Where last week’s episode of The Handmaid’s Tale was unsettling and depressing, “Seeds” is bleak. June (Elisabeth Moss) has not only been returned to the Waterford house and had to conform all over again, all her coping mechanisms have been stripped from her. Except, that is, for Nick (Max Minghella), the lover who almost managed to free her. But in “Seeds,” the Waterfords do their damnedest to take him away from her too. If they can’t send him away, then in true Gilead fashion they’ll separate them in spirit.
“Seeds” doesn’t have the show’s usual trademarks, but it proves it doesn’t need them solely on the strength of its performances. June is a broken woman, speaking rotely and only when spoken to. She is so robotic even Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) asks what’s wrong. When June is alone, her usual voiceover is completely absent, and there are no flashbacks to happier times. Her bleak outlook extends to others as well. She actually burns some of the letters smuggled to her by the Resistance, only to be stopped by Nick. When she starts bleeding, she informs no one, allowing her pregnancy to increasingly take a turn for the worse.
Surprisingly, Janine (Madeline Brewer) is faring much better in the Colonies, with her passivity and fragile mindset actually serving her well in a stark contrast to Emily’s (Alexis Bledel) hardened psyche. Janine is able to not only take note of the small instances of beauty around her as she speaks of her faith in not only Aunt Lydia’s affection, but the god she believes is watching over her. As Janine reasons, god saved her life twice now, and there must be a reason. She even comes up with the idea to arrange a wedding between two of the women in the Colonies that actually comes across beautifully.
It’s not only a stark contrast to an earlier ceremony, but a reminder that this show has never done subtlety well. Just when June thinks she has nothing left to lose, Nick is taken right in front of her in yet another one of Gilead’s creepy public rituals, the “prayvaganza.” Creepy as in Gilead decides to reward Nick and a few other Guardians for their good work by marrying them off. Yep, they trot out a bunch of young girls (as in teenagers) veiled in white. The men unveil them, a man’s right to rule his wife is discussed at length, and…mass marriage. June’s face as she watches this speaks volumes, especially when we see the sadistic pleasure the Waterfords get from it, especially Serena. Even the other Wives look unsettled when the child brides are revealed, but Serena is so invested in her hatred for June she can happily and sincerely remark on how beautiful the brides are.
Elisabeth Moss has consistently done incredible work in The Handmaid’s Tale, and she continues to amaze in “Seeds,” proving that no voiceover is necessary for her to perfectly convey June’s state of mind. Moss allows herself to be shown in a variety of unflattering poses as her pregnancy unravels in a gruesome fashion. But even she is roused to admiration after she is finally taken to the hospital (after being found just in time by Nick on his wedding night) and discovers her child has stubbornly remained inside of her. And just like that, June awakens once again and vows that her child will not be born in Gilead.
It’s nice to see The Handmaid’s Tale back to form after some uneven episodes and doing what it does best, which is beautifully conveying defiance in the face of overwhelming odds. Gilead has the full might of a fundamentalist regime to remind the women unlucky enough to live under it that they are considered mere animals, useful only when they can fulfill their set function as brood mares. For all of Janine’s misguided beliefs, she refuses to be reduced to that. Emily calls herself and the Unwomen cows and accuses her of “dressing up the slaughterhouse” when Janine convinces the others to have a wedding. Janine simply responds, “Cows don’t get married.” That sentence cuts straight to the lie that is also the foundation of Gilead. Sometimes the only form of resistance is simply refusing to be what others want you to be. Even if only quietly.