Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Handmaid's Tale, Season Two, Episode Seven: After

The moment the grenade went off it was clear that there would be consequences for a Handmaid, having the strength and ingenuity to plan an attack on the leadership of the Gilead. Unfortunately, Fred survived though he is gravely injured.  The aftermath begins with a funeral for the handmaids who died and it is presided over by none other than Aunt Lydia.  Given how disposable the handmaids have been, it's almost a shock to see a ceremony of this type but I suppose with 31 women dead, Gilead must try to make it seem as though a noble sacrifice has taken place and to set order again.  Gilead being big on drama, all of the coffins are red and laid out in a circle. The handmaids in attendance put red veils to their faces as they mark the passing of their sisters in oppression.  Aunt Lydia even drones on about wishing that she could give the women a life without violence and the hypocrisy lies like a thick fog in the air.  Aunt Lydia as you recall is responsible for maiming countless women under the guise of loving them into compliance and that she doesn't see her actions as a form of violence reveals just how corrupt she really is. On the way back from the funeral, June tries to inquire as to what Ofglen's real name was but there is no trust between the women.

Gilead responds to the attack in the harshest way possible.  People are simply gunned down in the street.  Even though Gilead has been a violent and harsh place since its inception, before the attack, one at least had to be guilty of something Gilead deemed a crime like being a gender traitor, resisting being ceremonially raped, etc., but now, the violence has become even worse. Bodies seem to be strung up everywhere and no home seems untouched by the violence. 

OffGlen's act of resistance is far reaching as people gather in Little America across the border desperate to know if their loved one is part of the death toll but at this point, the government of Canada has no information to share. Luke and Moira hear the news together but Luke is absolutely certain that June is still alive. With no new information available about June, Moira decides that the time has finally come to look for someone else whose fate remains anonymous - her girlfriend Dr. Odette Johnson.

We really haven't seen much of Moira this season which is a shame because Samira Wiley is an awesome actress. Yes, the story of what is happening in Gilead is important but I feel that ignoring the survivors who have PTSD from living in the Gilead and their escape, is shortsighted on the part of the writers. Moira's backstory begins with a conversation with June in which she relates that women are being paid hefty sums to act as surrogates for childless couples.  Moira sees this as an opportunity to be able to fund her dreams and after considering the cost of pregnancy - a cost June is more than happy to discuss with her, Moira decides to go ahead.

At the ultrasound, Moira absolutely refuses to look at the screen, even though June tries to insist that she'll be interested in seeing it later.  It's a direct inversion of the ultrasound that June experienced when she's had her ultrasound in the Gilead. At the lamaze class, June and Moira end up bickering when Moira believes June is holding her supposedly perfect relationship over her. Yes, June is acting as Moira's support but Moira is still going through this pregnancy by herself which is absolutely a terrifying thing.  June counters by bringing up all of Luke's faults and the two women end up laughing. 

Moira ends up giving birth to a boy whom she names Gavin and she gives him up for adoption three months later.  This explains how it is that the Gilead knew that Moira was fertile and could be a handmaiden. On her way to meet with Luke and June, Moira runs into Odette, who served as her OB/GYN during her pregnancy with Gavin. Now that Moira is no longer a patient, Odette feels that it is time for Moira to call her by her name. It's clear that the two women have some chemistry.

In the present, Moira spends over 24 hours going through the images of the dead and nameless women that the centre in little America has managed to amass.  The fact that these images even exist at all leads me to believe that the resistance is stronger than we have been led to believe. Not only did someone have to take the pictures of the dead women, someone had to ensure that the photos ended up in the centre and as we know, the borders of the Gilead are closed. Finally, Moira sees a photo of a dead Odette and collapses with grief.  

Not only did 31 handmaids die in the explosion, so did commander Pryce - the leader of the Eye and Nick's direct supervisor.  Power abhors a vacuum and so with Pryce dead and Waterford slipping in and out of consciousness, Cushing is happy to take his shot at running things.  Cushing is the reason that there are tanks in the street and that people are being indiscriminately killed.  In order to cement his power, Cushing knows that he has to do something about Waterford and so he chooses to interview June, in the hope that she will say something to incriminate Fred in her escape.  There's no doubt that Cushing is a very dangerous man and so June opts to spout the company line about being kidnapped while acting as demure as possible. Cushing tries to push again and once again, June repeats the lie that she's a handmaid and wouldn't know about anything subversive.  When Cushing leaves, it's clear that he doesn't believe June and is only biding his time until he can force the answer out of her that he wants.

June is ordered to the hospital so that Fred can feel the unborn child in the womb to inspire him to get together.  Once again, she's reduced to her womb and it's as though she doesn't even really exist.  Once her duty is done, June is ordered to leave and she runs into Nick in the hallway.  It's clear that the two are traumatized by what has happened since the explosion and June confides to Nick the fact that Cushing questioned her and her fear about where this could lead. June is confidant that it's only a matter of time until Cushing gets what he wants and her already horrific world gets so much worse. Nick tries to comfort June and assure her that everything is going to be okay. The two share a passionate kiss before June moves away quickly fighting back her tears.

Because 31 handmaids were killed in the explosion, Gilead is in desperate need to replace these women.  It seems fertile women just don't fall of trees and this means that Emily and Janine are given a reprieve from their sentence, although it's doubtful they can even still conceive after being exposed to so much radiation. After the horror of the colonies, life in Gilead seems almost like a reprieve.

That evening, a clearly frustrated Serena cannot stop thinking about what a jackass she believes Cushing to be, confiding to June that before the revolution she and Fred went on vacation with Cushing and that he was an ass even then. It seems that according to Serena's standards, Cushing is failing at being a tyrant. Though Serena was absolutely integral to the creation of the Gilead, she was quickly shut out once the men took over the government. This is when June drops the bomb about Cushing threatening her and the threat that he poses to the family. June even goes as far as to suggest that not only would she be punished for her indiscretions,  Cushing would make sure that the Waterfords would be unable to keep the child she carries in her womb. Serena however asserts that Fred would never let anything bad happen, forcing June to remind Serena that Fred isn't there.  In that moment, the mask between the two women drops and June actually uses Serena's first name rather than calling her Mrs. Waterford.

With the possibility that Cushing could actually present a threat to the Waterfords, Serena decides that it's time to take action. Serena waits for Nick inside his home, having sent Eden away. When Nick arrives, she asks if he has ever helped Fred submit a warrant to the consular of divine law. Having worked closely with the commander for quite some time and with a threat clearly hanging over June, Nick is quite happy to oblige.

The next day, Cushing arrives for his second interrogation of June but doesn't even make it to the front gate because he's arrested based on a warrant supposedly issued by Waterford. It's a joyous moment because it means that June is somewhat safe for now and the uptick in terror in the streets of the Gilead can come to an end. It's also a marker of just how powerful Fred is in the Sons of Jacob - the Gilead founding fathers.

June heads off to do her shopping and runs into an exuberant Janine. who clearly sees her exit from the colonies as some kind of miracle from God. June is happy to not only see Janine but Emily as well.  Rather than waiting the way that she did with Ofglen, June tells Emily her name. It's not long before the handmaids are whispering their names to each other. It's a small moment of rebellion but it amounts to a reclamation of their identity, especially given that the 31 dead handmaids were not buried under their actual names.  Unfortunately, Eden is also in the store and she witnesses all of the women asserting their personhood. This will absolutely come back to haunt them all but for now, it's enough to be able to be individuals again, even if it's only temporary.

That evening, June finds Serena ensconced in Fred's office.  With Fred incapacitated, Serena intends to run in his stead.  This is Serena's opportunity to put her stamp on the theocracy she helped to build and bring what she believes to be order to the Gilead.  When June confirms that she used to be an editor in her previous life, Serena hands June a pen to edit her work. June pauses for a moment, pen in hand, seated at a coffee table and then clicks the pen releasing the nib and in the process opens the door to a new kind of rebellion.

Now we see why the writers chose to spend all of that time on Serena' backstory.  It wasn't simply to show the ways that women are complicit in the maintenance of patriarchy but to show a different kind of rebellion.  We've seen this sort of thing before where a wife takes over for an incapacitated husband so it really isn't a new plot device. What I do however hope is that it's made clear that Serena is using June, no matter how happy June is to have some semblance of her former life and to reconnect with the written word once again. Serena cannot possibly usurp Fred without help and given the nature of the sexism in Gilead, the only co-conspirator she can possibly have must be a woman. June may be happy with the arrangement for now but I don't expect this to last.

As much as I was happy to finally see Moira again, it feels like the revelation of her pregnancy and the death of her partner was just rammed in without any thought or nuance.  It's almost like the writers suddenly remembered that they had tucked Moira and Luke away in Little America and suddenly decided that the audience needed to be reminded of their existence. Because the reveal about Moira and Odette happened so quickly, we never really had a chance to invest in the relationship and so seeing her dead body in a picture had very little impact. At this point, I've become used to seeing dead, abused and maimed women on The Handmaid's Tale, meaning something has to be spectacular at this point to have real impact. I know that Moira is just a side character but it seems as though for some reason, the writers aren't as invested in her as say Emily, or even Janine.

This is the requisite Aunt Lydia commentary.  Is it really worth my time to say that she is a hypocritical evil monster?  I cannot let go of Aunt Lydia being remorseful about not being able to provide a violence free world for the women while she personally inflicts violence upon the handmaids and actively supports the Gilead. Yes, Aunt Lydia is a true believer and the avatar of antisocial personality disorder.  Aunt Lydia is the nightmare within nightmares.