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It's time to discuss episode seven of The Handmaid's Tale, 'After'.
By
Fiona Williams

31 May 2018 - 4:03 PM  UPDATED 31 May 2018 - 5:05 PM

This is a deep dive into the events of Episode 7 of Series 2 of The Handmaid's Tale. Spoilers are a given, as we discuss all of the plot points within the episode. New episodes of The Handmaid's Tale premiere every Thursday at 8.30pm on SBS Australia and at 5pm at SBS On Demand.

Watch episode 7, 'After', at SBS On Demand:

When last we left Gilead, we were rocked by the explosive opening of the new Rachel and Leah Centre,  when a Handmaid went rogue and detonated a grenade as she hurled herself towards the chief oppressors. The suicide bomber was Ofglen (the second), who had her tongue cut out for being the first to object to the stoning of Janine, and thus paved the way for June/Offred’s epic, infamous act of “I’m sorry, Aunt Lydia” recalcitrance.  This week, we're in the immediate aftermath of the blast, and it's our resisting sisters who reveal their humanity by uniting in grief. Conversely, and to no one's surprise, Gilead's ruling classes do the exact opposite, and barely wait for the bodies of their spiritual brothers to turn cold, before they start jockeying for position at the top of the heap. Blessed day indeed.  

Episode 7 opens in the wake of the explosion, with a mass funeral for the 31 Handmaids lost in the blast (a cruel irony is that Ofglen’s act resulted in more collateral damage than Commander casualties). The Handmaids don their mourning garb of black cloaks and maroon chiffon veils, to perform a liturgical dance of remembrance (under the watchful eyes of the gun-toting Guardians on the hill), as a visibly rattled Aunt Lydia leads a call-and-response kind of Last Post for her fallen charges:

Aunt Lydia: In the rising of the sun, and in its going down.
Handmaids: We remember them.
Aunt Lydia: Oh Lord, when we are lost and sick at heart.
Handmaids:  We remember them.
Aunt Lydia: When we are weary and in need of strength.
Handmaids: We remember them.
Aunt Lydia: So long as we live, they, too, shall live.
Handmaids: As we remember them.
Aunt Lydia: Girls. I wish I could give you a world without violence. Without pain. That’s all I ever wanted. 
And in their names, dear Lord, we remember them: Ofryan. Ofleo. Ofhal. Ofzev. Ofben.
Handmaids: We remember them.
Aunt Lydia: Ofduncan.
Handmaids: We remember them.
Aunt Lydia: Ofjohn. 
Handmaids: We remember them.
Aunt Lydia: Ofedward.
Handmaids: We remember them.
Aunt Lydia: Ofcolin.
Handmaids: We remember them.
Aunt Lydia: Ofraymond.
Handmaids: We remember them.

We know Gilead loves a ceremony - after all, we’re still processing the good ol’ Prayvaganza of a mere two eps ago - and this mega memorial for the dead Handmaids is all a very appropriate, performative show of respect, Gilead-style, for the women whose loins are so vital to the long-term prospects of the regime.

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In an impressive show of restraint, June manages to maintain a poker face throughout Aunt Lydia’s galling turn as grieving MC. The honour roll that identifies the dead girls only as a possession of their captors, reminds June of just how little she knows about the women who share her dehumanising predicament. In the post-funeral transit in the back of the Birthmobile, Ofsamuel’s weirdly bitchy eulogising (“Ofedward was kind of a jerk and she never washed her hair. God rest her soul”) is cut short by June’s solemn acknowledgement that she never got to ask her shopping partner Ofglen II’s name (back when the woman still possessed a tongue and the ability to speak, obvs). It’s Lillie Fuller, FYI. This moment is recalled later in the episode, when June leads a round of mutual introductions at the grocery store. But more on that later.

With the dead now buried, it doesn’t take long for them to be joined by a significant number of their fellow citizens, as newly ensconced security chief, Commander Cushing, spearheads a purge disguised as a crusade against the revolutionary impulses. Cushing has landed himself a promotion as a result of the explosion, as we learn that Commander Pryce, the Council chair and Nick’s powerful ally, is among the 27 commanders killed. (Cushing, eagle-eyed viewers will recall, has well-established creep credentials, for having mocked the one-handed Warren’s disability during a golf game in season one.)   

Cushing sets the Guardians the grisly task of stringing up suspects for no discernible crime, more as a demonstrably short-sighted show of might. To that end, he pays a visit to June at the Waterford residence, when he knows Serena is keeping vigil at the incapacitated Fred’s hospital bedside. Eager to occupy the power void at the top of Gilead, Cushing spies an opportunity to dispense with his chief rival, and all but asks Offred outright, to dob in Fred as the brainchild of her thwarted escape from Gilead (he rightly calls bullshit on the whole “kidnapping” facade). For June, the offer to send her smarmy rapist to the lions is tempting but, after a brief flirtation with the idea, she opts for the devil she knows: she feigns ignorance and sends the Commander on his way. And then promptly spills the beans to Serena.

The erstwhile Ms Joy reads between the lines and enlists Nick in a plot to beat Cushing at his own game. And maybe get him back for being a little handsy when he offered up his condolences at the hospital. Serena, don’t forget, was co-author of the religious utopia that became Gilead, and she seizes the opportunity to reclaim her seat at the table -- at least until Fred regains consciousness. Thus we end the episode with a strange development in the complicated dynamic between June and Serena: June gets to use a biro (!) and sub-edit Serena’s subversive rewrite of Gilead’s legislative papers. With each new episode we’re establishing the boundaries of their transactional relationship, and this new shift offers yet another weird new risky opportunity for our June.   

Even with all the chaos in Gilead, we still manage to spend time in both Canada’s Little America  and the colonies in this episode, as news of the blast spreads far and wide.

At the US Embassy in Canada, Luke seems indifferent to the news of the Gilead bomb, and tells Moira that even if June did manage to survive the blast, “She’s not okay”. A fair point, well made, that. (The brief moment adds more weight to my suspicion that Luke knows more than he’s letting on, and that he is somehow playing an as-yet undeclared role in Mayday. I don’t think he’ll come out and ‘save’ June - this ain’t the kind of show where the guys is going to save the day - but I’ll cling to the theory that there’s more to him, until we get more intel about exactly what he’s been doing in the years since he lost June and Hannah by the battered Volvo.)

Moira is far more affected, for several reasons, as we learn when we get more insight into her backstory. Back when American women had the freedom to make informed decisions about whether to offer assisted fertility, Moira undertook to act as a surrogate for a British couple, and gave birth to a boy, in exchange for $250,000. June supported her through Lamaze classes, and kept Moira grounded when swollen ankles and the lack of a life partner had her feeling riled up and confrontational.  But as luck would have it, she found that life partner through the process, when she fell for her gynaecologist, Odette, and the two became engaged. But we know the arc of that relationship; the laws of Gilead declared them gender traitors and the Guardians separated them by force. Nowadays, Moira pores over binders of photographs of dead women (how did they get them? It’s not yet clear), until her thankless search reaches the unhappy conclusion we’ve been bracing for.

Further afield, a surprise convoy speeds into the Colonies and collects all wayward Handmaids, to yank them back into Gilead and restock the households of Commanders and Wives whose previous charges were killed in the blast. This, naturally, yoyos Emily and Janine right back into contact with June - hopefully after the Powers That Be ran a Geiger Counter over the poor, wretched souls who’ve been shovelling radioactive dirt for months? - and sparks the aforementioned grocery store round of introductions. The highly visible act of resistance is no less dangerous for the fact it takes place in front of snitchy Eden. Will there be repercussions? You bet. Have you even seen this show?!

A parting thought: Post-funeral, Aunt Lydia is notably absent for the remainder of the episode. To me, this can only mean one thing: we’re getting a shedload of Ann Dowd’s banal baddie next week. The emergence of a bomb-throwing Handmaid is bound to provoke some uncomfortable questions for Gilead’s chief Handmaid handler, so I figure Aunt Lydia will be in the hot seat for failing to detect that Ofglen was hiding much more than a functioning uterus under her cloak.  If you've been listening to SBS's The Handmaid's Tale companion podcast, Eyes on Gilead, you'll recall that my co-host Natalie Hambly, has previously mentioned that Aunt Lydia has some mighty big KPIs to achieve in her role at the top of the surrogate supply chain. Accordingly, the murder of 31 of Gilead’s precious babymakers on her watch, by one of her own, can’t possibly go unpunished. And you know what else? Now that Serena appears to have seized an opportunity to pull the strings (however temporarily) you can bet the benevolent Mrs Waterford is going to revel in serving up a little payback to Aunt Lydia, for getting a little too big for her boots back in eps 4 and 5, when she tut-tutted Serena's smoking, and flaunted that lead pencil right under Serena’s nose. She doesn’t miss a trick, that one.

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New episodes of Eyes On Gilead will be available to download as soon as the latest episode of the TV show has started streaming at SBS On Demand. 

 

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