Under the Eye: “The Bridge”

“The Bridge”

It’s nice that we have these little rituals, isn’t it? All the handmaids gather outside another palatial, stolen home. We have a prisoner–sorry–baby exchange between Janine (“Ofwarren”) for our little role-play, and the thieves of her baby, a Commander and his wife (not worthy of names in my book) and it becomes apparent the handmaids are to be regarded as nothing more than objects, to be dispensed with when their jobs are finished. Ofwarren, now Ofdaniel, is on her merry way to a new home … to be raped. As they depart, June tells her traveling companion she wants to help with Mayday activities. Janine meets her new masters. You would think what with her lack of an eye, she’d be sent to Commanders on the low end of the pecking order, but the Sons of Jacob are willing to look past that for the sake of her fertility. On their way to Loaves & Fishes, another handmaid takes June aside and tells she has to ger ass back to Jezebels to grab a package. I guess if June wants to be in the Resistance, she’ll have to do some grunt work for the cause. She tells Fred she wants to go back to Jezebels. It’s amazing that he buys this. I thought Fred was one of Gilead’s chief architects. Either that, or it is the show’s central conceit that all of the men represented, regardless of their experience and education, are absolute, drooling morons. Perhaps the women of this world do have special, supernatural powers over men.

“Oh Ruby, don’t take your love to town.”

We go to Serena, quietly sewing by the fire. In the kitchen, she roots around for booze, I’m sure, but she covers when Rita enters. Serena was led to believe the Commander is in his office, but Rita lets slip that he left the house. Rita finds her the booze, but Serena doesn’t want to drink alone. So she caught up with her pal, Jack Daniels, and his partner, Jimmy Beam! Rita talks of her son who died during the war, but I’m not sure at this point what side he was on. Janine prepares for the Ceremony with her new masters. Janine is nervous, and I’m nervous for her. This scene plays more like rape than any of the other Ceremonies we’ve been treated to with Janine resisting and somehow convinced that her previous Commander will come for her. Fred makes it with June at Jezebels, all the while June has that package on her mind. Idiot Fred knows something’s up, so he arranges for an “encounter” with Moira/Ruby. His gay-dar is a little wonky so he leaves them alone to talk while he washes up. She argues with June about this cloak-and-dagger shit. Moira doesn’t want to do anything to endanger her life, seemingly unaware that her life is danger all the time in this place. June accuses her of already being dead, which she might as well be if she refuses to help. June is certainly learning how to manipulate people. When they arrive home, Fred gets caught by Serena, and by the look on her face, she knows damn well where he’s been.

“I wish you would step back from that ledge my friend.”

Early morning, amid flashes of happier times smoking cigarettes with Moira, at the beach with hubby and child, Serena wakes June up and takes her to the bridge of the title. Janine is holding the baby and threatening to jump into the water. How did she manage that? Guys with machine guns! Janine screams at her previous Commander about all the “freaky” sex stuff they did that his wife wouldn’t do. Out in the open air, this pretty much destroys the Commander’s reputation. June offers to talk her down off the ledge. She tells her, “Change is coming. There’s hope.” She tells her they’re gonna go out drinking one day. Janine asks if they can do karaoke. She gives the baby to June and then jumps off the bridge. She’s quickly fished out of the water, but I do wonder if she could survive the impact. Aunt Lydia keeps vigil by her bedside in the hospital and calls her a “stupid girl.” The Commander is brought up on charges because of Janine’s claims. Serena is humiliated when the Commander’s wife tells her everybody knows why the previous Offred killed herself. That’s all very well and good, but we don’t know why she killed herself. At least, we have our theories. At the supermarket, a butcher hands off the package to June, courtesy of Moira and her ridiculous note: “Praised be, bitch. Here’s your damn package.” At Jezebels, Moira/Ruby decides to grow a pair. She grabs a shiv she made out of plumbing parts, presumably kills her client, hops into a car and drives off. I seriously hope we never go back to Jezebels.

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Under the Eye: “Jezebels”

“Jezebels”

So Nick, right? We’re on to Nick in our origin story round-up. In the before-time, in the long-long ago, Nick was an unemployed loser just lookin’ for a job, Son. He gets into a tangle at the local employment agency, Worthy Path Career Counseling (creepy name with religious connotations). He basically gets “witnessed” to by a Son of Jacob, who gives him a few pointers on discipline and responsibility. Where are we? Five years ago? Ten? This is when I began to suspect that Gilead was a Socialist construct. The man he talks to speaks about Capitalism with disdain. He speaks of a plan to set the Country right and clean up the mess. He tells Nick he’s not alone, and I wonder why Nick has to be a bad apple so that the Sons of Jacob could clean him up and set him on the “right path.” June finds Fred waiting for her in her bedroom. He tells her he’s going to take her out for a night on the town. He even shaves her legs. The leg-shaving scene is one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen in any television show or movie, or anything. He asks her if she remembers how to put on makeup. It’s been three fucking years. He wraps her up in a slinky dress. Elisabeth Moss is a handsome woman, but she’s hardly glamorous. I wouldn’t even call her sexy, but it takes all kinds to make a world, I guess, and I still don’t understand Fred’s attraction to her, or Nick’s. Maybe I’m just being cruel, but if you’re gonna put her kisser up on my big-screen TV, I’m gonna judge her looks. Sorry.

This scene is in every John Hughes movie.

Commander Fred is a man made of desires and tastes. It isn’t enough that he has a devoted, beautiful wife in Serena, no. Her devotion is mandated by the State. She knows her place (she wrote a book about her place), even if it requires her silence, her masquerade of illiteracy, and her reptilian gaze. What Fred needs is a throbbing erection and a throbbing orifice in which to place that erection, and his needs are all that matter. He’s even willing to break the law to get what he wants, just as they all do. This is why we have Jezebels, a brothel at the edge of town, where all manner of depraved acts can be committed under a magic cloak of silence. First rule of Jezebels is you don’t talk about Jezebels – that sort of thing. In a flashback, Nick is a driver for the Elite of Gilead. He overhears talk of rounding up the fertile women to be impregnated. There is some argument about this, but as long as there is “scriptural precedent,” nobody has a problem with it. They also talk about making the wives part of the Ceremony (just as I thought, it’s all made up on the spot) so that they’ll shut up. “White Rabbit” plays rather inappropriately as June tours Jezebels in a strange Eyes Wide Shut-like tableau. “Somebody to Love” would’ve been a better choice, but I don’t think the producers listen to much Jefferson Airplane*. This is where the educated (or infertile yet attractive) women, the doctors, the lawyers, go when they aren’t shunted off to the dreaded Colonies. Isn’t this a nice place?

Jezebels! A fun, kinky place!

Jezebels is an enormous mistake for Atwood and the television series, because it puts all of Gilead’s cards on the table. This isn’t just keeping the women in their place. It is a sociopathic fear/lust of women. In a way, Gilead gives or acknowledges in women a supernatural power that must be vanquished or suppressed. Yet, in all this madness, June finds Moira, who did not escape. She’s now a whore named Ruby. What is this obsession with changing people’s names? It’s a little too intellectual a premise to rob someone of their identity. Nick uses his Eye credential to get information from a Martha working at Jezebels about a Commander who has bent the rules. It’s interesting he doesn’t use his knowledge of Fred to bring him down (unless he worries about hurting June in the process). Nick remembers the discovery of the previous Offred hanging from the ceiling in her bedroom. At Jezebels (which, I don’t know, it’s kind of a cute name, it sounds like a chain of restaurants or night clubs), Fred wants to have sex with June, like for real, not this ridiculous Ceremony. June slips out to find Moira. She hears sounds, sees images of violent and depraved sexuality. The women are brutalized, of course – what else is new? Do we expect any less of this show? Moira tells June she was rescued by Quakers (I don’t understand – do they have “Quaker” I.D. cards or something) but they were killed for harboring her. Moira was captured, given a choice: the Colonies or Jezebels. Wait a minute. They gave her a choice? Her spirit has been broken. She lives in fear now.

Max Minghella has but one expression, and you’re lookin’ at it.

We do learn a little more about the Eyes of Gilead. They’re a little less than snoops, and more like tattle-tales, put in place by the top brass to ensure loyalty from their Commanders. My guess is after ratting out so many high-ranking officials within Gilead, Nick was entrusted with the duties of an Eye. The photography of the show is stunning but the Kubrickian symmetry of the compositions is undermined by excessive use of tight depth-of-field shots in order to evoke an almost Pavlovian emotional response to the visual. As such, and because this practice is repeatedly used, there is no evolution in the cinematography. Same with the wardrobe (which I’ve heard dubbed, “Hyatt Regency” – all drab and lifeless, but for the bright, blood red of the handmaid cloak. The show is way too polished for the effect it is trying to achieve. June yells at Nick, because of her anger over the atrocity and hypocrisy of such a place as Jezebels, about how such a fiery and fierce lesbian as Moira can die on the inside because all she had in her heart was anger, and that really is all she had. I don’t know why Nick has to hear this. It’s not his fault, right? Or is it the fault of all men? Serena returns from wherever the hell she was and presents June with a gift: a music box with a dancing ballerina. We get more aggravating purple prose from June as she etches words into a wall. “You are not alone.” Cute.

* What happened to Jefferson Airplane? Is Gilead paying royalties to Jefferson Airplane for use of the song, or are royalties not considered part of the framework because it isn’t in the Bible? What happened to Grace Slick? At the age of 79, would she be considered a Martha? Or did she, you know, blow a pilot to get her safely away from Gilead when she saw the trouble coming down?

Under the Eye: “The Other Side”

“The Other Side”

So now that we know Luke is alive and well and living somewhere in Canada, the writers grab the ball and run with it. I hadn’t thought about the scene with June and the Mexican delegation until I saw the recap preceding the show. The Ambassador’s Assistant knows who June’s husband is, knows him by name. How? If he knew this, he had to know about these abductions and the forced impregnation. He had to know families were being separated. Why would you leave your husband to help Gilead in their cause? We go back to the first episode. June, Luke, and Hannah are on a mad dash to Canada. They get separated. Luke is shot. We know what happens to June and Hannah. This is Luke’s story. I haven’t had much reason to comment on O. T. Fagbenle’s performance because, up until now he’d been rather unremarkable. While swept away into interesting times, he still plays everything as either dull surprise or charmed bemusement, like those are the only tools in his bag, because he’s not written to be interesting. For some reason, Guardians are ferrying the wounded Luke back to Gilead. Why? Why not just shoot him in the back of the head like they do so many other people? Why would they nurse him back to health when he’s going to wind up on the wall anyway? This must be the most dangerous road in the world, home to two separate car accidents in less than ten minutes! The ambulance flips off of a bridge! The Guardian-paramedics appear to be dead. Luke escapes with medicine and a gun. He hikes back to his wrecked car, but can find no evidence of June or Hannah. Logically, he has to know his wife and daughter were not killed, but he nonetheless panics. He wanders into a ghost town that seemed to have been destroyed by the devout of Gilead, and this is where we get some idea of the apocalypse that followed the terrorist attacks.

“Can I borrow a cup of sugar?”

We flash back perhaps a few weeks to June and Luke with a sleeping Hannah in the back of the car making their escape. There is talk of Moira who had left prior to their departure and how they should have left with her. I would agree. They arrange for a “coyote” to facilitate getting them through check-points. Here we see that Luke is not fully aware of what has happened. The idiots even brought their cell phones with them. Luckily, the coyote (a friend of June’s radical mother, Holly) knows what to do. He smashes their cell phones and stows them in the back of his vehicle. Luke promises June everything will be all right. Luke? Don’t write checks your butt can’t cash. They hear a police siren. The vehicle stops. The trunk door opens. A man dressed like a Guardian does a perfunctory search, pretends he sees nothing. Excellent! The show is much stronger when it gives us this information rather than the constant torture and rape of present-day scenes. Our friendly coyote provides them with a nice cabin in the woods where they will lay low until they can figure out how to get across the border. The coyote doesn’t buy that Luke knows anything about guns, so he gives him a quick tutorial on how to handle a handgun. It’s shocking to me how naive Luke is; that he cannot even show courage. In Luke’s present, he is beset by others who have escaped and when they assume he’s a Guardian (because he took one of their coats), they start beating him. Luke is not having a good day. After they figure out he’s not a baddie, they take him and tend to his injuries.

Hangin’ around.

The Scooby gang fills Luke in on Gilead’s plan to turn all the fertile women into handmaids. Back at the cabin, they decide to take off when a friendly enough neighbor (with a gun) and his dog stop by to say hi. The neighbor stops by again to tell them he knows who they are and that the Guardians are searching for them (for them specifically?). He tells them their coyote is dead, hanged from a lamp-post in town. Luke, idiotically, decides to leave the Scooby gang so he can go back and search for June and Hannah. One of them, a kind woman named Zoe, shows Luke a church where bodies are hanging from rafters. This is what happens when people fight back. She tells him if he goes back he will die. It’s like something out of a horror movie. I understand when something that could be considered Evil can be used in the service of the Good, but I can’t understand something so objectively evil as murdering people and then putting their bodies on display to frighten others. The Scooby gang tries to make its way to Canada by boat but are ambushed by Guardians. Zoe is killed. We jump forward to three years later (finally we have a basis for a time-line), and Luke is hanging out in Canada with one of his Scooby gang friends, a little woman who won’t talk, named Erin. He gets a call and appears at a government office where he receives the note June wrote for him in the previous episode. It reads, “I love you so much. Save Hannah.” This episode and “A Woman’s Place” are excellent book-ends for each other and proves the series can succeed on its own terms without having to rely on Margaret Atwood’s jigsaw puzzle, stream-of-consciousness narrative.

Under the Eye: “A Woman’s Place”

“A Woman’s Place”

Oppressive snow falls gently upon majestic Gilead as handmaids are forced to wipe the blood off the walls and dispose of the hanging bodies before a trade delegation from Mexico arrives. Why are handmaids required to do this menial labor? They have plenty of strong arms and bodies, but the handmaids (chosen for their precious fertility) have to do this grunt work? I get tired of the endless praise heaped on the actors, particularly Moss and Strahovski. Either reviewers don’t know great performances, or they’re on the production’s payroll. Sometimes they do good work, but not all the time. As I’ve said before, Moss is best in scenes before the purge, but most of the time, she plays June like a frightened yellowtail in shark-infested waters. Strahovski plays Serena as though she knew June in high school and has hated her ever since. No, they’re not always good. In this episode, Strahovski gets her chance to shine. I suppose every character (even down to menial Rita) will get an episode eventually, but here we’re supposed to feel sorry for poor Serena and what she tried to do. She briefly flashes on a time when she and Fred made passionate love. Of course they have to quote Bible scripture to each other while they knock boots, but what are you gonna do?

“I made you, and I can break you just as easily!”

In the present, they bring June in to talk to the Mexican trade delegation. She lies to them she chose to become a handmaid. The delegation appears to view handmaids as we would view the Amish: how cute, how quaint! The leader of the delegation, a woman, asks June if she is happy. She stammers. One would only have to examine Fred’s determined gaze to know that she is not happy, but understanding body language seems to be at a premium as much as kindness. The leader of the delegation brings up Serena’s book, A Woman’s Place, a treatise of “domestic feminism,” as well as the fact that women are not allowed to read the book. Fred is furious this woman was invited to the dinner in the first place, what with her questions, and Serena, for the first and (by my count) only time, brings up the idea of “bad optics.” I wonder how many times the phrase, unintended consequences pops up in Serena’s lexicon? In happier times, Fred and Serena make for a cute couple. They go to the movies and plan the revolution. The attacks will start in three weeks and then glory to God, Gilead will become a reality! It is here we learn it was Serena’s idea to make fertility a national way of life, although her antiquated notions of womanhood prove unpopular with progressives. It seems like her ideas were more in keeping with increasing the population, and less about terrorism and destruction, but I don’t care. She’s still a willing part of this madness, and for that she must pay.

Unintended consequences…

The handmaids are to be paraded before the Mexican delegation like so many beauty pageant contestants, but Serena does not want the badly beaten and bruised handmaids up front with the rest of them. Bad optics, you see? One-eyed batshit crazy Janine protests until Lydia promises to give her a whole tray of desserts. I have to believe the delegation is not buying this pious attitude. The fear in their eyes and the violence in other eyes is enough proof for me, even if I wasn’t privy to the rumors. I suppose it’s sad for Serena that she was not permitted to aid in the creation of a government, but intellectuals don’t know any better, do they? I’ve said before this is the story of women willfully and deliberately participating in their own annihilation. June learns from her traveling companion that Mexico wants to trade with Gilead for handmaids because there must be some secret sauce that enables successful pregnancies. This is really strange. This is medieval bartering or some such nonsense. As Serena unpacks and moves into her beautiful new stolen home, she realizes she has nowhere else to go in her life because all of her responsibilities, goals, and dreams have been thrown into the trash along with her book. Before the Mexicans pack up and take off, June tells them the truth – that she was abducted, that she is raped, that she is abused. The delegation can do nothing for her, but I have to think this would hamper trade negotiations. Before they leave, one of them tells her Luke is still alive and that he will pass a note to him during study hall. This is a pretty good episode that nonetheless fails to evoke any pity in me for Serena.

Under the Eye: “Faithful”

“Faithful”

Don’t we know enough by now to know that the actions of our past have no bearing on what we truly are in the present? Regret is the kindest of emotions, and where regret cannot be cataloged or prioritized, reason fills that gap. Aristotle spoke of “reason.” That the concept of Reason is what makes man good. The group-think mob control philosophy of 2018 removes the concept of Reason from Man, therefore all men are unreasonable, therefore all men are “evil.” Of course, the concept of Reason still exists, we know this. Law is put into place to create guidelines for Reason. You remove the law, there is no reason. You search for short-cuts in the Law, you are bending Reason. What occurs in The Handmaid’s Tale is the absence of reason vis-à-vis rewriting the laws, and it proves (with logic) such a scenario could never exist in the United States nor the “Republic of Gilead.” After a particularly stimulating game of Scrabble, the Commander (obviously charmed by a flirtatious June) gives her a gift: an old fashion magazine. Is the Commander violating the decree of Gilead by acknowledging June’s ability to read? We flash back to the day June met Luke. It’s almost a meet-cute from a romantic comedy. It turns out Luke is married. This is where we get the “adulterer” moniker from Aunt Lydia. Gilead’s record-keepers must be former Scientologists! While June eats her breakfast cereal, Nick walks in and they make eyes.

“Hey, I just met you. And this is crazy. But here’s my number. So call me, maybe?”

Serena infers to June that if she won’t get pregnant soon, she’ll be sent off to the dreaded Colonies. Serena has an idea (straight out of the book) to put her together with a stud who will knock her up but good, while still going through the motions during the rape. She chooses Nick because we have to get these two together, right? So now we have a complete and total lie, with no element of this family (Fred and Serena) contributing in any way to the creation of a child. In the Loaves & Fishes supermarket scene, I begin to understand the purpose of the over-sized hoods the handmaids wear. They allow for no peripheral vision so that a handmaid must turn to face you in order to see you, like the blinders on horses. After having her clitoris removed, Emily is put back into the general population, given the new designation “Ofsteven.” She tells June of “Mayday,” perhaps a resistance group, which gets my blood a-pumpin’. June’s new traveling companion is a bitchy little thing who doesn’t want to get into trouble. Later, Serena plays Juliet’s Nurse to June and Nick, arranging for their quiet time in his Fonzie-style above-the-garage-apartment. June thinks about her courtship with Luke. Luke is light-skinned, bearded with glasses. He looks like a Liberal Arts professor. Moss appears much more genuine as a real person in these flashback scenes than she does as the withered wall-flower of a handmaid getting into Nick’s pants. Nick, the well-meaning slug, has no problem with the arrangement, nor should he.

“I am the drudge and toil in your delight, but you shall bear the burden soon at night.”

Frankly, I have no problem with June’s “scarlet letter” status, and as June sees no problem with it (even to the destruction of Luke’s marriage), why is her past used as ammunition by the elite of Gilead? In the present, Serena observes (or stands watch) as June and Nick make it. The interaction is mechanical, bereft of passion, and when it is over Serena asks her how she feels. June, in a rare outburst, says, “You don’t just feel pregnant thirty seconds after a man comes.” Serena tells her to lie down. We’re back to Reason, or the bending of reason in search of short-cuts. Serena really wants to have a baby, and she’s willing to bend the rules, even if it is not her baby. Somebody else bends the rules; the wife of Emily’s new Commander. She’s well aware of what Emily has gone through, and she postpones the Ceremony. Kindness is at such a premium on this show it shocks me when I see it. Since sex is strictly for procreation (and never to be enjoyed), Commander Fred commits a major boo-boo when he touches June’s thigh during the Ceremony. Oops! Later, she and Fred debate the finer points of choice and love. Fred doesn’t believe in love – he sees it as a mask for lust. Perhaps because he’s never truly known love. “I only wanted to make the world better,” he almost pleads to June. He’s a wicked little thing. “Better never means better for everyone.” June vomits after hearing this. Why is Gilead’s water pressure better than my old house upstate?

“Stupid is as stupid does.”

In a flashback, June tells Luke she wants him to leave his wife, to which Luke quickly agrees. I realize the responsibility of the infidelity rests firmly on the both of their shoulders, but married Luke stands to lose more in this coupling than single June. She might be the seductress, the succubus of this lust story, but it was Luke’s choice to remove his pants. When the Sons of Jacob seize the power, they become the father-image and treat the citizens like children, but making them responsible for their actions, and then controlling them through those actions. In town, Emily (Ofsteven) gets into a car and starts driving. You see, women aren’t allowed to drive cars. She runs over a Guardian, probably kills him right there, but the actress Bledel has a look of bewilderment on her face, as if she doesn’t know what she is doing, but as Aunt Lydia likes to say, “Actions have consequences.” I really don’t care about the soap opera aspects of The Handmaid’s Tale. These characters haven’t been around long enough for me to care. When June later sees Nick in his Fonzie-style apartment and they make love like actual human beings, I really don’t care. I can’t, for the life of me, figure out how people can be turned on enough in this grotesque imitation of life to have hot, sweaty passionate sex. Maybe it goes back to June’s status as an “adulterer.” If that’s the case, The Handmaid’s Tale is a prudish, judgmental piece of tripe.

Under the Eye: “Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum”

“Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum”

The writers of the show continue to remind us there was a different world before the takeover and, consequently, we’re fed unreliable narration from June that signals to us Gilead has been around either for five years or forever. June, Luke, and Hannah visit a carnival and “Daydream Believer” plays in an unsettling echo. June is being punished for not being pregnant. Perhaps Serena believes June has the awesome, unimaginable power of shutting off any potential pregnancy at the snap of a finger. Given what we eventually learn about Serena, I don’t think that’s the case. The crime, in my view, was of getting her hopes up and delivering nothing. It’s a lot like the narrative structure of The Handmaid’s Tale: weeks of promises and no pay-off. Last week’s “Late” was a better episode than it ever deserved to be, and that’s because there were some delicious morsels of back-story, even though much of it made no sense. We got our dessert first, but now with “Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum,” we have to eat our undercooked brussels sprouts and lima beans, and damn but this is undercooked! June finds some writing on the wall inside the closet: the title of the episode. Latin. A dead language perfect for a dying culture. Another flashback takes us back to the handmaid orientation facility with Moira etching graffiti into a bathroom wall – her idea of resistance. This is another one of those annoying Lost-style flashbacks.

“Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage.”

Rita freaks out when she sees June passed out on the floor, and Serena arranges for a visit to the hospital. June remembers being taught the Ceremony. There is an inconsistency with Janine’s character here. She is already the flighty weirdo she would eventually become after being broken, but a couple of episodes later after giving birth, she is her old self: defiant and saucy. June waits in the hospital. I feel bad for these Guardians who wanted to crush skulls but find the only job they can get is receptionist. Something extraordinary happens. Her doctor gives her a check-up, tells her she’s perfectly healthy, but then lets slip that the men are sterile, and she’ll probably never have a child by Fred. The doctor then offers his services, if you know what I mean. She politely turns him down. Back to the carnival and fun times! Again, why aren’t we packing up the car and getting the fuck out of Dodge? “Are you dying,” Serena asks, unconcerned and only worried June’s condition will delay this night’s Ceremony. Offred begs to be let out of her room. Serena ain’t having it. In a flashback, Moira and June attack one of their Aunts (unfortunately not Lydia), steal her clothes and make for the trains. It’s interesting to me how frightened this particular Aunt is, knowing the weight and gravitas these creatures carry within them. Before the Ceremony, Fred offers Offred a Scrabble re-match. During the Ceremony, Fred can’t seem to achieve an erection. He tries to jerk off and then he just walks away. Serena offers to help, but it ain’t happening.

Cue “Let’s Get It On” by Marvin Gaye.

In flashback, Moira and June make it to the train station, but are then separated and it appears Moira successfully escapes, whereas June is caught and punished. Do you think the Sons of Jacob sit around and come up with ways to torture women? It seems more thought is put into brutalizing women and burning away the last vestiges of the past than infrastructure and resources. I don’t see how everybody can laud June for being such a “strong female character.” She’s not strong. She’s vulnerable, needy. She’s not particularly bright. She has no sense of smell for the incredible opportunities that are practically handed to her. Maybe that’s my frustration right there: in those strange, sunken spring-green eyes that scream, “help me,” but then sink into the shadows because she can’t find her inner-hero. Five years of Gilead is five years too long. During the Scrabble game, June wonders about the previous handmaid while flashing back to her punishment. Aunt Lydia seems to know of June’s past. June is an adulterer. Her feet are whipped. In the present, she asks Fred about the meaning of “Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum.” He tells her it’s a joke. “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” She asks Fred what happened to the previous Offred. Fred tells her she killed herself, hung herself from the ceiling of her room. Oddly, she found her life unbearable. Imagine that! For some reason, this empowers June. She uses this new information to manipulate Fred into letting her out of her room. The episode ends on a sick joke of June strutting with confidence along with other handmaids and proclaiming in voice-over, “Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum, Bitches.” This episode made me sick to my stomach.

Under the Eye: “Late”

“Late”

We exist in a world where men with machine guns stand on every street corner and watch you. Where women are bound and gagged so they cannot move or speak. June tells us she was asleep when there were “temporary” inconveniences. When the Constitution was “suspended.” When women en masse were denied their jobs and their pay. In a flashback, June and Moira are jogging and getting ugly stares from passersby. Do two women jogging together deserve the incredulous stink-eye? They stop for coffee. June discovers she has no money in her bank account. The barista tells her to come back when she has money. He says, “Fucking sluts, get the fuck out of here,” which is on its face ridiculous and over-the-top in attempting to establish hatred for women. Moira and June? These women do not look like “fucking sluts,” and even if they did, I’m pretty sure the customer service handbook would make a point to advise their employees not to engage people in this manner. The scene is so laughably excessive it doesn’t belong in this show, but if it were true-to-life, someone (let’s say Moira) would be recording this conversation for later posting on Twitter and YouTube. Later, June and her female co-workers are being told they are to be “let go” (a polite word for fired) and to get out. If any of this were recorded and uploaded, I’m sure it would have an effect on the body politic. Creepy Guardians are kind enough to hold doors open for the women and their personal belongings and say, “Under his eye,” as calmly as saying, “Have a nice day.”

“Wanna move ahead but the boss won’t seem to let me, I swear sometimes that man is out to get me”

In the present, people (namely the Martha Rita, and Serena) are being nice to Offred, presumably because they think she might be pregnant. Serena even takes her to see the new baby. This is where I begin to suspect that people never truly change in this world. They can wear masks and pretend to be sheep, but being born a monster makes it difficult to hide that treacherous face. Serena is an object I would never consider for pity, although I do pity her and Commander Fred for their woeful ignorance and maladaption. I don’t pity Serena for her bursts of unwarranted anger and violence against either Offred or Rita. June visits Janine, who teeters on the brink of emotional collapse. She is possessive of her baby, and it is her baby, no matter what any of these ignorant women say. The “pretend” aspect of all of this frustrates me. In another life, Serena could’ve been June’s overbearing boss, and June could tell her to go fuck herself and walk away, but not in this world. This is a world where women are not permitted to read, and they are supposed to pretend that they are unable to read because they are women. June pumps Nick, the driver, for information about Ofglen. Nick is a slug, perhaps well-meaning and distracted, but a slug nonetheless. Another flashback reveals all the money has been moved into men’s accounts; husbands or next-of-kin. This is where we sense Moira’s hostility toward men. She blames Luke for the actions of the terrorists, and in fact, she denies that this is terrorism; that this is what all men want – to control women, to control their lives, and to control their money. As a man, I can tell you that’s bullshit.

“I’m just a girl who can’t say ‘no,’ and I’m in a terrible fix!”

I’ve held back on discussing Aunt Lydia because I view her as nothing more than a lifeless vessel of torture. June is interrogated by an Official while she is poked with a cattle-prod by Lydia. They ask her about Ofglen. They ask if June finds her attractive. If Ofglen ever put the moves on her. If she knew Ofglen was a lesbian. Lydia, out of nothing more than anger, beats June after scripture is quoted back to her, and the only thing that stops the beating is Serena’s intervention, believing Offred to be pregnant. You can imagine the look on her face when she has her period. Now Emily (Ofglen) strikes me as a smart girl. She’s a college professor, for fuck’s sake! Why does she engage in a sexual relationship with a Martha in this climate? Is Emily turned on by housekeepers? Is it an act of defiance? Well, she just got her Martha-girlfriend killed for it, and they make her watch. It is a chilling scene that checks off two strong political talking-points: violence against women, and violence against homosexuals. Emily is then sexually mutilated for her transgression. There is another thoughtless flashback which shows demonstrators in a violent clash with Guardians inappropriately set to the strains of “Heart of Glass.” “Living in the Real World” would’ve been a better choice, but I don’t think the producers listen to much Blondie*. Did the demonstrators think they were making their case against men with machine guns? They are killing people on the streets, unprovoked. What were the protesters hoping to achieve? It’s at this point I start to ask, “Um, why haven’t we left yet? They’re taking our money and curtailing our rights. They opened fire on demonstrators. Is the car gassed up?”

Hang in there, Baby!

Serena arranges to put Offred in a nice bedroom, rather than stay in the “suicide-attic” in which the previous handmaid resided. Offred tells her she’s not pregnant; that she got her period. This infuriates Serena who drags her back to the suicide-attic and throws her on the floor. This is Serena. This is what she is and always will be. In another life, there would be compassion and understanding. Not here. This is a television series that would have to depend considerably upon the concept of “world-building.” That is establishing a world, like a game board, and then putting the players (or pieces) on that board with each new episode accumulating knowledge about that constructed world. The writers ignore the crucial world-building aspect and instead create the players before creating the world, and then expect the audience to play catch-up with their creation. “Late” is the main offender, because the writers believe they are being clever in only letting certain components of that world be revealed at the right time and place, like Lost with it’s frustrating flashback structure that served to mirror current events. We end with a severe close-up of Emily after she is told by Lydia that she won’t want what she cannot have – meaning orgasm from sexual stimulation. She goes from confusion to sadness to anger and finally screaming. Alexis Bledel is truly the unsung hero of this show. Gilmore Girls this is not.

* Where’s Debbie Harry in this world? Good-looking woman, great singer. Is she a Martha in this world? Did she fight the Sons of Jacob? Is she dead? Did she flee to Canada when she saw the troubles? Is she in the Colonies?