After each episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, I am sure that the stunning visual and musical imagery, poetry in the form of a television episode, cannot be topped.
Then I watch the next episode.
The Handmaid’s Tale 2×07 “After” once again sets the standard for visual storytelling. The opening sequence is a veritable ballet, with emotional crescendos and mind-bending imagery. The handmaids are mourning the loss of their fellow enslaved sister wives, killed by one of their own in a murder-suicide attack.
And yet, it’s beautiful, lyrical, stunning.
The scene is black, white and red all over. It gives motifs of blood, innocence, and death.
The coffins are arranged in two circles, one inside the other. A third circle is at the center and it is a podium for Aunt Lydia to stand on and preach to the handmaids. One coffin, presumably Ofglen’s, it set apart, outside the circle.
The symbolism suggests that even in mourning, even in the beautiful movements, music, and costumes, the entire ceremony is about the subjugation of the handmaids.
The circles on The Handmaid’s Tale represent control of women’s bodies and reproduction by the patriarchal theocracy of Gilead. We see this in “After” during the funeral ceremony, but we’ve also seen it in every episode of Season 2. When Nick pulls the sheet down over Eden he is placing the circle in the appropriate place for them to have ritualized sex.
Nick’s body, too, is controlled by Gilead and the circles represent that total control.
During the funeral ceremony on “After,” June sobs when she hears Aunt Lydia announcing the names of the killed handmaids. She weeps because these are NOT THEIR NAMES.
They died never having been known as anything other than their Gilead-given shackle.
It is June’s greatest fear, as she told Nick in Season 1. She needs to have someone know her, remember her, to not only be this object Gilead has forced her to become.
As she weeps, the weight of the sorrow is felt through the television screen. The intricate imagery, music and camera work comes together to make this emotional moment full of power.
It’s just all too much. It is all too eternal, this circle of life that has been taken over by Gilead.
The opening sequence is connected to the other strongest scene on “After” — the scene where the handmaids tell each other their names.
June is overwhelmed with hope when she sees Emily. Emily is the person who woke her up to resistance. June is sinking and drowning for the entire first half of the episode. She can’t find hope and she feels unable to find her footing in the aftermath of the bombing.
But, when she sees Emily, the hope pours back in. She is reminded of that amazing gift Emily gave her, recognition of her identity. June is finally able to tell Emily what her name is. It is a triumphant moment that hits deeply.
At this point in Season 2, we know these characters well. We know the anguish and torture Emily has gone through. We know how different and yet bonded these two women are. Each of their facial movements means something to us. Each gesture tells a whole story.
As June shares her name with Emily, it’s as if a dam that was holding strong so as to be able to withstand the constant pressure and hammering tide of Gilead bursts.
It. Is. Glorious.
Then June starts the best possible game of telephone, starting with telling Brianna her name.
It is important to note, THEY ARE NOT IN A CIRCLE. Instead, they are randomly assorted. It looks and sounds like freedom.
The final scene of the episode, where Serena invites June into the Commander’s office to wreak some havoc, only works because of this new freedom June has found with the return of Emily and Janine.
June is more able to recognize Serena’s humanity. She is more open to a sliver of trust in her, because she is now armed with that hope and vulnerability from the market.
Serena needs June for what her mind can offer, not her body. This is truly an amazing turning point for Serena.
I am thrilled with this direction for the characters.
As always, The Handmaid’s Tale manages to make each piece of dialogue and action drip with meaning and tension. Even the very simple grabbing and clicking of a pen is utterly heart-stopping and Emmy-worthy.
In case I haven’t said it enough, this show is a revelation that every person in the world, but especially the United States, needs to watch.
What do you think about The Handmaid’s Tale 2×07 “After”? Share your thoughts in the comments!
The Handmaid’s Tale airs Wednesdays on Hulu.