Canadians got another look at our fair country this week in “Smart Power” and all viewers were reminded of how important it is for June to get her, her daughter Hannah, and her unborn child out of Gilead. Although June had always planned on getting out, her escape plans will have to get underway sooner than she once thought. Serena has made it clear that once the baby is born “Offred” will no longer be welcome in her and Fred’s home.
It was good to see Luke and Moira have a rare win for their side, but the canceled trade negotiations between Gilead and Canada didn’t get either of them any closer to bringing June and Hannah home.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2, Episode 9: “Smart Power” – “Yes, Mrs. Waterford.”
After the brutal whipping she sustained at Fred’s hands in “Women’s Work,” Serena has withdrawn noticeably from her husband. She works in her potting shed tending to the mould that threatens her plants. Fred orders her to accompany him on his trade mission to Canada, saying that his delegation will benefit from being able to show the canucks what a strong Gilead wife looks like. It takes some convincing, but she agrees to go — after all, it’s not like she actually has a choice.
Of course, crap flows downhill, so it’s an officious Serena that visits June and tells her that once the baby is born June will be leaving the house. This troubles June who reminds Serena that the handmaid usually stays to nurse the baby until it’s weaned. Serena knows this but tells June that she figures they’ve all had enough of each other. June agrees with a weak “Yes, Mrs. Waterford,” and that’s that.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2, Episode 9: “Smart Power” – “We just adore the AGO.”
Being driven through the mean streets of Toronto, Serena takes in the sights, including the architecturally unique Roy Thomson Hall, some homeless folks, and a couple — probably unmarried :-O — necking on the street. When the Waterfords arrive at the site of the trade negotiations, they get a somewhat frosty welcome from the Canadian trade delegation, which includes a gay man who recalls how much he used to love going to the States … with his husband.
Fred tries to sweep this bit of unpleasantness under the rug, and the trade delegation walks off leaving Serena with her handler, a woman named Genevieve. Genevieve gives Serena her itinerary for the day, a series of illustrations one might hand out to students on an elementary school field trip.
Genevieve questions Serena about her hobbies, and Serena describes herself as an avid gardener and then lies and says she also loves to knit.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2, Episode 9: “Smart Power” – Canadian Riesling, worth committing treason for
Having lost Genevieve, Serena goes to a bar and orders herself a glass of Riesling. A man walks up and orders a Scotch neat and proceeds to light a cigarette — a serious no-no in any Toronto bar since 2005. The bartender tells him that he will have to go outside, but the man extinguishes his smoke instead.
Serena retires to her own table and the man follows. She tells him that she doesn’t speak to strange men, especially when they’re spies. The man, Mark, eventually admits to working for the American government, apparently operating out of Hawaii. He offers her a chance to board a plane that night for Honolulu if she’ll agree to defect. When Serena refuses, Mark suggests that her infertility could be cured by the right doctors and even suggests that the problem is Fred’s, not hers.
But Serena is a tough cookie so, apparently getting nowhere, he eventually leaves Serena to her drink. As he does, though, he leaves behind his Hawaii-themed matchbook, which Serena pockets.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2, Episode 9: “Smart Power” – “You must be mistaken; my handmaid’s name is ‘Offred.’”
A day of negotiations finished, Fred and Serena, with Nick along for the ride, are driven to their hotel. As they arrive, a group of protestors waits outside the front doors. A police barricade prevents people from breaking through, but Luke, holding a placard featuring an enlarged photo of him, June, and Hannah pushes his way past. He runs at Fred but police restrain him as Luke screams that Fred is raping his wife. Confronted with the cold reality of their actions, Serena and Nick are both taken aback, but Fred continues on as detached as ever.
Later in their hotel room, Fred tells Serena that, though the interaction with “the husband” was unpleasant, they must soldier on.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2, Episode 9: “Smart Power” – “Uhh, I also had sex with your wife…”
Tracking Luke down at a bar, Nick tells the lonely husband that June is safe but pregnant again. Nick lies and says that Waterford fathered the unborn baby June is carrying. Getting angry, Luke yells at Nick and pushes him away — I bet Nick was happy he didn’t tell Luke that he actually fathered June’s unborn baby — but Luke thinks better of it and asks Nick how June is doing and if he has any news of their daughter Hannah. Nick tells Luke that he doesn’t know about Hannah, and then hands off the package of Marthas’ and handmaids’ letters.
Back at the apartment Luke shares with Moira and Erin, Moira is upset that the package from Nick isn’t something obviously helpful like instructions on how to rescue her or a package of C4. The three realize, though, that what they hold is potentially far more powerful than a bomb. They publish the letters online and hope that the Canadian trade delegation is watching.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2, Episode 9: “Smart Power” – Ongoing trade problems with Canada
Mirroring current events quite startlingly, Gilead’s trade negotiations with Canada fall apart. But rather than unfair tariffs being the cause, these negotiations end because of the published handmaids’ letters. Fred, Serena, and Nick are met with a throng of protestors when they arrive at the airport, including Moira waving a sign that reads “My name is Moira.” A closeup of Moira, who previously worked at Jezebel’s, reveals how she felt about Fred calling her “Ruby.”
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2, Episode 9: “Smart Power” – “But what about June?!”
While all of this has been going on, June has been securing friends who will protect her baby once it’s born. The Waterfords’ “Martha,” Rita, agrees, albeit somewhat reluctantly, and in addition to Rita June also gets a very powerful ally on her baby’s side, Aunt Lydia. She tells Rita flat-out that she is worried Fred will abuse the child, and boldly hints at the potential for abuse when talking to Aunt Lydia.
With the trade negotiations cut short, Fred, Serena, and Nick return home. A late-night visit from Nick is a welcome change of routine for June, but the news he brings is better still.
Nick tells June that he saw Luke and gave him the handmaids’ letters, and he tells her that it was Luke’s publishing the handmaids’ letters that ended the negotiations. Nick reports that Luke loves her, says he’ll never stop, and also tells June that Moira is safe and living with Luke. Showing that he’s a pretty good dude stuck in a weird situation, Nick also tells June that he loves her before leaving her room.
These pieces of great news bolster June’s spirits, and as the episode ends we see a reinvigorated June say “f*ck that” to resigning herself to accepting that her baby will be born in Gilead.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2, Episode 9: “Smart Power” – Final Thoughts
I thought that Yvonne Strahovski as Serena did some of her best work in this episode. Her inner conflicts were obvious to the viewer, but the degree of complexity she put into her performance made these inner conflicts believable. Although we see Serena burn the book of matches at the end of this episode, one wonders if she’s as into the whole forced breeding thing as she used to be. How does a strong and intelligent woman accept a life of infertility and enforced domesticity with the offer of fertility and freedom hanging in the balance?
With just four episodes left in the second season, it’s difficult to say where this season will end. I figure the final episode of the second season will feature the birth of June and Nick’s child, and with a third season already green-lighted, fans won’t have to worry that their favourite dystopian speculative fiction show will be canceled with loose threads hanging off of it.