When you're in the throes of life in Gilead and privy to most everything that goes on there, the problems with its basic premise start shooting up like weeds.
At least that's the feeling Serena seems to be getting on The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 Episode 8 as she grows closer to June and the realization she may one day be raising June's child as her own.
Good ol' Commander Fred arrives home just in the nick of time to try to beat the newfound spirit out of his flourishing wife, but I'm holding tight to some words he said sinking into that fine brain of hers.
The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 is aggressively attacking issues about women's rights all over the darn place, and I love it with every fiber of my being.
It's in the back of my mind that a lesser show would want to take any progress made and stomp all over it and force a restart again at the end of the season, but I'm hopeful we're watching something that will rise above that trope.
Gilead (or what used to be the United States) has done enough damage, and there are plenty of people within the fractured society remaining that moving forward in philosophy some of the characters we've grown to enjoy shouldn't hurt the series even this early in the run.
Yes, I'm looking directly at Serena Joy, or Serena, as she's earned a reprieve from being called her full name every time we speak of her. She's no longer in the hot seat for everything she's doing. She's taking heed of hard lessons when others are introduced into her world, and that signifies growth.
Serena loved working with June every bit as much as June loved working with Serena. And it wasn't a matter of the two just moving through the day by the point Fred was released.
June: Do you miss working?
Serena: It's a small sacrifice to be welcomed back into God's grace. [pause] I do truly detest knitting. To be frank.
They were listening to music, drinking tea, sharing thoughts about their work without the worry that their odd living arrangement would interfere. With her editor's pen, June could use her distinct and commanding voice to help better Serena's writing.
June wasn't afraid to give credit where it was due, either.
June: You're truly a good writer.
Serena: Thank you. I won't forget your help.
But have you ever heard two more lackluster "praise bes" in all of Gilead than those between Serena and June when Serena admitted her husband was returning the next day?
Going back to their lives was not going to be good for either of them. The only plus at the moment is June's pregnancy and that they don't have to suffer through the Ceremony together. At the time I was thinking of it, I thought it would be one of the more humiliating things the two quasi-friends could do together at that point.
The tension in the house was overwhelming when Fred arrived. From having a house full of women and a man like Nick to suffering through with Fred again would be practically unbearable.
Even his flat compliments were difficult to hear when he walked into the door.
Eden is trying so very hard to get on the man's good side. Maybe she can replace Serena as his wife and give him Nick's child just like June!
Now is as good a time as any to talk about Eden, named after the garden. Why? The name must have meaning in the series that I'm not yet ready to delve into, and while I know she's trying hard to satisfy her husband, she's also too nosey.
Reading his letters (of course she did) and staring down into the house in the middle of the night spells trouble, especially after Nick spoke to her as a true Gileadan. The poor guy realized what he did and didn't much like it, either. She's cracking into some kind of pieces before the end of the season, though, right?
Serena was so excited to share with Fred what she had done for him while he was gone, almost as if she thought it might be a way to draw them closer together. They have so little in common and rarely converse about anything meaningful.
Her hopes were dashed, though, when he brushed off what she did for him in his absence and ushered her out of the room as fast as he could.
What was weird was the photos available on Hulu for me to use with this review suggested there was a significant scene cut that might have featured him freaking out a bit in his office after getting her out of the room.
For whatever reason, the shots didn't make it into the final cut. It could have been so the focus could remain on Serena and June and their burgeoning relationship. That works for me because it worked for the episode.
It also made Fred an even more despicable person by the time the credits rolled.
Serena Joy was not only making changes to her life and Junes but using the authority she held in her hands while Fred was away to change the lives of others, too.
Confiding in June about the Putnam's baby brought on a small arc that shows the poor forethought of the Gilead founders. They simply failed to think about the best needs of the children for whom they supposedly created the society from many different angles: nourishment, love, healthcare, and maybe safety.
Proof positive that Serena cares a lot about how June views the world they live in was when she went to ask June her opinion about just how ill baby Angela aka Charlotte had become.
June: There's nothing they can do?
Serena: Well, there might be something that could help. It would mean bending the law. I'm not sure Gilead is exploring every doctor available to them.
June: I see.
Serena: What do you think?
June: Well, I think if it were my baby, I would do whatever I could. Law or no law.
It didn't hurt that June was cradling the music box Serena left for her, and they were still in the depression phase of having lost their recent relationship and their work together, but Serena trusted what June had to say.
Serena Joy: I wish I could say the same for baby Angela. But, there is hope. God has blessed Gilead with one of the top neonatologists in the world.
Fred: Ohhh. That's excellent. How soon can he get here?
Serena Joy: He is a she, now serving as a Martha. If you gave her a temporary transfer for a day, she could examine Angela, give her opinion. No one has to know.
Fred: I'm sure our physicians are capable.
Serena Joy: [touches his leg] Fred...?
Fred: We cannot question the will of God.
Her husband, however, wasn't willing to bend any of the rules for baby Angela.
Serena has to be looking at this as a test run for their own child. What if their baby is in need of the greatest neonatal doctor the world has ever seen and SHE just so happens to be working as a Martha Fred would leave it in the hands of God (a God that until a few years ago allowed women to be neonatal doctors).
You can see all of these thoughts running through Serena's head, and they're making an impact. They should be. It's only a small portion of the many things the founding "fathers" of this freak-ass society failed to weigh upon its creation.
Ultimately, June had no choice but to tell Janine that her child was ill because other handmaids at the grocery store were whispering and gossiping about it.
Janine may be goofy (and beyond delightful), but she has never stopped loving the baby she birthed and thinking about it every day.
The last time June asked about a child and a visit, it was Fred who came through for her. Things are different now, and even though at the end of a conversation between Serena and June Serena called June stupid for suggesting Janine could see her baby before she died, Serena had another idea.
Naomi: That horrible girl? You want her to be able to see my child?
Serena: A child is a gift by God's grace that she gave you.
God works in mysterious ways, they say, and the point of this arc was to show what they might be and how terribly those who founded Gilead read His signs.
It's especially important to note this because of how Fred failed to answer Serena's plea adequately and how Mr. Putnam stood up for Janine believing God would find it best to allow her to see the baby.
Serena was watching Janine and the love she had for baby Angela aka Charlotte, and that's what led to her finding Dr. Hudson aka the Martha to try to save the baby. It wasn't the love of the Putnams. Naomi hadn't properly loved the baby since Janine left. She complained day by day.
And that's exactly what Dr. Hudson discovered.
Serena: How dare you give up!
Dr. Hudson aka Martha: Mam, we have done a very extensive evaluation. There are no anatomic, infectious, or metabolic conditions that explain this baby's condition.
Serena: You are supposed to be the best in your field.
Dr. Hudson aka Martha: I am the best or was. All we can do for Angela is unhook her from all those machines. Help her feel safe and warm. And pray.
Serena was so upset that she went to such lengths, and the baby was still going to die, but it was an amazingly brave thing for her to do. It was as if Fred was out of the house long enough that some of the Kool-Aid had finally cleared her system and she was seeing clearly again.
Serena is putting herself out there, just as June has been doing. Without the help of others, but thanks to the influence of a strong woman willing to fight for her future like June, Serena is finding her footing. She's assessing what has gone wrong with the society she helped to create.
And the heartbreak doesn't stop. Fred and his mumbo-jumbo about wives and husbands and some kind of amends was a load of garbage. I didn't know if he was reading from the bible or a proclamation written specifically for Gilead, but not only didn't I comprehend it in the way he did, I didn't like it.
He'd get along well with Eden the snoop because they both do it. The words that I expect to be ringing around in Serena's head long after her beating are these:
Serena Joy: I did it for the sake of the child. What greater responsibility is there in Gilead?
Fred: Obeying your husband.
Wrong answer, Fred!! Gilead was created to rebuild society in a world where children were no longer being born. Wrong answer, Fred. Again.
Watching both Serena and June break down and sob not out of physical pain -- though Serena sure earned the right to do that -- but out of emotional pain because of how they treated each other in an attempt to break the bond that had formed between them was too much.
They have a long road ahead, but if everything goes well, together they could start a revolution. Look what they managed to do between them in just months. In one day they saved the life of a baby, not that they know it yet.
While they were fighting against their bond and crying into the night, Janine was holding her dying baby bringing it back to life in a way only a mother can do -- with her love and the warmth of her body and the cooing sound of her voice. Those very somethings Naomi never supplied to the struggling infant.
So Serena may have been knocked off her axis by her waste of a husband, but when she heard about the miracle she and June performed while Fred tried to tear apart the dynamic duo, I have hope they will reunite and form an underground railroad of sorts to work toward the greater good of exorcising evil from Gilead.
Hey, I can dream, can't I??
What did you think of this amazing installment? Were you smiling and almost crying the whole way through, too? Hit the comments!!
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.