In this installment, Gilead prepares for a visit from the Mexican ambassador. The handmaids are tasked with scrubbing bloodstains off of the walls where dead bodies are usually hung as examples of what will happen to those who misbehave, and Jeanine comments on how it looks strange without the bodies—people can get used to anything. At the Waterfords’ house, tension is high because the Ambassador will be coming over for dinner, and life in Gilead must be shown in the best light. Mrs. Waterford warns Offred to speak wisely to the visiting diplomats.
For the first time in the series, we flashback to Mr. and Mrs. Waterford’s life Before, when they were passionate about each other, trying for a baby, and held traditional values. In the present, they exchange cold pleasantries, and Mrs. Waterford offers Mr. Waterford advice, which he appears not to want.
During the Mexican ambassador’s visit, Nick waits with Offred outside of the room where the ambassador, several important men from Gilead, and the Commander are meeting. Offred has said (to herself) that they can’t have sex again, but Nick’s hand touches hers and the tension (sexual, this time), is palpable. Offred is then called into the room to be introduced to the ambassador. When she walks in, she greets a well-dressed man as the ambassador, but it turns out he is the ambassador’s assistant—the ambassador is a woman. Offred is questioned about her life: whether she chose to be a Handmaid and whether she is happy. She lies.
Over hors d’oeuvres, the Commander boasts about how well Gilead is doing—their crops are fully organic, they’ve cut down on carbon emissions, etc. The Mexican ambassador listens politely and then asks “the quiet half of the room”—the wives of Gilead’s leaders—what they think. She brings up Mrs. Waterford’s past as an activist prior to the war—apparently she was arrested for inciting a riot. The ambassador also quotes Mrs. Waterford’s book, A Woman’s Place, which she wrote and published prior to the war. She asks Mrs. Waterford if she imagined a world where women are no longer allowed to read her book. Mrs. Waterford replies that she did not but that God sometimes requires sacrifices. The episode flashes back to Before, again, and we see the Waterfords go out to a movie. Mrs. Waterford suggests a subject for a second book: fertility as a moral imperative. Mr. Waterford thinks it is a great idea and encourages her to write the second book. Then, during the movie, the Commander learns that the attacks that will lead to the war have been ordered to take place in three weeks. They know war is coming but are surrounded by other theater-goers who have no idea.
In the present, Mr. Waterford is angry with Mrs. Waterford for inviting the wives; he thinks that now he will not get the trade deal he is hoping for. Mrs. Waterford goes to their room and smokes alone, while Mr. Waterford sends Nick to fetch Offred. Nick does—and again, the tension between them flares. Somewhat recklessly, Nick kisses Offred in the hallway before she goes to Mr. Waterford’s office for a Scrabble game. During the Scrabble game, Mr. Waterford complains about foreigners while Offred’s mind drifts elsewhere. He gets angry that she is not paying attention to him and tells her to leave. Before she leaves, she seems to decide something—but she doesn’t share with the viewer what that is. She fixes a beatific smile on her face, turns back to Mr. Waterford, and asks to stay. He orders her to stand in front of him. He tells her to kiss him, which she does—and then he makes it clear that he cannot be manipulated with sex. He orders her to go. Back in her room, she brushes her teeth until her gums bleed.
The next evening, the Handmaids are invited to a banquet with the Mexican ambassador, Gilead’s leaders, and their wives. Prior to entering the hall, Mrs. Waterford has them line up, and she tells Aunt Lydia to remove “the damaged ones.” Aunt Lydia argues against this, but Mrs. Waterford is firm. When Ofwarren (Jeanine) gets upset that she can’t go to the party, Aunt Lydia promises to bring her a whole plate of treats and notes that sometimes we have to do what is best for everyone—not what is fair. It’s almost a sweet moment. Aunt Lydia, who used a cattle prod on them and oversaw punishments like gouging out an eye or whipping their feet, also seems proud of them and to care in a twisted way about their well-being.
We flash back to Before—Mrs. Waterford is waiting outside of a conference room. Mr. Waterford comes out and tells her that he tried to convince the men that she should be included in the meeting, since she was such an important part of the effort to found Gilead, but they have said no. She leaves, and another man comes out to talk to Mr. Waterford. He says that women became distracted by academic pursuits and forgot their real purpose—”we won’t let that happen again.”
In the present, the banquet begins. Mrs. Waterford greets the guests and highlights their most pressing problem—fertility. She then introduces the children of Gilead, who are guided into the room by Marthas. The Handmaids watch the children closely from their tables as the men and wives play with them. Apparently, this display could cement the trade deal. Another Handmaid whispers to Offred that Gilead is looking to trade them. The Handmaids.
In the past, Mrs. Waterford unpacks in their new house. It appears to be just after the war. She throws out her old clothing and hangs up her new uniform—blue-ish green gowns, blue-ish green everything. Her old clothing is taken to the curb, along with her books—including A Woman’s Place. In the present, the Commander tells her that she is an amazing woman. They have sex, although at first they try to resist the urge, since they know it won’t lead to children. Meanwhile, Offred visits Nick’s apartment and rages at herself for lying to the ambassador. She gets angry at Nick when he makes excuses for her, and she tells him that he is an Eye and untouchable. He replies with “that’s not true”—and as it was unclear whether he was lying when he said he was an Eye to begin with, so again it’s unclear whether he’s saying he’s not an Eye, or saying that he’s not untouchable. Offred doesn’t notice any ambiguity and continues to be angry. She tells him not to call her Offred and finally shares that her name is June.
In the morning, Offred happens to meet the ambassador as she enters the house. She has another chance to tell the truth, and she takes it. Unfortunately, although the ambassador is sympathetic, she also says she cannot help Offred. Mexico is dying, because no children are being born. After the commander arrives and leads the ambassador into the house, the ambassador’s assistant stays behind and speaks to Offred. He uses her given name—June, and says that although he doesn’t know where her daughter is, he can get a message to her husband. Luke, it turns out, is alive, and this man knows where he is (along with quite a lot about both June and Luke). The episode closes with June holding pen and paper, given to her by the Mexican ambassador’s assistant.
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