The unrelenting darkness of The Handmaid's Tale often makes it difficult for viewers to remain unaffected by the events depicted within the series, especially when its overarching narrative feels like a real possibility rather than an alternate near-future. But the ambiguity of certain events in Wednesday's "Seeds" left some viewers feeling a bit emotionally confused, in turn potentially revealing some weaknesses in the Emmy-winning program's second season.
Halfway through the episode, dutiful handmaid Offred (Elisabeth Moss) — the rebellious runaway June having disappeared for now — appears a little unstable. She's bleeding heavily and leaning against what appears to be a closed and locked window. The episode then cuts to Emily (Alexis Bledel) and the dying women of the Colonies before circling back to Gilead, where the show checks in with both the Commander (Joseph Fiennes) and Serena (Yvonne Strahovski), who are meeting with Nick (Max Minghella) and Nick's young bride, respectively. But as Nick leaves the main house to go home to his new child bride, he hesitates in the pouring rain, as one does when they want to put off something truly horrifying for as long as humanly possible. And that's when he hears it: an almost inaudible whooshing sound that signals some sort of danger. Happy for the distraction from his child bride, he rushes over and finds Offred in what appears to be a drainage ditch outside the house.
Logically, we understand that Offred either jumped in an attempted suicide or somehow fell out of a window after losing too much blood — could she have just walked outside and simply fell in the hole on accident? It is technically possible, but less likely — but we never actually see any of this happen. The entire situation is rather confusing and complicated, especially in light of the end of last week's "Other Women," when June seemed to disappear inside an obedient Offred. And so the ambiguity of what happens to Offred in the second half of the episode — made worse by the fact the episode is so visually dark it's near impossible to see where exactly she is when she's discovered outside — makes it difficult to know how to feel or react.
If Offred was attempting to end her own life — which is entirely possible given her decision not to tell anyone about the blood loss — then the editing of the episode creates an obstacle that prevents viewers from feeling the full emotional weight of her actions. Further complicating things is the fact the episode eventually ends with what appears to be a newly resurfaced June telling her unborn child she will do everything she can to ensure that he or she will not grow up in Gilead.
The Handmaid's Tale isn't exactly a subtle show; it regularly depicts the horrifying realities of an increasingly harsh existence with little censorship. It does this to such an extent that many have expressed their dislike for the series' reliance on violence against women, especially in Season 2. We also sometimes find ourselves wishing the series was a little more restrained in some regards. In this instance, however, a little more insight or clarity might have helped to determine what exactly viewers are supposed to take away from Offred's emotional, mental, and physical journeys this week. Was this a suicide attempt? Was it an accident? Was it nothing more than the result of poor editing or a deleted scene? Unfortunately, the show's opaqueness here only contributes to a growing sense of dissatisfaction among fans of the show.
The second season of The Handmaid's Tale started off strong, but it has sometimes struggled to live up to the promise of the first few episodes of the season, when June was on the run. It makes sense that June would be captured and forced to return to the Waterfords, but we've also seen the realities of this existence before. The only difference is that this time June is pregnant, Mayday has gone silent, and Nick is now married to a young woman who believes in the teachings of Gilead. There's little time for catharsis in this overwhelmingly and increasingly fraught existence — and it's beginning to wear on viewers as much as it seems to be wearing on the women who actually have to live through it. Add in the fact the show has underutilized Samira Wiley's Moira in the first half of the season and it's no wonder some viewers are left wondering what's going on and whether or not it's worth standing by The Handmaid's Tale. We aren't ready to abandon ship — the defiant return of June at the end of the episode seems promising — but we're going to need some answers very soon.
New episodes of The Handmaid's Tale are released every Wednesday on Hulu.