‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 2, Episode 9: Treason and Coconuts

Serena’s catastrophic lack of foresight about Gilead has made her the show’s most fascinating character.

Comments: 58

  1. This may have been one of the most important episodes of the series, excited to see where this goes next.

    Also, the Waterford's travel to Toronto, not Montreal, as referenced by their hotel.

  2. Which...in reality, they should’ve traveled to Ottawa, if it was a diplomatic visit.

  3. This was an excellent episode.

    How I wanted Serena to run off to Hawaii!

    Did anyone else have a frisson of anxiety knowing that Eden saw (read?) the packet of letters while they were in Nick's possession? I immediately war-gamed to word getting out that the letters caused unrest in Canada, and Eden blurting out (or simply tattling) that Nick had some letters himself.

    I'd hate to see anything happen to Nick, especially after this episode. It was indeed an incredible act of kindness to June that he told her about Luke. He's becoming a lot more interesting.

  4. I kind of wonder if Eden's literate, tbh.

  5. This was one of my favorite episodes of the season. This week I feel some-some, just a modicum of sympathy for Nick. Can’t help but feel like he won’t survive this. Eden will eventually mention the letters. Anyway, the scene between Nick and Luke was interesting. Nick of course couldn’t say the child was most likely his. Still not sure what his motivation is to share all that info with luke. Is it love for June or is he as disenchanted with Gilead as the Handmaids?

    I love that Serena got a dose of her own medicine in Canada. Everyone being condescending (cooking, knitting, her iten with images and no words- even though they know she can read-after all she wrote a book.) I think after her beating she may well be rethinking Gilead and Canada sort of brought that home a bit more for her.

  6. Will Luke understand??? Ummm, Luke already has a live-in lover. How come we are not asking the question, "Will June understand?" Our society has, for too long, not understood that women have sexual needs too and gives men the right to decide how, and if, they are fulfilled-- Just ask "Of____"-- Just fill in a male name.

  7. What live-in lover does Luke have?

  8. pretty sure he doesn't have a lover.

  9. It has never even been implied that Luke and Erin are lovers. Men and women can share living arrangements without becoming intimate. It only appears he has been concerned for her and trying to help her overcome the trauma she experienced.

  10. Correction: "There’s something discomfiting about the way the show seems to be referencing...the West’s intolerance of women who dress modestly in accordance with their religious beliefs"... which include holding other women down against their will while their husbands rape them.

    After all Hasidic women, devout Muslim women and Catholic nuns walk around, shop, sit in parks and enjoy the comforts of civilization all over the USA and Canada every day without remark let alone "intolerance". No doubt the show is referencing "the West's" awareness of Serena's complicity in mass rape, right?

  11. Muslim women don't always have it easy...

    But yeah, I wouldn't get into the elevator with her because it's like chilling in an elevator and making small talk with Eva Brawn. At best she looked the other way while her husband set up a system that betrayed all women. At worst she's Serena, the famous author who helped design that system.

  12. Serena’s motives are even more transparent than Offred’s. Serena is an ideologue who is so desperate for a child of her own that she’ll do anything to get one. The irony that this fierce proponent of family values is willing to destroy Offred’s family to get what she wants—brutally separating Offred from her daughter Hanna and her husband Luke—is lost on her.

    Serena actually has quite a bit in common with our own Attorney General and fellow right-wing fundamentalist proponent of family values, Jeff Sessions, who has no qualms whatsoever about brutally separating children from their parents at the border.

  13. I can't get past Serena's evil. My wish would be for her to accept the trip to Hawaii and then, instead of a lei, she'd get handcuffs and be tried for treason. She did, after all, help pull off the coup that brought about the overthrow of the US Govt. (That was revealed in a flashback in a previous episode.)

    Even if she realizes the error of her ways, she has committed real crimes and caused real harm. I don't see how the writers can credibly allow her to live happily ever after.

  14. I am afraid Nick is doomed to hang on the wall if his unhappy wife reveals that she saw a bunch of letters among his belongings. His somber declaration of love to June makes me think he knows he might be exposed. Shockingly, his young and meek wife also seemed to be flirting with the more gung-ho replacement guard in the kitchen. Poor Nick may be this season’s sacrificial lamb. ( I loved the scene with the mother and child waiting for the elevator.). Does anyone else out there often think ‘blessed day’ and ‘may the Lord open’ at strange points during the day or is that only me?

  15. I think she may doom him, or he may doom her. I don't think she's literate though. I think she's going to go "I saw he had a packet of papers hidden in his trunk".

  16. Yes, as soon as Nick told Luke his name I thought the writing was on the wall; somehow that will get back to the Commander that Nick met June's husband and that he most likely conveyed the letters. The writers seem to be setting Nick up for a fall.

  17. Plus the commander recognized Moira

  18. Judy Berman writes: And what’s the use of all these plot twists if they don’t clarify the motivations of the characters?

    I think you're missing something here, Judy.These plot twists function precisely to induce contradictory, chaotic emotions in Serena. Indeed, in the latter half of the this episode, confusion plays across Serena's face with a near-visceral sense of pulsation, heightening our sense of Serena's growing disorientation and yes, terror. I suppose when clarity does finally come to Serena, it will come after a real struggle and likely hit with a wallop. (And you're absolutely right, Yvonne Strahovski's plays these scenes exceptionally well!)

    I originally thought that this 2nd season, like the first season, was only 10 episodes - but now I read it is actually 13. I was all set for Serena's blow-out next weekend , but apparently Serena's journey to clarity is now going to roll out over a 3 or 4 episode arc.

    Incidentally, I loved the cunning bit of visual humor when the Canadian attaché hands Serena her agenda of trip events for the day, and every entry is conveyed with a visual symbol. No written language.

  19. I agree with you Chris, the reviewers of this show seem to miss a lot of details.

  20. The city Serena and the Commander visit is Toronto and not Montreal.

  21. The Canadian storyline is set in Toronto, not Montreal. Indeed, the footage is shot in Toronto, not Montreal. And unlike so much of the Hollywood North (American-produced) drivel that is so frequently shot in Toronto, in this instance there is no awkward attempt being made to hide that fact. Just fyi.

  22. What a great episode! Sure, it would have been great if Serena ran off to Hawaii, but it's going to take awhile for her to wake up and really turn against Gilead and the Commander. Had she done that after one excursion out of the country it wouldn't have been realistic; she's still a true believer (at least she is still trying hard to be) and it takes ALOT to change a person's deeply held beliefs.

    Like other commenters, I am also worried about Nick!

    Did anyone else cry at the end when the group in Canada spontaneously started singing 'America the Beautiful?'

  23. You’d have to be experiencing the beginnings of the 4th Reich now coming home to roost in the form of a failed reality TV star ( as we are now in the US) to understand how the decent among us currently feel. Interesting factoid about the song though: Woody Guthry wrote This Land is Your Land as a protest against the writing of America the Beautiful which he hated for obvious reasons.

  24. I absolutely cried at that moment. Too poignant, particularly with current events.

  25. Yes, I cried when they started singing. A very moving scene.

  26. The Canada scenes were not set in Montreal. That was Toronto. The US consulate on University Avenue. Roy Thompson Hall. Allen Gardens (not the Montreal Biodome) -- which is where we've seen Moira running, and where she placed the photo of herself with her girlfriend amongst the impromptu shrines to the loved ones trapped in Gilead.
    Much of the show is filmed in Toronto and this trip to Canada allowed Toronto to play itself, not Boston.

  27. You are correct, thank you very much for noting the mistake and providing such detail. We have corrected the error.

  28. I was hoping that Serana Joy would defect to Canada at the last minute...oh well.

  29. Like the letters, this might come later as a teaser for season three. Crossing my fingers.

  30. I think she has to remain in Gilead long enough to gut the commander with a dull knife...

  31. When the American was trying to recruit her, Serena’s visage was doubled in the mirror. This suggests two Serenas, two trajectories, choices. I think she takes the bait.

  32. I really hope that we get to see Aunt Lydia's back story. Ann Dowd is such an amazing actress, even though Aunt Lydia is a monster, every now you see her humanity creep through...I would love to learn what made her what she is.

  33. "As Offred keeps vacillating between complicity, resistance and surrender, the two women’s on-again, off-again alliance carries the potential to transform both of their lives. "

    Her name, in the Hulu show at least, is June. Offred is an invented, slave name by her owners. I prefer to think of her as June rather than Offred.

  34. Excellent point! I also disagree with the author's saying June is "vacillating between complicity,....". I would rather call it resignation. June is not actively supporting or endorsing this regime.

  35. Don't forget, women are strictly not allowed to read or write (with the exception of Aunts logging measurements of pregnant Handmaids) as evidenced by Serena being handed a pictograph schedule while her husband was handed a typed schedule. This is why the matchbox was significant– it had words on it, the first that Serena had been able to read in a while. That's why she had to throw it into the fire, to avoid being caught, and maybe also to try to forget the conversation with Mark– also magnifies the significance of all the women writing their "My name is" letters.

  36. What do you think she did with the cigarettes?

  37. Not sure what you mean by “a while”. Serena spent a lot of time reading and writing, with June editing, a couple of episodes back while Fred was in the hospital.

  38. Also worried about Nick. I winced when he told Luke his real name. And Yes, Eden is troubling. Does her name make anyone else crazy?

  39. Serena now knows that it's probably Fred, not her, who is infertile. Couple that with Serena's knowledge that Nick definitely can get a woman pregnant. Soon, Nick may be as much of a sex slave as June is.

  40. So is the author saying Canada should never had met with Gilead.. is the author saying sanctions or military action is best to handle countries where refugees are flooding their borders. Luke’s child is separated from him. The author barely mentions her, it’s all about his feelings about his wife.

  41. "This week’s episode, 'Smart Power,' is a pivotal one in her [Serena's] story, however, and it suffers from its failure to illuminate her interior life."
    I think Serena's interior life will be further illuminated, gradually, over future episodes. For now, it's enough to see her feeling ambivalence.

    BTW, she's not entirely powerless in Gilead. She still has (though not as gratifying as her pre-Gilead autonomy over herself) power over her domestic staff, and her decision to release Offred upon the child's birth may be her way of asserting to herself that that while she can't control all aspects of her own life, she still can control some things. But her trip clearly reinforced that that's not enough for her.

  42. I think we are seeing what comprises Serena's interior life at this juncture: her facial expressions are her conflicted preverbal indications of what she is currently struggling with and pushing back at in denial.

    The artistry of these female actors is stunning, mind-boggling. It's amazing how multi-layered, contemporary, and vital this 21st-century adaptation of Margaret Atwood's book is.

  43. No one seems to mention that it appears that the whipping by her husband has permanently broken any remaining bond between Serena and the commander. This has been communicated solely through facial expressions, most notably as she faces away from him as he discusses their upcoming trip. I also think that her brief period of running the show while the commander was hospitalized has made her realize that she’s more computer than he is.

  44. As the show is a favorite of mine, a plot weakness from episode 9 is is maddening to me: the Canadian govt. has a diplomatic deal-breaking reaction to smuggled letters that are posted online, yet somehow until this point were not enraged by the testimony of living refugees?

  45. Very good point...

  46. I disagree that this is a plot hole. It often times isn’t until things become a “PR/political nightmare” that government makes significant changes.

  47. Yes, I’ve been thinking about this. Seems Waterford as a governmental representative had convinced the Canadian government that those who remain in Gilead do so through their own volition. If so, we can deduce that the Canadian government sees the American refugees as the few dissenters, but once the letters appear it becomes evident that Waterford is lying.

  48. It's striking to me that the NYT writer here refers throughout to "Offred" while the other female characters are referred to by their "real" or given names. Something to think about in terms of our acculturation. In that vein:

    Luke has seemed to grieve June's disappearance but not his young daughter's -- curious why this has not been examined..

    Mentioning Luke's potential disapproval of June's relationship with Nick would seem to invoke a mention of Luke's adultery in initiating his relationship with June -- how was this overlooked?

  49. A general comment not about this episode. I wonder if locating the story is Boston is meant to be symbolic. Massachusetts was where the Puritans set up there short-lived theocracy and burned Witches, etc. In New Gilead, has at least that part of the country come full circle?

  50. Yes, I think the story setting is meant to be symbolic, but it also occurs because Ms. Atwood went to graduate school at Radcliffe, and is very familiar with the area.

  51. And Margaret Atwood has (possible) family history in that part of the country as well as having studied 17th century history at university. These factors contributed to her choice of locale.

  52. Boston is the venue in the book. I heard that Margaret Atwood picked it because she has an ancestress in the Mass. colony who was accused of witchcraft. Also, Atwood attended Harvard.

  53. This episode was extremely sad. It's redeemed by the powerful performances of Yvonne Strahovski and Elizabeth Moss. It's fascinating how Serena Joy's character alternately enrages us and then makes us sympathize for her - when she bears a large amount of responsibility for the establishment of this theocracy to begin with.

  54. I take issue with the writer throwing some shade to the mom who wouldn't ride an elevator with Serena. It was not intolerance that motivated the mother; her inaction was a quiet protest to Serena's subjugation of women in Gilead. Peer pressure is one of the most powerful weapons we have in civil society. She was saying: 'I do not accept your behavior' in the most non-violent, powerful way. Resistance in small spaces counts. The mother of a daughter was not intolerant to convey disgust at rape and slavery. She was right.

  55. You say Serena’s actions cause no suspense. Then you follow with a list of good questions. Sound like suspense to me.

    I applaud the world-building episodes, since season 1, told only from Offred’s cloistered POV told us way too little about what was actually going on.

    Some more suspense lays in Eden’s knowledge that letter exist. While I suspect you are right, she can read, I don’t think she did read them. She is too brain washed and pious. Still, she knows that they are letters, and she doesn’t have a reason to keep them secret. She spent an awfully long time alone with a handsome, and presumably horny young guard. Lord knows what they might have discussed.

    I was happy to see Aunt Lydia get the slightest backstory. I wonder about her and all of the Aunt’s really. Interesting that she is a literal four-day aunt. If nothing else her abdication of responsibility for her niece’s death may be a perfunctory defense of her ability to keep her promise to never let harm come to Offred’s or any baby. It may even explain how/why she ended up as an Aunt and not a Martha. (And just how exactly does that work.)

    The diplomatic protocol’s are also fascinating. Was Serena supposed to be unsupervised? Does the hotel bar simply count as her house? The pictogram itinerary was devastating.

  56. Reviewer please note: it was a matchbox not matchbook. Strahovski was clearly the best actor in this episode. Nick meeting Luke was puzzling in terms of story line. It was made to look random, which is a stretch of the imagination. Demo scene at airport pretty naive. Hard to imagine the RCMP or anyone letting demonstrators get that close to a motorcade regardless of who's in it. Also, mother not sharing the lift with Serena was a bit too obvious. On the other hand, good one about Serena's cultural programme printed out in pics with obvious reference to forced illiteracy for women in Gilead, though hosts obviously knowing her background. Nice and subtle, you see it for only a second. Don't why I'm hooked on this series. Could be Strahovski...

  57. I really dig the Serena character as well. I use a gym that caters to wealthy right wing Christians and its as if the actress ( although Australian) has been there too...

  58. Nothing to do with any scientific panacea. The American agent implied she could have a baby because the men are infertile and therefore, her fertility potentially intact, she could find another more fertile mate in hawaii.