Remember June’s doctor offering to impregnate her in season one? Serena’s ultrasound was her version. No sooner had the eligible Dr. Landers wiped the lube from his surgical gloves after massaging Serena’s perineum than he was asking her out to dinner. There isn’t enough vomit in this world. Unsettling as that was, Serena’s was still the Handmaid-lite experience. Her body and sexual autonomy were no longer her own, but she wasn’t forced to take part in The Ceremony, a Salvaging or any of Gilead’s most brutal rituals. And still she wanted out.
One of those brutal rituals worked in our favor this episode, as the odious Warren Putnam (a terrific, off-putting turn from actor Stephen Michael Kunken) was finally strung up on The Wall. Putnam’s punishment was welcome, obviously, but lacked the visceral satisfaction of Fred’s death. Styling Nick (congratulations on the baby news, Commander Blaine) and Lawrence as heroic hit-men felt simplistic for a drama so fluent in moral complexity. What makes those two characters fascinating is their pragmatism as non-believers inside the Gilead system, not macho avenging-angel stunts. Watching Putnam choke on his own blood after one of Esther’s poison chocolates instead of taken down by a Commander’s bullet might have put the power in her hands instead of where it always is – in theirs.
That said, Esther’s story isn’t currently about revenge, it’s about rage. Grace McKenna’s shackled screaming in that hospital bed was – as I’m assured the young people say – a whole vibe. Her Linda-Blair-in-The Exorcist act distilled seasons of The Handmaid’s Tale’s protest into one primal outburst. Faced with the dehumanizing misogyny so meticulously depicted by this drama, Esther’s scream is about as articulate as any of us could hope to be. Her rapist was punished not for assaulting her, but for raping “unassigned property”. Keep screaming, child. We’re screaming along with you.
The pithiest of writer Katherine Collins’ dialogue this episode came in Commander Lawrence’s casual “Where’s the sin here?” when Aunt Lydia reported Putnam’s attack on Esther. Unlike Lydia, Lawrence isn’t under any illusions about the sanctity of Gilead’s rites. He knows that Handmaids are objects for Commanders’ sexual gratification and that The Ceremony has always been bullshit. Sure, Putnam violated Esther, agrees Lawrence, but only technically. That’s the world we’ve built here, doesn’t she see?
Lydia doesn’t see, and it’s hard to imagine what it’ll take for the scales to fall from her eyes. It’ll be some time before we’ll see her and Janine blowing this Popsicle stand and driving off together over the border.
It wasn’t just real-world misogyny that ‘Together’ put on screen. Luke’s savage in-custody beating was a sickening reminder of real-world racist violence enacted by those in authority. Luke stopped resisting almost immediately and still got the blows and kicks and the choke-hold. It was horrible to watch and not at all glossed over by director Eva Vives. Ryan Wheeler’s fascist private army almost killed Luke in a story development that felt frustratingly… inessential.