The Handmaid’s Tale: “Jezebels” Recap


By: Karen Valenzuela (@VictoriaNoir89)

Welcome, dear readers, to the recap of episode eight of The Handmaid’s Tale, which has officially come the closest to making me vomit. So far.

After last week’s foray into the world of Luke’s suffering, we thankfully find ourselves back with Offred in Gilead, back in the Waterford home, back in the main storyline.

And immediately Narrator Offred tells us she’s been sleeping with Nick the driver. I want to say that it’s a whiplash realization for the viewers after seeing a whole episode about her husband and ending it with how grateful and relieved he is that she’s still alive, after being gifted with the hope they might be reunited someday…but it isn’t that for me. Because this show never shies away from reminding us that the world of The Handmaid’s Tale actively beats back hope with a baseball bat of oppression. And yet, in spite of that, the hope still exists, lingering here and there between the dialogue, in rebellious moments, in bits of humanity from different characters. June has found release, connection, and pleasure in Nick’s arms, and it’s honestly hard to judge her if you put yourself in her shoes.

As June climbs out of his bed and starts getting dressed, Nick has a flashback that takes us to the days before Gilead, when he was just a guy looking for a job in an economically suffering society. He’s at a career center, talking to a weary agent who seems to at least be trying to genuinely help Nick land a good job. When Nick gets into a tussle with an impatient guy in line behind him, he knocks his agent across the face and gets thrown out, seemingly destroying the one chance he probably had at getting help. But the agent follows him outside and asks if he can buy him a cup of coffee. Through the resulting conversation between the two men, we can glean that Nick, his dad, and his brother worked in some sort of steel factory and were all laid off. His troubles started there. He seems to have been the only one who kept trying to find another job, both his father and brother crumbling and abusing alcohol. As they talk, the agent says a few things that set off alarm bells – sentiments that mimic the mindset of Gilead, the principles that built this sickening and oppressive society. Things like, “No wonder God’s turned his back on us. No wonder there are no children. He doesn’t want them to grow up in this screwed up world. Who can blame Him?” But it all makes sense when he talks about “The Sons of Jacob,” a group with multiple chapters that is working behind the scenes to promote moral cleansing. They’ll surely be the ones to bring about the revolt and Gilead. He invites Nick to a Sons of Jacob meeting.

Back with Offred in the Waterford home, she walks into her bedroom to find Commander Waterford sitting on her bed. First of all, he isn’t supposed to be there. Secondly, “How’s my fair little one this evening?” is probably the creepiest greeting he could have come up with, so A+ on that one, Creepy Fred. This is really only the beginning of creepy moments in an episode that’s so chock-full of creepy moments that I felt like taking a shower after. Fred asking her if she’s “up for a little excitement” with that breathy patronizing voice of his that he uses when he talks to her in particular, like she’s a child almost, is just so discomfiting. Which is an understatement of massive proportions. Then we’re whisked into an incredibly unsettling, GROSS scene in which Waterford shaves Offred’s legs. On top of the usual discomfort I feel in scenes where one person shaves another person (I can’t be alone in this), there’s the sinister feeling you also get from Offred thinking he’s done this before. (Perhaps to the Offred before her which has so many implications considering what ended up happening to her.) He makes her put on makeup, something she hasn’t done in years and he watches her closely the entire time, an almost menacing fascination in his face. Then he makes her put on a slinky dress and matching heels. Makes her take her hair down. “Tonight, I’m taking you out,” he says, and you wonder…on a date? Or is he going to kill her and leave her body on the side of a road somewhere? It could be either one, sincerely.

Fred walks Offred down through the kitchen to where Nick awaits them, one of Serena Joy’s green hooded cloaks in hand. As Nick and Offred exchange a quick glance, Fred explains that Serena has gone for the night to visit her mother and wouldn’t be back until the next day. Of course. Once they’re in the car, Fred waxes poetic about how many improvements Gilead has made for the planet (big whoop, you monster) and fishes for compliments about how beautiful their improvements are. But then they reach a checkpoint and the stress levels are amped up significantly. He instructs Offred to put her hood up so that she can pose as Mrs. Waterford and the guardians wave them through. “You’re very quiet,” he says, “Aren’t you enjoying yourself?” Mmhmm! Being forced to do illegal things in a society in which people regularly have their eyes gouged out for showing sass is super fun, Creepy Fred! The thrill he seems to be getting from this is unsettling, but not as unsettling as his expectation that she also gets a thrill from it…when she could literally be caught and killed for this. Is he cruel? Clueless? Both?

Once they get through another checkpoint in which Offred has to literally hide because women (not even Wives) aren’t allowed past that point, they head into the city of Boston proper. But not before we’re taken into another flashback from Nick’s perspective again. He’s driving with three of the Commanders (Waterford, the recruiter Nick met earlier named Price, and a white pasty flabby man) in the back of his car as they discuss their ideas for the future of Gilead. The white pasty flabby man (his name is Gothrie but he doesn’t deserve to have his actual name mentioned more than once so we won’t), who sees treating women with decency as “window dressing,” forwards the idea of “collecting” and impregnating all fertile women, like they’re freaking dogs and this is the Kennel Club. “By those of superior status, of course.” Surely you can’t mean moral status, though, you disgusting piggish excuse for a human. Waterford says the Wives will never accept it (“that’s a non-issue,” white pasty flabby man scoffs, because he isn’t already gross enough) and the Commanders will never get anything done without their support. Price suggests the Wives be there. “There is scriptural precedent,” he says, and of course we now know why Waterford reads from the Bible as part of the Ceremony. But they can’t call it an “act,” Waterford insists, so they’ll call it the Ceremony. “Sounds Godly. The wives’ll eat that shit up,” says white pasty flab. And none of us are surprised.

Nick witnesses all of this with his usual quietude and furrowed brow, and when Price and white pasty flab get out, Waterford asks him what he thinks about all of this. It’s the first time we get Nick’s opinion, and it doesn’t shed him in a very nice light. He says he thinks Waterford’s right – “best not to form attachments.” Eeeww, Nick.

That opinion is tested, however, throughout the next few scenes as Fred guides Offred in through the back door of what seems like some sort of hotel or clubhouse. The three of them share what is (and also isn’t) the quintessential awkward elevator ride down into a basement. Fred has her take Serena’s cloak off, and then he leads her away from Nick down a corridor and into a pleasure den. And when I say a pleasure den, picture the most screwed up and horrific fantasies some men have, like you hear about in those late night true crime shows that leave you feeling ill right before bed. Women dressed in revealing Handmaid robes, breasts exposed. Some of them are dressed to look like teenagers, others like Wives. Fred patronizingly chuckles at the wide-eyed barely subdued WTF look on Offred’s face and tells her to “just act naturally.” When Offred tells him she thought places like this were forbidden, he admits they are officially, but they turn a blind eye here because “everyone’s human.” No. Not everyone. Only these men are considered human. Everybody else, women, are playthings – toys that have rules to follow and if they don’t, nobody turns a blind eye; they get their hands chopped off or they’re hanged.

Commander Waterford explains the den to Offred as though he’s talking about any regular type of club. The men are officials, from Gilead or from foreign countries. And the women, he tells her, were from all walks of life before. He points out a women who used to be a sociology professor. And then he notes some of them can be pretty interesting to talk to if you’re into that. It’s demeaning and gross and a really bad joke. You aren’t funny or charming, Creepy Fred. When he adds “We’ve got quite a collection,” it’s enough to make you have to resist tearing the arm off of your couch in anger, She-Hulk status.

As Offred sips her Cosmopolitan, she looks across the smoky room and freezes in shock. Moira is sitting across from a man, talking and laughing, wearing a revealing outfit. They meet eyes and Moira gets up to leave the room. Offred excuses herself to go to the ladies’ room. Just like in their Red Center days, she finds Moira inside. They embrace, crying tears of relief and joy as Moira apologizes for leaving her at the train station. June is quick to forgive, reassuring her. But before they can catch up, a supervisor comes in and busts Moira, telling her to get back out on the floor. June and Moira make a plan to meet again later that night and Moira rushes out of the ladies’ room. When June goes back out, Waterford interrupts before another inebriated Commander can further humiliate and harass her, then takes her up to a room as Nick watches from afar. He flashes back to when he found the Offred before June hanging from a sheet in her bedroom, dead. And you know he wonders – and in turn it makes us wonder – if June is headed down the same path.

“What did you think was going to happen?”

Up in the room, Waterford drinks and rants and raves about his colleagues, using Offred as an outlet for his venting as he waves around his glass of wine, disgusted by the bureaucracy and politics he’s involved in, the very thing that gives him the privilege to be who he is and do what he is doing without getting into trouble for it. And we’re back to our game of Cruel? Clueless? Or both? Waterford proceeds to touch and stroke Offred, the costumes and lighting in the room adding to the menacing image of the Commander standing behind her like a dark shadow demon hunching forward as if to swallow her up.

After it’s done and Waterford is fast asleep, Offred gets dressed and sneaks down to meet Moira in her lodgings. First, we get to see the horrid things that happen in the rooms at this freaky place, the stomach-churning fantasies the Commanders force the Jezebels into performing. Moira’s living space is a large room with tiny cots that are close to the floor, dozens upon dozens of them jammed together with flimsy curtains between them, almost like a natural disaster rescue center. June rushes up to Moira’s cot where her friend is removing her painful shoes and they sit together to catch up in the scant amount of time they have. Moira tells her what happened to her after she got onto that train. She found her way with some help to the “Underground” – they smuggle women out of the country – but the man who helped her was shot and she was taken back before she could escape. She was deemed as a “corrupting influence” so she didn’t get sent back to the Red Center. Instead she was given a choice, the Colonies or Jezebels. For all intents and purposes, it seems like Moira – a character who’s held us up for most of this first season with her rebellious spirit – has thrown in the towel. She tells June there’s no way to escape. “We’re alone, June. Just take care of yourself.”

Later, Nick leads his Commander and June back to the car and we go into another flashback, after the first Offred’s suicide. Nick has just taken a job as an Eye. He’ll be reporting to Price about his own Commander, especially after the slip-up with Waterford’s Handmaid. As Commander Price and Nick talk, the white pasty flabby commander from a prior flashback looks to have been arrested for sleeping with his two prior Handmaids, Nick confirms. It’s no surprise that guy’s been taking advantage of Jezebels. Price doles out a bit of a warning, telling Nick he hopes Waterford has more sense once the new Handmaid arrives, hinting that he knows Waterford took his first Offred to the Jezebels. Any more slip-ups, and Waterford’s goose is cooked, as the saying goes – and you wonder just what exactly Nick will do now that he knows Waterford has done the same thing with June. Is Creepy Fred in trouble?

Serena returns from her mother’s the next day and it’s cringeworthy watching her interact with her husband this time, especially knowing everything that happened in this episode. When she asks him how everything was with her gone, he replies, “Lonely.” Uggghh!! You know he’s gone to the Jezebels so many times, and that he’s aware of the hypocritical sick crap that happens there.

Nick walks past Offred as she eats her meal in the kitchen to grab Serena’s bags at the back door and completely ignores her as she tries to smile at him. And when she asks if she will see him later – alluding to the sex they keep having – he tells her they need to stop. You know it’s about June sleeping with Waterford the night before even if he doesn’t say why. When she persists, telling him she had no choice, he still doesn’t give her any kind of response. She corners him, telling him she knows nothing about him, and when he still doesn’t respond, she asks if this “bullshit life” is really enough for him. They’re being stupid, he says, and while they are being stupid because the danger of getting caught is real, his reasoning feels so weak. June, on the other hand, is empowering when she concedes this affair might end up with her on the wall, but at least someone would remember her and that’s something. He stops her before she can leave, telling her his full name and that he’s from Michigan. She verbally slaps his face with a nasty “Well, under his eye, Guardian Blaine” before leaving him alone in the kitchen. It’s very satisfying.

The episode ends with Serena catching Offred on the stairwell. She brought her Handmaid a gift – her old music box from when she was a child. Later that night, we see the music box on the windowsill, open, the music playing as the little ballerina poses on her tiptoe. And we find Offred – June – on the floor of her closet, scratching a message into the wall. “You are not alone.”

Serena’s gift opens up a Pandora’s Box. How much does she know about her husband’s extracurricular contact with their Handmaids? It’s hard to imagine she knows about Jezebels, but with her accusation of her husband in the suicide flashback (“What did you think was going to happen?”) and the ferocity with which she said it, you can’t help wondering if she knew about late night invitations to his office. There’s also the fact that Serena gave Offred a music box with a lock. She almost seems to pointedly give the key to Offred separately. Is this a kindness from Offred’s mistress, a place where she can keep her own things locked up? A keepsake? A way to hear music again? Or is there something more selfish behind it? After all, the first Offred hanged herself. Is this Serena’s way to keep this Offred from doing the same? Appeasing her with a gift and hoping it’s enough to keep the Handmaid from misbehaving or killing herself? Whatever her intention is, the music box feels significant. Did the showrunners choose the theme from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake for the music box on purpose? In the ballet, an evil man curses a queen and her companions, forever trapping them all in the form of a swan, their identities stolen from them, lives stripped of any joy or happiness. “Perfect gift,” Offred narrates, “A girl trapped in a box. She only dances when someone else opens the lid, when someone else winds her up.”

Fred’s crap about tearing down tenements and putting up a park, and how it’s all grid solar now seems like it’s just a way for him and his colleagues to further justify the atrocities their decisions and actions are committing at the detriment to other human beings. You’re suffering and you’re unhappy and your life sucks, but look at how energy efficient we are! So progressive! We’re saving the Earth! It sounds like the same sort of justifications real life oligarchs and autocracies make in the face of mass oppression in their countries. People are dying and going hungry, but I’m okay! I’m happy! This episode especially excels at showcasing the male leaders of Gilead and their entitled hypocrisy. Behind doors they engage in the illicit practices that they condemned American society for, the thing that caused them to massacre Congress and take over the country, except their practices cross so many lines I can’t even talk about them in this recap without needing to throw up. It’s like a judge who sentences a man to death for being a serial killer, then leaves the courtroom, takes his judge’s robes off, and goes out into the dark streets to murder his next victim. The Commanders go home to their Wives after frequenting these pleasure dens and it just feels so horrifically disgusting considering the restricted lives even those women are living. I’m certain the Wives don’t get pleasure dens of their own. “Everyone’s human”…but not Wives, or Handmaids, or Marthas, or Jezebels, or Aunts, or pretty much any female. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to handle it if Creepy Fred gets any creepier.

We also get a deeper look at Nick’s duties as an Eye. He spies on the Waterfords, obviously. But he also looks to be something of a smuggler for the Eyes as well, making trades with a Martha in the Jezebels kitchen. Medications for booze and rare foods she’s obtained. It sounds like some of the Jezebels are also spies for the Eyes, using drugs to put Commanders to sleep so that they can go through their phones. It also seems Nick has engaged in a sexual relationship with his Martha contact at the Jezebels, so it seems dangerous liasons are a pattern for him. Which makes his holier-than-thou attitude and unfair judgment of June after her trip up to the room with Waterford seriously hypocritical. He’s wallowing in his hurt feelings and jealousy through the whole Jezebels scene, so much so that he completely misses the looks June gives him – a mixture of what the hell is going on and outright fear. Immaturity and selfishness are apparently still a thing, even when you’re a spy.

What did you think about this week’s episode of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale? Let us know in the comments!

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