The Handmaid's Tale: Useful

"He's testing us. We're all disposable."

June is gaining experience with rebellion. While looking up at the bodies of anonymous, dead Marthas, she realized that getting executed without even the benefit of martyrdom was pointless. It was time to look at the big picture.

And Commander Lawrence is all about the big picture. In a philosophical sense, Gilead is his baby, the result of his vision. And maybe he never intended that Gilead would be all about the oppression of women; he told June that he was just trying to save the planet. Does he even realize that his household slaves are terrified of him, that when he says strange things to them, they are justifiably afraid that their responses will get them killed? June doesn't think that Lawrence had Cora hung, but she doesn't know. "Does he like me? Will he keep me? Am I safe here?"

Lawrence is so powerful that when the Commanders needed his input on the Chicago problem, they came to him. June has inadvertently taken a huge step up in the power structure of Gilead, and she cleverly used a moment alone with Fred Waterford to ask some pointed questions. All sweet and friendly and in her Scrabble-playing persona, June flattered Fred and learned that Lawrence does not like to be bored, and that the other Commanders don't know what to make of him. Valuable information to have.

That was followed by a fascinating scene in which Lawrence had June pour drinks for the Commanders and then gave her an order to fetch a book for him, a book she isn't allowed to read. (It was Darwin's The Descent of Man. Are even Commanders allowed to read that book anymore?) Was he testing her? Of course he was. He wanted to see if she could keep her composure, and of course she did. She even knelt before him and said, "Is there anything else I can help you with, sir?" Her expression, only for him, was disdainful.

Later, when the two of them were alone, Lawrence acted as if he was going to kiss her, and when she didn't flinch, he said, "Did this really work on Fred?" Laugh out loud. But it set the terms between them. Lawrence isn't interested in sleeping with June. The level of discourse they are having is already miles above Scrabble and illicit trips to Jezebels. June is actively confronting Lawrence about the realities of the Gilead he helped create, and Lawrence in turn decided to involve June in his latest pressing problem – what to do with the shipment of women from Chicago,who are currently languishing in very Nazi-like cages. Lawrence used his power to keep them from "salvaging," i.e., death by stoning, as a terrorizing example to Gilead's women, and had them transferred to the Colonies, which at the very least isn't instant death.

Lawrence told June to choose five women from that unfortunate group to be Marthas. How Sophie's Choice of him. At first, she refused. Later, she made those choices with the Resistance in mind. Was it a good thing for her to do, or a bad thing? I'm not sure. But at least it showed that she is strong.


Meanwhile, not in Canada

Serena left Fred and went to stay with her horrible mother, Pamela. Like Fred, Pamela sees her daughter as a beautiful object with no value unless she is someone's wife. In what was pretty obvious symbolism, Serena had to wear some other wife's ill-fitting teal green clothes to her mother's prayer meeting. Serena used to be all about the Bible, all about faith in God, but not anymore. Suicidal and drenched with tears, Serena spent hours staring at the ocean before deciding to walk in. Thankfully, she changed her mind and walked out again.

Instead, Serena went to visit June, and they talked about Nichole loving the bath. (Water again. Baptism metaphors?) June tried to get Serena to think of all of the other mothers who have had their children taken from them by Gilead, because June is now thinking big picture and she must know what an ally Serena could be.

Fred got a scene of his own, confessing some truly romantic thoughts as we thought he was saying it all to Serena. "I'd dole out to myself little helpings of you, like a kid with dessert." But that again made into Serena an object, a yummy indulgence for when he got home from work. And then it turned out he was practicing his Serena speech on a prostitute. How very Fred-like.

And Nick got something different to do than pine for June. He's a commander now, but he won't do anything for June because he's being deployed to problematic Chicago. That made me like Nick less, that he thought being a commander was more important than June's life.


Interesting that she decided to let him into her bedroom anyway when he stopped by to say goodbye. Let's hope they practiced safe sex. What an interesting problem another pregnancy would be at this point.

Bits:

— A lot of this episode was poorly lit, as in hard to see. I get it, Gilead is in darkness and they are deeply into energy conservation, but I like being able to see what's happening clearly. Even if it is also a statement about the content.

— Rita made Serena a fake, very pretty teal green finger to wear. I honestly can't think of anything less useless and decorative. Serena left it behind.

— Lawrence told June she was useless in her previous life because she prioritized editing books no one would ever read over picking up her sick daughter from school. How creepy is it that he knew that level of detail about June's life?

— June chose an engineer, an IT tech, a journalist, a lawyer and a thief to be Marthas.

— Lawrence pointed June toward several of his own books, probably so that she would read the titles. I didn't catch them all but they were about economics during the fertility crisis and there was one called Brink of Extinction.

— Was Pamela wearing black? It was so dark most of the time that I wasn't sure.

— This episode's interesting choice of music was "How Does It Feel?" by Roy Harper.

Quotes:

June: "Martyrs inspire. Heretics are just stupid. Was I being stupid?"

June: "I compose myself. My self is a thing I must now compose as one composes a speech."

Lawrence: "Binders full of women."
Is Mitt Romney still alive and well in Gilead?

Lawrence: "Here's what I don't get. If women don't want to be defined by their bodies, why are they always using them to get what they want?"
June: "Maybe they aren't. Maybe men are just too easily distracted."
Lawrence: "Speaking of the Waterfords, you really mucked up that house, didn't you? Had Fred demoted, Serena defingered, baby babynapped. You left the place literally in ashes. Do you think they got what they deserved?"
June: "No one in Gilead gets what they deserve, sir. "

Rita: "You will get through this, ma'am. By His hand."
Serena: "What's left of it."

I enjoyed this episode more than the previous couple. This might be a good place to complain about having to review three episodes at once, guys. Come on. I could handle two, but why are you guys dropping the first three at the same time?

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

1 comment:

Tricky Dicky said...

I noticed this episode was directed by the wonderfully talented Amma Asante. Her directing credits include, amongst others - Belle and A United Kingdom, but for me will always be Cheryl Webb from Grange Hill.