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[This story contains spoilers for season two, episode six of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, “First Blood.”]
Forget the empire; in the case of The Handmaid’s Tale, it’s the rebellion that just struck back.
The latest episode of the Hulu drama, “First Blood,” more than lives up to the billing, as the resistance force known as Mayday finally inflicts massive damage upon the oppressive Gilead regime. The episode builds to a climactic moment in which Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) unveils a brand new building he’s worked on tirelessly for months. During the ceremony, one of the gathered handmaids, Ofglen — the second person to carry that title in the series thus far, this one played by Tattiawana Jones — breaks away from the group, gathered outside the windows of the new building. Ofglen, whose tongue was removed due to aiding Janine (Madeline Brewer) in the season one finale, approaches Waterford and the others slowly at first, before running into a full-tilt sprint, detonator in hand.
The hour ends with Ofglen setting off a huge explosion that presumably kills numerous individuals within the building and even outside — meaning Waterford and numerous other commanders, as well as countless handmaids’ lives are left in the balance heading into the seventh episode of the season, rightfully called “After.” (For her part, Offred was nowhere near the blast radius, still recovering from her hospitalization at the end of episode five.)
Throughout The Handmaid’s Tale, the victories for the oppressed are few and far between: Moira (Samira Wiley) escaping Gilead and Offred (Elisabeth Moss) temporarily breaking free from servitude stand out as two of the most prominent moments of triumph over the dictatorial nation. The suicide bombing featured in “First Blood” signals the biggest blast yet in the revolution, if not an outright status quo change.
With that said, while there’s a sensation of triumph in the shocking cliffhanger, the cast and creators of The Handmaid’s Tale also point to some of the horrors baked into the premise. Read on for what they told The Hollywood Reporter about what they intended for the climactic moment to convey, and what it means for season two moving forward.
Bruce Miller (creator and executive producer): It pivots everything. It’s a big change in the world of Gilead. The initial idea came from, “Wouldn’t it be interesting if there was a suicide bomber, and we’re on her side? What’s the show where we’re on the side of the suicide bomber,” where you’re cheering that person on — and it’s a very troubling feeling to have. It really does pivot the whole show. Mostly, we did this because the women and Mayday are getting stronger and more organized. We wanted to think about what might happen next. The other thing that was really important for us is that the Mayday rebellion isn’t a handmaid rescue society. Killing handmaids is actually a good way to hurt Gilead. Having Offred realize, “Mayday may be out there, but we may be in just as much danger on a personal level from them [as Gilead’s societal structure]. We may be enemies of Gilead, but we’re also an asset of Gilead.” Seeing a specific strike and agenda from Mayday that would be really encouraging but also terrifying? That was the goal. What we’ll see in future episodes is how Gilead reacts and what that clampdown feels like, which is absolutely horrible.
Elisabeth Moss (“Offred” and executive producer): It raises the stakes for the Waterford house, because Gilead is cracking. It’s not falling apart, but it’s cracking. I think it’s really important to show that even a [fascist regime] — the commanders and the people in charge — also have their own weaknesses and dramas. It’s important to show that vulnerability for Commander Waterford. It’s also interesting to have a character who has lost her voice quite literally be the one who makes the biggest stand. It’s a violent stand. It’s controversial in a way, but that kind of move is something that’s needed to shake up the world of Gilead and to show that it’s cracking. There are more women than men, and when the women band together, they have so much more power. Ofglen really shows that.
Joseph Fiennes (“Commander Waterford”): What I love about that episode is it asks: “How far would you go in terms of resistance? What do you feel is right? Can your resistance become what you’re resisting against, which is oppressive and suffocating?” Here we have a handmaid taking the life of commanders, but also potentially other handmaids. There’s this bittersweet sense of resistance. Is there a line? I think it’s an interesting conversation about how far can you go and what actions do you take. It could be viewed as terroristic. Does this really help the cause of resistance? What this signals, certainly to Fred and the high-ranking officials who have acted like they’re untouchable and have done horrendous things because they think nobody can touch them … and you see this in real life with predators who feel they’re in positions of power with such a legal armory that no one can touch them. Here, we have a moment where they are rendered vulnerable by the thing they thought would never rise up. It will have a devastating impact. If Fred survives, there’s a great vulnerability to him, vis a vis Offred. There could almost be a post-traumatic stress here, where everything in his peripheral vision will make him jump.
Ann Dowd (“Aunt Lydia”): She’s now realizing that there’s an underground operating that’s far more powerful than she had imagined. I’m sure she thought there would be resistance, in the early planning meetings [of Gilead]: “We have to be smart about how we do this.” And now, they’re realizing how far in point of fact it’s gone. The loss of those handmaids especially will knock her out. The way we view terrorists, whose aim is to destroy human life no matter what, and you don’t even know what they’re after … What is it you want that makes the killing of innocent people OK in your world? I’m sure Lydia is thinking the same thing. “What are you doing? The world is a wreck. Nothing you came up with helped it. You just made it worse. What is this underground? What are we going to achieve here?” I think it’s a huge wakeup call for Gilead’s security system.
Warren Littlefield (executive producer): It seems inevitable that in a fascist dystopian world like Gilead, at some point there’s going to be an act of terrorism against them. That’s controversial. Do the ends justify the means? What is the downside? What is the upside? Is this good for the resistance? Who have we lost in this battle? So too have we come to learn and have to deal with in our real world: acts of terrorism and how we fear them. Rarely do we ever find ourselves on the side of appreciating them. We’re trying to wrestle with that complexity. In our world, there’s an act of terrorism, and I think you go, “Well, yeah, that would happen. Eventually it’s going to happen. It’s part of the uprising.” Do we justify the violence? I don’t think we’re ever gratuitous. We don’t ever want to justify violence. But it’s an inevitable part of the world we’ve created and are living in. It felt, dramatically, that it should be introduced. We’ll see some of the repercussions of that in episode seven.
Were you shocked at the latest act of violence? What are your predictions for what’s coming next? Sound off in the comments below and keep following THR.com/HandmaidsTale for more.
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