Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale’s most recent episode entitled “Women’s Work” gave further evidence to the old adage that all good things must come to an end. No, the immensely popular Hulu original series has not been canceled, but Serena and June’s convivial working relationship probably has. With Fred back behind the big desk, Serena and June shuffle back to their previous roles as wife and mother, respectively.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2, Episode 8: “Women’s Work” – He’s baaaaack
His injuries sustained during the bombing at the Rachel and Leah Center on the mend, Fred returns home. To call Fred’s reception at the front door warm would probably be pushing the linguistic norms of that word, but at least Eden presented him with a gift.
At the market June tells the other handmaids of her commander’s return, and the other women commiserate. Janine is handling her new assignment as a handmaid pretty well, “It’s just the Ceremony, no blowjobs,” she says cheerfully. Emily, on the other hand, is having a more difficult time hiding in plain sight. She reminds Janine that there’s nothing good about getting raped.
A siren indicating that a baby is critically ill breaks up the chatter, and the handmaids all kneel and pray. Someone mentions that they think the sick baby belongs to the Putnam’s, Janine’s previous family, and June tries to keep Janine calm.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2, Episode 8: “Women’s Work” – June’s Changing Tune
On their way home, June admits that she knows that the sick baby is indeed the one that Janine had for the Putnams. June tries to keep her friend calm, but doesn’t succeed. Janine rants that she wants to see her daughter, and June tells her that’s impossible. Janine tells her friend that she sounds just like one of them and a frustrated June is left to walk home alone.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2, Episode 8: “Women’s Work” – “He is a she…”
Serena tells June that the Putnams’ baby, Angela, is not responding to treatment. But, she says, she doesn’t believe that the clinical team is exploring every available option. June asks if Janine could be allowed to see the Putnams’ baby one more time. Serena tells June that she’ll see what she can do, and also that she’ll attempt to enlist the commander’s help in saving the baby, after all Fred has definitely bent the rules in the past.
When Serena mentions the fact that the best neo-natologist in the world lives in Gilead, Fred asks his name. Serena tells Fred that the person she’s referring to is a woman, a “Martha” no less. Fred forbids the woman’s involvement and tells his wife that they must do God’s will.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2, Episode 8: “Women’s Work” – God’s Will Open for Interpretation
A somewhat empowered Serena interprets God’s will in her own way and calls the specialist in. After examining the baby, the former doctor says there’s little she can do. She recommends unhooking the Putnams’ baby from all of the machines she’s attached to and helping her feel safe and loved. Unfortunately, love seems a bit difficult for Mrs. Putnam. Thankfully, with a little convincing from her husband, Mrs. Putnam allows Janine to visit the baby.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2, Episode 8: “Women’s Work” – “Yellow?! I hate yellow!!”
Eden is working hard to please whomever she can. Nick, understandably, continues to keep her at arm’s length, but gets very upset when his new bride rearranges the contents of his trunk. He finds the stack of handmaids’ letters, which he managed to save from being burnt by June, sitting on a nightstand and demands to know if Eden read them. She says no, and Nick tells her quite harshly not to touch his things.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2, Episode 8: “Women’s Work” – Commander Spanky
Unfortunately, Fred finds out about his wife’s less than loyal actions concerning the former neo-natologist. He also finds out that Serena has been drafting orders under his name and that June has been editing them. He calls Serena and June into his office and questions them both. Serena and June both admit their actions, and, without missing a beat, Fred picks up his trusty bible and reads a selection conveniently stating that men have the right to punish women for their misdeeds. He removes his belt, Serena assumes the position, and Fred lets loose with some serious corporal punishment.
Later June goes to Serena’s room to try to console her but only gets a faltering yet stern “Go to your room,” in return.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2, Episode 8: “Women’s Work” – It’s Crazy But It’s True…
At the hospital, June and Aunt Lydia wait with Janine for any news on Angela’s recovery. The outlook is negative, and June suggests that Janine go and kiss her baby goodbye. Luckily, the Putnams are feeling unusually generous — or desperate — and allow Janine access to her daughter.
The next day, Aunt Lydia wakes to the sound of Janine’s softly singing voice. Viewers prepare for a grisly scene showing Janine singing to the corpse of an infant but get a pleasant surprise when we see Janine’s baby very much alive, thriving in fact. Aunt Lydia wakes the Putnams and declares the outcome a miracle. Credits roll over Janine’s sweet motherly voice singing Dusty Springfield’s big hit, “I Only Want to Be With You.”
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2, Episode 8: “Women’s Work” – Final Thoughts
As season two of The Handmaid’s Tale approaches its end, the stakes are getting pretty high. June and Serena’s relationship enters a new phase, but it’s not clear how Serena will react to the changing power balance in her home. One thing seems sure, though, none of what has happened seems to be getting June any closer to seeing her captive daughter Hannah.
Where June had a kind of control over Fred earlier on in the season, that seems to be eroding. June seemed defiant as she walked to Fred’s office but that determined look passed quite quickly. Rather than getting an invitation to play Scrabble, Fred tells June to rest.
I thought Madeline Brewer’s performance as Janine was excellent in this episode. Although she routinely delivers great performances, others’ performances often overshadow Brewer’s simply because she has less screen time. With “Women’s Work’s” focus on Janine’s story, though, viewers got a full sense of Brewer’s deft work at walking the fine line between maternal vigilance and insanity. I know that this particular story arc will likely have a stark conclusion, but I’m happy that Janine at least got to hold her baby one more time.