The Handmaid’s Tale season 2 episode 12 review: Postpartum


What does a show like The Handmaid’s Tale do when it’s already used its biggest narrative tricks? Slow the episode down while still providing chills.

The Handmaid’s Tale could have tried to follow “Holly” with another intense episode. This isn’t to say that “Postpartum” doesn’t go to some particularly dark places — wrapping up some storylines while setting others into motion — but it does so almost dreamily, thanks to Daina Reid’s direction. It’s a nice breather, emotionally speaking, before the season finale next week.

For Serena and June, life is a study in contrasts after Holly’s birth. Serena gets to laugh and bathe the baby, whom she names Nicole, while June gets to use breast pumps and has to deal with Aunt Lydia talking about how many offers she’s already getting to place June somewhere else. Meanwhile, Nick’s problems have been magically solved, and he gets to hang a portrait of Fred, Serena, and the baby.

But not all is perfect, and it leads to a moment that should be tender but is more tense than anything: June actually gets to see Holly and go back to the Waterfords’ to be with her baby. Granted, it’s in order to help stimulate milk production, but it’s a power play that counters Serena’s demand for separation.

Serena is, of course, still more in charge than June, not enough to avoid snide comments from Fred, but enough to demand that June not see the baby and pump only in her room. That doesn’t extend to hearing Holly, though, or stealing glimpses through a partially-open door. Even as the show presents Serena as a powerful figure, it still undercuts her. Control keeps slipping through her fingers; when she tries to breastfeed the baby, it doesn’t work.

So Serena gives up and lets June nurse Holly at the very end of the episode as she watches what she cannot do.

Fred, of course, is more pleased about June being back. He needs to know if she liked his gift or not. He almost — almost — seems like he’s genuinely in love with June here, or at least infatuated with her, but it turns on a dime. “Is that all the thanks I get?” he asks with a smile, and she offers him Scrabble. We forget sometimes that Fred is just as threatening as Serena, but both “Holly” and “Postpartum” do a lot of work in that regard, as does Joseph Fiennes.

In fact, June’s return causes plenty of differences in the house. Her advice to Eden about “grabbing love” leads to the girl disappearing that same night, along with the young guardian. When they bring them back, Nick actually manages to be tender for once.

However, we get to learn another form of execution for Gilead. Edan and Isaac are brought up to a diving board, each with a metal ball attached to their ankles. They do not plea for mercy, choosing death instead as Eden recites that “love is patient, love is kind…”

But the weirdness extends beyond the Waterfords, as Emily moves to the house of Commander Joseph Lawrence, and from the beginning, we know this isn’t the same situation. His house isn’t tidy; there’s stuff piled up everywhere; his greeting to Emily is almost perfunctory; and his Martha also has one eye missing, a la Janine. He’s also wearing a coat and scarf, and his Martha is also dressed warmly.

She doesn’t meet Mrs. Lawrence until the evening, and she reveals that Joseph is the architect of the colonies. Emily, realizing she’s in a horror story on top of the general nightmare that is Gilead, does not drink what she’s given until she’s asked about her escape attempt. Then, it goes back to horrific when he asks if she’s healed.

It’s a bit late in season 2 to be doing this, but considering how this episode kills off the Eden side story quite literally, it seems as though production may have realized that it needed something more to fill time.

In a lot of ways, “Postpartum” could have been just a filler episode. We could have forgiven it that after “Holly.” But instead, it manages to do some things that feel very necessary instead.

Next: The Handmaid's Tale offers a refreshing view on childbirth

Don’t let the side thoughts grind you down:

  • June and Nick have a legitimately bittersweet moment where they discuss running away and how Holly would like Maui.
  • Count how many times Serena refers to “my child.”
  • Rain to follow Eden’s death scene? Really, Handmaid’s Tale?