The Handmaid’s Tale episode 8 recap: Jezebels


As we approach the end of season 1 of The Handmaid’s Tale, June gains more and more reasons to reclaim every last scrap of her freedom that she can.

The Handmaid’s Tale episode 8 is an episode that, plot points aside, could easily have its peak emotional moments summarized in juicy, empowering quotes — most of them from June herself! “Jezebels” returns us to June’s world for a moment we knew was coming: her visit to the Jezebels with Waterford. But it’s a moment given far more emotional weight due to the context provided by the Hulu series, as well as a clear moment of transformation for June herself.

Though June now knows that Luke is alive, she hasn’t stopped going to sleep with Nick because, as she puts it, “it feels good and because I don’t want to be alone.” June’s liaison with Nick opens the door to a new perspective this episode, too. Through flashbacks, we see glimpses of Nick’s life before and how he became who he is now. Before Gilead, Nick was in trouble. He couldn’t hold down a job, struggled with a difficult family life and responsibilities, and had a bit of a temper. An outburst at the career help office got him into a conversation with one of Gilead’s future leaders, explaining how he got the gig.

The Handmaid’s Tale — “Jezebel’s” Episode 108 — The Commander surprises Offred with a secret adventure in Gilead. Nick’s troubled past leads to his recruitment by the Sons of Jacob. Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) and Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes), shown. (Photo by: George Kraychyk/Hulu)

Back in the present, Waterford is waiting for June when she returns from Nick’s, but not because she’s in trouble. Instead, he has a “surprise” for her. He shaves her legs for her, which is so strange and diminishing that I can’t even right now, and has her change into a hideous little sparkle dress intended to be sexy, along with tall heels and makeup. Since Serena Joy is out visiting her mother, he intends to sneak June off in her cloak to a place outside of Boston, somewhere they have to pass multiple security checkpoints to get through.

Nick’s driving, of course, and reminiscing in the worst ways. He was there when they first came up with the idea for handmaids, illustrating well the way silent complicity from so very many people allowed them to walk all over everyone else. Nick agrees with the Commander’s idea, sort of, and maybe at the time it seemed fine to him if he didn’t think it would really work. But for the first time in episode 8, Nick’s stoic present day face is having emotions and clearly some regrets are going on here. Yeah, they’d better be.

The Handmaid’s Tale — “Jezebels” — Episode 108 — The Commander surprises Offred with a secret adventure in Gilead. Nick’s troubled past leads to his recruitment by the Sons of Jacob. Offred (Elisabeth Moss) and Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes), shown. (Photo by: George Kraychyk/Hulu)

They arrive at a building where they sneak in through the back into a brothel full of higher-ranking officers and Jezebels. We learn through hints from Moira later that Jezebels are women who caused too much trouble to be handmaids but who weren’t fit to be wives or Marthas or anything else, and thus are forced into sex work until they are no longer useful. And yes, Moira is among them.

She’s okay, as far as okay goes in Gilead. She has some strict rules, but is fed well and only works nights, and the lifestyle seems at least more workable for Moira than anything else in Gilead. But it’s still not freedom, and it’s also, you know, forced sex work, so never be swept away by the delusion that anything happening here is okay. The June and Moira reunion is tearful, perhaps mostly so because they both must go back to their lives as handmaid and Jezebel after this. There is no secret escape plan this time.

I skipped a little here, so let’s back up and cover some flashbacks that went on alongside Moira and June’s reunion, including what I think is one of the best, most pointed lines in the series so far. We learn that Nick was the one who found Waterford’s previous handmaid hung from the ceiling and who cut her down, after which he becomes an Eye with the intent to spy on Waterford. It’s from this that we understand his move later in the episode to protect June — he doesn’t want to see her suffer more than she already does.

The Handmaid’s Tale — “Jezebel’s” Episode 108 — The Commander surprises Offred with a secret adventure in Gilead. Nick’s troubled past leads to his recruitment by the Sons of Jacob. From left, Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski), Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and Rita (Amanda Brugel), shown. (Photo by: George Kraychyk/Hulu)

But here’s what got me. Serena Joy, as the body of the dead handmaiden is carted away, hisses with the most poisonous venom imaginable at Waterford, “What did you think was going to happen?” It’s an amazing moment, especially in light of the car conversation when he talked about having the support of the wives to make the handmaidens perform the Ceremony. Serena Joy isn’t stupid. She was a famous writer before Gilead. She’s furious about all this too, and perhaps even furious with her own role in it, but is still playing the part she must. The complicated role Serena Joy plays as both victim and a complicit villain is one that should trouble us all, and something I hope we end up with a clear-cut answer for by the end.

Tormented by the choice to report Waterford or spare June, Nick grows frustrated and opts not to see June anymore. She is not having that. Sleeping with Nick is June’s one free choice she can make, and she flips the tables on him by reminding him she knows nothing about him — essentially that he still holds the keys in their relationship, and that he’s still a man, and in power. Even a quick confession of his real name and origin does not placate June.

Next: The Handmaid’s Tale episode 7 recap: The other side

Nor does the froofy music box Serena Joy brings June from her childhood bedroom. As June puts it so eloquently, she was given “a perfect gift, a girl trapped in a box. She only dances when someone else opens the lid.” But the events of the night and seeing Moira again have awakened a new strength in June. She scrawls “You are not alone” in the closet, and concludes the episode with a newfound strength not just to persevere (as we saw in episode 4), but to push forward and keep her freedom one way or another.