The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 Episode 6 Review: First Blood

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How many set therapists are there on the set of The Handmaid's Tale?

With the way the actors must move in and out of kindness and ruthlessness, desolation and elation, I'd guess many of the actors have a difficult time not taking the work with them when they leave the set.

The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 Episode 6 was a feast of personality crises for Serena Joy, June, and even Fred. But it was Yvonne Strahovski who was dealing with the broadest range of emotions, and the subtlety of her performance continues to dazzle.

Serena Joy Flashes Back - The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 Episode 6

In one of the most effective and informative flashbacks for Serena Joy and Fred Waterford to date, we learned a lot more about their early days in the movement that created Gilead, as well as their marriage.

As with all flashbacks, the details are scattered, and if we know anything about memories, they're not to be trusted. This particular brush with the past is set off because of what happened with June and the baby.

Related: The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 Episode 5 Review: Seeds

Serena Joy suddenly seems very keen on keeping June/Offred happy and at peace, going the extra mile to make her feel accepted in the home, perhaps realizing selling off the father of her baby to a young wife might not have the desired effect on a peaceful household Aunt Lydia had suggested.

Mother Hen - The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 Episode 6

Serena Joy is positively showering Offred with kindness, almost of the genuine variety. There is barely a sneer to be seen, and that alone should be enough to warn everyone involved just how fragile the mother-to-be is at the moment.

Still, wants to be near Offred, to keep her comfortable and to fetch her whatever she may need. She doesn't grump when June denies another of the awful smoothies and settles on soup instead, and she welcomes the opportunity to speak with her surrogate about what it's like to be pregnant.

Serena Joy: Offred?
June: Yes?
Serena Joy: What's it like to feel that life inside fo you?
June: There's nothing much happening right now, but if you want, you can come and feel it. Come on. Give me your hand.

June even begins to soften with this new, less haughty Serena Joy. The two of them start getting on as they did during The Handmaid's Tale Season 1 for a very short while when it seemed there was even space for them to be (gasp) friends.

Woman to Woman - The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 Episode 6

That thought wasn't lost on Serena Joy, either, as after an awkward moment between June and Eden Blaine (Nick's new wife), Serena Joy announces she has a surprise for Offred, ushering her into the kitchen eating area where four other handmaids await.

Of course, Serena Joy had no idea Offred was persona non grata within the only group where she was once welcome, but the best moment of the brunch was when the quiet and awkwardness threatened to ruin what Serena Joy had planned, so June began speaking -- of the past.

That got all of the girls out of their shells because nothing brings them joy like recalling what their lives were like before (other than what they may have planned to shake up their present, and that's not something they're going to share with a wife).

Related: The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 Episode 4 Review: Other Women

Serena Joy seemed more comfortable with their girlish conversation about brunch spots -- even knowing the name of what was June's favorite -- than she has ever appeared when chatting with other wives. She was having such a time she noted serendipity might have had some of them there at the same time in their former lives.

That's a fairly significant statement for a wife to make to a group of handmaids and only makes Serena Joy all the more intriguing. That's another moment, of course, that wasn't lost on her, sending her to the greenhouse for some time to pull up the past again.

Cheering on Serena Joy - The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 Episode 6

Recalling speaking at universities about her book and how they can save the future and mankind from annihilation shines a light on the woman who was hoping to shake some fear into the generation which she felt needed it the most.

You want me to stay silent, but that will not change what is happening in this country! You're spoiled, you're privileged, and you're living in an academic bubble! All of you! The rate of healthy births has dropped 61% in the last 12 months! That is exactly the problem we need to focus on right now. The future and the future of mankind depends on what we do today! What we do now! Because the human race is in jeopardy, women especially embrace your biological destiny! This affects us all!

Serena Joy

They didn't want to listen to her. Hell, I didn't want to listen to her, especially since I read only a few days ago about the decline in birth rates across the world. Now, it's a choice amongst a certain group of people, but it's hard not to imagine something similar happening and the haves and have-nots.

Husband and Wife - The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 Episode 6

Serena Joy's book was titled "A Woman's Place," and well before she arrived at any college campuses, she was an unwelcome guest. It's hard to imagine what she believed the woman's place to be given she was a working woman without children hoping to change the world.

And until that day, she must have been able to bear children or may have even been pregnant. But there was no doubt she wore the pants in the family. 

Fred: Serena, I never should have let you start speaking in public.
Serena Joy: [pulls her hand out of his] You stop that! Stop it, and be a man!

Serena Joy didn't allow Fred a moment to pity himself for what he had allowed to happen in their family nor would she allow him to feel. Feelings, as we have learned, are not Serena's favorite. That she allows herself to be called Joy is a mystery that needs to be solved.

What she drove Fred to do to get justice for his wife undoubtedly affected the plans for Gilead. Fred continues to be soft with his handmaids for the lack of softness he receives from his wife. The same wife who then holds against him turning to handmaids for what he doesn't get from her.

Related: The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 Episode 3 Review: Baggage

They are the ultimate Catch 22 couple. She wants, refuses, and continues to want while at war with herself over what is right and allowed and makes her weak and worthy and unworthy all at the same time.

And every level of individual within Gilead is forced to feel as the Waterfords.

A Tough Assignment - The Handmaid's Tale

Nick was close to being turned into the authorities after two days of marriage for being a gender traitor because a 15-year-old girl he was forced to marry thought either she was too ugly or he was gay.

There couldn't be another reason Nick hadn't had sex with her. 

And the words the woman he loves used when he expressed he couldn't have sex with a girl that age, "Oh, you don't want to have sex with someone you don't want to? Poor you," were perfect in their place but sad that they could be said at all under any circumstance.

Then the young girl -- who was pleased with a 20-second sexual experience because she thought that was the right thing to do in the eyes of God and excited to keep doing it until it took -- was forced to treat June like a slave all because Serena Joy was angry June asked about Hannah.

Playing Games - The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 Episode 6

The real kicker, though, is her anger didn't seem to have much of a place. The why of Serena Joy's anger at that particular time is unknown. She wants to be in charge in a world that let her down. She's angry June gets to have a baby she cannot. 

Only moments before, the women were connecting with the lovely nursery. There were tears in both of their eyes as Serena Joy showed June the nursery and said she would be the best mother she could be to June's baby, well, Serena's baby.

Related: The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 Premiere Review: June and the Unwomen

June's timing was off since the women connect the two children with a "don't harm mine, I won't harm yours" attitude, but Serena Joy has to know it will be easier for June to let go of a baby if she can have her child back in her arms. She should be doing everything she can to make that happen for June.

In fact, get her on the run. Running with an infant would be nearly impossible. Let her take her child and go. 

It was an opportunity for Fred to do something nice, though. 

June: You shouldn't be in here.
Fred: Well, that's not the welcome I was anticipating.
June: Your wife would be very angry.
Fred: This is my house. I hoped she could manage things here at home, but I see now I need to step in and keep the peace. I have something for you. [He hands June a photo of Hannah] It's good to see you happy again.
June: Thank you.

If keeping tabs on Hannah means she has to keep the Commander happy, that's what June will do. She'll do anything for the well being of her child. That's what Serena Joy doesn't grasp of yet. That by ruffling June's feathers, she's compromising the baby.

At least June hasn't been a part of the handmaids and those who have been planning to take down the new Rachel and Leah center. 

Did that blow your mind or what? I wonder how many Commanders were taken out with that feisty handmaid. I was just thinking how humiliating it was to be made to stand behind the glass like they were when she broke rank and started running down the aisle, trigger in hand.

And that song?! It was perfection, tearing up the somber moment and crashing ol' Fred's image of what his beloved center would accomplish. How about a little mayhem?

It will be a short-lived win, I'm sure. 

The explosion wasn't large enough to have killed everyone, but the handmaids are going to be made to suffer, I'm sure. The next episode should be stunning. If the handmaids drew first blood, what comes in the "Aftermath"? That's the title of The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 Episode 7. Will that put a hold on Nick's relocation? 

Share your thoughts on everything we learned. Was Serena Joy always so hard-nosed? Did she force Fred into a world he wasn't prepared to go? Has she made a place so ugly even she wasn't ready for it? Do you want more about her pre-Gilead life? What is in store after the handmaids drew first blood??

Hit me up in the comments. 

First Blood Review

Editor Rating: 4.8 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.9 / 5.0 (36 Votes)

Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 Episode 6 Quotes

What about Mrs. Blaine? What is her bedtime, anyway?


Doctor: Oh look, Mrs. Waterford, your baby is moving around in there. [chuckles]
Serena Joy: Offred, would you like to see? [opens the divider]
June: [whispers] Hello.

  • Permalink: Hello.
  • Added: