‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 2, Episode 8 Recap: Rebels with a Very Important Cause

*Warning: Spoilers ahead*

  • Serena and Offred join forces against Commander Waterford to try and save a young life.
  • Commander Waterford reasserts his dominance in his household in a striking way, literally.
  • Nick and Eden’s marriage takes (another) downturn as they struggle to find harmony.
  • Janine brings about a surprising miracle, and Aunt Lydia is just over the moon about it.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

handmaids tale season 2 serena offred in commander waterfords office
George Kraychyk/Hulu

A New Normal

With the Commander (Joseph Fiennes) still in the hospital, the Waterford home has settled into a new routine. At night, Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) writes government warrants under her husband’s name, and Offred (Elisabeth Moss) edits them. As they work, Offred muses that she was already on Gilead’s “naughty list,” but Serena is a new convert. She asks how Serena feels about having given up her career and submitting to Gilead’s ways, and though she’s cagey at first, she ultimately confides in Offred and says she “truly detests” knitting.

Offred finishes editing, shares her notes with Serena and compliments her writing finesse. Serena informs her that their little writers room sessions will soon be coming to a close, as the Commander is set to return tomorrow (groan). They both say, “Praise be,” but the look in their eyes says they’ll miss their freedom. We don’t blame you, ladies.

Right on time, Commander Waterford returns home the next morning with the help of a cane. Serena excitedly meets him at the door, but he hardly gives her a peck on the cheek. At her request, the other women of the household have situated themselves in the foyer to welcome the Commander with gifts and well wishes. He’s appreciative and greets Offred by saying, “Our divine miracle. Glad to see you looking so healthy.” Way to be creepy, dude.

In private, Serena updates him on various upcoming meetings and the bills she’s been churning out on his behalf. While he’s distracted, she places the red pen Offred used to edit her work back in its place on his desk. Before long, he excuses her from his office and condescendingly says she’s probably grateful to get back to normal life.

After enduring the Commander’s homecoming, Offred returns to her room to find a gift from Serena: a single white rose and ballerina music box. There’s no note, but Offred knows it’s a sign that, despite their differences, she enjoyed their time working together. She thanks Serena later, and she shrugs it off, saying she’s distracted because the Putnams’—or rather Janine’s (Madeline Brewer)—baby, Angela, is sick.

Meanwhile in “Maison Blaine,” Eden (Sydney Sweeney) tries to make conversation with Nick (Max Minghella) when he arrives home. Eager to be the best Stepford Gilead wife she can be, she says she wants to redecorate the house with yellow because it’s a happy color, and as her mom says, “Happy home, happy husband.” Barf.

handmaids tale season 2 offred janine grocery store
George Kraychyk/Hulu

Serena’s Choice

Offred runs into Janine on her way to the grocery store and offers up the standard “Blessed be the fruit” greeting, but Janine goes off script and jokes, “May the force be with you.” She asks how Offred’s pregnancy is going and reminisces about being pregnant with Angela (who she calls Charlotte). It’s awkward since Offred knows the baby isn’t well, but Janine mistakes her silence for a poor sense of humor (and taste in movies).

They chat with other handmaids at the store and when Janine says her new household assignment is a “blessing,” Emily (Alexis Bledel) can no longer hold her tongue and lashes out, expressing support for the bomb that ended so many lives and sneering that, “Anyone helping Gilead deserves to be blown apart.” It makes Offred wonder if Emily would kill her if she knew she was helping Serena do Commander Waterford’s job.

Suddenly, Offred is snapped out of her reverie by the sound of a passing baby ambulance. All of the handmaids whisper and kneel to pray, and Brianna (Bahia Watson) says she heard the sick baby is little Angela. To no one’s surprise, Janine becomes erratic, and Offred has to convince her to keep calm and pray on. They walk home soon after and Offred confesses that Angela is sick, but that Janine needs to hold it together for the sake of her child. Janine quips back that she needs to see her baby, and when Offred says, “You know that can’t happen,” she yells back that she sounds just like “one of them.” It hits home—hard.

Serena comes into Offred’s room later to update her on Angela, and unfortunately she’s not doing any better. It seems Serena has taken a liking to rebellion, because she admits she thinks the Putnams should explore a doctor that’s not on Gilead’s payroll, someone illegal. She asks Offred if she agrees and she replies, “Well I think if it was my baby I would do whatever I could. Law or no law.”

Inspired, Serena brings up the subject with Commander Waterford and tells him that one of the top neonatologists in the world lives in Gilead. There’s only one problem: She’s a woman (and a Martha). Commander Waterford refuses to permit the Martha to give the baby a physical exam because it’s not “God’s will” (read: the men of Gilead can’t stand being less intelligent than a woman).

handmaids tale season 2 offred janine at hospita
George Kraychyk/Hulu

Rebel With A Cause

Serena and Offred reconvene later and discuss Commander Waterford’s decision, but it doesn’t seem like Serena is willing to play by his rules this time around. Seeing a different side of her frenemy, Offred asks if Janine can see the baby. Although she’s slightly outraged at first, she ultimately agrees to ask the Putnams. Call it Commander Putnam’s (Stephen Kunken) lust for Janine or desperation, but they allow their estranged handmaid to come see Angela.

Janine is in hysterics when she arrives at the hospital and Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) scolds Offred for telling her about Angela’s illness. Aunt Lydia says she’ll hold her personally responsible if this “breaks” Janine. Thankfully, it doesn’t appear to…at least not yet. The three of them look at the baby in her incubator and it’s pretty devastating.

Although the Gilead doctors say nothing can be done for little Angela, Serena takes it upon herself to forge the Commander’s signature (again) and have the neonatologist-turned-Martha transported to the hospital. The doctor is emotional to learn she’ll be returning to her job, if only for a short moment, but quickly snaps back into medical mode and starts running tests.

Unfortunately, however, she can’t find anything that can be done for Angela and everyone is completely crestfallen, except for Serena, who’s mad as hell. She barges out of the room to yell at the female doctor and accuses her of “giving up.” The doctor says she can’t find any problems and the best thing that can be done for Angela is to unplug her and let her pass away in peace. Janine is allowed to kiss her baby goodbye and there’s not a dry eye in the room. She cradles Angela for what is likely the last time.

handmaids tale season 2 serena commander waterford
George Kraychyk/Hulu

Lashing Out

While Offred and Serena are gone, Commander Waterford hobbles up to Offred’s room, sees that she’s not there and senses something fishy is going on when he notices the music box. Uh, oh. When the gals arrive home later, he calls both of them into his office and confronts them about orchestrating the Martha’s hospital transfer. Serena argues that she was just doing what was best for the baby, saying, “What greater responsibility is there in Gilead?” His response? “Obeying your husband.” Yikes.

But that’s not all. He also knows that Offred helped edit Serena’s work and says it’s his fault for “burdening [her] with that kind of responsibility.” Double yikes. Now, he retorts, it’s time to make amends. He reads a Bible verse about women’s inferiority to men, removes his belt and orders Serena to bend over a chair so he can beat her with it while Offred watches. Although she tries to turn away, Commander Waterford insists she witness each lashing.

After, Serena undresses and surveys the terrible damage her husband has done to her body. She’s sobbing (rightfully so) when Offred knocks on the door asking if she needs anything. The look of shame is clear as day on Serena’s face, but she tells Offred to go back to her room. She’s shown enough vulnerability for the day.

handmaids tale season 2 janine holding angela
George Kraychyk/Hulu

The Good, The Bad & The Miraculous

Offred walks away and muses about the sad state of their household: “Someone once said men are afraid that women will laugh at them; women are afraid that men will kill them. We should have known better.” But instead of returning to her room, she knocks on the Commander’s door to apologize. He accepts and tells her to go upstairs and get some rest for the sake of their baby. When he closes the door, she breaks down.

On the other end of the compound, Nick and Eden are having a similarly strained evening. She shows off the changes she’s made to their little home and gives him curtain options. Trying to be nice, he picks the yellow option—her favorite. But the moment passes as quickly as it came when Nick spots a stack of Mayhem letters on his bedside table. He yells at Eden, asking if she read them, but she’s a good little wife and wouldn’t dare use her brain for scholarly pursuits. She says they just fell out of his trunk when she was cleaning. He threatens her to never touch his things again, so basically their marriage isn’t going so well.

Daylight breaks in the hospital and Janine can be heard singing the Bay City Rollers’ song, “I Only Want to Be with You.” The camera pans to her sitting in her underwear singing to Angela, who’s laughing, smiling and happy as ever. Aunt Lydia wakes up and calls it a miracle. Elated, she runs to get the Putnams.

If this were anywhere but Gilead, the scene would be sweet, but we can’t help but wonder—how is Janine going to stomach having her baby taken from her yet again? Guess we’ll find out when season two, episode nine hits Hulu on Wednesday, June 13.

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Lex Goodman

Cat mom, yogi, brunch enthusiast

Lex is an LA native who's deeply obsessed with picnics, Slim Aarons, rosé, Hollywood history and Joan Didion. She joined PureWow in early 2017.
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