There’s a certain game you might be tempted to play during The Handmaid’s Tale episode “Under His Eye.” Or rather, a familiar drinking game. Every time June (Elisabeth Moss) makes an incredibly stupid decision, take a shot. Take my advice and don’t do it. You’ll be drunk as hell by the time “Under His Eye” ends.
June’s actions are so baffling that even an actress of Moss’s caliber can’t do much to salvage this. Even when the writing dipped, as it has more often than not this season, Moss has reliably shone. “Under His Eye” is no different in that sense, but the fact remains that June’s storyline is the most uninteresting. June has made plenty of ill-advised choices that would’ve landed her on the Wall long ago, but this is the first time it’s been boring.
As The Handmaid’s Tale keeps hammering home, everyone except those evil patriarchs are just doin’ it for the kids. Gilead has tightened its grip in this respect, not only ramping up the pressure on Canada to return Nichole, but punishing those they deem guilty of child neglect, and forcing the Handmaids into complicity while they’re at it. If death by hanging is deemed a just sentence, as it often is, June and the others are expected to literally pull the levers into place on command. They’re getting more frequent, as are those veils we saw last episode that silence the Handmaids.
In the midst of all of this, June and the now pregnant Ofmatthew (Ashleigh LaThrop) are back to their old dynamics. June offers help and connection, Ofmatthew refuses, and June hates her more. “Under His Eye” tries to add a new wrinkle, or perhaps just a new low, which caps off the episode’s lack of coherence. It had been baffling before, with June going to new lengths to try to not only see her daughter again, but actually ask her if she’d like to take a trip to Canada. Instead of making an effort to look for Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford), she decides to get his Wife Eleanor (Julie Dretzin) to help. How she goes about this, and how she reacts when it of course goes wrong would be enough to end everything for her, so her remaining alive at this point is going to be a hard sell.
Things are more interesting elsewhere, both inside and outside Gilead. The Waterfords are still in D.C., and it’s still pretty creepy, especially when Olivia Winslow (Elizabeth Reaser) shows Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) around a potential new home there, which she euphemistically refers to as an “unrestored house.” Apparently, that’s Gilead speak for a house that still contains remnants of its previous owners, such as their clothes, a newspaper on the table, overturned furniture, and smashed glass that conveys the violence of forced removal. Then there’s a ball filled with the country’s elite, which sees the Waterfords dancing sensually together as they’re romantically lit in a warm glow to bright applause.
In any other context, this would be incredibly romantic, and not just because this scene has all the trademarks of a rom-com. It’s a reconciliation between an attractive, well-off, elgantly dressed married couple at an actual ball for one. They’re also in the midst of wealthy couples who are clearly in marriages of convenience, who look on with envy at the Waterfords’ seeming closeness. Only the bookends before and after this exquisitely choreographed scene reveal what their life is built upon. It’s almost enough to regret that the seeds for yet another estrangement have already been sewn, as Fred (Joseph Fiennes) has decided not to tell his Wife that he’s allowing Nichole to remain in Canada for the sake of political expediency. Actually, no, it’s not even close. Here’s hoping the fallout is devastating for both of them.
Nichole’s situation is also another opportunity for The Handmaid’s Tale to remember that Emily (Alexis Bledel) exists, which is always a good thing. This time, she has to account for the violent crimes she committed, which included hitting a guard with a car and stabbing Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd). There may also be a new ship in the works, (Samira Wiley) Emily is more able to connect and confide in Moira (Samira Wiley) rather than her former partner Sylvia (Clea DuVall). Emily is even able to express her anger in a healthier way after she attends one of Moira’s protests, where she speaks out and demands the Canadian government protect Nichole, the infant she risked her life to save. Moira and Emily even discover they’re both murderers. They killed people not because they were forced, but because they were symbols of Gilead’s power and they wanted to end them.
This would be far more interesting if The Handmaid’s Tale didn’t only dismiss their behavior, but justify it. How? Do they delve into the complexities of totalitarianism, which tends to leave its victims with an acquired taste for violence, even if they desired little of it to begin with? No, Moira and Emily are both good now because they haven’t killed anyone since. In a way, it’s a relief that Serena isn’t the only one who’s let off the hook so easily.