The Handmaid’s Tale Recap: Episode 6, ‘A Woman’s Place’


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The Handmaid’s Tale is on something of a precipice. Offred has been growing bolder, and now she’s sleeping with Nick (though she states in the intro that it can’t happen again), who happens to be an eye. ‘A Woman’s Place’ feels tense and dangerous; characters have side conversations in public and there are secret touches abound. It’s also the best episode of the season so far, and one that has a lot to unpack.

It turns out that the commander is important enough to have foreign diplomats visit his home. And since you can’t have a bloody wall with hanging bodies around for everyone to gawk at, the handmaids are tasked with cleaning it. There is a lot of tension surrounding this meeting, and Offred is urged by Serena to not speak “unwisely.” This is basically how we are told that Gilead is, shall we say, unique. The Handmaid’s Tale further drives the point home during the actual meeting, in which Offred is taken aback when told that the actual delegate in a woman and her secretary is male. Handmaids, apparently, are something of a novelty to the rest of the world, and Offred knows to answer in the affirmative when asked if she chose her position willingly.

Image Credit: Hulu

This is all a fascinating look at what Gilead looks like to an outsider. The wives, all dressed in one color as always, are asked outright how they feel about Gilead. Their opinions are not something that is usually taken into consideration, and there is an awkward moment of silence before an answer comes.

There is a lot of sexuality in ‘A Woman’s Place;’ it can be seen in artful camera angles, looks, and sometimes addressed outright. After all, one of the main jobs of the woman is to produce children, so it makes sense that there would be some preoccupation with sex. In a rather surprising flashback to simpler times, Serena and the commander make time for sex in the middle of the afternoon. Sure, they both recite some prayers, but that doesn’t make it any less meaningful. It’s obvious in the way that Serena grips the banister that she misses the fun, casual nature of those days. Sex is now government mandated, and as far as we know the commanders do not sleep with their wives.

Image Credit: Hulu

Serena, however, has played a large role in the revolution that created Gilead, and the name of the episode comes from the title of a book she wrote. Of course, women are no longer allowed to read that book, a nice bit of irony that is pointed out. ‘A Woman’s Place’ succeeds by creating living, breathing characters, out of Serena and the commander. In flashbacks that are sprinkled through the episode, Serena and Fred, as he was simply known then, go to the movies, go out to dinner, and start a revolution. They want a new world so badly that they’re willing to create a new nation, one founded on “traditional values” in order to do it. Fred was directly involved in planning the attacks that took out congress and the rest of the government.

During an especially tense scrabble game, the commander drinks and rants about the meeting. Offred, bold and willing to manipulate, transforms herself into the kind of woman who the commander would want to have around after he tries to kick her out. The transformation is not a flick of a switch – we clearly see her pained face as she makes the decision. The commander wants to be kissed, he wants to be loved in a way that is no longer allowed. In a rather disturbing scene, Offred aggressively brushes her teeth until her gums bleed.

Image Credit: Hulu

We have to talk about what happens before the party because it’s significant. The handmaids are supposed to be guests at a special get-together, but Serena doesn’t want any of the “damaged” ones there. This shakes something loose in Aunt Lydia, who feels that it wouldn’t be right do deny them this. In a rather touching moment, Jeanine (Ofwarren) refuses to go. But Aunt Lydia calms her down, calls her Jeanine, and promises treats for later, all the while having tears in her eyes. In a very twisted way, she cares for these girls.

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Neither the commander nor Serena voice their thoughts outright, though it’s not difficult to imagine that they’re not living in a hell of their own creation. Even though ‘A Woman’s Place’ humanizes them, it is impossible to sympathize with them. At the end of the day, they are zealots that helped orchestra a coup and created horrible oppression. They are monsters. And as it turns out, they don’t care about trading oranges with Mexico; they care about trading Handmaids. Because even though the world does not follow Gilead, there is still a population problem.

The Handmaid’s Tale has reasserted its dominance with ‘A Woman’s Place,’ it’s strongest, most important episode to date. In another flashback, garbage trucks are seen going around collecting toys, books, and clothing. The remnants of an old life. A copy of Serena’s book can even be seen among them. In the end, Offred can’t keep up with the lies anymore, and she chooses to tell the whole truth about what it’s like to be a handmaid. The series has been leading to this scene, and it walks a very fine line. Luckily, it pulls it off and is able to deliver the necessary emotional weight. There is going to come a point, and it feels like it’s fast approaching, that Offred won’t be able to handle this life anymore.

It does, however, feel like something of a “gotcha” moment when she is told that her husband is still alive. We’ll try to reserve judgment on that little revelation until The Handmaid’s Tale reveals more of the cards it’s holding. Still, ‘A Woman’s Place,’ is phenomenal, Emmy-worthy television. More of this, please.