During its three seasons on Hulu, The Handmaid’s Tale has depicted all kinds of grim visuals: ritualized hangings, feet flayed with steel cables, women whose mouths have been bolted shut. And yet the image I couldn’t get out of my mind this week after watching the Season-3 finale was that of a generic to-go coffee cup. Early in the episode, Mark Tuello (Sam Jaeger), a representative of the U.S. Government-in-Exile, came to meet with Serena Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski), a recent defector from Gilead who’d turned in her husband in exchange for immunity. As Tuello walked up to greet her, Serena was sitting on a bench outside her detention center, placidly reading. She wore a long, dusky pink overcoat, tailored slacks, and ballet pumps. With her smooth blond curls, she looked like the very model of Apostate Girl Autumn. Tuello handed her a coffee, just one human in a free, caffeine-permitting country to another, and the ordinariness of it—the banality, maybe—felt somehow obscene.
I thought about Serena when I saw the first pictures of Ghislaine Maxwell taken after the re-arrest—and subsequent death—of Jeffrey Epstein. Maxwell was Epstein’s former girlfriend, reportedly his closest companion, the glue that held his social events together, and, according to the allegations of several women, his facilitator in procuring young girls to give him “massages.” Two women, Virginia Giuffre and Maria Farmer, have alleged that Maxwell was instrumental to Epstein sexually assaulting them. Giuffre was 16 years old at the time. […]