Friday, June 15, 2018

The Handmaid's Tale, Season Two, Episode Nine: Smart Power

After being witness to the brutalizaton of Serena by Fred, June has once again lost hope for the future for herself and her child, despite just a few short episodes ago promising her unborn child not to stop fighting.  At this point, June once again believes it to be hopeless to dream about the things she wants. Her depression is interrupted by Rita, who's there to inform her that they've been summoned. Understandably, being called by the commander is something to fear. When they arrive in the office, they are informed that Fred and Serena will be leaving for a few days to go to Canada on a diplomatic mission. To ensure the safety of his household, Fred leaves a young guard named Issac in charge. 

Now that the help has been informed, Fred's next stop is the greenhouse to find Serena.  Having been chastised, Serena is back to doing what is expected by her from the Gilead.  When informed about the potential trip, Serena tries to take a step back explaining that June is in her third trimester and that the baby might need her, but Fred argues that they are making this trip to secure the baby's future.  Fred always refers to the unborn child as male because clearly, masculinity is all that matters in Fred's world. It's in contrast to June who always uses female pronouns for the unborn child. It's crucial to Fred to establish a different view of Gilead because the world rightly believes that women are oppressed and voiceless. Fred wants a good Gilead wife to tell a different story to the world.  It's another reminder of just how monstrous Fred really is and when he reaches for Serena, she visibly flinches and a look of revulsion passes her face. It's clear that Serena is traumatized by what happened but she doesn't have the voice or the safety to be able to say so which is ironic given that she's supposed to show the world that Gilead's women haven't been silenced. 

Rather than confront Fred directly, Serena does what she always does - she takes it on June.  Serena pays a visit to June's room and pretends that June isn't even there as she talks to June's now heavily pregnant stomach.  It's as though Serena believes that by submerging herself in the role she has been forced to play that she can be safe.  As Serena heads for the door, she drops the bomb about June leaving the house as soon as the baby is born. June tries to plead that handmaids are normally allowed to stay with their babies until they are weaned but as far as Serena is concerned, they've all had enough of each other.  June can only meekly responds, "Yes Mrs. Waterford."

Nick is coming along for the trip as security and of course, Eden is there to play the dutiful wife and wish him a safe journey.  Eden hands Nick some chocolate chip cookies she made, saying that this is the first time she's even seen a voucher for actual chocolate. Eden may as well be handing Nick a pile of dog shit for all he cares about her efforts. Nick doesn't even try to pretend that he will miss her while he is gone. June has already warned him about Eden, so Nick better start to take care because as we've already seen with Mrs. Putnam, an angry wife can come with a painful cost. 

It's time for June to head to the market and she is joined by Janine, her shopping partner. Janine is all smiles as she wonders about whether or not Mrs. Putnam will let her see Charlotte again soon.  June clearly doesn't have the heart to be real with Janine, as she talks about how her baby smells like her and that it would be a shame to keep people who smelled the same away from each other. All this talk about baby Charlotte has its effect on June and she tells Janine about her upcoming expulsion from the Waterford home.  This information immediately agitates Janine, causing her to raise her voice as she says that handmaids are supposed to be allowed to stay.  The guard tells the women to be quiet. Janine of course will not be silenced. When Janine is called an unwoman and told once again to be quiet, Janine responds by telling the guard to suck her dick.  The guard responds by hitting Janine cruelly with the butt of his gun, causing her to collapse unconscious on the ground.  June tries to check on Janine but is dragged away by Issac.

Once home, Issac reports that they were unable to get chicken and this concerns Rita because a growing baby needs protein.  As Rita goes through the cupboard to find some beans to replace the chicken, Eden and Issac get a little flirty. Yep, this looks like it's going to be trouble.  Issac turns and orders June to go and lie down but before leaving the kitchen, June asks Rita if she could bring her some warm milk when she gets a chance. 

When Rita delivers the milk, June starts to talk about her wishes for her unborn child and asks Rita about being a Godmother. Rita reminds June that babies don't get baptized in the Gilead, clearly trying to bring the conversation to an end. June talks about wanting kindness for her child and Rita reminds her that she doesn't have any power. Rita reminds June that Issac, who is a 20 year old kid could bash her head in and that no one would care.  June however does not give up and keeps pushing about how this is important for the baby, finally causing Rita to agree to do what she can as tears run down her face. A satisfied June tells her unborn child that she has secured one person for her.  

When Aunt Lydia shows up for a wellness check, June is forced to account for what happened on the shopping trip, taking full responsibility and blaming it on pregnancy hormones. Aunt Lydia agrees that some leeway is possible but that June must remember to follow the rules. June asks if Aunt Lydia has been a godmother and Aunt Lydia brings up her sister's child who didn't survive. Aunt Lydia however is quick to declare that she was not responsible for the death of the child in question.  Somehow, I don't believe her in the slightest. Speaking cautiously, June reveals her fear that in her experience, a man who could hurt a woman could easily hurt a child.  This touches a nerve with Aunt Lydia, who promises that she would never let anything bad happen to a baby. 

In Canada, Luke, Moira and Erin are watching the news and they learn that Fred is coming to Canada. Moira recognises him instantly and is immediately appalled. Luke and Moira head to the refugee center to see what can be done about blocking Waterford's visit, only to be informed that they are guests in Canada and as such don't have the power to interfere. When they try to argue that Waterford is a war criminal,  it's suggested that Moira and Luke lend their voice to the protesters instead.

The Gilead motorcade makes its way through the streets of Toronto and clearly from Serena's perspective, it's like visiting an alien world. Women walk freely in the street, citizens have cell phones and a couple is spotted kissing on the steps of a building. This is the world Serena betrayed and she's clearly forgotten what real freedom looks like. At the hotel, they are greeted by Canadian dignitaries, one of whom is a gay man. The man says that he used to like to visit the U.S. with his husband, causing Fred to say that he hopes one day to revitalize tourism. The Canadian dignitary responds that he will return when he's welcome.  With that, Fred is swept off to attend some meetings and Serena is left with a female handler. Serena is handed a packet containing cultural exchange information and it's made up of pictures because of course, the women of Gilead are not allowed to read. Though this is culturally appropriate, it's clear that Serena doesn't like being treated like a toddler. Serena and her handler visit a garden where Serena is enchanted with the orchids. The handler questions Serena on her hobbies, forcing Serena to lie and claim that she likes knitting. The handler explains that she's always busy with work and that when she does have time, she likes to read. Serena pauses because of course, her freedom to read and write has been stripped from her. 

Later, Serena waits for the elevator where she is joined by a mother and her daughter. The young girl questions whether or not Serena is princess, clearly delighting Serena because of her love of children. When the elevator does arrive, the woman and her child refuse to ride with Serena because the mother clearly sees Serena for what she is - a collaborator. Feeling out of sorts, Serena decides to head to the hotel bar for a drink. It's at the bar that Serena meets a man and actually gets her flirt on a little bit. At first, Serena assumes that the man is a reporter but it turns out that he's actually a representative of what's left of the American government. He is quick to offer Serena a flight to Hawaii, where she will be free to tell her own story in her own words. Serena refuses, claiming to have forgotten her swimsuit.  When Serena expresses her surprise at this offer, she's told that the truth about Gilead, coming from a high placed wife, would go far but Serena dismisses this as an attempt to use her for propaganda. Having failed thus far, the American representative has one last carrot to offer. It seems that scientists have been working on the infertility problem and the issue is with men and not women. He then suggests that if Serena comes with him that she can have her own baby. Serena protests that she has a baby on the way and the man points out that what he's offering her is her own biological child.  Serena brings an end to the conversation claiming that the representative doesn't understand but that does not stop her from taking the matches he placed down on the table with from a Hawaiian restaurant. Serena makes it clear that she would never betray her company and is told quite correctly that she already has. 

That night, the people gather in front of the hotel to make their displeasure at the Gilead known. Luke is of course front and center and he is holding a poster with a picture of his family.  Luke manages to break through security and confront Fred directly. Luke tells Fred that he knows that he's raping his wife June. Fred of course is dismissive of Luke's charges, essentially calling it all fake.  Luke however makes it clear that he'd better remember his face because he won't forget Fred's, before being dragged away be security. Nick and Serena are clearly shocked by the exchange. While Serena and Fred head upstairs to bed, Nick tracks down Luke. Nick claims that he is a friend of June's and tells Luke that June is pregnant but lies about the paternity of the child. Luke is no mood to interact with Nick and gets physical, basically accusing Nick of collaborating with the oppression of Gilead.  As Nick starts to walk away, Luke finally remembers to ask about Hannah, but Nick has no news on the little girl.  Nick however does hand over the letters that Eden found in the last episode.

When Luke gets home with the letters, Moira is unimpressed because she thought the package she smuggled to June was a bomb. It's Erin who suggests that the letters could be their own kind of bomb if used correctly.

The next morning, Fred and Serena are informed that they are to be expelled from Canada. It seems that the letters were uploaded last night and the citizens of Canada will not stand for any kind of negotiation with Gilead. Fred tries to argue that they were fine with him yesterday and that the letters cannot be verified but he is told in no uncertain terms that the government and its people believe the women. Serena is questioned by her handler from yesterday about how she can allow them to do this to her and if she has any shame at all. Serena can only respond, "peace be with you." Serena, Fred and Nick head out to their waiting vehicle and this time, even more people have gathered. They throw blood on the car and Fred makes contact with Moira, who is holding a sign declaring her name, thus reclaiming her humanity. Fred fumes about the Canadians not being able to control their own people, as Serena puts her hand on the door knob potentially contemplating for a moment leaping out.

When word spreads that Fred and his entourage have cleared Canadian airspace, a cheer goes up in Luke, Erin, and Moira's apartment. It's a small victory but a victory nonetheless. They begin to sing America the Beautiful and sadness creeps into their version. They may have had a small victory today but they've all lost so very much.

Back at home, Fred is continuing to try to blow off what happened as no big deal but it's clear that this is going to be a blow to his power. Fred reminds Serena how lucky they both are before they retire to their separate rooms. Serena begins to unpack and she comes across the matches from the American representative. Serena pauses for a moment before tossing it into the fire.

Rather than going to be with his child bride, Nick decides to pay June a visit.  Nick tells her about meeting Luke and the fact that Moira is alive.  June is overjoyed, though she does worry about Luke and Moira sharing an apartment together. Nick finishes by telling her that Luke loves her and that he promises that he is never going to give up trying to get her out of  Gilead.  June is crying freely and she thanks Nick for sharing what happened with her. Nick declares his love fore June before kissing her on the cheek and leaving the room. Alone in her room, June tells her unborn child, “I know I should accept the reality of you being born here, make my peace, but fuck that.”

It makes sense to me, that June would try desperately to have someone promise to care for her child in her upcoming absence. We've seen time and time again just how cruel Gilead can be. Reaching out to Rita feels right to me, even though Rita can actually offer very little protection in a home that Fred rules with an iron fist now.  What I find stunning is that June would reach out to Aunt Lydia of all people. There's nothing ambiguous about Aunt Lydia - the woman is a true believer. In the name of the Gilead, she's ordered women stoned and she's tortured and maimed the handmaids. Each act of evil that Aunt Lydia commits she justifies it as coming from a place of love and a desire to protect the handmaids. What kind of protection could someone like this offer and furthermore, June better than most has seen how horrible Aunt Lydia is first hand. Reaching out to Aunt Lydia can only be a sign of June's desperation after witnessing the beating of Serena and being informed of her upcoming expulsion from the house. Gods save us all from love from a person like Aunt Lydia.

It was great to see the Commander greeted with protests and called a war criminal.  With the exception of last weeks beating of Serena, we've watched him feel sorry for himself and justify his ongoing rape of June, as though he could possibly be a sympathetic figure caught up in something larger than himself.. He's a small angry power hungry man and an original member in the Sons of Jacob.  This week, for the first time, Fred was put into a situation where he was forced to hear unbridled criticism of him and the regime that he represents.  Fred is appalled because he's long since move past the point when an ordinary citizen could express their displeasure and hold him accountable. As he stood there telling lies about what Gilead is, he fully expected to be believed because of course, he is a man and the people complaining are women. Fred is so blinded by his own power, he doesn't see what he's done to his own wife. In Fred's mind, producing healthy viable children absolves him of all the horror he has been party to but unlike the Mexican delegation, the Canadians don't give one blessed damn.

This trip was absolutely significant to Serena, even though she didn't leave with the American agent. Now she knows that were she to leave, she would have the chance to express herself in a way that Gilead has banned her from doing.  Serena was given a reminder of exactly what she gave up to become the dutiful wife and  felt first hand the derision women now view her with. In short, Serena has become an anathema to women and freedom loving people outside of Gilead and rightly so.  Unlike a wife like Eden, Serena has been a willing participant in the Gilead since its inception. Serena's also learned about potentially having her own biological child and that the basis of Gilead's oppression of women is scientifically faulty. Given the fact that Serena is not over being beaten, this seed might yet bare fruit, even if she threw out the matches precisely because she now knows that she has options.

Nick's exchange with Luke was filled with tension. Luke is absolutely right when he charges Nick with being complicit in the system and not doing enough but it leads me to question what exactly could Nick do?  His supervisor died in the explosion, so who knows if the EYE still exists and if Nick is still a part of it?  He may have male privilege, as we can see from how he treated Eden when she found the letters but he doesn't have the power of a commander and there is only so much one person could do against a force as huge as the Gilead.  It just somehow feels like Nick's not doing enough even though he's trying to do the right thing in a complicated situation. How far can we expect anyone individual to go and how much can we expect them to sacrifice for the greater good?. I do however think that a reckoning is coming for Nick if he doesn't figure out his life with Eden soon. It's clear that Issac likes Eden and she might start to see him as a better option to the emotionally unavailable Nick. There's also the issue of whether or not Eden read the letters. If she learns that the reason for Fred's expulsion from Canada was the release of the letters, a well timed word from Eden could spell the end of Nick. Eden is a liability and Nick better wake up to that soon for his sake and for June's.