The Handmaid's Tale: Night

The first three episodes of season three went up on Hulu today. I'm going to review them one at a time, so here's number one. The second will go up tomorrow and the third on Friday. Or maybe Saturday.

Now that the housekeeping is out of the way, let's dive in. A lot happened in the space of one episode, didn't it?

June has made her choice – to stay in Gilead until she can get Hannah out, even if it kills her. When the police arrived at the MacKenzie house, June decided to stay and look at her daughter, to kiss her one more time, instead of trying to get away. Which resulted in a strange conversation with Hannah's... I'm not sure what word to use here. "Foster mother" sounds too conventional. "Kidnapper" is too spot on.

At least Mrs. MacKenzie is something of a human being, although I think any wife in Gilead is complicit. She does appear to love Hannah Agnes. Enough to give June tidbits about her daughter. Enough to beg June not to come back. If Mrs. MacKenzie loves Hannah at all, though, how could she possibly expect June to stay away?

It feels like June has long ago transcended the level of tolerable disobedience, even for a handmaid of an important Commander. But then again, the Waterfords have continued to cover for her, mostly to protect themselves. And maybe, the longer we spend in this dystopia, the less sense it makes. That's the case with most dystopian fiction, though. It's not supposed to be like real life. It's supposed to twist reality into something extreme in order to make us think. The Handmaid's Tale certainly makes me think.

Out with the old

Then we were back at the Waterford household, but things have finally changed, big time. While Fred was ready to take June back simply to keep himself and Serena off the Wall, Serena was done with pretense.

During the first two seasons, Serena was always well groomed, usually calm and stoic, the perfect Gilead wife. Now she's a mess, and it wasn't just the wreckage of her flawless coiffure. When she lost her finger, she was forced to face everything that was wrong with Gilead in general, and her marriage in particular. I thought the most touching moment in this episode was when June took Serena into her arms and held her while she cried, cementing their bond of love for Nichole. I also thought it was lovely that June took Serena's unmaimed hand and led her out of that burning bedroom.

The fire that destroyed the Waterford house was beautifully set up with the antiseptic Serena used obsessively to treat what was left of her finger. I thought at first that she was going to commit suicide by drinking the antiseptic, but instead, she burned her marital bed – the bed where she and Fred teamed up to rape June. No symbolism at all on this show, huh?

Even though Serena set the fire, it was all of June's actions that ultimately brought down the Waterford house. As she left, June took one last look around and smiled as she touched the shaking walls. I loved the shot of the Scrabble board burning, and the one of June sitting in front of the house in the aftermath. That house represented Gilead, seemingly solid on the outside but on the inside, rotten to the core.

I'm a bit sad that Nick seemed to be an afterthought for June. After holding back Fred at gunpoint so that June could get away with his daughter, Nick was understandably angry when she returned. I thought Nick's best moment in the episode was when he lit a cigarette and handed it to Serena, saying "Praise be." And at least he told June to take care as the van was taking her away.

In with the new

After a brief spell back at the Red Center, just long enough to get whipped again and scrub some floors, June and her bloody feet landed at Commander Lawrence's household. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?



I love Bradley Whitford (because of The West Wing as well as his Twitter feed) but his character is subtly creepy. What's going on with him? Yes, he helped Emily escape and all, but last season, he was jamming away to Annie Lennox when Emily thought he was taking her to her death. He took June to the MacKenzie house and then took her as his handmaid to save her from yet more rape (we assume), but then he said to June, "You're not going to be any trouble, are you?" Is he expecting her to live quietly in his bizarre household and not continue to Resist? Really?

Last season, Lawrence was called "the architect of Gilead's economy," and his wife said he had established the workforce in the Colonies, the very thing that nearly killed Emily and Janine. If that's so, then he's no ally. I want to know more, please.

Meanwhile in Canada…

Whenever this show seems to be too dark, there's hope in Little America. While Emily and Nichole dying in that river would have made perfect sense, I swear I would have stopped watching if they had. I particularly liked that it was a male cop that asked the exhausted, bedraggled Emily to affirm that she was seeking asylum in Canada, and I loved that people in the hospital clapped to acknowledge the hero that Emily is, even though that emphasized that no one was clapping for June.

I was wondering how Emily could possibly know who Luke was, but the photo tucked into Nichole's blanket had writing in the margins. Poor Luke was overwhelmed by that photo of Hannah; he kept saying "She's so big." He's missing his daughter's childhood. Those are years he'll never get back.

Will Luke and Moira take baby Nichole now?

Photography

While I watch this series for the women and their stories, the photography continues to wow me. This episode began with wavering red car lights that foreshadowed the shots of the Waterford house burning down.

Then there was Serena bathed in light reflected in her vanity mirror, with Fred in darkness beside her. June reaching out to touch the smoke hanging in the air. June in the car being returned to the Waterfords, watching the inaccessible scenery passing by. Emily struggling across the river in the dark, with the baby in her arms. Exceptional.

Bits:

— Title musings: Why was the title of this episode, "Night," the same as the season one finale? That's confusing. It also doesn't seem to fit the episode.

— Emily's stabbing Aunt Lydia and successful escape made her the perfect scapegoat for pretty much everything. Nevertheless, it just seems unbelievable that June got away with just a beating. You'd think she'd have lost several body parts by now.

— The resistance seems to be active again. A handmaid at the Red Center told June that Emily and Nichole made it to Canada.

— Mrs. MacKenzie didn't look like the blond woman with Hannah in the photos at the summer home.

— This episode's discordant music was "I Don't Like Mondays" by the Boomtown Rats. I don't have a lot to say about that one. Maybe the point was that this craziness is like unwanted routine. Or maybe it went with the first quote, below.

Quotes:

June: "I'm sorry, baby girl. Mom's got work."

June: "You helped Emily."
Commander Lawrence: "I liked Emily."
June: "They could put you on the Wall. Even a Commander."
Commander Lawrence: "Spunky."

Mrs. MacKenzie: "Please, stop. You know all of this ends, with you dying on the ground in front of her."
She's not wrong.

Nick: "You're never getting out. You're gonna fucking die here."
June: "I know that. Don't you think I fucking know that?"

There was a lot going on in this episode. Was it too much? Three out of four bottles of flammable antiseptic,

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

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