The Handmaid’s Tale: Season 2/ Episode 9 “Smart Power” – Recap/ Review (with Spoilers)

Aunt Lydia noting the death of her nephew wasn't her fault.
Aunt Lydia: It wasn't my fault.
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A trip to Canada temps Serena Joy, Nick meets Luke, and June searches for a godmother. Including Aunt Lydia who opens up to her.


Network
Hulu
Director(s) Jeremy Podeswa
Writer(s) Dorothy Fortenberry
Air Date 6/13/2018
Actors Introduced
Isaac Rohan Mead
Mark Sam Jaeger
Stuart James Gilbert

The Search For A God Mother: Serena Joy, June, Janine, Rita, Aunt Lydia

With Serena Joy making it clear that once the baby is born, June is out, this freaks June out a bit. So she confides in Janine a bit, who gets frazzled to the point of a guardian hitting her with the butt of his gun. Then she looks towards Rita to look out for her daughter and even Aunt Lydia. Someone who, in a rare moment of talking about her life, likely before Gilead, mentions not only did she have a sister but she was the godmother to her nephew. Someone who died within a few days but she makes sure to note it wasn’t her fault.

Commentary

Serena Joy relaying that, once the baby is born, June will be leaving.
Serena Joy: Well, I think we’ve all had more than enough of one another.

Perhaps the main thing to hone in on here is the fact Aunt Lydia opened up. Which is rather strange since she has always been very by the book and even when it comes to Janine, she has presented herself an authority figure. Like a teacher in middle or elementary school who can be caring but their personal life is relatively unknown.

Yet, she got cracked open by the request to be a godmother. Something said for reasons I think Aunt Lydia realized wasn’t part of a con or game, but a genuine request. Which I guess knocked her off balance to the point of talking about a sister who is, who knows where, and a nephew who died. All to this one girl who she may admire the moxy of but has also been a huge pain in her rear end.

But I guess even Aunt Lydia can get sentimental.

Meanwhile in Canada: Serena Joy, Fred, Moira, Luke

With resources being what they are, be it produce, babies, and more, naturally countries are kind of warming up to Gilead, even as what remains of America, headquartered somewhere in Anchorage, Alaska, condemns the move. But, Canada needs resources and Fred, who brings Serena Joy to make it look like women aren’t oppressed, wants better border security and even extradition. Now, whether that means extradition in the form of handmaids being returned, like slaves to confederate states, who knows?

For while Fred is wheeling and dealing, people like Mark are trying to seduce Serena Joy into defecting. Something that is a bit tempting, for while she supported the idea of Gilead, the way things are is far from how she wanted them to be. So seeing women who work, have hobbies which are actually stimulating, and things like that? Well, it is hard to not be a bit envious. However, she has come to accept things as they are and won’t betray her country.

However, as you can imagine, the trip isn’t necessarily smooth. Protests happen from the get-go and Luke even gets up in Fred’s face. Moira of course also gets riled up but she is more so looking for legal proceedings to be done while Fred is on Canadian soil. However, with their pocket of America being guests and not Canadian citizens, while welcome to protest legal proceedings are treated as far too much to ask.

Commentary

Moira holding a sign which says, "My name is Moira"

Serena, at this point, is either going to go down with Gilead or be one of the final ones who stab it in its heart. For she really does seem to be at a crossroad right now. She can’t deal with how isolated she feels, how she has nothing to bring a sense of fulfillment, and belittling herself is increasingly becoming frustrating. Especially to Fred who, at one time, used her as a crutch.

So when Mark approached her, in a rather flirtatious way may I add, so came the question if he could have tempted her. But, I think what Serena wants to do is maybe try to change things from the inside. After all, her beliefs haven’t changed it is just she finds the way the men warped them to be stifling.

Oh, and before we move on, how awkward must it have been for Fred and Serena Joy, never mind Nick, to come across Luke face to face? Especially with him holding a poster with June’s face on it. I mean, at the very least, for Serena Joy, that had to be awkward right? The woman whose child you’re about to take, who has fought you for maybe a year now, you are confronted with the life and husband she has kept trying to escape to. And damn if he isn’t still ready to show up and fight for his wife after all this time.

The Whisper Revolution Continues: Nick, Luke, Moira, Fred, Serena Joy, June

After Luke’s outburst, Nick meets him in a bar and of course Luke is a bit aggressive. However, with letting Luke know that June is fine, considering her circumstances, that brings Luke some peace. In return, he asks of Nick to tell June that Moira made it and before they part, Nick hands Luke all the letters from various people in Gilead to Luke. Which, after he, Moira, and Erin sort through them, they upload them online.

With that, a representative for the Canadian government, Stuart, he shuts down all talks and Fred and Serena Joy are asked to leave. Thus embarrassing Fred and likely that will lead to quite a few issues back home. But, while things are bad for them, June learns about Moira being alive, and that she made it across the border. Also, she learns about the letters getting across the border.

And with that, June has hope. Perhaps the kind of hope which may inspire her to try to run again. However, there remains the constant issue of not wanting to leave Hannah behind.

Commentary

Stuart asking Fred and Serena Joy to kindly leave the country, after the letters get out.
Stuart (James Gilbert): You and your wife are no longer welcome in Canada.

There is a serious need to wonder what will come of these letters besides diplomatic setbacks. Lack of resources is still an issue and who knows how long countries can maintain sanctions against Gilead. On top of that, as much as it would be nice to see June escape, Hannah being at an unknown location keeps that from happening. I mean, Nick could assist but what good is that when June doesn’t want to leave her first child behind for the sake of the second?

Leading to the thought: Imagine how that reunion would be? Much less, how she might have adjusted to life in Gilead.

Other Noteworthy Facts & Moments

  • With Eden noting they had strawberries from California, one could say that Gilead’s reach is coast

Question(s) Left Unanswered

  1. Anyone else thought Eden and Isaac, the guardian who was watching over Waterford’s house in his absence, were cute together?
  2. Considering the refugees who made it across the border, were the letters just a reminder of how terrible things in Gilead were and that’s why it became a big deal? Because, surely stories like Moira had to have hit the internet and were circulated right?
  3. How will pissing off a guardian be handled in Janine’s new home?

Highlights

  1. Luke learning about June doing well, outside of being pregnant by rape, and June learning Moira made it across the border and found Luke.
  2. Aunt Lydia, even a little bit, opening up.
  3. Getting a bit more of an idea about the geography and diplomacy of the world. Be it that America might be based out in Anchorage, Alaska now or that Gilead maybe coast to coast.
  4. The letters getting out, thanks to Nick, Luke, Moira, and Erin, and what that means for future episodes.
  5. June having a renewed urge to escape.
  6. Serena Joy, increasingly, seeming like she may sabotage Gilead in some form or fashion.

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About Amari Sali 3219 Articles
New Jersey native Amari Sali takes the approach of more so being a media advisor than a critic to sort of fill in the gap left between casual fans of media and those who review productions for a living. Thus being open about bias while still giving enough insight, often with spoilers, to present whether something is worth seeing, buying, renting, streaming, or checking out at all.

3 Comments

  1. I do not mean to suggest that the way in which Nick was coerced into this relationship is something that should be condoned. I thought I had made it clear in previous posts that I found the whole situation deplorable…. it is an injustice and I agree that the totalitarian system of Gilead is discriminatory against lower-class men (or indeed, any man that has the slightest theological or political doubts) and not just women. I agree with you that it’s right for the show to depict that onscreen.

    I still felt that Nick could’ve handled the situation with more intelligence, if not with more compassion… but then, perhaps that’s my previous familiarity with the novel and movie colouring my judgement. You’re right in saying that the Nick of this series doesn’t handle responsibility well and is written as being rather reluctant to take decisive action… the character of Nick in the novel was a much tougher and more focused character, and Aidan Quinn played him as a determined man of action in the movie. Perhaps I’m expecting too much from the Nick of this series because his literary and cinematic counterparts were somewhat more admirable personalities.

    I agree with your assessment of Serena’s character and the importance of having villains that are not one dimensional. It’s clear that she never expected the philosophy that she originally advocated to be taken to the violent extremes that it eventually was, and now feels trapped, but too proud to admit many of her misgivings.

  2. When it comes to Serena, a part of me questioned why didn’t they see her as a victim of circumstances. Mark seemingly had an idea of who she was and how she lacked agency. Otherwise, why would she not have written more books, be speaking on behalf of Gilead, as she spoke upon their ideals before, and not just be a wife?

    And taking note of previous episodes, I think this one was a further push to show that as much as Serena Joy isn’t a saint, can you honestly say she deserves the life she has? As shown by her interactions with June, you may not agree with her, but she isn’t necessarily a bad person. Like the best “villains,” for a lack of a better term, she does what is right out of consideration more than malice.

    As for Nick? If I remember right, based on his backstory, he is not someone who likes responsibility and Eden is a serious responsibility. One he didn’t ask for. So as much as you have to feel bad for Eden, at the same time there is a need to question if Nick should really just accept his obligation to her. For what does that mean with all the other characters? We are very much outraged how women are treated in the show, but here is one situation where a man doesn’t want to just go along with the system but is being coerced to. Do we not support his autonomy?

  3. In answer to your questions…

    I didn’t really feel that Isaac and Eden looked cute together and I’m not hoping they begin an affair… if anything, seeing what happened to Janine in this episode made me think that Isaac may be a dangerous presence, despite his outward charm and attractiveness. At one point Rita spells out that he has the power to break her jaw on a whim and not be punished… Eden, though she tries so hard to be the perfect embodiment of the regime’s feminine ideal, lacks self-confidence and sophistication. I’m thinking it would be easy for a short-tempered and trigger-happy guard to misinterpret her shyness and awkward demeanour as reluctance to do her duty and then she’d get a beating.

    As to the question of why the letters from Jezebels had the impact they did… I imagine that the broader social structure and official ideology of Gilead are well known. But the fact a group of the ruling class (people who proclaim themselves fit to rule by virtue of their holier than thou understanding of God’s will and impeccable moral character) have set up a sex club where they can indulge their most debauched fantasies is not widely known (even within Gilead, most of the population don’t know of its existence and not even all the other Commanders know about this little club)… the revelation that such a place as Jezebels exists would make huge waves, if only because of the hypocrisy of it. Every other atrocity the regime has committed is at least consistent with their professed theology, but the mere existence of Jezebels is in open defiance of it – which is probably why it brought diplomatic talks to a halt. If Fred’s patronage of Jezebels is named in the letters then it proves that he is a man who can’t even be trusted so far as to abide by laws which HE HELPED TO DESIGN.

    If other Commanders are ignorant of the faction who have been indulging in vice, then the release of these letters would surely alert them to this corruption… and might mean bad news for Fred in Gilead… the novel alludes to the leadership of Gilead conducting purges of corrupt members and hints Fred was killed in one of these. Following the purges, Gilead becomes even more oppressive for a while, before collapsing under the strain of an unworkable system… it would be an interesting take on things if these letters are the catalyst for first a period of greater oppression, followed by the fall of Gilead.

    Did you think Nick is being too much of a standoffish dick to Eden in this episode? Also, were there any moments where you were chilled by the tone of arrogant, condescending self-righteousness in the way the Canadians treated Serena? Both of these things disturbed me in ways I’m not sure the writers intended. I felt that Nick could be making A LOT more effort with Eden… and I wondered if the kind of ethical arrogance displayed by the Canadians reminded Selena of attitudes in the former US, that drove her to embrace fundamentalism.

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