The Handmaid's Tale: June

"Let this be a lesson to you."

This episode was almost too much for me. I'm not kidding.

That Fenway Park sequence made me think of the word "spectacle." These horrible, sadistic religious freaks of Gilead should have been in the stands, eating popcorn and enjoying the sight of these young women in the grip of terrible fear. That positive moment of triumph at the end of season one, when the handmaids spontaneously refused to stone their fellow handmaid Janine, twisted and turned into terrible suffering. Handmaids all in a row, gagged and with nooses around their necks, which got my stomach in knots even though I was certain that even the sadists running the nation of Gilead wouldn't so readily discard that many fertile women. It was just to scare them, and of course, it did. It scared me; it made me cry.

The suffering continued with the handmaids standing in the freezing rain, holding out the rocks that they had refused to throw. Followed by that absolutely horrific scene in the cafeteria. I'm sure June would have been first to have her hand burned on the stove if her pregnancy hadn't been discovered, but Alma screaming and screaming, that's going to stay with me. The hand that refused to throw rocks, the hand that June tried to take when they were about to be hung.

And then we're back at the gynecologist with the happy surrogate parents as June was subjected to a vaginal ultrasound, political commentary very much intended. The Waterfords were thrilled, although Serena Joy had to give us a few moments of her usual schizophrenic behavior: threats, literally followed by kisses. This time, it wasn't the friendly doctor with the fat face who offered to contribute his sperm; it was a black doctor who literally showed June the door. She followed little red tags, irony very much intended, down the stairs to a refrigerator truck full of frozen carcasses, and again with the irony.

June met and hugged the butcher who gave her the package from the Resistance back in season one, and then there was Nick. Escape, but only at the hands of three men, because men have all the power. I kept thinking it had to be a trick, even while June was burning her red uniform, her long, blonde hair, and the red tag that she cut out of her own ear, and wow, did that scene make me cringe repeatedly. No pulling of punches this season, I guess. Not that there were any punches pulled last season.


There is something about this series that encourages constant paranoia. Is this a trick? As June was escaping with the dead pigs, we saw the Waterfords at home without her. What were they told? When June initially went into the black van, Nick told her that she would be safe, and as it turned out, she was, but she was still terrorized, nearly hung, her hand could have been badly burned, she could have caught a chill standing in the freezing rain. Is Nick truly part of the Resistance, or is he part of a plot to make June think she's free now?

I can't believe I'm actually saying this, but that early scene with Aunt Lydia made me wonder, too. Was Lydia sobbing before pulling the bell because she'd nearly injured a pregnant woman, or was it something else? Is it even possible that Aunt Lydia isn't doing all of these horrible things because she is a sadistic bitch?

The flashbacks were all about the gradual march backward to oppression. Luke had to sign a permission slip so that June could buy contraceptives; actually, I'm surprised that contraceptives were available at all. The nurse at the hospital gave June the third degree about holding down a full-time job and giving Hannah Tylenol instead of staying home with her. Of course, she continually referred to June as "Mrs. Bankole" instead of "June Osborne," while hinting that the "state" could – and should – take Hannah away because June chose to work. That last shot showed June in bed caring for the feverish Hannah, instead of watching the news about "terrorists" attacking Congress and blowing up the White House. The news is just for men now.


The photography in this show is hypnotic. The color, or lack of same. The handmaids in a circle in the rain, holding out their fists against their will. The black vans in a circle like the handmaids, the bright white and translucent curtains of the gynecologist's office, the green tint of the rooms in the Waterford house. Ofwyatt's bedroom furniture centered in the middle of an otherwise empty room.

This episode began where season one left off, with June being taken away in a black van. There was a brief splash of bright sunlight before she was trapped in the dark again. I hope that wasn't foreshadowing of what will happen later this season. What I want is for June and Nick to leave for Canada right the fuck now and never come back. But we all know that's not going to happen.

Bits:

— Lots of keys and doors in this episode. Pretty obvious symbolism there.

— When June refused to eat, Aunt Lydia showed her what was happening to the pregnant Ofwyatt, who had tried to drink drain cleaner. I thought we were heading toward Aunt Lydia having June forcefed, like the suffragettes in prison. Not yet, I guess.

— The modern songs they play over the end credits are fascinating. This one was something about "Going Back to Where I Belong." That can be taken more than one way.

Quotes:

June: "Our Father, who art in heaven. Seriously? What the actual fuck?"

June: "Janine isn't nothing."
Aunt Lydia: "No, she most certainly is not. Do you think you've done her a kindness? She could have gone to God quickly, surrounded by her friends."
June: "Friends don't stone their friends to death."
Aunt Lydia: "Janine is on her way to the colonies. She will suffer because of you."
And wow. I thought they'd hang Janine or at least execute her in some other awful way. Instead, we're going to see her again. Maybe death would have been kinder for everyone.

June: "My name is June Osborne. I'm from Brookline, Massachusetts. I am 34 years old. I stand 5'3 in bare feet. I weigh 120 pounds. I have viable ovaries. I'm five weeks pregnant. I am... free."

This episode was a wow. Four out of four red tags, and I'll try to post my review of "Unwomen" tomorrow,

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

1 comment:

Raya said...

I cried my heart out during the fake hanging scene. I didn't think for one second that they were actually going to die, but it was still devastating.

Also, those electric gallows (or whatever they are called) really gave me the creeps. I'm sure they didn't spend time and money designing those things just to scare a bunch of handmaids, which means they actually used technology to create a more practical way to hang people. That's just horrible.

I had to skip part of the scene in the cafeteria, I couldn't stand Alma's screams.

I love this show but it's not easy to watch. I think I'll wait a few days before watching the next episode...

Thanks for the great review, Billie, as always.