The Handmaid’s Tale 2×06 “First Blood” balances the morose and horrifying world of Gilead with the Waterford household’s flirty rebellion to create the strongest character-focused episode of the season.
The examination of power and family is breathtaking as always. The explosive ending is a visual shot of cocaine: it wakes us up while reminding us that no one is safe under his eye.
It is easy to forget to include in a review because it’s a flash-fry element to the show, but wow, Nick is funny. His humor might be as dry as the Colonies, but it is present, which is a miracle.
The circumstances are dire. Nick is assigned a wife who has been brought up in “the faith.” She is a better Eye than Nick, really.
Nick shares his thoughts with June, telling her he thinks about them and their child all the time. He imagines them being able to live as a family. When June admonishes Nick and tells him he must stop thinking about them, it is too dangerous. Nick says, “Okay, I’ll stop.”
It makes June grin and breaks her from her intense survivalist mode. What a relief. Circumstances haven’t changed, but just a drop of wit or playfulness and the world seems somehow livable.
Rita fits into the funny family dynamic as well. It is a dark, dark humor, but it works for this found family. Nick teases Rita, asking her where his soup is. She retorts, “ask your wife.”
It’s a rather mean sentiment, but the delivery is downright playful. These characters are really going to crush my heart with every available device, aren’t they?
Shipping in the Time of Handmaids
I ship June and Nick something fierce. They are a far cry from the typical shippable couple, what with the oppressive theocracy and constant rape at issue.
But, there is something about the way that their sexual and romantic relationship is the only thing in their lives that they can control and gives them joy (however brief or small), that is pure love story.
It is wildly complicated. June and Nick are both married to other people. If they are found out they will be tortured and killed. Their entire relationship is borne out of duress.
Yet, he loves her. Yet, she loves him. I swoon. I break records of scene rewatches. I ship it.
The soft lighting and camera work, with the pleasant bird chirping, sets us up for the softer state of mind June is in after deciding to save herself and her baby.
This sets up too, to be ready for Nick’s confession of love.
But, the thing about shipping in the time of handmaids is that it is never just love. Nick confesses his love for June in a context of her insistence that he sleep with someone else.
June spits at him the piercing claim, “Oh, you have to fuck someone you don’t want to? Poor thing.” But, she follows her stab with the close talk this couple does that make my heart race and she says in a whisper, “I can’t lose you.”
It is so intense.
The stakes for Nick and June are even higher than in Season 1 because of their baby, but also because what started, for June at least, as a sexual release, has turned into real feelings. June can’t make it without Nick.
Nick will do anything to be with June. Nick can’t even handle sleeping with Eden.
Especially after June responds to his confession of love with a reminder that he is married, Nick has got to stay true to June. In a world where integrity is twisted and often absolutely impossible, Nick wants to try to be faithful to June.
You cannot convince me that this is not romantic!
I am afraid because The Handmaid’s Tale is not known to let us have nice things. Nick can’t die even though it feels as if we are marching towards that inevitability. Nick. Can’t. Die.
“First Blood” expertly showcases the power struggles between the characters. Ofglen blows up the new breeding center, taking back the power that was cut from her body.
It is important to recall that Ofglen was actually voicing that Gilead’s handmaid situation was working for her in Season 1. She was on the streets and addicted to drugs. She voiced in Season 1 that Gilead kind of saved her.
But, as Nick says in Season 1, “everyone breaks.”
Ofglen kills important leaders and at the same time destroys the site of torture-training. She does not have much power, but what she does have she uses.
That is a theme on “First Blood.” June walks into the kitchen and approaches Mr. Waterford like she’s a sly teenager. Her Lolita routine is performed all while Mr. Waterford holds a butcher knife.
It begs the question: who has the power?
Serena is a complex, cunning, jealous, intelligent woman. She does not fit anywhere in Gilead. Her journey on “First Blood” is many things, but most striking is how it is about loneliness.
June tries to get on her side. Kind of like a kidnapping victim humanizing herself so she doesn’t get killed, June reminds Serena of her humanity. To a certain extent it works.
But, along with June’s humanity, Serena is reminded of her own. Of the loss of her fertility, and of the ways that she has died to herself in the process of creating Gilead.
The Handmaid’s Tale never makes it easy for us. Praise Be, because the result pushes the boundaries of our empathy farther than any other show, ever.
What do you think about the latest episode of The Handmaid’s Tale?
New episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale stream Wednesdays on Hulu.