Long Reads

The Handmaid’s Tale recap: who knew an omelette could be so hugely significant?

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Kayleigh Dray
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Thanks to The Handmaid’s Tale, the humble omelette has been lifted from unfashionable brunch food to important plot signifier

Fair warning: This article contains spoilers for episode six of the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale (and drops some heavy-handed hints about what’s to come later, too).

Yes, there was a shock suicide bombing in last night’s episode of The Handmaid’s Tale. Yes, I was proven 100% correct about Eden (Sydney Sweeney) and her twisted role in this tale. And yes, we learned a lot about Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski)’s backstory – which has now significantly deviated from the historical figure upon which she was based

But I don’t want to talk about any of that: instead, I want to focus on that bats**t crazy brunch scene, and all it represents.

Serena, for all of her malevolence and late-night chats with June’s stomach, has become something of a sympathetic character in Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s iconic tome. Over the past few episodes, we’ve seen glimmers of humanity shimmering through her icy surface: think her obvious frustration with Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd), for example, and her tearful relief over June (Elisabeth Moss)’s recovery after that not-so-accidental fall from the bedroom window. These moments were always tempered with instances of pure evil, it’s true – Serena’s gleeful crowing over Nick (Max Minghella)’s wedding to a 15-year-old made for a particularly repulsive scene – but they were there, all the same.

This episode, though, took things to an entirely new level.

When June awakens in the hospital, Serena is seemingly a changed woman: courteous, kind, almost maternal in her fussing over her Handmaid. She breaks all of Gilead’s rules and allows June to look at her baby on the ultrasound monitor. She helps the Handmaid on with her cloak, offers her a wholesome and nutritious soup after June turns down Aunt Lydia’s prescribed green juice (clearly a form of torture in itself, judging by the expression in June’s face every time she sips the stuff), sets up a cosy bed for her in her luxurious drawing room, and blithely promises to get her a pregnancy pillow. She even sits up with June, knitting and chatting about… well, about all sorts of things a Handmaid and Wife shouldn’t talk about. 

It’s enough to convince June that her mistress has become something of an ally: she even allows Serena to reach out and tenderly touch her belly, so that she can feel the baby kicking against her stomach. 

Things veer from the merely strange to Twilight Zone-esque when Serena organises a surprise brunch for June and her fellow Handmaids. Together, the women in red capes – all of whom have been forced into sexual servitude by Serena and her husband – sit stiffly at the kitchen table, awkwardly tripping over their prescribed lines. “We’ve been sent good weather,” one observes, fear obvious in her eyes. And who can blame her? She knows, after season two’s horrifying premiere, that just one slip could see her sent back to the Red Centre for psychological torture, routine burnings, and unnecessary surgery.

Serena is disappointed, as she (presumably) wanted a good old natter over a platter of eggs and bacon. Seeing the expression on her mistress’ face, though, June takes it upon herself to make the brunch a rip-roaring success, and breaks the silence by piping up about a local restaurant that’s now been shut down. It’s utterly forbidden to talk about pre-Gilead times, but June continues to word-vomit all over the kitchen table, waxing on about the delicious menu she used to enjoy there. When she gets to the “liberated omelette with eclectic potatoes,” though, Serena interjects. Not with a reprimand, but with the name of the restaurant itself – Magnolia’s.

“Who knows, maybe we were there at the same time,” Serena adds, shooting an apprehensive smile at the women gathered before her.

A stunned silence descends upon the kitchen. Because, of all the horrors they have been subjected to, it is this seemingly harmless idea which is all too real for any of the Handmaids to handle. 

Yes, Magnolia’s was very popular. And, yes, they all may very well have been sat there, tucking happily into their avocado and toast, at the same time. But Serena’s throwaway comment is a staunch reminder that, while the rest of the women at the café were just there to refuel and chat, she was there to plan a murderous overthrow of the government.

It was she who took a long hard look at that “liberated omelette” and decided that, actually, eggs should not be free. That women who could have babies should have babies. That working ovaries should, in the midst of a reproductive crisis, become government property. That women should be stripped of their rights and raped monthly by another, ‘better’ woman’s husband. That any babies born of these non-consensual unions should be given to that same ‘better’ woman to raise.

It is unsurprising, with hindsight, that this brunch date triggered something deep inside Ofglen 2. After having her tongue torn out earlier in the series, Tattiawna Jones’ character had faded somewhat into the background – almost disappearing into the shadows entirely. But, unable to reconcile her new reality with the past, unable to join in the chit-chat and unable to even taste the delicious spread laid out before her, she decides to take a stand against Gileadean regime… even if it means sacrificing herself to do so.

Cue her breaking away from her fellow Handmaids, rushing into the brand-new Red Centre, pulling a trigger of an explosive device from under her robe, and issuing a big fat “up yours” to bondage, slavery and sexual servitude. 

BOOM. Now that’s a liberated omelette. Too bad that June and her fellow Handmaids can be placed with Ofglen 2 at an unchaperoned meeting in the hours before the attack, eh?

Next episode: After

Previous episode: Seeds

Image: Hulu / Channel 4