bring up because, I think for Serena, there is this idea that the Fred she knew years ago, despite the series of actions taken, still exists. That may be, with this bombing, it would reset things. That maybe there could be steps taken so they could be how they used to be. An optimistic and futile thought. Meanwhile, June is just taking advantage of the situation likely knowing that Serena Joy’s idealism isn’t going to be met with Fred having a change of heart.

Something we even saw in the first season as Fred was trying to get June pregnant. There have been changes that just can’t be walked back from and being who Fred is, he enjoys this power. It makes him feel like a man and validated in a way which, I guess, he feels threatened by since Serena showed she is capable of doing his job. Much less, with her signature on that document, it also pushes the reminder that there are many women as talented, if not more, than the men in the same position.

So, in a way, you can see why he got mad. Her forcing his signature co-signed to a belief that isn’t in line with Gilead. Making it where, even if the purpose was to save the life of a child, she is making him out to be more of an outsider than he already is.

A Mother’s Love: Janine, Warren, Naomi, Aunt Lydia, June

Despite Dr. Hodgson’s death sentence, it seems just being in Janine’s arms makes the baby feel better. Which is a blessing for Warren and Naomi but also Aunt Lydia as well. For, despite sending Janine to the colonies, or simply having a hand in it, you know she still cares about that girl. To the point that, if that baby died and it broke Janine? Pregnant or not, June wouldn’t likely have another peaceful day as long as Aunt Lydia had time on her hands.

Luckily though, with Janine singing to the baby throughout the night, she seems better. Now, as for whether it was just she needed her mother’s love, vs. Naomi and Warren showing her off as a status symbol? Who knows?

Commentary

Janine talking to Aunt Lydia about her baby remembering her.
Janine: I told you. She remembers me.

You know Naomi is going to be mad as hell. She tries absolutely everything to be seen as this proper mom, the envy of the neighborhood but in her care, the baby nearly dies! Yet, this former junkie, missing an eye and crazy enough to attempt to kill the baby, she brings them back to health. Oh, she’ll never get over that embarrassment. Oh, and let’s not forget this isn’t the first time Janine embarrassed her. There is also her having sexual relations with Warren before she got kicked out of the house.

But, hey, all that matters is the baby is alive and June won’t have to deal with the wrath of Aunt Lydia. Who, I must admit, I was kind of surprised to see since you’d think Janine would be marked as a failure on her record and she wouldn’t be allowed to associate with her. However, as the scheduling of Aunts aren’t clear-cut, and she seemingly had the time, there she was for moral support.

Bringing up the need to question why we didn’t get to see Aunt Lydia and Janine’s reunion? She favored her quite a bit but also led her to slaughter and was part of the reason she was in the colonies. It would have been interesting to see how that reunion went before they got to the hospital.

Miscellaneous Commentary

Poor Eden

Eden in her lonely home.

While Eden isn’t even really on my radar, I must admit it is kind of sad to hear about how loving and interactive her family was and not she is with the Waterfords. A place where they don’t talk much, everyone seems mean or gloomy, and she is treated as more a liability, especially by Rita, than an asset. Never mind Nick is as distant as ever.

Highlights

  1. That joy some of the women had when their purpose went beyond serving a man but getting a sense of fulfillment.
  2. Janine getting to spend time with her baby.
  3. Emily giving no f**** and going off in the supermarket.
  4. How well Serena Joy and June were working together.
  5. Janine and June just casually talking about movies from before the Gilead regime.

Low Points

  1. Not getting to see Janine and Aunt Lydia’s reunion.

On The Fence

  1. Serena Joy getting a taste of her former life and, after a beating, seemingly letting that fire go out.
  2. So is Eden just going to be an obstacle for June to use Nick as she used to and that’s it?

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4 COMMENTS

  1. 5. In the novel, Janine’s baby dies and she’s never there to see it happen… so that was another “WTF?” moment for me in this episode… along with Serena’s loosening the reigns and ex-Scrabbler Fred suddenly deciding he’s going to go back to cracking the whip like a good fundie again.

    The whole Janine situation was to have a feel good moment, considering most of the time women on this show just suffer. As for the Aunt Lydia letting her see her thing, it is to show how much of a soft spot she has for Janine probably.

    Serena loosening the reigns is all about recognizing June, in another life, she may not have agreed with a lot, but they could have been friends. Yet, between June’s actions and Fred’s, there is this constant back and forth between accepting the world as it is and Serena Joy trying to carve out a piece of it where things are how she wanted them to be designed.

    And in terms of Fred, there is the same back and forth with him. On one hand, he may not fully agree with all the policies of Gilead but he’d rather the privileges of a man with power than be lower status or killed. So he may rock the boat for himself but when it comes to others, he is selective.

  2. 3. I find Eden the most compelling character on the show at the moment but I’m frustrated that so far she’s been assigned a background role as a plot device that impedes Nick and June’s relationship… what I would’ve preferred to see is that this screentime devoted to Nick had been given to one of the other Commanders and Eden had been his wife instead. Do you think that would’ve been better?

    I agree completely. For one of the things which sort of bugs me about this show is that, honestly I feel like it doesn’t know what to do with the majority of its characters sometimes. Especially if their story doesn’t have a direct effect on June or could be tied in somehow. Hence why Moira and Luke probably have been so rarely seen and they had to bring Emily and Janine from the colonies.

    The writers probably find managing everything much easier when they consolidate everyone versus letting each character have their own storyline and life. But, to your point, as much as the show expands on things the book doesn’t, it also leaves out details that for those, like me, who didn’t read the book, make it so while there are rules and laws, in terms of culture we don’t get much of that.

    Because, one of the things I’d really love to see is Eden have a conversation with June about her life. For with Eden finding those letters, being lonely, and June fairly ok, it’s like they are building up the possibility of her connecting with her. Plus, I’m sure Eden has to be curious about the life of a handmaid and how it compares to what she was taught. Yes, she is devout but clearly she wants to learn more. It’s just no one seems that willing to open up.

    4. How long the “Handmaid” program has been operational I can’t figure based on what’s been revealed thus far.

    Based on Season 1, Episode 7, we are led to believe it has been more than 3 years. As for what year it is? All we know is, based off news clippings, we’re past 2021 per s2e3. So, at the earliest, we’re somewhere around 2024 and Gilead has existed for 3+ years. As for the Handmaid’s program? Based off Janine carrying a full baby it has been more than a year so it might be safe to say 2 – 3 years maybe?

  3. Just putting this in order since it helps me with the response.

    1. What do you think Fred was trying to achieve by setting up the marriage of Nick to Eden and having them both live in his garage?
    1a. Why did he think this would work?

    I think the tactic Fred thought of is that, with providing Nick a wife, it would coerce him to not only take his focus off June but also Fred’s business. For, as seen, Eden is young, impressionable, and was ready and willing to report Nick as a gender traitor just because they weren’t having sex. So with Nick distracted, I believe the goal was to eventually get back into something with June. However, with the events of this episode, who knows if Fred might still be willing to have a relationship outside of their official titles.

    Which also maybe a factor, him maybe knowing Nick is the father and wanting to, like how Handmaids are separated from their kids, making sure Nick focuses on the one he’d have with Eden. Not the one assigned to him and Serena Joy.

    2. […] it really believable that he’d have this kind of pull when he’s under investigation for corruption?

    I think it also has to be taken into consideration that Nick is a good soldier. So while Fred’s word may not be valued highly, promoting a soldier and setting him up to evolve into a commander might be the idea here.

    2a. Nick has plenty of evidence of Fred’s sinful ways by now, so why hasn’t the man been booked already for his adultery, porn stash, contraband substances and obscene level of enthusiasm for Scrabble?

    June. Before the commander died in the terrorist attack, it seems Nick was ready to report and take down Fred but he also wanted June to be looked out for. Yet, with this new chaos happening, I think he is back to this weird place of whether he should stay or go because he wants to protect June and their kid, but at the same time Eden could pose a serious problem.

  4. I have some questions for you, Amari, I hope you don’t mind answering them… a lot of what’s happened in the last few episodes strikes me as oddly out of character and confusing.

    What do you think Fred was trying to achieve by setting up the marriage of Nick to Eden and having them both live in his garage?
    Why did he think this would work?

    In the book, people like Nick aren’t eligible for wives like Eden. Females such as her (who were children when the regime rose to power, have just reached the age where they can reproduce and are possibly still fertile) are reserved for high ranking military officers and government officials. They aren’t assigned to lowly servants – and this is implied in the tone of the group wedding ceremony in the series too… so Fred must’ve pulled some strings… but why? And is it really believable that he’d have this kind of pull when he’s under investigation for corruption? Which begs another question… Nick has plenty of evidence of Fred’s sinful ways by now, so why hasn’t the man been booked already for his adultery, porn stash, contraband substances and obscene level of enthusiasm for Scrabble?
    (In the novel, it’s mentioned offhandedly that Fred was killed by the other Commanders because they thought he was too liberal – maybe the show is building up to that)

    I find Eden the most compelling character on the show at the moment but I’m frustrated that so far she’s been assigned a background role as a plot device that impedes Nick and June’s relationship… what I would’ve preferred to see is that this screentime devoted to Nick had been given to one of the other Commanders and Eden had been his wife instead. Do you think that would’ve been better? That way we would’ve been afforded both more insight into how the government operates, as well as getting more insight into the psychology of someone like Eden (a “true believer” who is too young to remember much of the time before and has been conditioned from an early age to be this society’s idea of a model citizen)

    Also, I’ve read the book and even I’m having trouble following the timeline of this series, trying to figure out exactly how long this government has been in power and exactly how long the “Handmaid” program has been operational I can’t figure based on what’s been revealed thus far.

    In the novel, Janine’s baby dies and she’s never there to see it happen… so that was another “WTF?” moment for me in this episode… along with Serena’s loosening the reigns and ex-Scrabbler Fred suddenly deciding he’s going to go back to cracking the whip like a good fundie again. All of this struck me as a stretch too far, even given the generally softer depiction of these characters in the series as opposed to the novel and movie.

    The Aunt Lydia of the novel would never have allowed Janine access to her child or put up with the unorthodox nonsense she does in this episode.

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