The Handmaid’s Tale 1×06 is the story of what happens when Offred and her fellow handmaids are forced to put on a show for Gilead’s honored guests. It’s the story of what happens when the ugliness within the system is covered up by those trapped inside it. Additionally, “A Woman’s Place” is a cautionary tale: Be careful what you wish for. Through Serena Joy’s memories and even Aunt Lydia’s surprising behavior, we learn that maybe even those most powerful in Gilead realize their dream is a nightmare.
The Handmaid’s Tale 1×06 is viewers’ first true chance to see Yvonne Strahovski in all her glory. And it’s yet another example of how, sometimes, the world can change too quickly — even for those who supposedly want change.
Serena Joy’s dream is actually everyone’s nightmare.
Mrs. Waterford might have advocated for “domestic feminism” when she wrote A Woman’s Place. She might even have supported the attacks that ultimately led to the formation of Gilead. But she doesn’t appear to have wanted to live like this. There have been a few subtle hints along the way, perhaps most notably whenever she’s looked just as uncomfortable as her handmaid during the Ceremony. But Serena Joy’s discontent has never been more obvious than in The Handmaid’s Tale 1×06.
Back then, did you ever imagine a society like this? A society in which women can no longer read your book? Or anything else.
When Ambassador Castillo asks Mrs. Waterford if she ever imagined life would be this way, she admits that there have been some sacrifices. But then she parrots the party line, spouting religious nonsense. The hesitation, though — the need to collect one’s thoughts and form an appropriate response, rather than speaking from the heart — says it all. Yvonne Strahovski has scattered clues to her character’s complex feelings all along, but this meeting with the Mexican ambassador makes a clearer picture.
If a glance here or a tense frame there have been Strahovski’s scattering of cookie crumbs, leading viewers to search out her character’s true feelings, then the flashbacks in The Handmaid’s Tale 1×06 have been the whole tray of dessert. Before Gilead, Serena Joy had a happy, intimate relationship with her husband. She remembers it fondly before the first meeting with Ambassador Castillo. There was once a time when Mrs. Waterford was worth taking a break from “important” men’s matters to spend time with. Back then, Serena Joy could even command her husband to go out for the night.
And when Serena Joy advocated for this so-called “domestic feminism,” it’s starkly clear — through yet another flashback — that she expected to play a much larger role in society. But the men in charge of the movement shut her out. Women were just worrying their minds with too much frivolity, after all. Rather than public speaking, Mrs. Waterford needed to worry about more important things. Domestic things. Women, in general, needed to focus more on making babies.
…and Commander Waterford, once a devoted husband, did nothing to stand up for his wife when another big, important man said all of this. The power, the mission, and “the greater good” were just bigger issues than his wife’s happiness. Waterford could have used his power for good; he didn’t.
“You’re an amazing woman. I forgot.”
Suddenly, after Serena Joy is actually allowed to speak, her husband remembers just how brilliant and passionate she is. Nobody really says it, but I’d be willing to bet it was her idea to bring the children of Gilead in to seal the deal. Her speech was so full of charisma and obvious brilliance that only a fool would forget she possessed those qualities.
Gilead, of course, is full of pious fools.
The dinner’s success Mrs. Waterford’s victory more than anyone else’s. But victory isn’t very sweet — at least not initially. There’s this moment where Serena Joy gives herself a long, hard look in the mirror. A brilliantly played moment, to be exact. Yvonne Strahovski somehow conveys both the woman’s pride in her accomplishment and a certain sense of self-judgement. It’s amazing work, especially when put side-by-side with images of the very different person that Serena Joy used to be.
Mrs. Waterford gains her husband’s appreciation after the big party. But it’s not likely she’ll be held in such high esteem for long. After all, her well-deserved respect wasn’t lasting the first time around. A woman’s place, even a wife’s, just isn’t well enough regarded enough for that. Because that’s not how this works.
That’s not how any of this works.
In The Handmaid’s Tale 1×06 Offred is, as usual, asked to perform. This time, at least, she gets to keep her clothes on.
Before Ambassador Castillo visits Commander Waterford’s house, Offred is warned to “speak wisely.” As in, lie through her teeth. She tells the Mexican visitors that she’s happy in her position and implies that she’s had a choice in the matter. Offred, like any other prisoner in an authoritarian state, can say nothing about what’s really happening here.
Watching “A Woman’s Place,” I couldn’t help but think about Theresienstadt. When the Red Cross visited, nazis forced Jews to perform like trained monkeys. Prisoners were kept solely to give the impression that the nazis’ rumored horrors, which we now know to have been even worse than anyone imagined, were actual lies.
Nothing to see here. No one’s being deported to certain death. Or, in the world of The Handmaid’s Tale, no one’s being raped on a regular basis. There’s no wall o’ hangings either. The handmaids cleaned that up rather nicely.
The big kick, of course, was that Commander Waterford was trying to arrange a trade with the Mexicans. It wasn’t about, you know, actually preventing someone from coming in and doing something to save these women.
Commander Waterford and his fellow “faithful” men were working out a way to trade handmaids to a foreign land. Ahhh, a new slave trade. What a successful bettering of society!
“To sin by silence, when we should protest,
Makes cowards out of men.” — Ella Wheeler Wilcox
When Offred learns that she and her fellow handmaids — not the local oranges — are to be traded to Mexico, she experiences can only be described as utter horror. Then, there’s the sense of defeat.
Interestingly enough, there also appears to have a moment of connection with Aunt Lydia. The two women seem to share some kind of knowledge and regret between them. Maybe even this most pious woman, trained with indoctrinated future handmaids, has many of the same regrets as Serena Joy.
Or maybe not. There’s no telling at this point. But it’s interesting all the same.
Either way, Offred beats herself up for not speaking out. She’s angry with herself for not telling the truth about her situation.
I should’ve told her what they do to us…I said I was happy!
They don’t rape you, do they? He doesn’t come in here once a month and- and read you a little scripture and…stick his cock up your ass.
She’s foolish enough to believe that saying something would’ve mattered.
“My country is already dead.”
After Offred’s breakdown in Nick’s room, she gets another chance to tell Ambassador Castillo the truth. Unlike the first, this opportunity isn’t wasted. Offred reaches out, and it’s the most beautiful, brave, badass thing to happen on this series yet.
The Handmaid’s Tale 1×06 finally — finally — shows someone taking a leap, asking for help.
Sadly, however realistically, Offred’s cry for help falls on deaf ears.
But you don’t understand. I lied to you. This is a…brutal place. We’re prisoners. If we run, they’ll try to kill us. Or worse. They beat us. They use cattle prods to try to get us to behave. If we’re caught reading, they’ll cut off a finger. Second offense: the whole hand. They gouge out our eyes…They just maim and…worse things than you can imagine. They rape me. Every month. Whenever I might be fertile…I didn’t choose this. They caught me when I was trying to escape. They took my daughter. So don’t be sorry, ok? Please don’t be sorry. Please do something.
There haven’t been any healthy new children in the ambassador’s town in over six years. So, by that logic, to keep her country from dying, Ambassador Castillo is willing to plunge Mexico into darkness. She’s willing to take the personhood away from her fellow women.
The ambassador thinks she’s going to save her country by adopting Gilead’s ways. But Offred (and anyone with working sense) knows the tyranny will just kill it faster.
Additional thoughts on The Handmaid’s Tale 1×06
- Offred and Nick: I ship it. Just the anticipation of their hallway kiss was hot. And it’s nice to know their sexy times from the previous episode were mutually satisfying.
- On the other hand, that kiss with Commander Waterford made me want to brush my teeth until they bled — and bleach my brain.
- Aunt Lydia has always come across as so dedicated to the cause, to the point where she seems to even enjoy the brutality. But she was so gentle with Janine when she was upset about the party. Those tender touches and the promise of a full tray of dessert seemed to be out of character. Or were they actually hints of the true woman underneath the woman’s position? I need more of this.
- “You’re absolutely right, but sometimes, we have to do what is best for everyone. Not what is fair.” No, really. Tell me more, Aunt Lydia. Tell. Me. More.
- And what was the deal with Aunt Lydia and Serena Joy there for a hot second? Hm.
- “I guess you get used to things being one way.” Warning bells, people. This is not normal. Remember that.
- The whole time Ambassador Castillo was questioning Offred about her life, I couldn’t figure out why she was unable to sense Offred’s discomfort. Why was it so hard to recognize that this woman was lying on command? If the ambassador realized that Offred’s life was difficult, why didn’t she get it? But, of course, when she was willing to start the whole nasty affair in her home country, something clicked: Ambassador Castillo only saw what she wanted to see. She asked the right questions to assuage her own guilt; that was it.
- “There’s no problem that cannot be solved with enough movie popcorn.” I like Past Serena Joy’s logic here.
- All of those handmaids, having to endure seeing the children that were taken from them and wonder where their sons and daughters were…Awful upon awful.
- Yvonna Strahovski masterfully balances her character’s internal struggles against outward appearances. Additionally, the contrast between Serena Joy’s current and past demeanor is stark. It’s as if Strahovski is playing two completely different characters.
Make keep streaming all-new episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu each Wednesday.
Maybe we’ll find out if June’s message ever gets to Luke. Surprise! He’s not dead.
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