The Handmaid's Tale: Postpartum

"Love is patient, love is kind."

No spoilers on the front page...

From the moment Eden joined the Waterford household, I knew it wouldn't end well. That said, Eden's execution was painful because it was so deeply cruel, so utterly unnecessary. Very Gilead, I suppose.

It was particularly sad that June's kindness to Eden was what probably killed her. June assured Eden that she wouldn't be in the Waterford household much longer, and told Eden to grab love where she could find it, unselfishly relinquishing any claim she had on Nick, unaware that Eden might love someone else. Later, when Eden went missing, June told Nick, "Maybe she went to the mall. I heard there was a sale at Old Navy," and Nick had to smile. But you know, that's where a fifteen-year-old girl should have been. At the mall, hanging out with her BFFs. Not going to her own execution.

Eden looked so Amish in this episode in her plain clothes, so simple and religious. But instead of Eden's religious beliefs, it was all Romeo and Juliet. Eden saw her love for Isaac as a grand passion worth dying for. It wasn't, and Nick knew it.

It was Nick's pain that I connected to this time. Nick begged Eden to lie and save her own life. He even promised he would be a good husband to her. She turned him down. Nick blamed himself for not loving Eden, for not trying to love Eden. During the execution scene, everyone else in the cast was crying and looking away – even Fred looked a bit teary-eyed – but Nick looked directly at Eden as she died, expressionless, as if he was acknowledging his own guilt.

What just happened to Eden must be why Nick won't run again. Because when Eden and Isaac were standing on the platform above that Olympic size swimming pool, it was such an obvious leap to June and Nick. All of those kettleballs at the bottom of that pool, all those unjust executions. I cried. This show just hits me across the face, every time. I can't seem to not be affected, even when I see the worst coming.

I wanted June and Nick to have a conversation, and they finally did. They talked about not being allowed to hold their own baby. They talked about running away to Hawaii. She asked Nick if it was all right that she named their baby after her mother, Holly. After the execution, in the kitchen which is where June and Nick have most of their important conversations, June tried to pat his arm, to show him comfort. He pulled away, got up and walked off, his wedding ring gleaming prominently on his finger. I don't know if Nick can forgive himself for this, even though it so clearly wasn't his fault.

I should rewind a little. The opening scenes made it appear that June would be stuck at the Red Center pumping milk indefinitely, but I knew it was inevitable that June would end up back in her attic, this time with a whole new form of Gilead misery: June could hear her baby, and pump milk for her baby, but couldn't see or touch her. Serena wanted to ignore June's presence, but she couldn't ignore her baby's needs. When she couldn't get Holly/Nichole to stop crying, she pretended to nurse her, and then cried her apologies to the baby – I'm sorry, I'm sorry. It's really amazing how up and down I feel about Serena. She's such a monster, but that scene also gave me this wild stab of pity for her. Especially since Serena was crying for Eden at the time. When June showed concern for Serena, when she acknowledged Serena's tears, Serena responded with kindness. She let June nurse her own baby. That made me cry, too.

And yet, the Waterfords are still so incredibly awful. Fred has a brand new office with a proud family portrait of himself and Serena and their stolen baby, and he made Nick, the baby's real father, hang the portrait on the wall, seemingly unaware of how cruel that was. And oddly, Fred still seems to be attracted to June, even after everything that has happened. Is he hoping for some illicit sex in the study in between breast pumping sessions? I think he is. Of course, June is clever and still leaving the door open for perhaps more Scrabble between them. Elisabeth Moss is so good; you can practically see June's thoughts about manipulating Fred flitting across her face as she was talking with him.


I was totally creeped out by the information that several Commanders are vying to acquire June next, even to the point of sending bribes of baked goods to Aunt Lydia. These same Commanders are turning down their chance at Emily. But someone wanted her. Commander Joseph Lawrence (Bradley Whitfield), the "architect of Gilead's economy," the creator of the Colonies where Emily suffered so horribly, has brought Emily into his extremely odd home.

The Lawrence household is absolutely fascinating, an anomaly in Gilead, or possibly a deliberate tribute to Jane Eyre. There is abstract art all over the house (I would expect Gilead families to encourage religious, representational art), a sarcastic one-eyed Martha in the kitchen, a mad wife hidden in the master bedroom. In fact, Eleanor Lawrence was dangerously outspoken, asking Emily for her real name, screaming that her husband was a monster. Joseph said of her, "She was an art professor. She wanted everything to be beautiful." Life in Gilead has to be a huge disappointment.

Is Joseph Lawrence a monster? He must be. And yet, when he caught Emily reading, he asked her if she knew the penalty, but didn't act as if he planned to have her punished. Did he have his Martha's eye removed, or did he "hire" her afterward? Does he hide his wife's madness to protect her, or himself? Is he important enough in Gilead to have his strangeness ignored? Is anyone?

The scene in the dining room where Joseph and Emily had that strange conversation was so uncomfortable, so oddly droll. Joseph knows all about Emily – that she's gay, a former professor, that she stole a car and ran over a guardian (he asked, "How did that feel?"). He knows about her lover being hung, about her horrible operation. Why on earth does he want Emily for his handmaid? Why is he so interested in her?

I have absolutely no idea. But I can't wait to find out. I'm also wondering – was this set-up for a plot in season three? Or will it be resolved in the finale next week?

Bits:

— What we didn't see at the end of last week's episode: apparently, the neighbors found June and Holly, and overzealous guardians were the ones who took Nick; Fred came to Nick's rescue. It still seems weird to me that Fred isn't jealous of Nick.

— Serena took baby Holly/Nichole to an execution. Who takes a freaking baby to an execution? And Fred called Eden "that slut." God, he's horrible.

— I follow Stephen King on Twitter. He posted this tweet about Eden a couple of weeks ago:



— I'd like to thank Hulu for not airing these episodes all at once. It would have been too much for me.

Quotes:

Aunt Lydia: "One can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good."

June: "I think I've earned a whole cake."
Aunt Lydia: "Prideful girls don't get anything."

June: "Bran. Great. Praise fucking be."

Aunt Lydia: "She looks just like her father."
And Nick was standing right there.

Aunt Lydia: "Have you nothing to say for yourself?"
Emily: "I'm wondering why such an important, brilliant man would take in such a shitty handmaid."

Emily: "May God make me worthy."
Joseph: "Super."

Fred: "Is that all the thanks I get?"
June: "We could play Scrabble sometime."

This episode made me cry not just once but twice. Any episode that makes me cry gets four out of four bran muffins,

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

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've been meaning to leave a comment about this show for several weeks now, but these last few episodes have left me so emotionally drained that I haven't been able to formulate my thoughts.

Thos episode was mercifully not quite as devastating as the previous ones and I thought that jumping a few weeks ahead in time actually worked quite well. I wasn't that invested in Eden as a character so I didn't really grieve for her, but the whole death scene was a reminder of just how awful and cruel the Gilead regime is. And the weights at the bottom of the pool rocked me more than the rest of the scene altogether.

Serena is such a mystery, going from the horrible cruelty of holding June down to be raped to showing real kindness this week. I wonder if she is as conflicted about her feelings and motivations as the viewers are? As for Fred, I despise him more every week. He seems both deluded enough to think that June actually has feelings for him and at the same time drawing sadistic pleasure from talking to June, seeing her hatred and knowing that she's not allowed to fight back. What a truly evil person he is!

I don't really know what I'm expecting from next week's finale, but I am SO ready for some kind of reset. I don't think I can handle another season of June being trapped in that house and subjected to the Waterfords' cruelty. I think the Gilead system and its cruelty has been established well enough by now, and it's time for change, revolution or something new/different at least! Let's hope so.

Thanks for the great reviews Billie, they really help when trying to survive the devastation each episode seems to bring!

Julia

Billie Doux said...

Julia -- You're welcome, and thank you for your thoughtful comment. I've realized that I'm not holding out any hope for a cool season finale as opposed to a seriously depressing one, but I would absolutely love it if they left the Waterford house in the rear view mirror. Literally.

milostanfield said...

Billie/Julia: one word - ONTARIO!

Yes it would be nice to leave that House Of Horrors with it's doors that click so loudly when they shut and lock. And those omnipresent radio crackles everywhere in public!

No idea where the show runners will take this. I've read Handmaid's and the Oryx/Crake trilogy, and watched "Alias Grace" (recommended). None of Atwood's works I've read go so far as any kind of resolution/revolution on a broad social level, just setting up the situation that women are in and studying how they endure or escape. So with Atwood as a consulting producer it will be interesting to see where they take the show.

I'm assuming all our fantasies involve June, Holly, and Nick (and Rita! And Janine! And Emily!) escaping to Canada. If they did, that would set up an interesting situation with the inevitable meeting with Luke and Moira. That would also leave *&^%ing Gilead intact. Definitely unfinished business there.

Counter that, it was interesting that June and Nick's little fantasy about escaping with Holly involved the West Coast and Hawaii.
Does this mean that she is moving on from her past, or was that just a desperate reverie?

Thanks BD for your writing as always. Now for the hard part: proving I'm not a robot.

fisher_and_diaz@yahoo.com said...


Julia -- You're welcome, and thank you for your thoughtful comment. I've realized that I'm not holding out any hope for a cool season finale as opposed to a seriously depressing one, but I would absolutely love it if they left the Waterford house in the rear view mirror. Literally.

Billie,

It's usually common practice for long form shows like this to end on a cliffhanger.

That being said, I just don't see June making it out of Gilead as long as Hannah remains there. I correct that, I think that June leaving Gilead in general does the show a disservice.

I know that this show is based upon the book, but I don't think for a show like this, and given the time we're living in today, that ending the show on an ambiguous note will make fans happy. Look at Dexter as an example.

THT's epilogue in the book takes place centuries later, after the downfall of Gilead.

Bruce Miller has insinuated that he wants this show to cover Gilead's lifespan.

So that being said, I'm assuming that liberties are going to be taken by having June play a role in Gilead's demise. And given that Elizabeth Moss is one of the co-producers, she's likely invested in the long term development of her character as she figures out how to survive in Gilead and escape with her daughter.

The trick will be in the writers figuring out how to keep her in Gilead while keeping some buoyancy to it. Preferably, I'd like to see her remain there without being subjected to rape. And as naive as that sounds, I think that from the standpoint of story progression/character advancement, that needs to happen.

After that rape in The Last Ceremony, I don't think the fans will have much patience for her returning back to the ceremonies as her status quo.

That being said, the writers are going to need to figure out how to keep her in close proximity to the Waterfords without subjecting her to rape, because I think without the much needed levity to her character that it will only diminish any attempt on their part to portray her finally reclaiming her agency.

I think the best way would be posting June with a different commander who's perhaps ambivalent to the regime and ceremonial practices, similar to Emily's situation right now.







fisher_and_diaz@yahoo.com said...

Billie,

My prediction for the season finale will be that June will be faced with the chance to escape to Canada, but choose to return to Gilead for her daughter, Hannah.

I'm a huge fan of Six Feet Under, and I remember at the end of the second season, the main character, Nate went under the knife to treat a deadly brain condition. He goes into a medically induced coma, and has a hallucination where he's given the choice to embrace death, or to live through the experience regardless of whether he can make a full recovery.

I don't think that June will escape from the Waterfords until next season, and even then, she'll have to remain on the fringes, because let's be honest, there is no show if June makes it up north.

Billie Doux said...

I've been thinking that there has been so much focus on Serena this season that maybe they really will go there -- Serena will decide to bring down Gilead. If she did, and if she decided to make an ally of June, that would be one bearable way June could stay with the Waterfords in season three.

fisher_and_diaz@yahoo.com said...

I've been thinking that there has been so much focus on Serena this season that maybe they really will go there -- Serena will decide to bring down Gilead. If she did, and if she decided to make an ally of June, that would be one bearable way June could stay with the Waterfords in season three.

I don't see her working to dismantle Gilead -- the monster she played a hand in creating. A redemption arc would take more away from the show; deprive the June/Serena rivalry which the show is built on.

I guess it goes to what I see going on right now in the real world. How many deplorables do you see renouncing their repugnant views and actions? How many telegenic alt-right females have shown genuine remorse for their actions, even when these actions adversely affected other women?

I do think that the idea of who is and isn't worthy of redemption is a theme worthy of exploring, though. How do you come back from that? And can you really earn redemption for certain acts? I think rape is one of a handful of transgressions that are not forgivable.

For all the indignity that Serena has suffered, and will continue to suffer in the future, I just don't buy that it's coming from a place of self reflection. Very rarely do fundamentalists change their stripes, and the ones who do tend to be on the low end of the totem pole. Serena was not only a high ranking wife, she was also one of the architects, and arguably the smarter, more cunning half of the Waterford couple.

I see the wives banding together (or attempting to do so) next season in an effort to improve their lot. Season 2 demonstrated clearly the many ways that wives can also fall victim to Gilead (i.e. the wife sent to the colony, wive's being arbitrarily executed after the bombing of the Red Center, Serena's whipping, and Eden's execution). If the wives ever affect positive change, it will only benefit them and the children.

Many Donald Trump supporters are beginning to see the reductive results of his immigration policy. Just wait. When stories of several of the children end up dying or being sexually abused become widespread, watch these cockroaches skulk back into the shadows and claim they were never along for the ride.

You kind of saw that in episode 2x10 Holly, when Serena tried to shift all the blame onto her husband for raping June. She would just as quickly shift the blame onto the commanders for the execution of 15 year old Eden.

Will Serena strive for some measure of personal benediction to quiet her own wounded conscience? It's possible. But her definition of redemption might end up being vastly different than how we define it in normal circumstances, similar to how someone from the deep south would pat himself on the back for not using the n-word.

Billie Doux said...

I have no idea what they're going to do. But I'm not seeing it as redemptive at all. It seems to me that if Serena decided to bring down Gilead, it would be for totally selfish reasons, because the world she thought she wanted turned out to be unbearable.

Hey, only two days and we'll know for sure.

fisher_and_diaz@yahoo.com said...

You know, if this were the final season, I could see that as a possibility, but because this show has been renewed for a third season, I see this as a case of Dr. Frankenstein trying to regain control over his monster.