'Handmaid's Tale': Why Offred's Pen Is a Bigger Deal Than the Bomb

And far more dangerous.

by Catie Keck

There was so much left to unpack after Episode 6 of The Handmaid’s Tale following a Handmaid-led bombing that left 26 Commanders and 31 Handmaids dead or severely injured. “After,” the aptly titled seventh episode of the series’ second season, finds a similarly dangerous tool in the hands of yet another Handmaid: a pen with immense power.

With Commander Fred Waterford in intensive care after having himself been targeted in the attack, Commander Cushing is leading the charge on an investigation and has seemingly brought chaos on the community affected. In an effort to weed out who might be involved, he turns his sights on Offred — and therefore potentially Nick, who helped her in her failed escape attempt. And, out of the fear that harm will befall her (or rather, Offred’s) unborn child, Serena Joy takes drastic measures to protect her home in her husband’s stead. Breaking Gilead’s protocols in doing so, she enlists Offred for her help in editing forged documents that will, at least temporarily, rewrite the law.

What This Means

Offred at the end of the episode takes, at the direction of Serena Joy, a pen from Commander Waterford’s desk. In a powerful end scene, Offred is seen clicking it before beginning edits on a stack of official papers. It’s certainly less showy than when Ofglen triggered the explosion with the click of a detonator at the end of Episode 6, but perhaps signifies and potentially more dangerous threat.

Women (with the exception of Aunts) are prohibited from writing in Gilead. Colluding with a Handmaid or supplying her with writing materials is also prohibited. One can only imagine what the cost of forging directives from a commander would entail in the way of punishment, but it’s likely safe to assume it would mean certain death for all involved.

Why It’s More Dangerous

The newly reinstated alliance between Serena Joy and Offred is a dangerous one for both — but perhaps more so for those directly affected by it, as is the case with Commander Cushing. Serena Joy, in an attempt to bar him from their lives, frames him for treason. We can likely safely assume this is a death sentence.

We knew Serena Joy had a hand in creating Gilead as an outspoken advocate prior to its establishment, but there are moments it’s clear she isn’t totally sold on the lifestyle she’s partially responsible for (such as, like, institutionalized gender oppression and her husband’s live-in sex slave). With power back in her hands and a child at stake, it’s not hard to imagine how far she’d go to protect her household.

For the first time in nearly two seasons of Hulu’s dystopian series, it appears official, legislative power may be back in the hands of the women of Gilead — and that’s a big damn deal.