The Dead Baby Effect: 'The Handmaid's Tale' Recap

Look, I’m gonna be honest with you, this week’s episode of Handmaid’s Tale was a lot. I personally watched while enjoying a glass of wine and a fully packed bowl, which turned out to be a bad idea because I found myself deeply disturbed and unable to deal with my emotions in a mature and reasonable way. (To my boyfriend, if you’re reading this, I am deeply sorry and will pay for all the damage I did to our apartment.) I’m actually surprised it took Handmaid’s Tale this long to throw a dying baby into the mix. Stay tuned for next week’s episode, which will feature a box of puppies that is on fire.

Now that I’ve given you fair warning, let’s head back to Gilead, a horrific nightmare place that for some reason we all keep visiting every week.

Serena And Offred’s Girl’s Night

After last week’s female friendship extravaganza, it makes sense that this week’s episode would begin with a little bit of a girls night. Tbh, the only thing missing from Serena and June’s slumber party is rosé, but June is pregnant and Serena only drinks full glasses of straight whiskey, so that wouldn’t have made a lot of sense.

Like any good girl’s night, June is asking Serena probing questions, trying to goad her into talking shit about Gilead. “Do you miss working?” is the Handmaid’s Tale version of “Don’t you think Maggie was being a bitch tonight?” Serena plays ball a little bit saying she “truly detests knitting” which is Handmaid’s Tale for, “yeah that bitch sucks.”

Side note: At approximately 15 months, June is finally starting to look pregnant. She’s still rocking the sweatshirt she acquired last week, and is honestly looking great. Feminism really suits her. Maybe she’s born with it. Maybe it’s having your rapist held up in a hospital bed because he was hit with bomb shrapnel.

Serena Joy: Btw, the Commander is coming back.
June: Praise be.
Serena Joy: Praise be.

Note: “Praise be” in this scene is code for “fuck him.”

Mr. Waterford’s Return

Mr. Waterford is back from the hospital and is somehow an even bigger narc than normal. One can only hope that his sad, lonely penis was irreparably damaged in the bombing, but Handmaid’s Tale wouldn’t let us all off the hook like that.

Like every friend whose bestie has a shitty boyfriend, June doesn’t know how to tell Serena her hubby is a creepy little freak, so she has to pretend to be happy to see him, then presumably texts Rita to be like “Ugh did you see Fred’s HAIRLINE?? He sux so much…”

Nick’s stupid little wife is also there to greet Mr. Watford. TBH, I always forget about Nick’s child bride as a character until I see her again. I get that she’s like 15, but 15-year-olds can still have a personality.

Like a true child, she gives Mr. Waterford some bullshit craft to put up on the refrigerator. Good Lord, girl, are you 15 or 5? Instead of some stupid craft, she should have just posted some fake-ass Insta story he’ll never see because he doesn’t have Insta about how happy she is that he’s back, like any respectable teen.

Mr. and Mrs. Waterford reconvene in his mancave, and he gives literally zero fucks about all the work Serena did for him while he was in the hospital. In fact, like most shitty dudes, he has no problem taking credit for Serena’s work, and gently tells her to gtfo so he can JO to pictures of ankles or whatever the fuck he does in there all day.

Nick’s Shitty Loft

Good God Nick’s little wife is boring. Again, I get that she is a child and her complete lack of unique thought is a product of being brought up in Gilead but damn. Get a hobby. (Not knitting).

Baby Wife is following Nick around the house bothering him about home décor and not taking the hint that Nick is not interested. He leaves, probably out of fear that he’ll literally pass away from boredom if he talks to his wife for even a moment longer.

The close-up on Baby Wife’s face and scary music shift here signals that whatever is going on in Baby Wife’s sad, teenage mind, it is not good. She’s going to pull some shit. I just know it.

**Flashes back to the time she accused Nick of being gay and the fact that she heard the handmaids tell each other their names in the grocery store**

Yeah, this is not going to end well.

Back At The Grocery Store

We catch Janine on a good day.  Idk what happened, but she’s gone from Crazy-Ass One Eyeball Janine (aka the Spongebob of Gilead) to just like, Regular-Ass One Eyeball Janine. Maybe she changed her meds?

She’s talking about the movie Alien and making Star Wars jokes. Is this some kind of weird deal Janine made with Aunt Lydia where she gets to be sane, but she has to make 80s sci-fi references? I’m confused.

June: Blessed be the fruit.
Janine: May the force be with you.
Me: Oh okay so Janine’s got jokes now?

The handmaids are gossiping and joking around. They start talking shit on their commanders and obviously are having a great time. Then, like in any good shit-talking sesh, one friend takes it way too far and now it’s awkward. Today, that friend is Emily.

June: Mr. Waterford is so annoying
Janine: Ugh at least i don’t have to give my bjs, that’s a blessing

Don’t worry though, the awkward tension is quickly broken up by news of a dying baby. Praise be.

Aaaaand just like that, Janine is fully crazy again. To be fair, she did just find out that the sick baby is actually her baby. To be extra fair, she did already try to kidnap that baby and jump off a bridge with it, so like IDK where this concern for the baby’s well being is coming from.

The rules of Gilead appear to be suspended for this episode. June and Janine are taking a walk and the guards tell them to stop touching, which June ignores. She then proceeds to yell, “I’VE GOT HER,” at another guard and Janine literally pushes one of them away. Considering the giant guns they’re holding, their proclivity for tasing people, and literally everything we’ve learned about this world so far, this feels like it shouldn’t be allowed.

Janine: You have to help me see my baby.
June: Umm I had to get fully molested just to get a polaroid of my child so my guess is this is gonna be a no…

Back At The Waterford House

Cut to Serena and June doing their favorite thing: talking about babies. Specifically, Janine’s baby, and TLDR; she’s not doing well.

Serena casually mentions that, perhaps, the authorities in Gilead aren’t tapping all of their medical options, namely the 51% of the population they don’t let be doctors anymore.

According to Serena, there is a female doctor (shocking) who is actually the best in her field (doubly shocking) who could probably help the baby if only the government would let her (they won’t).

June asks SJ if Janine can see her baby before it kicks the bucket, and Serena says no, which honestly is reasonable because of that whole thing where Janine went nuts and almost threw the baby off the bridge just like, a couple weeks ago.

Serena Joy: I’ll go talk to Fred! He’s the best and he’ll totally help us.
June: …………sure.

Obviously, Fred will not agree to help the dying baby because he fucking sucks. Serena gives him the look of a woman who just started to maybe sort of realize her boyfriend fucking sucks. I know it well.

At The Hospital

Is there a rule in Gilead where every hospital has to be completely white with aggressive fluorescent lighting? Did I miss that part of the Bible? “Thou shalt not have a soft white light bulbs in a hospital?” I feel like if I were sick and had to be in this environment I’d let myself die just to get out of the harsh lighting.

Turns out, Serena actually is going to help Janine see her baby. Forget the fact that she flat-out refused to do the same thing for June, her literal only friend, two weeks ago. The effect of this dying baby has turned Gilead all topsy turvy. They’ve got handmaids openly talking shit and yelling and people. Serena Joy is being helpful. Aunt Lydia is being nice. Shit is off the rails.

SJ: Hey would you mind letting Janine, the crazy woman who kidnapped your baby and almost threw it off a bridge, come see the baby again?
Baby’s Dad: Sure! What harm could it do? (Other than that thing you just mentioned.)

June has agreed to chaperone Janine just in case she, you know, tries to steal the baby and throw it off a bridge again.

Aunt Lydia is very concerned with Janine’s well being, which is cute for someone who literally ripped out her eyeball and sent her to die in a toxic waste dump.

Aunt Lydia: If this breaks her, I will hold you personally responsible.
Me: Wait is Janine not already broken?

The theme of this episode is “being real”. For the first time ever, people are being open and honest with each other. The dying baby is literally making them all better people. They’ve stopped being polite. They’ve started being real.

We call this the “dead baby effect” and it really only exists in Gilead.

Janine is somehow now even crazier. She’s transformed from the bright, happy SpongeBob we all know and love into a dark, sad SpongeBob – a SpongeBob with the suds.

Serena clearly went back into Mr. Waterford’s mancave and forged his signature on some more documents, because the lady doctor has been brought to the hospital, where there is a v. symbolic handing over of the stethoscope. Personally, I’d be like, “fuck the stethoscope lemme know what you’re paying me,” but I don’t live in an oppressive religious patriarchy. Not yet, at least.

Because I do live in a country with a shitty healthcare system, this whole episode I couldn’t help but thinking about how much all this baby medical attention was going to cost. A stint in the NICU is not cheap. My assumption is that either a) the Commanders all get dope health insurance (possible), b) all baby healthcare is free in Gilead (also possible), or c) moments before Serena Joy blew blew up the Capitol, Bernie Sanders passed Medicare for All and even Gilead was like, “the old guy has a point, healthcare is a human right!” (probs not true but fun to think about).

Anyway, despite the state-of-the-art health facilities, this baby is not doing great.

Honestly watching a baby die is like, the last thing Janine needs. I know that’s true for most people, but it is particularly true for Janine.

Because we’re in the bizarro dying baby version of Gilead, they all decide to be nice and let Janine say goodbye.

And of course the little baby that they have is so cute and fat and precious looking. Add “introducing a cute baby that we all know is about to die” to the running list of horrible shit Handmaid’s Tale has done to my psyche.

Mr. Waterford’s Man Cave

Cut to: Mr. Waterford knocking on June’s door from some non-consensual sexy time and saying the words “knock knock,” which is literally so disgusting I can’t even breathe.

Mr. Waterford has figured out that his two victims girlfriends have been hanging out without him and he is pissssssseeed.

He summons them to the man cave and pulls out his marked up Bible (nerd) and starts quoting verses, which is like the Gilead version of getting a “we need to talk” text. Whatever comes next, you know it’s not going to be good.

Aaaaaand it’s domestic abuse! Amaze. Mr. Waterford whips Serena and makes June watch. We’ll call this scene How To Lose Both Of Your Girlfriends In Ten Horrific Minutes.

Nick’s Shitty Loft

Meanwhile, Nick has returned to the newly renovated domestic paradise that is his shitty loft. We have finally learned something about Baby Wife’s personality, namely that her favorite color is yellow.

Baby Wife and Nick share a sweet moment of marital bliss when she realizes he remembers what her favorite color is – that’s how low the bar is these days – but it is quickly ruined when Nick realizes she fucked with his stack of contraband letters. Dontcha just hate when that happens?

He gets all up in Baby Wife’s face and tells her not to touch his shit, but she insists she didn’t read the letters. Personally, I’m torn. On the one hand, Baby Wife seems very earnest when she says she didn’t read the letters, and she’s so fucking dull I’m not sure she even can read. On the other hand, there is no teenage girl on the face of this Earth who would stumble upon her crush’s secret letter stash and not read them. There’s just no way.

Back At The Waterford House

Cut to: Serena Joy realizing that her man ain’t shit.

June tries to offer her help, but SJ isn’t having any of it. She’s still Serena Joy, after all. She blew up the fucking White House.

June takes Serena’s rejection so personally that she immediately turns around and is like, “Okay bitch if you don’t want me to be your friend I’ll go talk to Fred then byeeee,” which seems a little harsh. Like, Serena was naked and crying in there. Maybe give her a sec to clean up?

June: Someone once said, men are afraid women will laugh at them, women are afraid men will kill them.
Me, an intellectual: Umm by “someone” do you mean Margret Atwood, architect of this nightmare world?

June is going to Mr. Waterford’s to deliver some fake-ass apology. I know she’s playing Mr. Waterford here (he is easily played) but I do not know why.

Mr. W must actually be pretty upset, because he turns down the opportunity to solicit sex from June. He’s never done that before.

Afterward, June essentially passes out from having to pretend to like Mr. Waterford for more than 30 seconds and like, I totally get it.

Back At The Hospital

Janine, our precious, pure, one-eyed angel, has brought the baby back to life with her love. I feel like as soon as they handed Janine the baby we all low-key knew this would happen, but we didn’t realize she’d have to get half naked to do it. Whatever keeps the baby alive, I guess.

We end on Janine’s acapella version of some song I’ve never heard of. I think it is supposed to be sweet, but it is very, very creepy.

Honestly, this episode exhausted me. I am exhausted.

Alise Morales
Alise Morales
Alise Morales is a comedy writer and performer. She is the writer of the Betches Sup Newsletter and co-host of the Betches Sup Podcast.