The Handmaid's Tale: Seeds

"Cows don't get married."

Two weddings and a funeral. Okay, two very unusual weddings and an intensely touching funeral.

But I should start with June.

The photography in this series is exceptional. Most of the time, the focus is on women's faces and their reactions to what is happening to them, and mostly, that woman's face is June's. But in this episode, they kept showing June from behind as if she had no face, very much as if her identity was gone, which it was. They even removed the mirror from her bathroom.

June, or more accurately, Offred, was broken. So broken that she took those painful, emotional written pleas for help from behind the bathtub and burned them in the kitchen sink. (Apparently there are no smoke detectors in the Waterford house.) All that pain, up in smoke as if it never existed. That gave me such a twinge because it was as if Offred was trying to obliterate June. She told Nick in a dull voice, "I'm not allowed to have these."

It was sort of fascinating how Serena Joy and Aunt Lydia were so conflicted about what was happening to June, although they never actually spoke about it directly. As they were controlling everything June did up to and including her bowel movements, Aunt Lydia was disturbed by the "mood in the household" and Serena Joy was clearly perturbed that Aunt Lydia chose to come by so often. You'd think Serena Joy would be pleased that June had become the perfect pregnant Stepford Handmaid, but no. There is no pleasing Serena Joy. Probably because Serena Joy cannot admit to herself how deeply unhappy she is with this horrible Republic she helped create.

A struggle for power between Serena Joy and Aunt Lydia. Who will win? If anyone deserves to be hoist with her own woman-hating petard, it's freaking Serena Joy, but Aunt Lydia is utterly evil. I'd love to watch them destroy each other, though.

This photo is disturbing on so many levels.
June's need to rebel began to emerge when she started bleeding. She noticed the blood in her panties and almost, but not quite, smiled. Note that there was no panic in anything she did after that, even though she most certainly knew she would be executed if she lost the baby. I kept thinking of how as young women, we're taught to keep our relationship with blood a secret. As the bleeding got heavier and June became dizzy and tired, she continued to hide it. Perhaps she was hoping that losing the baby would kill her, too.

Where was she going when Nick found her, unconscious on the ground in the rain? Was she hoping the cold rain would make her even sicker? Was she going to Nick for help, even though in an emotional sense he'd been taken away from her that very day, his wedding day? He certainly wasn't excited about his wedding night if he was standing in the rain, smoking a wet cigarette and looking up at June's window.

Biblically, Rachel and Leah were the two wives of Jacob; he married one when he thought he was marrying the other. So the "Rachel and Leah" center was pretty much the perfect venue for honoring all of those valiant guardians, those amazing Gilead soldiers who enjoyed beating and hanging innocent people for a living, with brides. Very young brides with veiled non-faces, a theme in this episode. Throughout the ceremony, as Nick opened the little black box containing wedding rings and lifted the veil of the wife he didn't know or want, Nick kept glancing at an unhappy-looking June, sitting in her Handmaid place behind Serena Joy.


Unspoken was the fact that all this was happening because Fred had tried to get rid of Nick. It has never been verbally acknowledged, but when Serena Joy ran to Fred to tell him that Nick was concerned about June's state of mind, Fred must have finally put two and two together, if he hadn't already. Since Commander Pryce wouldn't allow Fred to discard Nick by "promoting" him into another job in D.C. (I bet Pryce doesn't trust Fred Waterford and didn't want to lose the Eye that was already established in his household), Fred decided to distract Nick by giving him a bride. Later, in the Waterford living room, Fred grinned as Nick read a passage from the Bible about love before he and Eden Spencer, his new child bride, went up to Nick's room above the garage. Serena Joy was welcoming and motherly toward Eden, telling her that lust wasn't a sin if you're married. Geez, Serena Joy. How kind of you.

After Nick found and rescued the unconscious June, she woke up in a very white hospital room with a fetal monitor strapped to her stomach. She didn't lose the baby, after all. And the camera was once again focused on June's face, surrounded by her extremely white blanket to conceal her conversation with her unborn child, as she promised she would get him or her out of Gilead. I'm glad the real June is back.

All this, and I haven't even gotten to Emily and Janine yet.

They're an interesting pair, nothing alike, and Emily kept showing frustration with Janine's expressions of faith in God. Even after all the terrible things that have happened to her, Janine is so childlike that she made a wish as she blew the fluff off of a dandelion because "they're happy for everyone. They don't care who you are." Janine believes that God saved her life twice, and there has to be a reason. Emily wanted Janine to stop taking chances, to not get caught misbehaving, to focus on survival, but what's the point if they're going to die, anyway?

While Emily might be my favorite character in this series, I was on Janine's side this time. It was Janine's idea to ask Sally the rabbi to marry lovers Fiona and Kit so that Kit could die happy, so at least they would have something at the end of this terrible life.

I've often felt compassion and concern for Janine, but this was the first time I genuinely liked her.

Bits:

— Along with the camera focus away from June's face, they also shot from above the Waterford house and above Kit's deathbed, like they were showing God's perspective (something I've mentioned before). There were also several closeups of cups and glasses, possibly as a reminder of women as vessels since that's their only important function now.

— Aunt Lydia said that aunts have a "special dispensation" to use pencils. Serena Joy did not seem to like that. Maybe she was jealous.

— I was unhappy that Emily is showing signs of radiation poisoning. Her cheeks are rough, and she's losing teeth. I want so much for Emily and Janine to escape and live, but it doesn't appear to be likely.

— Kit was buried in a field of tiny crosses and shallow graves. That was another visual from this episode that stayed with me.

Quotes:

Aunt Lydia: "Her attitude seems much improved."
Serena Joy: "It's everything a wife could ask for. She's quite unlike herself."
Aunt Lydia: "Mrs. Waterford, no small effort has been made to bring Offred to heel."
Geez, you could say that. No small effort.

Janine: "He holds me in the palm of His hand."
Emily: "He couldn't hold you in his palm someplace else, like Bora Bora?"

Emily: "We come here, we work, we die."

Serena Joy: "'Prayvaganza.' Not one of the Commander's better efforts, if you ask me."

Janine: "This was my idea. I told her that they're not Jewish but she said that God doesn't care."
A gay, biracial wedding officiated by a rabbi. Lovely.

Emily: "This place is Hell and covering it up in flowers doesn't change anything."
Janine: "Well, so what? We come here, we work, we die. Kit's going to die happy. So what's the problem?"
Emily: "Gilead took your eye. They took my clit. Now we're cows being worked to death, and you're dressing up the slaughterhouse for them. That's the fucking problem!"
Janine: "Cows don't get married."

Nick: (to Fred) "By God's grace, I'll have a child of my own someday, sir."
That was a loaded statement, considering the circumstances.

Another intense episode. Four out of four dandelions,

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

1 comment:

Lisianpeia said...

Throughout the episode I was confused about what June wanted. At moments I felt like she was experience dissociation regarding the blood, in others I felt she wanted to loose the baby.

I think the most painful moment for me was June burning the notes from the other Handmaid's. Whenevere these appear I get anxious. All these women wrote these messages hoping someone outside Gilead would read them. I really want this to happen and but the chances seem slim.

I know she doesn't deserve it, but I can't help feeling sorry for Serena.

I also agreed with Janine in this. That wedding scene was beautiful and full of love, specially contrasting it with the Guardians wedding.