Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Handmaid's Tale, Season Two, Episode Three: Baggage

I believe that Baggage, the title of this episode, relates to all of the weight we carry with us everyday. Not only do we have our own personal expectations and disappointments, we carry those of our parents and if we are parents our children.  It's a heavy burden that often goes unnoticed throughout our lives but we carry it nonetheless. 

I'm going to begin with Moira because she has the smallest section of the episode this week. Moira has tried very hard to establish some normality for herself since escaping to Canada. Moira exercises, has secured a job at the welcome center and even manages to engage in sexual activity in a woman's bathroom at a club.  What is clear however is that Moira is living with PTSD.  She's trying to run from her memories, even as she makes Luke eggs because she believes that he is getting too skinny.  Moira is lying to herself. Moira tries to tell a fellow survivor that it gets better but she still refused to allow the woman she had anonymous sex with to touch her.  Moira may not say it but she is still on the run and news that the Canadian and British military are doing exercises by the border makes her worry that her reprieve from Gilead is only temporary. 

June's mother was an avid feminist during the pre Gilead days.  Holly saw the world for what it was and was absolutely determined to raise a daughter who was a fighter.  Holly even took June to Take Back the Night rallys where women burned pieces of paper with the name of their rapist on it.  As June grew however, her politics didn't align as strongly with her mother, causing a clear rift in their relationship.  Holly for instance did not support June's promotion to assistant editor at an academic press and instead championed the success of a friend's daughter who had designed a website for lesbians. Holly wasn't even pleased with June's at the time impending marriage to Luke.  Holly didn't actually have a problem with Luke per say, just the idea of a woman devoting all of her time and energy to a man while the world was so messed up. June was clearly hurt but what she deemed to be her mother's disappointment in her. 

In a flashback we see June and Moira at the re-education centre receiving a lecture from the most hated auntie on the planet about the dismal state of the world which Lydia blames on human sin and sees as a punishment from God.  Holly appears in one of the images as a farm worker in what must clearly be part of the colonies.  Given Holly's political beliefs, it's certain that she is still fighting and that her life is very difficult.

In the present, June has become accustomed to living in the Globe building. She's started running to keep in shape and has spent her time looking through the remnants of the newspaper in the hopes of figuring out how the Gilead came into being so rapidly. June organises articles under headings like Militarization and Curtailment of Civil Rights. As June puts the pieces together, she begins to realise that the Gilead was always there and that no one noticed.  The truth is, Holly noticed and that is why she fought so long and was even wounded for the cause. 

June's routine is brought to an end when the delivery driver returns to let her know that it's time to move onto the next location.  June is driven to a broken down warehouse where she is met by Omar, and informed that the plan is to get her to safe house and then she will be escorted to an airfield to be flown out of the country. Before June can even get in Omar's car however, he gets a call saying that the safe house has been compromised.  Omar orders June back indoors, apologising to June about the state she now finds herself in. June quickly realises the stakes and jumps in front of Omar's vehicle, refusing to allow him to leave without her.  It takes Omar a few moments before he decides to take June with him.

Omar takes June to his home and in the process we get to see a part of the Gilead that has been ignored up until now.  Thus far, we have really only glimpsed the lives of the elite but Omar and his family are part of the working class. June thinks this is “where I’d live if I hadn’t been an adultress, if I’d gone to church. If I’d played my cards right. If I’d known I was supposed to be playing cards.” June is a handmaiden because she had an affair with Luke while he was still married and had viable ovaries.  

Heather is none to pleased to see June in her home but feels that as an econowife, she has no say on Omar's decisions.  Heather makes it clear that June isn't to touch anything and quickly removes her child when she sees them playing briefly.  Heather is the other side of collusion in Gilead.  Heather doesn't have the privilege of someone like Serena Joy and as an econowife is expected to be a handmaiden and servant all in one for Omar.  Heather clearly sees herself as above June and comments that she would die before she gave up her child.  Heather refuses to see the system at work against June and how little choice June has.  Even more importantly, Heather doesn't even recognise the ways in which misogyny limits her own life. As much as the Gilead is an oppressive state, it is dependent upon women like Heather, Aunt Lydia and Serena Joy to control society. The more we buy into our oppression as natural and good, the tighter the noose itself becomes. 

Omar leaves with his wife and child to attend church, promising to return by two and instructs June to remain quiet because everyone in this neighbourhood watches everyone else. June waits patiently for the family to return but it's not long before the family is overdue.  June thinks about how her failure to flee earlier landed her in this position and decides that she is done waiting.  June changes into Heather's econowife clothing, and grabs the map that Omar had shown her earlier. In the process of getting the things she needs, June discovers a Quran and a prayer mat.  It seems even in times like this, people will take risks to practice their religion.

Out on the street, there is little difference between June and the other Econowives. The red robes and white wings of a Handmaiden stand out making it impossible for them to just blend in but because the bland clothing of an econowife is meant to make them disappear, June has little problem moving through the streets, and heading to a train station to board a train. June gets off the train at the last stop and makes her way through the woods and through a field to wait for the airplane to arrive. As she travels, June is plagued by memories of her daughter and the realisation that she is leaving Hannah behind, even though she knows that given Hannah's dress when she saw her last that Hannah is destined to become a handmaiden herself. June has finally accepted that she has no choice but to leave even if it means that she will never see Hannah again. 

When the plane lands, June has to convince the pilot that she is indeed a fleeing Handmaiden by exposing her damaged ear.  Comfortably on the plane, June wishes that there was some way to let her mother know that she understands and that she forgives her. June also hopes that Hannah will forgive her one day.  The plane begins to taxi down the runway and suddenly shots ring out. It seems more than the safehouse was compromised. The pilot is shot dead and the plane comes to a stop. June is dragged off the plane by her feet, though she attempts to resist the entire time. 

I suppose I should have known that June wouldn't be allowed to escape the Gilead that easily. My biggest worry is that this will lead to another torture porn episode. I believe that The Handmaid's Tale is necessary viewing because it shows a possible extension of our current lives but that doesn't mean that it's easy to watch.  It's one of the very few programs on television today that I couldn't binge watch. One episode a week is more than enough and some episodes thus far have required me to pause and return to them later to finish.  What will Gilead and Aunt Lydia have in store for June as punishment for her escape?  Whatever it is will be grueling, of that I have no doubt.

As aforementioned, this episode dealt with the weight of expectation that we deal with in our lives but it also devoted some time to collusion.  The men hold all of the real power in Gilead. Women are only allowed to police each other and some, like Aunt Lydia, seem to do it with great relish.  Heather affirms that it isn't just the elite women who are willing to participate in systemic sexism but women on all levels are party to the evil that is Gilead.  The Handmaid's Tale isn't simply a story about the dangers of religious extremism and environmental destruction, it's also about the ways in which marginalised groups participate in their own oppression and the dangers of internalising negative messages.  Heather refuses to identify with June, or see just how easily their roles could be reversed. June is quite literally the scarlet woman - the woman who transgressed patriarchal norms and is to be punished because of that. It's clear that instead of seeking solidarity with June that Heather believes that castigating June and seeing herself as disconnected will save her from June's faith.  Being the good one, or the exemplary minority is role that many marginalised people take on, failing to see that it's a trap and will not grant them the capitol or safety that they desire.