This is a deep dive into the events of Episode 10 of Series 2 of The Handmaid's Tale, which is available to stream now at SBS On Demand. Spoilers are a given, as we discuss all of the plot points within the episode.
Due to live coverage of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the TV broadcast of episode 10 of The Handmaid’s Tale is delayed until 8.30pm Thursday 28 June, where it will screen with episode 11.
Watch episode 10, 'The Last Ceremony', at SBS On Demand:
Settle in everybody, The Handmaid’s Tale is here to stomp on your weary heart again, with yet another eerily on point dramatised rendition of ‘This Week In America’. Writer Yahlin Chang completed her script for episode 10 ‘The Last Ceremony’ months ago, but you could tell me that she’d submitted a hastily reworked version of this gut-wrenching episode yesterday and I’d believe you. The reunion between June and Hannah, which ends, again, with Guardians prising mother and daughter apart, is going to air at precisely the moment the current U.S. administration’s hard line immigration policy is separating parents from children en masse at the U.S. / Mexico border. The accelerated policy of forcible family separation (made all-the-more harrowing by the shocking vision - and audio - of detained toddlers) has seen a spike in allusions to Gilead across social media this week (by no less than horror maestro Stephen King), but Australia, don’t kid yourselves that cruel detainment policies are a uniquely Trumpian abstraction; these cyclical horrors of history are what informed Margaret Atwood in the first place.
June’s search for Hannah, and her ongoing turmoil about whether she could steel herself to flee Gilead without her first-born, has been an undercurrent of the previous 19 episodes of this distressing drama to date. What a surprise then (for June and for us) to get the longed-for reunion between mum and daughter in the third act of this, the 20th episode overall.
‘The Last Ceremony’ is an assault on the senses, for the unrelenting way that Chang, and episode director Jeremy Podeswa, reinforce the intense physical toll for Gilead’s Handmaids across every scene of the episode. There’s a visceral thread across this one, like none we’ve experienced before. Hence, the rape ritual makes an unwelcome return, twice.
It’s been a while since we’ve had to witness Gilead’s punishing insemination method, and we have June’s pregnancy, Janine’s sick baby, and Serena’s power play in recent weeks to thank for that. But of course it bears repeating that the poor old Handmaids in Gilead’s other households continue to be sent to their Commander’s bedrooms on a monthly basis to silently endure a sexual assault that’s normalised through prayer so as to give it the appearance of a holy ‘Ceremony’.
“You steel yourself. You pretend not to be present, not in the flesh. You leave your body,” June discloses, in an opening monologue set to vision of Emily flinching beneath her thrusting Commander and his enthusiastic Wife. Gradually, we pan up to his face and watch on with dread, as each contortion signposts the inevitable conclusion of this unholy trinity. The scene foreshadows an even darker return of the rape ritual 25 minutes later, when the same voice over observes Serena’s vengeful let’s-help-bring-on-the-baby scenario, and Fred’s face shows him, too, reaching his cruel climax, despite (or perhaps, because of), the screams of a terrified June beneath him.
The carnal appetites of the Commanders aren’t the only way ‘The Last Ceremony’ keeps things corporeal in this episode. From the fish head displays at Loaves & Fishes, to June’s Braxton Hicks, and even to the post-cardiac arrest kick in the dick (!) delivered by Emily to her assaulter, the hits just keep on coming. There’s no way June, much less we, can pretend not to be present, not in the flesh for this one.
And just when you think the body blows might be done, we’re dealt a one-two punch with June’s devastating reunion with Hannah, and the cliffhanger threat against Nick.
The gift of time with Hannah exposes the raw trauma for separated families, when June’s dream reunion is undercut by Hannah’s indifference to the mother she thinks abandoned her. Clearly, the child has spent time replaying the events of the series’ premiere episode, in which she saw June receive a concussive blow to the head. Hers is a revealing, and entirely logical opening question: “Did it hurt?” The scene is quietly shattering, moreso for the knowledge that it is informed by lived experience. Chang met with a United Nations representative, social workers and psychologists, to glean insights into how parents and children separated by everything from war to family conflict, respond during these emotionally charged moments of reunion: The children are often angry at having been abandoned, and the parents do their utmost to cram all of the life advice they can into these precious few moments with the child they don’t know when/if they’ll see again.
“One detaches oneself.”
We close out the episode with June, tearful, fearful and abandoned, again. She barely has a moment to process the wrenching pain of having Hannah torn from her arms for the second time, before an unseen threat then steals Nick from her side! The shock of the gunshot, of his departure, and the unexpected sight of her first child, could very nearly bring about a meeting with her second. With three more episodes to go until the series two finale, what could they possibly have in store next? And with the way Gilead is mirroring real world events, what will that mean for America, its remaining allies, and the world at large?! Is it time to head to the bunkers yet? And if so, can we get SBS or a wifi signal for SBS On Demand from down there?! Asking for a friend.
There is so much more to unpack within this episode (we haven't even got to Eden's moment!). Come debrief with us on our dedicated The Handmaid's Tale companion podcast, Eyes on Gilead. We've got a wild theory about Nick's disappearance, and we are joined by a very special guest, director of upcoming The Handmaid's Tale episodes, Daina Reid. Daina talks about how she's gone from being a fan of the show to a director of it, PLUS she gives us some insights into what makes Aunt Lydia tick.
LISTEN TO EYES ON GILEAD: