Spoilers ahead for Episode 6 of The Handmaid’s Tale Season 3. Just when you thought The Handmaid’s Tale couldn’t get any scarier, they relocate to Washington, D.C., where the handmaids have muzzles and sutured mouths, and the officials frighten even Commander Waterford. The city is home to Elizabeth Reaser’s Handmaid’s Tale character Olivia Winslow, the wife to Chris Meloni’s High Commander Winslow. The Winslows are hosting the Waterfords and June, and Olivia quickly reveals herself as an ally to Serena — a powerful one at that.
The Winslows are a high-ranking couple, and represent what the Waterfords aspire to in many ways. High Commander Winslow has a sought-after position in D.C., and the family has no fewer than five children, a sight that visibly stuns the Waterfords and June. Olivia, however, is utterly nonchalant. "Are they all yours?" Serena Joy asks her. "Who else’s would they be?" she replies gaily. It’s chilling — especially since everyone knows who carried the pregnancies to term.
This abundance of children is a striking difference between the Waterfords’ home and D.C. — but the most shocking change is how the handmaids are treated, including in Olivia’s home. Clearly, Gilead’s regime works differently here. Handmaids all must wear covers over their mouths, and the Winslows’ own handmaid, OfGeorge, has three metal rings forced through her lips to keep her mouth permanently shut.
It’s important to note OfGeorge’s condition: clearly, there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to Olivia. She seems like a warm, hands-on mother, and is nothing but kind to Serena, going out of her way to note the influence Serena’s words have had on her life. "I know this is a bit taboo," Olivia confesses to Serena Joy over tea, "but I loved your book." The book she’s referring to is presumably A Woman’s Place, Serena Joy’s manifesto on the virtues of "domestic feminism" — and an early building block for Gilead’s treatment of women.
Olivia continues: "You really saved me. You should have seen us before: me, at one corporate law firm; George, at another. No time for a family." In the background, her five children can be heard laughing and playing. "You have a beautiful family now," Serena tells her. This is not lost on Olivia. Gilead has given her everything she wanted, and she feels a debt to Serena because of it.
In Deadline’s announcement of Elizabeth Reaser’s role in The Handmaid’s Tale, they state that Olivia "becomes a friend and inspiration to Serena Joy." Olivia has thus far come across as somewhat meek: but she, like Serena, is clearly intelligent and motivated, and once worked in a very high-powered role. Now, that energy seems channeled into growing her family and silencing her handmaid — two areas where, frankly, Serena Joy has had little success.
Olivia’s influence could prove useful to Serena, but will almost certainly quash any remaining impulse of Serena’s to join the resistance. Viewers hoping to see Serena finally redeem herself may have watched that dream die when Reaser’s character walked in. Coming weeks will no doubt reveal more about conditions in D.C., as it appears the Waterfords are staying for the time being. In their ongoing quest for Nichole’s return, the Waterfords have valuable allies in the Winslows — the only question is whether Serena has the stomach for the lifestyle they represent.
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