The Empire Strikes Back
WORDS BY LLEWELYN HORGAN
After last week’s ‘explosive’ episode, I was nervous to see what the extent of the fall-out would be. As should (probably) have been expected, a lot of people died in the suicide-bombing, so this episode starts with a funeral. The mood in the opening scene is sombre, with a mournful ballad playing (non-diegetically, obviously). Aunt Lydia seems genuinely upset about all the dead Handmaids, for once, reinforcing the complexity of her character. I wonder what her full backstory is? She could probably have her own spin-off. I mean, I wouldn’t watch it, but I’m sure some people would. People watched Roseanne.
The funeral scene, while emotional, was also very choreographed. Is it hard to mourn properly when you’re trying to remember how many steps to the left and right to take, how many twirls, etc.? All perfectly in time, too. The devastating moment when Offred never even knew Ofglen’s real name was a reminder that I should really learn all my university friends’ names.
The bombing, as can be imagined, has upset a lot of people, including Moira and Luke watching from Canada. Moira is concerned. Luke is also concerned, but also knows in his heart that June is alive. What a guy. While Moira investigates the deaths, there is some clever juxtaposition of her looking at the coffins of children, contrasted with flashbacks to her own ultrasound. Moira’s pre-Gilead pregnancy subplot seems a bit like filler to me – although we gain backstory for Moira and June, it lacks cohesion with the main storyline. Because of this, throughout her scenes I was tapping my foot waiting to get back to the action. Moira is great. (Go Moira!)
In terms of the main plot in Gilead, things are heating up: Ofglen did a good job of killing and maiming some commander and the establishment is working to resist the resistance. With Commander Pryce dead, the rather dick-ish Cushing steps into his place. June unsurprisingly gets questioned regarding the bombing, having been Ofglen’s pair. Although Cushing tries to pry out of her who helped her escape a few episodes ago, June sticks to her line that she was taken against her will. He does not seem to buy it, and there are some tense close-ups. Thankfully, a Martha gets gunned down outside, which nicely takes the heat off June for a bit. June points out to Serena that if she goes down, so will all of them. Serena is convinced by this logic, and acts accordingly to protect her own skin, and therefore by extension protecting the skin of June and Nick. Everybody wins!
Any episode that follows a suicide bombing is bound to be a bit underwhelming in comparison and indeed it did tend to drag at times. Despite this, there were moments of shock and surprise as well as a strong and surprisingly uplifting ending. Likewise, there were numerous beautiful shots, with the most striking ones tending to feature the color red. In the universe of the show, is there ever an explanation given for how they manage to make everything so aesthetic? These fascists sure have an eye for design. On another note, there is also some nice handheld shaky camera work in part of the episode that gave the scene an almost ‘war documentary’ feel, which was a nice immersive touch. This episode, in spite of some slow moments and a rather dull b-plot, chugged along reasonably well, and seems to promise exciting times ahead. Hopefully there will be at least a few more explosions, unlikely alliances, and betrayals in store, because these things make for gripping TV indeed!