You can never be quite sure about who to trust in Gilead (basically no one), but June’s uneasy dance to survive there just got a lot harder.
“Easy” by the Commodores is not exactly a song of revolution, but that’s exactly what we hear coming out of a record player in Commander Fred Waterford’s study as Serena and June continue their very illegal work. Last week we saw the two women working together, but in “Women’s Work” we see just how extensive that “job” was. While it enables activities that are otherwise forbidden for women in Gilead (reading and writing) as well as moments of levity between the two (“I do truly detest knitting”), it’s short-lived—Fred is coming home from the hospital. The shift in the household is quick, with a splash of aggression. While Serena and June found a new sort of relaxation in his absence, Fred’s return is a return to form. He no longer wants his wife in his office and while he knows she took risks for him in the hospital, it’s not immediately clear he knows just how far Serena went.
While at the market, Janine is thrilled that her new Handmaid posting means “only the Ceremony” and no other sexual assaults, which she sees as a blessing. The also newly-returned Emily quite plainly reminds her “being raped isn’t a blessing,” but before the dangerous conversation can carry on, they all drop to their knees at the sound and sight of an ambulance. It’s quickly a new distraction among the Handmaids but something June had been forewarned about by Serena earlier that day—Baby Angela, aka Charlotte, aka Janine’s child, is sick, but no one knows how serious it is just yet. Upon hearing another Handmaid mention her baby, Janine starts freaking out (as expected), which is dangerous in and of itself. June promises to find out what’s happening.
Fred’s return hasn’t completely squashed the more familiar relationship between Serena and June, as the lady of the household quietly relays just how serious the situation with Baby Angela/Charlotte is. The doctors don’t know what’s wrong. There might be a way to help but it would go against the laws of Gilead. Serena very genuinely wants June’s opinion on what they should do and June, of course, says if it were her baby she’d do anything. So Serena, assuming babies come first in this hellscape, asks Fred to authorize the top neonatal specialist in Gilead to help the child. Twist! The top specialist is a woman who’s been forced to work as a Martha. Fred says no.
At this point, it feels like anarchy. Well, Gilead’s version of anarchy, anyway. Not only has Serena been asking her husband to break rules, now June is asking Serena if Janine could see the baby. After first she scoffs at the very idea but then she basically says, “fuck it,” and asks the Putnams if they’d be ok with it. And they concede! A sick baby really does make them desperate.
A very cautious and stern Aunt Lydia escorts Janine to the hospital where everyone views Baby Angela/Charlotte in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. As it turns out, Serena got the Martha, whose real name is Dr. Hodgson, to the hospital anyway—seriously, Gilead, your cracks are showing. The male doctor who was previously caring for the child knew Dr. Hodgson from “before,” which doesn’t make any of this easier on her, but Serena insists they get to business. The doctor puts on a stethoscope and in a fleeting moment before she gets to work, a world of emotion is delivered on her face.
But Fred, it seems, has become more aware of just what a Serena/June relationship there was while he was in the hospital. Upon their return home from visiting the baby, Nick tells them the Commander wants to see Serena and June in his office. That’s... not good. Their walk to his office feels like a death march, even more so when he tells them to shut the door. He says he was disappointed when he found out “he” signed the transfer order to get the Martha to the hospital. A last-ditch effort by Serena claiming she had to do it as there is no greater responsibility in Gilead than a child backfires horribly. Fred is ready to assert his dominance once more—the greatest responsibility, he says, is obeying your husband. While he also gets June to admit her part in the deceit, it’s Serena who will get the punishment. He whips Serena with his belt and forces June to watch.
Nearby, the dynamics of Nick and Eden’s marriage are still developing. She wants to make the house more their own and when Nick simply tells her to do whatever she wants, she seems upset. She expects more from her husband and her marriage. When he returns later he does seem to approve of her updates. That is, until he finds the pile of May Day letters, which he’d carefully hidden, sitting in plain sight. While she insists she didn’t read them, Nick is angry with her. Of course, unlike Fred, he doesn’t hurt her physically. Though there is some concern as to whether or not she was expecting to be hurt and what that will mean toward her growing concerns about Nick.
Back in the main house, June tries to check in on Serena who is undressing in great pain in her bedroom after the attack. Though she offers any help she might give to Serena—who is visibly upset—Serena is suddenly resolute in her relationship with June once more, telling the Handmaid to go back to her room. June appears furious. She’s worked hard since she was returned to this Hell Home to suck up to Serena in her new long game, and now she has only one thing left to do—suck up to Fred once more.
Though the doctor they brought in to help Baby Angela/Charlotte was excellent, the news was still grim. She found nothing actually wrong with the baby, which is what the male doctor eventually tells the Putnams. At June’s urging, Janine gets some face time with her child in order to say goodbye. Even though the situation is what it is, Janine is overjoyed to have the child in her arms once more. Figuring it doesn’t make a difference at this point, she takes off her mask and gloves so she can touch Charlotte’s face. While everyone sleeps at the hospital awaiting the inevitable, Janine stays up all night, eventually stripping out of her red Handmaids gear and getting even more mother/daughter contact with Charlotte. And Charlotte is... alive and well! It’s a “miracle” and Aunt Lydia is over the moon.
- The return of the music box shows Serena softening to June once more—but after Fred’s abuse, it’s likely not going to last. Unless, you know, they decide to team up and murder the shit out of Fred. Just a thought.
- Janine replying to June’s “blessed day” with “may the Force be with you,” was amazing and all I’m going to think about now. Bonus points for chatting about Alien too.
- A funny nod and wink to have June say, “Someone once said” and follow it with “Men are afraid women will laugh at them, women are afraid men will kill them.” It’s a quote, albeit not necessarily direct, from The Handmaid’s Tale book author Margaret Atwood. It is also depressingly true.