The Handmaid's Tale: God Bless the Child

"Smart girls are trouble."

Three baptisms and a reunion. Actually, two reunions.

While I find the Gilead religion dense and weird, the photography in this series is so striking. The lines of people in their Gilead uniforms crossing the bridge where Janine jumped, the red and white of the Handmaids from above as they climbed the stairwell shaped like a giant eye. Some of the Handmaids got primo seats to the baptism-ish ceremony so that they could watch their stolen babies in the arms of their kidnappers being dedicated to the harsh Gilead god.

In contrast, there were flashbacks to Hannah's baptism where the emphasis was on love instead of fear. June saw Hannah's baptism as "insurance," a way to please God if God exists, while Luke saw it as saying thank you to God in a time of widespread infertility. At the end of the episode, Luke and Moira had Nichole baptized in a much smaller and quieter ceremony, cleansing her of the horror of her origins, accompanied by "Down in the River to Pray." That was so beautiful that it actually made me cry.

As the Gilead "dedication" culminated in a reception at the Putnam house, I thought it made for a perfect little counterpoint to the season one episode where the wives and handmaids gathered for Angela's birth. This time, the mood was very different. The Wives were recovering from the aftermath of Serena's confrontation with the Commanders, while the Handmaids in the kitchen spoke truth about their imprisonment (except for Ofmatthew) and June was actively looking for opportunities to Resist.

"Wear the dress. Pull the strings." Serena Waterford was June's chief target, and I loved every scene they had together – especially the one by the pool that visually emphasized how different things used to be. (Are there swimsuit uniforms approved for use in Gilead? I'm trying to picture them.) June and Serena quietly smoking together showed their strong connection, how much they have both been changed by their previously poisonous relationship.



I also enjoyed how Fred sought out June's marital advice, and how cleverly June used that opportunity to soften him toward the idea of giving Serena some control and power behind the scenes. Serena and Fred see June as a person now, almost like a participant in their marriage. Well, come to think of it, she was a participant in their marriage.

Serena could be invaluable to the Resistance as the power behind Fred. She's so much smarter than he is. While Serena still sees things as a Gilead Wife – illustrated by her reaction of "poor Naomi" after the Aunt Lydia incident – Serena actually told June where Hannah might be found, and when. Until now, I've been waiting to see Serena revert back to her hateful, abusive season one self, but I don't think that's going to happen.

Interestingly, Naomi Putnam has changed, too. She thanked June for saving baby Angela's life on the bridge, and showed genuine compassion toward "that horrible girl" Janine. It also appeared that Naomi is still Serena's friend, even after Serena's finger-losing disgrace before the Commanders. Naomi has come a long way. Is she possibly a Resistance recruit, too?

In truth, every character on this show has depth, and all of them have changed. Aunt Lydia, the personification of evil, lost it and beat Janine with a cattle prod when Janine broke the rules and begged the Putnams to be allowed back into their marriage. And yet, Aunt Lydia knows "her girls" hate her guts, knows she deserves their hatred, and she's clearly in constant physical pain. The way she burst into tears when she was alone gave me a real twinge. Who is the real Aunt Lydia? The monstrous remover of eyes and the whipper of feet? Or the kind woman who thanked Janine for the tea and told her she was glad she had brought her back from the Colonies?

Meanwhile in Canada

The Commander leading the "dedication" referred to the horrible sinner who stole a daughter of Gilead (Nichole). Cut to Emily disembarking from a train, about to reunite with her wife and son. I think of Emily as so strong and tough, running over Guardians with a stolen car, poisoning that Wife in the Colonies, stabbing Aunt Lydia. Here, she was vulnerable and fragile, frightened of getting hurt. In fact, she looked like an escaped political prisoner and maimed rape victim, which is what she is.

Alexis Bledel and Clea Duvall gave lovely performances as Emily and Sylvia kept their emotions in check for Oliver's sake, although what they were feeling was visible right below the surface. The most effective scene was of the two of them crying quietly as Emily was reading her son Oliver a story about dinosaurs. It ended with them on the front porch together, possibly about to talk. Will Emily end up going to a hotel? I hope not. If anyone deserves a happy ending, Emily does.

As the Putnam party ended, a Guardian brought Fred a video of a pro-Chicago protest in Little America that showed Luke holding baby Nichole, deliberately displaying her for the camera ("Baby's first protest"). That gave Serena comfort, knowing baby Nichole was all right, but all I could think about was that it might endanger June. Will Fred cover for her again, I assume?

Bits:

— The pious Ofmatthew, June's new walking partner, has had three babies for the district, and omigod. She may outwardly believe in this Gilead crap, but there has to be some suppressed rage inside of her. Has to be.

— I loved how Aunt Lydia riding up on her scooter injected a comical note in that procession over the bridge. Alma called her "Hell on wheels."

— Serena's false finger was back. It's a decorative and easy way to film without CGI. Clever.

— Sylvia's house was decorated in wife colors, teal green.

— Along with all of the family photos that included her, Emily looked longest at Oliver's drawing of her in a superhero costume.

— In the flashbacks, Holly called Catholic priests "holier-than-thou child molesters." I thought that was a pointed little reference to what is done to Handmaids and babies in Gilead.

— Fred kept talking about how good the "deviled eggs" were. That felt like a Handmaid/baby/fertility reference, too.

— Luke again took the wife role and changed Hannah's diaper before the baptism. They keep doing that with him. I like it.

— There was a lot of baptism imagery all through this episode, mostly of plain glasses of water that were half-full of optimism (and of course, the swimming pool).

Quotes:

June: "It takes a village. And machine guns."

Holly: "You cannot let religion control your choices. That's what they want."

June: "I ought to feel hatred for this man. I know I ought to feel it, but it isn't what I do feel. What I feel is more complicated than that. I don't know what to call it. It isn't love."

Really? That June could feel anything other than blinding, eternal hatred for Fred and Serena is a credit to her. Even if they have saved her life. I guess it's a good example of how existence in Gilead is a constant balancing act, though.

Serena: "Have I missed anything?"
June: "Just the usual. Jell-O shots, charades, little karaoke."

Best episode so far this season. Four out of four glasses half-full of water,

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

5 comments:

Sjusjun said...

the interaction between Naomi Putnam holding baby Angela and the other women, saying she was curious and the men making disparaging remarks got to me. Maybe Naomi realizes that the future of 'her' daughter in Gilead is not a bright one.

Jeanine Guidry said...

Oh Billie, I am so glad I have found you again! I started reading your reviews about Buffy and Angel, then lost touch for a while, and Doux Reviews is amazing. Every one of your reviewers does a fantastic job, but reading your perspective again makes me so happy.

Billie Doux said...

Jeanine, what a lovely comment to read first thing this morning! Thank you so much. :)

milostanfield said...

Sjusjun - I think you may be right about Naomi. When one of the commanders said "Smart women are trouble" she shot him a look that the camera lingered on just enough for us to see it.
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When June said "It takes a village...with machine guns" I laughed out loud and hard, a rarity for this dark show made darker as the real America seems to be edging in a Gilead direction.

I never read Clinton's book of that title, but I'm assuming that the book and what this show is trying to say is that motherhood/parenting is more than just biological, and that it is a shared undertaking by all women regardless of what damn "uniform" they wear. And men like awesome Luke too.

The rebellion seems to be moving up the female hierarchy season to season. First it was between Handmaids, then Marthas, and now with at least two, maybe three Wives. It takes a village.

From Here to Maine said...

You know, in the beginning of this show, I felt like I could look at it from a distance and just appreciate Atwood's artistry. It felt so far removed from anything we might actually experience in this life. But, now, every episode, every week, it gets closer and closer to our reality.