One of the major casting coups this season for The Handmaid's Tale was the great Marisa Tomei. The My Cousin Vinny actress has a guest star turn in Season 2, but up until the premiere, all we knew about her was she played a Wife, and was somehow going to be connected to the Colonies, where Emily, aka the original Ofglen, was serving time. Her character finally turned up in Episode 2, where she and Emily seemed to instantly connect. So who did Emily poison in this episode, and what exactly was her reasoning? Warning: Spoilers for The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 follow.
Marisa Tomei's character turned up about a quarter of the way into the episode, and when she does it turns out she doesn't even have a name. She's just "Wife." This was her status and that's who she is to those in the Colonies when she arrives on the short bus from Gilead to start serving her time.
Yes, this is a Wife who is actually no longer a Wife. She's a prisoner of the Colonies just like everyone else. But how did she wind up there? And why is Emily so nice to her?
It turns out the Wife's story is one of someone who was as much a prisoner of the system as the Handmaids. She too once had a degree (an MFA in interior design). She assumes Emily's knowledge of diseases and herbs and her biology degree is why she's out here, and Emily doesn't tell her otherwise. Personally, the Wife tells Emily, she was appalled by what happened, and education doesn't make one somehow a sinner against god or a bad person.
But when the revolution came, this Wife didn't mind up a Handmaid or a Martha. She married the right sort of person and lives the right sort of lifestyle, and is clearly very deeply religious in the right sort of way for Gilead. But she was also miserable. Her jealousy of the Handmaid her husband was able to breed with seeps through her pores. Though she doesn't tell the audience who she had the affair with, the assumption is easy, it was most likely the Nick figure in her household, who she could sleep with while her husband enjoyed raping his Handmaid.
But mostly the Wife is afraid her sin has ruined her, far more than anything than could happen here in the Colonies. She tells Emily she fell in love. God would understand. God understands love, and He forgives her for it, right? Emily, who has been flash-backing to memories of the rollback of LGBTQ rights, seems softened by this cry from the heart. In response, she gives the Wife a little bottle of pills, which she says are antibiotics. They'll help her when the water starts to do a number on her digestive system.
But it's all a trick. Emily saw the Wife come in, and from the beginning has been watching her, watching how the others spit on her, and abuse her and take their rage out on someone who benefited from this new patriarchal hierarchy Gilead has created. Emily isn't being nice to her. She's making the Wife trust her, because the Wife is a fool, and always has been, from the beginning, to allow herself to enjoy the benefits of this life and to think she could somehow be above it all.
Personally, when I saw this scene I thought it was odd. How does Emily have a bottle of pills to give away to someone? Does she do this for all newbies?
No, because the bottle of pills wasn't antibiotics. It was poison. Emily is punishing the Wife for all the things Gilead did to her, and for all the things Handmaids suffer while Wives look on. There is no sympathy in her face as the Wife dies.
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