The Handmaid's Tale: Women's Work

I found this episode to be oddly beautiful. Probably because it was about the friendship of women, and the love of a mother for a daughter.

Months have passed, and June's pregnancy has advanced. Serena and June, a writer and an editor, have forged a good working relationship and what appears to be a genuine friendship grounded in their mutual joy at being able to use their talents again. Sadly, their taste of power and normalcy came to an end when Fred finally limped home from the hospital, where all of his female slaves reluctantly lined up at the door to greet him.

What does Fred truly believe? He knows Serena is his intellectual equal because the evidence is now and has always been right in front of him. And yet, he also seems to truly believe in the oppressive laws of Gilead, that women are inferior adjuncts to men. It was okay for Serena to secretly take over for him while he was sick because she is supposed to serve him, but it was not okay for her to forge his signature in order to bring Dr. Hodgson, a neonatal specialist currently living as a Martha, in to see Janine's sick baby. To Fred, a male doctor would have been, and would always be, better.

Or maybe it was that, combined with jealousy? Fred went to June's room and saw Serena's gifts, the music box and the flower. Men who are attached to traditional roles tend to be jealous of the relationships between women. Men like that want all the focus to be on the males, where they believe it should be.

What does Serena truly believe? Her actions during the last few months made it appear that she still knows her worth, that she doesn't believe what Fred believes. The big question is, has she changed? Will her relationship with her husband survive that beating in his study, a punishment that seemed to be Fred's way of telling Serena that her status was lower than that of a child? Can she force herself to shut up and go back to the knitting that she hates, or will her taste of power and freedom turn her in a new direction?

It's hard to tell. It felt as if Serena's relationship with June had changed permanently, but the scene after the beating where Serena, crying, went into the master suite, closed the door, took off her clothes and let down her hair could have meant two different things. I initially interpreted it as Serena freeing herself from her identity as a Gilead Wife, but then she wouldn't talk with June, who came to comfort her. But then again, Serena and June have always communicated through a metaphorical closed door. Guess we'll find out.

As usual, I kept noticing the photography in this episode, particularly the use of small amounts of light, signifying goodness, in the darkness that dominates Gilead. Serena is often photographed from behind, with the focus on her perfectly coiffed and restrained bun. This time, in the multiple scenes set in Fred's darkened study, the light was behind Serena, illuminating her face. In the kitchen scene, Serena and June sat together on a bench in front of a window talking about how to save Janine's baby, with the light behind and between them. There was also a long shot of the black, ugly door handle to the study, locking the women out.

Janine, a.k.a. Ofwarren and Angela, a.k.a. Charlotte

What was wrong with baby Angela/Charlotte? It was never quite clear. But it was certainly serious enough to put her on life support, and serious enough to make Serena search for the best neonatal physician in Boston… who turned out to be a woman named Hodgson, who was currently living as a Martha.

Dr. Hodgson had tears in her eyes as she put on white scrubs, as the male doctor Epstein talked enthusiastically about how cool it was to work with her. But even Dr. Hodgson had no cure for Angela/Charlotte. The reaction of the Putnams was interesting: Warren Putnam agreed to bring in Dr. Hodgson while Naomi Putnam was against it. Ditto Janine. Maybe Warren felt guilty about his role in the whole Janine debacle, even though he already paid for it with the loss of his hand.


Seeing Janine on the outside looking in, unable to touch her daughter, was absolutely heartbreaking. At least she was allowed to hold her after all hope was gone. I have to say that Angela/Charlotte's unexpected recovery felt a bit like a fairy tale. Could it be that the baby simply missed her mother?

What struck me about that beautifully shot scene with Janine singing to her now apparently healthy baby daughter was that Janine was in her underwear and her hair was down, like Serena after her beating. Janine was herself again, no longer in any sort of Gilead-imposed uniform. What will happen now? How could they possibly take the baby away from her natural mother again? But in Gilead, how could they not?

Nick versus Eden

Despite the danger Eden has brought into their household, I can't help feeling badly for her. She is desperate to please Nick, while he is desperate to get away from her. Her life is even more limited than the lives of the other women in the household; she sits in the room above the garage and waits for Nick, rearranging his clothes since she cannot read or amuse herself.

What a shock that she found the handmaid letters that June was hiding for the Resistance. It was like Eden found Nick's heart hidden in his clothes. Was he keeping those letters for June, or for himself? Did Eden read them? I wouldn't be surprised if Eden decided to act out in some way, to turn everyone in. No one cares about her, no one is paying attention to her, and she's only fifteen, after all.

Plus, Eden most certainly heard the handmaids whispering at the market in last week's episode. Which reminds me that I absolutely loved the market scene in this week's. It made the market feel like a hotbed of handmaid resistance. Although when Emily said that the bomb Ofglen set off was a blessing, it reminded June that what she did with Serena was traitorous to their cause.

Come on, though. What choice did June have?

Bits:

— Motown! It still exists!

— June went to Fred and apologized for her role in Serena's rebellion. I thought that was smart. Although I also wonder why Fred went to June's room. Was he again hoping for some sex?

— There were no Nick/June scenes this time, although it was romantic that they touched hands in passing.

— It was sort of hilarious that the baby ambulance had its own logo, with a safety pin.

Quotes:

June: (re: Serena) "How does she feel about falling? She seems pretty fucking happy."

June: "Blessed be the fruit."
Janine: "May the Force be with you."
Laugh out loud. I also loved their discussion of the Alien franchise.

Janine: "My posting's great. It's just the Ceremony. No blow jobs. Seriously, it's like a blessing from God."
Emily: "Being raped is not a blessing."

Fred: "I asked you to be my conduit, not my voice."

June: "Someone once said, 'Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.' We should have known better."
That quote is attributed to Margaret Atwood, of course.

I thought this was an excellent episode. Four out of four baby pins,

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

3 comments:

fisher_and_diaz@yahoo.com said...

Hey Billy, do you think a redemption arc is truly in the cards for Serena? Even after her lashing at the hands of her husband, I am having a hard time buying into that notion given how prone to vindictiveness she has shown herself to be in the past.

At the end of the day, I feel that Serena works more effectively as June's rival -- even arch rival -- given that June doesn't wield the any level of subversive control over her that she's been able to do so with Fred or Aunt Lydia.

Also, Serena to me has always come across as the prototypical alt-right female personality. People like Sarah Palin or Dr. Laura, who've made a name for themselves by leveraging their own gender to promote policies that undermine women of their agency, but who would at the same time see the world burn before allowing the same policies to strip them of their agency.

The scene where she's breaking down in the master bedroom was the realization dawning upon her that she was in a prisoner of her own making. She was completely indifferent, ignorant even, to the fact that several weeks earlier, one of the handmaids that she's forcefully invited for tea with June had had her tongue cut out, or maybe the burn marks on one of Alma's wrists, or the fact that for months she would literally hold June down as her husband raped her as part of their ritual.

To me, June and Serena are the show's diametric opposites, and that as the show proceeds further, both of them will undergo the same paths of growth that you read about in Joseph Campbell theory literature. June's path is in rescuing her daughter, Hannah, escaping Gilead, and possibly (hopefully) seeing to Gilead's fall. Serena's path on the other hand will be in navigating her way through Gilead's twisted infrastructure and somehow bending it into her own will. Maybe not as King (or queen as her case), but perhaps as a king maker -- even if it means bumping Fred out of the picture altogether and figuring out a way to have her reassigned to a more pliable commander.

Billie Doux said...

fisher_and_diaz, what a terrific comment. You're especially right on the money with that alt-right comparison.

I have no idea what they're doing with Serena, but I really like what Yvonne Strahovski is doing with the part and she's so obviously miserable with this world she helped create. Maybe it's wishful thinking on my part, hoping that she is changing.

Billie Doux said...

Yvonne Strahovski got "performer of the week" for this episode from TVLine. FWIW.

http://tvline.com/2018/06/09/yvonne-strahovski-handmaids-tale-season-2-serena-performance/