The Handmaid's Tale: Unknown Caller

Serena Joy Waterford. What a character.

Seriously, though. What a complicated character, and what a continuing, exceptional performance by Yvonne Strahovski. I have absolutely no idea what is going on in Serena's head, and yet, everything she does is completely in character. I desperately want Serena to be the one to lead the nationwide Resistance in Gilead because she would be the perfect one to do it. At the same time, I have no idea if she will ever shake off the hold that Gilead has on her psyche.

The vibe between Serena and Fred has changed; he seems to have taken June's marital advice to heart. He included Serena in the commanders' meeting about baby Nicole, and actually asked her what she really wanted. I completely believe that Serena loves baby Nichole to distraction; her emotional state during the airport scene said it all. Does Serena want Nichole to grow up a free woman or not? Is she so selfish that she'd bring her back to Gilead to be raised in slavery? Or are we being misdirected here? The fact that she saw Tuello's gift of a satellite phone ("If you need me") and didn't say anything about it to the Guardian suggested that she might have some Machiavellian plot in mind. I hope.

One major topic that this series hadn't yet addressed in depth is June's marriage and how her strange love affair with Nick might affect it. I think this was the first time June even addressed how much she missed Luke. "Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Maybe." Their communication in this episode was just heart wrenching, both times. Gold acting stars for Elisabeth Moss, as well as O-T Fagbenle, who did an incredible job as Luke in the phone scene, at the airport with Serena, and on the bridge, listening to June's voice on the cassette tape.

The phone call was particularly jarring because of the contrast. Luke stood in the rain crying, overwhelmed with emotion, while June kept her face a mask and her voice a monotone, her eyes focused in the distance so that she wouldn't cry, swallowing to keep control of her tears, or her anger, or both. In her room afterward, she stood with her head bowed and body slumped as if she had been physically beaten. In contrast to the phone call, June cried as she recorded the message for Luke, where she told him that she was still in Gilead to find a way to rescue their daughter Hannah. That Nick was the father of her baby and that Nichole/Holly had been conceived in love. That June wasn't the woman Luke remembered. How could she be, after what has happened to her?


All through this episode, I expected the Gilead people to find a way to kidnap Nichole, but no. Tuello was there to welcome Serena, and to give her a change of clothes so that she wouldn't stand out at the airport. (I live in an area of the United States with a good-sized Amish population, and I always think of them when the Gilead uniforms are a part of the story. Most of the locals don't stare at the Amish, but the tourists certainly do. Serena would most certainly have been noticed.)

Everything seemed to go so well, and Serena was so sympathetic that she even wore down Luke's understandable anger and hostility to the point where he let her hold the baby. That seemed to be the last straw for Serena; she lost it in the waiting room where she was supposed to change back into her Gilead uniform.

And now, the case of baby Nichole is becoming an international incident. (What a clever way to connect the Waterfords to our refugee characters in Canada, by the way.) How could this possibly turn into a win for Serena? Would the Canadian government take the baby away and return her to an oppressive theocracy like Gilead that has enslaved her mother? Again, is Luke legally her father if his wife gave birth to her while they were still married? Luke knows now that Fred isn't the baby's father – Nick is. Will the baby's paternity make a difference at some point? Will Nick become involved in this situation?

What was June expecting after the Guardians picked her up at Loaves and Fishes and tossed her into a van? How cruel to have June think that maybe she would be punished or executed when all they were planning to do was dress her up and put her on television. June's fury was totally visible, threatened punishment or no. She obediently kept her head down, but she was making fists. And then she looked up at the camera. I kept thinking "hostage video." That video was so strangely set up, too, with the Waterfords on the couch and June far off to one side.


This series always uses jarring musical cues, and there were quite a few this time. How adorable that Joseph Lawrence romanced his future wife Eleanor with mix tapes, and that Eleanor missed the man that made them for her. How clever of June to realize that she could use one of those tapes to send a message to Luke. The flip side, so to speak, of the forced phone call where she couldn't say anything personal to him.

Joseph and Eleanor Lawrence playing "Cruel to be Kind" in his study made me think that that song title was all about him and his role in helping to create Gilead. "Sunday Bloody Sunday" started with "I can't believe the news today," and no kidding. And of course, "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing" at the beginning of that taped message made me think of that brief flashback scene of June and Luke dancing on the night they conceived Hannah. That felt like a personal message to Luke that only the two of them would know.

Bits:

— Clearly, Luke should never have taken baby Nichole anywhere that she could be photographed, but how could he know? He's angry about his wife being held against her will in Gilead, after all. Of course he would go to a protest.

— Ofmatthew continues to be fascinating. That scene where she confided the news of her pregnancy to June as they were standing in Loaves and Fishes in front of a row of jars of pigs' feet (or something else equally grotesque) was jarring. Pun intended. Four babies for the State. OMG.

— Serena told Tuello that she hoped he'd get back to Atlanta someday. I'm sure they brought Tuello back for a reason. I hope it was a good reason.

— The packages confused me. I thought Serena brought photographs from home with her to Canada because she planned to defect. The paper bag with the cassette tape was still in Serena's bag when she left Luke and Nichole, but it got to Luke somehow.

— More exceptional photography. Many of the scenes featured light in the center, or bits of striking symmetry.

— The cassette tapes were a callback to the book. Offred had used them to tape her story.

— Did Elisabeth Moss look different in this episode, or is it just me? Her eyes looked bigger, her face thinner and paler; she looked more striking somehow. Did they change whatever subtle makeup they're putting on her?

— Luke said that Nichole wasn't a fan of the peas. In the beautifully photographed opening scene at Loaves and Fishes, June chose dried peas. It's little details like this that add to the quality of this series. It's fascinating.

Quotes:

June: "Nobody dies from lack of sex. It's lack of love we die from."

Ofmatthew: "Under His eye."
June: "Bite me."

June: "Do you think he's in danger?"
Lawrence: "We're all in danger."
What an interesting thing for the father of Gilead's economy to say. He doesn't even believe himself to be safe.

June: (to Eleanor) "It's okay to take a sliver of someone, and hold on to that. Especially if it's all you have."

Serena: "God bless you."
Luke: "Fuck you."

This was my type of episode. It was emotional and thoughtful and beautifully acted, and there was no horrendous violence. Would that make it four out of four packages?

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

2 comments:

michelle said...

Excellent review, but I disagree with you about Serena. I don't know that Luke let her hold the baby out of sympathy. He made the offer right after she said "I protected your wife," in those hard tones she uses so often, and from the look on his face, he picked up on the threat.

Billie Doux said...

michelle, it could absolutely be taken that way.