The Handmaid’s Tale review: Humming right along


The Handmaid’s Tale goes back to its vignettes and flashbacks for a tied-together episode that features some top-tier musical choices.

This week, “God Bless the Child” talks about family — found, made, and otherwise — and how they can continue to exist even in the world of The Handmaid’s Tale.

“You cannot let religion control your choices,” Holly tells June in a flashback about Hannah’s baptism, tied to a ceremony in Gilead about baptizing the new babies in the past year, where the handmaids who have had babies get front seats to it all. Director Amma Asante has a lot of fun with the shots of everyone going to the church as well as inside the church itself, with handmaids ascending staircases that trace out the shape of eyes. Nichole gets a mention of her own, even though she’s missing.

Janine, meanwhile, gets back in the spotlight for the first time in a while, since baby Angela is one of those who gets baptized, and the Putnams host the reception. However, Janine gets to hold the baby … and then proposes she becomes the Putnams’ handmaid again. June stops Aunt Lydia from beating Janine in front of everyone — Commanders and wives included. It’s a failure of her duty in more than one way, isn’t it? In doing that, she shows the ugly truth of what it’s like to be a handmaid in front of the upper echelons, and she shows that she has failed in training them. One is more horrifying to the audience than the other; we suspect the other is more horrifying to the in-universe audience.

Of course, Fred and Serena Joy are both there, with Serena skipping the Dedication only to appear at the party. June witnesses how things have changed, even physically, between the Waterfords.

The handmaids are mostly relegated to the kitchen at the reception, which gives Fred the chance to talk with June alone. This episode takes a strange look at Fred and June’s relationship. It’s always been fraught with tension, but June’s monologue at the beginning makes it clear that she doesn’t hate Fred, nor love him. In some ways, that’s a more nuanced take than the show could have had. It just feels a bit awkwardly placed, especially paired with June and Fred’s conversation about handling Serena.

Granted, June has an ulterior motive in suggesting what she does, about letting Serena do more, and that motive is essentially to make Serena her ally again, to make her be an asset of even greater value and wealth. The shot of June in her chair in the pool room, smoking with a smirk on her face, looks like a Mad Men shout-out, and poses her as this power player. “Blessed be the fight,” indeed.

As always, though, Serena gives and takes, taking about why the system works even as she gives June information about where Hannah is. At the end of the night, there’s a video of a protest in Canada, with Luke holding Nichole. (That’s terrible op-sec, Luke!) June confirms that it’s him.

Meanwhile, in Canada, Emily finally sees her wife and son again. There’s not always a lot of dialogue in these scenes; Alexis Bledel has to do a lot of work with just her expressions, and the camera work and sound direction help underscore how overwhelming this all is for Emily as a character. Kudos to the scripting, though, for letting Oliver be very much a grade-school kid about seeing his mom again, announcing that he’s “not supposed to hug you until you’re ready.”

Then he asks her to read his dinosaur book to her at bedtime. That simple act — of reading to her son — makes her tear up again. Moreover, Emily and Sylvia’s relationship isn’t immediately right back on to where it was, which feels right for Emily in particular.

As the episode starts on a baptism, it ends on one: Nichole’s in Canada, set to “Down to the River to Pray” by Alison Krauss. (Even more fittingly, it’s from O Brother, Where Art Thou?)

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This episode seems stronger than the first three released last week. It’s coherent in terms of events, with only Emily’s really seeming as an outlier at first glance. At second, though, this is an episode about confirmation as part of the family as much as it is about the physical act of baptism. There’s enough plot to go forward, including whatever’s going on with Aunt Lydia, but not enough to make this episode feel rushed in any way.