Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Handmaid's Tale, Season Two, Episode Five: Seeds

Seeds focuses on two storylines: June's despondency in the wake of her broken mental state which is juxtaposed to Janine's optimism and spirituality. Although all women have been abused and oppressed in the Gilead, we've never really been given reason to root for Janine, who more than anyone seems to have lost contact with reality.Janine has been made victim in The Handmaid's Tale more often than she has been presented as a fighter.    

When Janine arrives at the colonies, she leaps into Emily's arms.  Emily, being the caretaker, doling out whatever minimal comfort she's able to instructs Janine on how things work there but despite the desolation and the cruelty, Janine's spirit remains buoyant, as though none of the horror actually touches her. It's Janine who sees the beauty of Fiona and Kit's relationship, even though Kit is dying. It's Janine who sees a flower in the field and stops to marvel at its beauty, spreading the seeds so that more may bloom.  It's also Janine who keeps talking about God and parroting some of the nonsense taught to her by Aunt Lydia.  Janine's view of the Gilead and the colonies is not like any other character; she's irrepressible.

Emily is not initially comforted by Janine's hope, particularly her discussion of God and with good reason.  Emily is quick to ask where God was when the Gilead took Janine's eye or her clit. It's clear that not only is Emily angry, she feels abandoned by God. Things come to a head when Janine organises a wedding ceremony for Kit and Fiona. It's extremely touching even though Kit is dying and the ceremony is only possible because they are in the colonies.  The wedding however angers Emily because all she can see are the risks but Janine argues back that at least Kit and Fiona got to experience a brief moment of happiness before Kit died. The next day, Fiona kisses a dead Kit goodbye and Emily touches the flowers so lovingly placed on Kit's body.  It's in this moment she realises the beauty of the brief happiness of the women. Kit's body is taken out and it's Emily and Jannine who bury her in a field already marked with far too many crosses.

June has finally become a model handmaiden. Aunt Lydia does a check up as Serena Joy looks on, clearly irritated with Aunt Lydia's intrusion in her home.  Aunt Lydia makes it clear that it's important to keep on top of June's pregnancy and ensure the home environment is good, a comment which Serena sees as a dig. When Aunt Lydia picks up a pencil to note June's advancing pregnancy, a jealous Serena Joy about swallows her tongue, forcing Aunt Lydia to explain that it's a special dispensation for aunts.  Aunt Lydia instructs June to bathe twice a day now because she's begun to smell pungent. As Aunt Lydia leaves, she runs into a commander and they make small talk about the possibility of the child being a boy.  What Aunt Lydia doesn't realise is that this is a sore spot with the commander because no matter the gender of the child, Nick is the biological father.

Just because June is finally compliant doesn't mean her relationship with Serena Joy has improved. Serena may not have the daily brutalities of June but she is just as trapped by virtue of her gender in the Gilead.  Serena forces June to go for walks under the guise that the exercise is good for the baby. It's in these moments that Serena's loneliness comes through the strongest in this episode.  What Serena really wants is a friend - someone she can gossip with about other wives and handmaids but she and June can never be that for each other and Serena is frustrated by the truth of it. Serena's frustration comes to a head when Nick decides to discuss June with her. Nick has noticed that June seems broken and that her mental health is clearly an issue and so suggests that June be taken to see a psychiatrist.  Instead of having a moment of self reflection, Serena decides to up the ante on her cruelty and casually mention Nick at breakfast with the commander. If June won't play girlfriend, then Serena will see that she suffers. The commander is more than willing to play a part in the game in order to disrupt Nick's relationship with June and to reassert his power because Nick was the man who impregnated June.

What neither the commander or Serena don't know is that June has begun to bleed.  Rather than letting anyone know that is possibly miscarrying the baby, June simply continues to go through her daily activities. It's only Rita who notices that something just doesn't seem right about her but when June denies that she is ill, Rita is given no choice but to go about her duties.

Serena and the commanders machinations come to a head at the prayvaganza (yes, it's as horrid as it sounds) Nick and several other men are led on stage as the audience, segregated by gender and position watch. The men learn that they are to be awarded for their service to Gilead and each is presented with a black box.  Nick is instantly uncomfortable because anything come from Gilead cannot possibly be good. It's only when the women walk in dressed in white with a veil that we learn that this is Gilead's version of a wedding ceremony. The men are to be rewarded for the service with the opportunity to mate and posses their own wives.  A shocked June looks on and a tear slides down her cheek as Nick lifts the veil and places a ring on his new wife's finger and the other on his own hand.  The crowd erupts with applause and June struggles to slowly clap her hands.

That evening, June is forced to watch the beginning of the forced celebration of Nick's marriage. It's not long however before she sent to her room because Serena declares that it's a night for married people.  Serena takes the newly minted Mrs.Blaine a side to discuss the nuptials. Not only is Nick's wife several years than him, this is her first separation from her mother. Serena encourages Eden to embrace and enjoy sex with Nick, assuring the young woman that when sex happens in marriage that it's not a sin. In his tete a tete with the commander, Nick is forced to listen as the the commander drones on about Nick being lucky enough to have his own family now and it's a clear message.

It's time to call it a night and Nicks seem reluctant to do his duty as a husband and lingers outside with a cigarette.  Nick notices something that is  not right and when he moves closer, he finds a collapsed June and calls for help.  When June awakens she's in the hospital with Serena Joy asleep in a chair. Serena awakes and is excited to see that June is okay and rushes off to get a doctor. Miraculously, not only did June survive, so did the baby.  Alone, June pulls the sheet over her head and talks to her unborn child, recognising its resilience in still being alive despite her neglect. June promises the child that she will get them both out and that Gilead cannot have him.

Is this the rebirth of June the rebel? Only next week's episode will tell. What is certain is that she's been here before. June's breakdown however was absolutely necessary. No one could have withstood what June did without having their spirit broken at least temporarily. I do however think that this time, June will make a break for it on her own because she knows now the cost for anyone helping her and she knows that waiting for someone to rescue her means that she will not progress.

Being in the Colonies is starting to have an effect on Emily physically. We watched as she pulled a tooth out of her mouth despite all of the precautions she has taken to avoid the poison.  It will be interesting to see the dynamic between Emily and Janine as the former's health begins to deteriorate. There are different kinds of strength and from Janine we can see the importance of having even one thing that the oppressor cannot touch, even if said thing is intangible.

I have often wrestled with whether it is Serena or Aunt Lydia that I have the biggest problem with. Without doubt both women are collaborators and a form a necessary force to maintain Gilead. What Serena did this week, bringing up Nick to the commander was absolutely manipulative.  Serena is well aware that whatever love once existed in her marriage is long since over but that doesn't mean she doesn't know all of the commanders trigger points. Serena is desperately lonely and incredibly jealous that it's June who is carrying their child and not her. Given that Gilead only values women for their reproductive ability, it leaves Serena despite her privilege as a wife without any real value or real power for that matter. Rather than seeing the ways in which both of them are trapped, Serena lashes out at the only person she can lash out at - June.

I find the exchange in the park interesting. There, June and Serena run into the woman who was giving Janine's daughter.  Clearly this baby is neither wanted or appreciated and only exists as a status symbol. Just because a woman my be physically able to mother, doesn't really mean that she has a desire to do so as Mrs. Putnam illustrates.  Angela, is a status symbol but her actually needs as a living person are clearly deemed bothersome - something Serena simply doesn't understand. Mrs. Putnam's trap is being forced into motherhood without having any inclination to actually mother and the person who will suffer from this is Angela. It's always the women who suffer.