The Handmaid's Tale: Mayday

Joseph: "You said you weren't going to be any trouble."
June: "Yeah. I lied."
Joseph: "Women."

We needed a win.

And we got one. It was a beautiful win. While this season hasn't been the most consistent, this episode alone made it worth watching.

The tension-filled lead-up made it seem like the operation had to fail. The opening flashback to June's capture in the pilot episode showed in horrifying detail what she was up against: the roundup by ruthless men with guns of terrorized, dehumanized young women stripped and examined by doctors, forced into cages, any resemblance to Nazi Germany definitely intentional.

We saw the actual physical hard work of resistance – the massive amount of coordination, the preparation of food and water for all of those children, June soaping the windows and the garden gate. Beth was so terrified she was vomiting, but she did the work anyway. The too early and much too dangerous arrival of ten-year-old Kiki, and June's conversation with her, reminded us that it might be too late for these kids, that growing up in Gilead might have already warped them permanently and all this effort could be for nothing.

And then, as June sat at the table in front of the gun Joseph had given her, a symbol of her power in this episode, Joseph decided to pull the plug and wrest control of the operation from June. And she wouldn't let him. The power to do this thing may have initially come from Joseph, but June refused to give it back to him. She might have killed him if he hadn't backed down. He knew it, too.

That walk in the dark through the woods with all of those children increased the tension level. I thought they would be discovered and stopped at any moment – right up until the turning point, at the fence. There was something so satisfying, so visceral, about June and the Marthas stoning that Guardian at the fence, the way they had been forced by Guardians to stone others. It was so moving that I cried.

June stayed behind, because of course she did. She had to cover the escape by leading the Guardian into the woods, and then she was shot. In the flashback that opened this episode, June begged one of the Guardians for help, and got none. Like Kiki represented all of the children in this episode, the Guardian at the fence represented the oppressors. This time, June was the ruthless one; she killed him, even after he called off the search. Seriously injured and on the ground, she smiled as the plane flew overhead.

Gilead is night. This series is so dark symbolically as well as physically. But the airport hanger in Toronto was incredibly white, so full of light, with that beautiful bright red flag overhead. As illogical as it was, it was (again) so emotionally satisfying for me that Moira, Luke and Emily were leading the volunteers. Little Kiki, whose name was really Rebecca, ran into her father's arms. It wasn't too late for Rebecca after all. She can grow up to be anything she wants to be.

So sad that Luke looked at every girl's face, hoping for Hannah. But then there was Rita telling him that June had done all of this. All of this was because of June.

And June's sisters in oppression came for her. The Handmaids carried June through the trees like pallbearers, even though we know June will live. This scene was filmed from above, something they often do on this show, the suggestion that God is watching, echoing the strong, consistent religious thread running through this episode. June and the Handmaids and Marthas kept mentioning God, and it had nothing to do with the religious oppression of Gilead. Instead, they were acknowledging that a loving God would approve of what June just did. In the end, June's narration quoted Exodus:
"And the Lord said, I have seen my people in bondage, and I have heard their cry. I know their sorrows. And I am come to deliver them from the hands of evil men."



The Waterfords were almost an afterthought, but what happened with them was nearly as satisfying. I've suspected that Serena planned to eventually win custody of Nichole, or that she would find an opportunity to kidnap her. So much for that. It's really interesting that the crime Serena was arrested for was not holding down June for Fred to rape, since the government of Gilead made her do that, but forcing June to have sex with Nick.

Serena is as guilty as Fred for the things she did to create and maintain the terrorist state of Gilead. She could have redeemed herself for unselfish reasons; I thought for a long time that the story was going in that direction. But no. If Mark Tuello found Serena at all sympathetic before, I'm sure he doesn't now.

Is this the end of the Waterford story? If it is, I'm okay with that.

Bits:

— Terrific bookending, with Janine and Brianna part of the round-up in the flashback coming to rescue June in the end. These handmaids have been on a journey together that ended with them all as allies, risking their lives for each other.

— I loved that instead of backing down out of fear, the Marthas brought more than 52 children.

— I'm also glad they didn't have Joseph turn on June because he suspected her of killing Eleanor. There was more than enough already going on in this episode. And honestly, I'm happy with the thought of Joseph doing his best to change Gilead from the inside.

— June nearly shot Maggie, the Martha that brought Kiki, but she didn't. I'm glad they pulled back from that, even if there are repercussions.

— As June believed she was dying, she remembered a day in the park with Luke and Hannah to the tune of "Into Dust."

— In his Underground-Railroad-like basement, Joseph was reading Treasure Island to the kids. A taste of their future when they can read what they want.

— Aunt Lydia's eagle eye nearly tumbled to the soap operation. June deflected beautifully.

— During the preparation scenes, I kept thinking of the lack of baggies, Saran Wrap, and WD40.

Quotes:

June: "Ruthless, I remember thinking. They are fucking ruthless. Where does it come from, this talent for ruthlessness? It seems so easy for them. For these men. For men like these."

Kiki: "Then what would I be?"
June: "You."
Kiki: "Will God still love me then?"
June: "Yes."

Joseph: "The girl has to go home."
June: "So that she can get married off at fourteen? No. I am not doing that. I am not sending her back so that she can get raped and maimed in this insane fucking world that you helped to build."
Joseph: "She's a Commander's daughter. She'll be protected."
June: "So she's not going to get her clit cut off when she falls in love?"

Joseph: "Eleanor would have wanted me to stay, clean up my own mess."
June: "Well, may God grant you peace, Joseph."
Joseph: "And you, June Osborne."

Rita: "May He in His mercy protect you."
June: "Godspeed."

Next season, the Marthas and the Handmaids will pay for this. There will be interrogations and executions, and things will get worse. But I don't even want to think about that right now. Something wonderful happened.

Four out of four box lunches,

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

2 comments:

milostanfield said...

I too spent the whole evacuation-to-the-plane set piece suspended from breath and gravity, waiting for this show to pull the rug out from under us once again. It happened before with a plane. But this time it didn’t. They made it! Except for those wonderful Marthas, stoning the squawkie talkies(!) and taking fire. And June, lying on her back, wounded from a shot in the abdomen like Serena was before Gilead, looking up at the plane in free air (Hi, Jack! Sorry you never made it off the island). That one scene with the Marthas covering the children just under the spotlights was incredible. This show’s cinematography is off the charts. All hail the drone camera!

When Kiki and her real father were reunited I lost it and started sobbing with relief for them and sorrow for Luke at the same time.

Yes, Marthas and Handmaids are going to suffer for this, but they have some power and agency (and maybe Lawrence) now. And all those escaped Marthas have stories to tell. And the world can listen now. Nails in Gilead’s coffin?

Still holding out hope for Serena’s redemption if only to watch Yvonne Strahovski act. But if she’s being reduced to just being monomanical about Nichole it may not be worth it.

Another two things coming: Hannah is approaching menarche, and will June, Luke, Moira, Hannah, and Nichole eventually be reunited? And what then? Or won't they? Will June end up like Kiera did in Continuum?

Thank you thank you Billie for taking on this difficult show and shining some light on the darkness.


Billie Doux said...

milostanfield, you're so welcome. And thank you for every single one of your well-written comments.