Warning: Graphic content and general depressing stuff.
This week we’re introduced to the shameless hypocrisy of Gilead’s misogynistic new world order via Offred’s attendance at a swanky ‘secret’ brothel. She’s lucky enough to bag an invite from the creepy Commander Beardface, and we’re lucky enough to have trash cans on hand to puke into every time he touches her arm.
The episode opens with Offred once again in Nick’s bed, and we’re treated to her self-disparaging inner monologue as she admits that despite knowing Luke is alive, she’s unable to stay away from Nick. “I’m a fucking weakling,” she narrates scathingly, before admitting that she is still with Nick because it feels good, and because she doesn’t want to be alone. Absolutely no one blames her. She also confesses that she spends time studying Nick, memorizing him, because Luke is ‘fading’ from her memory, and she doesn’t want that to happen again.
The flashbacks this episode fittingly fill out Nick’s backstory, and we learn that his full name is Nick Blaine. In the midst of society’s collapse, he was having difficulty staying employed and was recruited by a leader of the Sons of Jacob out of desperation. We also see his first interaction with Cmdr. Beardface: he’s serving as the driver and overhears Beardface telling two other crinkly old white guys that their wives will never go for the concept of husbands impregnating other women, not if it’s referred to as ‘the Act.’ Beardface suggests they call it the Ceremony. Beardface is effing gross.
Back in real time, Beardface is up to his creepy old tricks when he visits Offred in her room and… shaves her legs. It is about as erotic as you’d expect (so, not erotic at all), but he’s not done there. He also gives her makeup, a swanky beaded dress, and a pair of high heels, though the piece de resistance is when he takes her hair down and gives it a good, hearty sniff, just like that sweaty guy who sat behind you in freshman algebra used to do.
It’s evident that Beardface is taking Offred out on the town. After parading her in front of Nick and unknowingly salting a wound, he has Nick drive them into what was once Boston. They go through two security checkpoints and Offred keeps her hood up; she is pretending to be Lady Beardface tonight, something made possible by Lady Beardface being out of town visiting her mother. For the second checkpoint she has to lie down on Cmdr. Beardface’s lap since ‘no women are allowed past this point,’ which, ew. Nick keeps glancing at them in the rearview mirror and does not look like he’s having a good time. Then again, he never does. Nick is an enigma.
Their destination is Jezebel’s, an art deco-inspired club that has an Eyes Wide Shut situation going on inside. It’s a bunch of crusty old men with half-naked women draped across their laps, and Offred is understandably not stoked to be here. Cmdr. Beardface is, as always, utterly out of touch with the emotions of women, since he is super proud of his little sin-and-rape den and seems to see no triggering issues when he tells Offred that, despite this sort of operation being forbidden, they ‘turn a blind eye.’ “Everyone’s human, after all,” Beardface says, and miraculously Offred does not stab him in the eye while shrieking WHAT ABOUT ME, MOTHERFUCKER?! like I might have done.
Instead, she asks who these women are, and Cmdr. Beardface contradicts his moment of egalitarianism by proudly telling her that they have “quite a collection” including CEO’s, lawyers, professors, and former working girls. “All women who couldn’t assimilate.” In other words, more sex slaves of the titled. Offred looks like she might puke, at least until she sees someone across the room –
No, not Rory, but it is Samira Wiley!!! She’s alive, and she’s cute as a freaking button as always. Offred excuses herself and she and Samira Wiley have a hasty reunion in the ladies’ room, where Samira immediately apologizes for leaving Offred behind on the train. Offred is clearly not torn up about it, since all she wants to do is hug Samira Wiley and tell her much she loves her. The reunion is interrupted by an angry Aunt telling Samira to get back out there, which only means that this entire operation is aunt-sanctioned and even more heinous. The Aunts are literally the worst example of #girlshelpinggirls I have ever seen.
Meanwhile, Nick is downstairs doing a trade with a Sister. They’re trading contraband and it’s clearly a standing arrangement, though he shuts her down when she tries to entice him into sex. This is evidently not his usual response and the Sister seems put out but says nothing. Cut to another Nick flashback, this one back in the Beardface’s manor.
He’s cutting down a hanged handmaid, presumably the one before Offred. Rita, the cook, is beside herself with grief, and Nick looks shellshocked. The next scene is all of them somberly watching the body being taken away, and we see Lady Beardface hiss to Cmdr. Beardface, “What did you think was going to happen?”
And then we’re back in the brothel, where Cmdr. Beardface has taken Offred to a private room. None of it bodes well. He wants to have sex ‘for real’ and we are only given a glimpse of his initiation and a single tear rolling down Offred’s cheek. She’s still keeping it together far better than I could.
Once that’s done, Offred sneaks out of the hotel room to find Samira Wiley. On her way down the hall, she hears all sorts of horrific things: men beating women, women crying, the boorish laughter of spectators in a gangrape of a woman dressed like a handmaid. It’s literally just a coterie of hypocrisy, and even the brief, quiet meet-up between Samira Wiley and Offred isn’t enough to lift my ensuing depression. Samira Wiley tells Offred to give up on escape, though Offred doesn’t accept it.
Not even once she’s back home, and Nick tells her they need to stop seeing one another. He tells her what they’re doing is stupid and dangerous. She tells him she had no choice but to go with Beardface, which is tragic since she shouldn’t have to tell Nick that. He says nothing. She gives him a withering glare, reminds him mockingly of his position within their heinous government, and sweeps from the room.
But she’s not broken. Not even after Lady Beardface stops her on the stairs to give her a gift – an old music box, ‘a girl in a box who only dances when someone else opens the lid.’ Not even then. Instead, Offred sits on the floor of her closet, using the music box key to carve ‘you are not alone’ into the wall for the next handmaid.