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TV Review: The Handmaid's Tale (Season 1, Episode 10)


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For weeks, The Handmaid's Tale has had us gripped with its grim, but thought-provoking insight into an America that treats its women like cattle, property and worse. 

This week, Bruce Miller's acclaimed dystopian series comes to an eventful close, in which the Republic of Gilead gets a long overdue taste of defiance. 

The episode opens with a flashback (what else?) of Offred's initial arrival into the Red Centre and her first fateful meeting with Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd). In a wistful voiceover, Offred (Elisabeth Moss) contemplates a look that she shared with the handmaids before her - a "look of terror" that has since subsided after years of abuse and repression.

Aunt Lydia is a complex character, whose merciless wrath frequently collides with her seemingly motherly nature towards the girls. If there is one thing that this opening flashback does, it's that it serves as a reminder of her callous cruelty as she herds the "pack of sluts" into the red centre, zapping them with cattle prods, inflicting preachy terror and branding Offred with a cattle tag - making the allusion that the handmaids are animals kept for produce all the more real. 

In the present, Offred is suddenly attacked by a vengeful Serena (Yvonne Strahovski), who last week discovered that her husband's deceptive behaviour had continued beyond their former handmaid. After giving her a gnarly head wound, Serena forces Offred to take a pregnancy test - a forbidden item that Offred later deduces came from the black market. To Serena's joy - and Offred's dismay - the test reveals that Offred is infact pregnant. 

When Fred (Joseph Fiennes) returns home, he finds Serena sat in his office, looking resolvedly at the Scrabble set that formed the basis of his secret rendezvous' with Offred. What follows is an inevitable confrontation, in which Serena scathingly warns Fred to stay away from Offred. When Fred attempts to silence his wife - first by blaming her for his lustful betrayal and then reminding her of his possession of her - Serena blithely tells him of the pregnancy, before spitefully revealing that he is not the father; "You are weak and God would never let you pass on that weakness. You can't father a child because you are not worthy."

Meanwhile, Nick and Offred share a tender, bittersweet moment in which Nick delicately places a hand on Offred's stomach. "It's terrible," she whispers, before Nick responds, "no, it's not." As Serena enters the room, glancing at this subtle display of affection, we are reminded of the dichotomy of family in Gilead. Though family and children are considered sacred by this society, this same society is relentless in its pursuit of ripping families apart.

This cruel trend is further explored in several facets of the episode - the first being the contents of the mysterious, all important package that Offred and Moira were tasked with bringing back from Jezebels. Feeling dismayed, Offred opens the package - only to find a stack of desperately penned letters from other handmaids from across Gilead. The emotional letters depict the handmaids' common plight ("they rape us, they treat us like animals") and reveal the regime's cruelty as dozens of mothers appeal for the whereabouts of their stolen children. 

And later comes an even bigger blow, as Serena takes Offred on a journey to a mysterious house, far from town. Trapped in the car, Offred watches on as Serena enters the building - and then, minutes later, returns with Offred's daughter Hannah in tow. To say that the scene of Offred pleading and raging from within the car is affecting would be an understatement. It is devastating - and beyond cruel. When Serena returns, she gives Offred a thinly veiled threat: "as long as my baby is safe, so is yours."

Offred's understandably crude response - "You are deranged. You're fucking evil, you know that? You're a goddamned motherfucking monster. Fucking heartless sadistic motherfucking evil c***. You are gonna burn in goddamned motherfucking hell, you crazy evil bitch" - feels somewhat cathartic for us as viewers. This is after all, what we've been thinking the entire time. However, Serena's icy response only invokes more anger as she scolds: "Don't get upset. It's not good for the baby."

Elsewhere, Moira finally arrives in Canada to a warm and friendly welcome - the likes of which is relieving (and a little disorientating) after years spent in Gilead. An emotional reunion also occurs when Luke arrives, having been alerted to the return of a member of his "family" - a gesture that Moira takes to heart as she breaks down - finally safe in the arms of her friend.

Of course, the events of last week's episode also come into play this week as punishments are doled out towards Commander Putnam and Ofwarren. Fred pushes for a lenient conclusion to Warren's trial - in which he confesses to "lust" - only to be rebuffed by Commander Price, who reveals that Warren's wife, Naomi, has requested the "harshest possible punishment." As such, we watch as Warren's left hand is amputated in a very gruesome, graphic hospital scene. 

Meanwhile, the handmaids are brought forth to participate in another death sentence - you'll remember that last time this happened, with the sentenced rapist, the barbaric event was somewhat cathartic for these tortured women. They participated willingly and with the verve that only comes from desperation and repression. This time around, however, they refuse outright after seeing the intended victim of the stoning: Ofwarren. After one handmaid is beaten, Offred defiantly steps forward, drops her rock and leads a chorus of "Sorry, Aunt Lydia"'s - echoing that opening scene with a newfound sense of strength.

After being promised "consequences", the final scene sees Offred being lead into a mysterious black van. Before walking out, Nick urges her to go with them, leading us to believe that Offred's destination is more hopeful than ominous. Offred takes her final walk through the Waterford household, leading Rita to the pack of letters, as well as having silent confrontations with both Fred and Serena - who though indignant at Offred's removal, don't put up much of a fight, which is surprising (and a little disappointing) given Serena's supposed devotion to her/Offred's unborn child. 

Featuring another stand-out performance by Elisabeth Moss, as well as commendable portrayals by Fiennes, Strahovski and Dowd, the finale of this season closes on a hopeful, if ambiguous note. Only time, and the confirmed second season, will tell what lies in store for Offred.

The Handmaid's Tale is available to catch-up on demand on All 4.

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