The Handmaid's Tale: Holly

A powerful episode. But also somewhat frustrating.

As June searched the deserted house for anything that might help her out of her current situation, I kept thinking about her experiences earlier this season at the Boston Globe. We've been here before. The biggest difference is that this time, June was very pregnant, and the wolf was literally at the door.

I soooo wanted June to escape that dead house in that fancy little car, and for a moment, I thought it was going to happen. After all, how far could she be from the border? She was close enough to hear that broadcast from Radio Free America. "American patriot or Gilead traitor, we are still here. Stars and stripes forever, baby." And Bruce Springsteen! Go, June, go! And no. She couldn't get the car out of the garage. An exercise in frustration. And of course, all that tramping around in the snow and trying to lift garage doors, not to mention the fact that June was violently raped by her owners the day before, brought on labor.

(I didn't realize that the announcer was an Oprah cameo until I saw it all over the internet today.)

Birth scenes tend to make it all seem a lot less wrenching and painful than it actually is, but Elisabeth Moss' performance was so primal, the blood, the nudity, the long, low moans so realistic and harrowing, that I almost felt like I was in labor myself. The birth of June's second daughter was beautifully intertwined with flashbacks to the birth of her first, a much happier time when June could actually choose between a birthing center and a hospital, or decide whose playlist she wanted to listen to as she labored. But I also have to say that the continued isolation of the MacKenzie house seemed like an appropriate venue somehow. I think I'd prefer giving birth alone to enduring the ministrations of that round-faced obstetrician and sperm volunteer, or God forbid, Aunt Lydia.

I did particularly like how both births included June's activist mother, Holly. During Hannah's birth, June rejected her mother's suggestions and chose a hospital. This time, June gave birth alone but chose to name her daughter after her mother, an acknowledgement of her mother's values as well as all of the changes June has endured.

While the past and present intertwined birthing scenes were undeniably strong ones – can we give all of the acting awards to Elisabeth Moss, please? – I thought the most interesting scene in the episode was earlier, with Serena and Fred screaming at each other downstairs while June stood out of sight above them, holding a shotgun. Fred actually seems to believe that June likes him, and that she'd be appropriately grateful to him for the few minutes with Hannah that he generously bestowed upon her.


Fred: "If you'd shown that girl one ounce of kindness, she would never have left!"
Serena: "Kindness? You raped her yesterday!"
Fred: "That was your idea! I did this to fix your mess!"

Serena has a much better grasp of reality than Fred does. She is very aware that June hates and despises both of them, and why. Serena is also aware of what she has lost in order to bring Gilead into being, and that the only thing she really wanted, a baby, may have just slipped out of her hands. "When did you become such a bitch?" Laugh out loud. This marriage is such a farce.

I was sad but not surprised that June couldn't pull the trigger. These two deserve to be hung from the Wall, but powerful, evil people rarely get their just desserts.

As June cuddled her new baby daughter, there were lights on the wall behind her suggesting that a car just arrived. Please tell me it's Nick, who managed to get free of the other Guardians and is ready to take June and their daughter to Canada. No, wait. That can't happen because there's going to be a season three.

Bits:

— The MacKenzies, Hannah's adoptive parents, are clearly well off if they have an enormous house in the middle of nowhere that they're not even using.

— Note the dollhouse with all of the furnishings on the floor. A literary reference just sitting there. Note also that the flashback to a much younger Hannah's second day at school had her wearing a pink coat.

— In the flashback, Moira said her friend Bridget gave birth in the woods.

— And what does the wolf symbolize? A wolf often symbolizes the spirit, and June most certainly didn't give up. Except in her extremity, when she thought she was dying, went out in the snow and fired the shotgun four times. "Here I am. Come and get me."

— So Fred does know that Nick is the baby's father. He was also certain that Nick's absence didn't mean he was disloyal. I guess I was wrong about that one, too. Maybe Fred thinks all underlings are brainless and loyal, even the men.

— Speaking of which, we still don't know what happened to Nick. I am still suspecting that Isaac was behind the Nick-napping.

Quotes:

June: "I'm sorry there's so much pain in this story. I'm sorry it's in fragments, like a body caught in crossfire or pulled apart by force. But there is nothing I can do to change it. I've tried to put some of the good things in as well."

I thought at first that this, and the quote at the end, was an answer to the critics who are constantly saying this series is simply too bleak. And then I thought maybe it was June creating something comparable to the letters from handmaids that the Resistance had compiled. But then I read that Atwood's original book was supposed to be a series of tapes left behind by Offred. Who knows. Maybe it's all three.

Moira: "I bet doctors get the best drugs. You had, like, three epidurals, didn't you?"
Holly: "No, I was unmedicated. I wanted to know what it feels like."


(Flashback, as June is in labor)
Luke: "You ready?"
June: "Oh, go fuck yourself."
Luke: "You okay? I love you."
June: "No, I love you, but I mean it. Go fuck yourself."
Luke: "Okay."

June: "I keep going with this limping and mutilated story because I want you to hear it. As I will hear yours, too, if I ever get the chance, if I meet you, or if you escape, in the future, or in heaven. By telling you anything at all, I'm believing in you. I believe you into being. Because I'm telling you this story, I will your existence. I tell. Therefore you are."

Maybe not quite as good as the previous couple of episodes, but still terrific. Three out of four epidurals,

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

4 comments:

fisher_and_diaz@yahoo.com said...

Hey Billie,

I've been reading some of the discussions on this show on Reddit these past few weeks. I'm a guy. You're a woman. We're probably going to approach our opinions differently on my next question even if our views line up the same.

There's this weird sentiment on Serene being somehow redeemable. Do you think it's because you have an attractive actress performing the role?

Even after the rape people seem to be holding out hope? Does it speak more to how normalized this trend on TV has become? The actors themselves aren't being raped, so perhaps some viewers are conditioned to think in those terms.

I don't know. I guess I feel some viewers are approaching this show in a similar manner to the typical reality show viewer, where a given character's moral alignment is constantly shifting.

Billie Doux said...

fisher_and_diaz, it's a mystery. Some of that might very well be because so many people are fond of Yvonne Strahovski. I know I used to get questions like this all the time about my fondness for James Marsters' character Spike on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as in how could I possibly still like him after the terrible things he did? Some people really want to see evil characters change and become good, I suppose. There's distance with television, too. As you said, the terrible things Serena is doing aren't happening to us personally.

fisher_and_diaz@yahoo.com said...

Billie, watching Serena throughout this season feels more like a damnation arc than a redemptive one. I think it would be to the detriment of this show, given how much of an empty shell Fred is by comparison.

I think there's more fascinating drama to be plumbed by keeping Serena in Gilead; keeping her as a villain -- especially once she's been denied of possessing June's child.

Earlier this season, Commander Fred seemed confidant that June's child would be a boy. So it's possible that he might end up being indifferent to the child, but would blame Serena anyway once the child ends up being abducted and taken up north. That's kind of what I'm predicting.

I feel that both June and Serena are going to end up being the main catalysts in this story, and that exploring Gilead will be as much about June attempting to reclaim her life from it as it is about Serena figuring out how to bend it to her own will.

You kind of saw that earlier in the year when she conspired with June in order to oust Commander Cushing, who was arbitrarily executing commanders, wive, and martha's alike.

Something is going to happen in the next episode that drives both June and Serena to action. And I think for June, it's going to center on getting her child out of Gilead, while for Serena, it might involve banding together with the other wives to undermine some of the more harsher edicts that she and other wives like her had fallen victim to. See Marisa Tomei's character. It would in small measure, parallel with what the handmaid's did last season, when they refused to execute one of their own, but done more out of naked ambition rather than the altruistic display of the handmaids.









Billie Doux said...

I have to admit that I haven't thought much about what I want to happen in this season's finale. I would love it if something that positive happened. Fingers crossed.