The Handmaid's Tale: Pigs

The first three episodes of season four just went up on Hulu. I'm going to review them separately, so here's number one. The second and third should go up relatively quickly. Unless they're totally awful and I hate them. But how likely is that?

Pain is so real on this damned show. June's agony, this time a cauterization inflicted by her friends in order to save her life, made me cringe. When they arrived at their hopefully safehouse farmhouse, the bloodcovered, staggering June had to go first. Ovaries of steel, June.

That huge farmhouse looked like it came from another century, with something of a "Children of the Corn" vibe. June's bedroom looked almost exactly like her attic room at the Waterfords, too. Message received. We're still in Gilead. Even though the handmaids were all wearing Martha farming garb and literally blending into the landscape, hiding in plain sight, they're still handmaids on the run.

It is far from a comfortable retreat. Lest we forget what this series is about, the farm's matriarch is fourteen-year-old Mrs. Keyes (Mckenna Grace, an impressive young actress giving a startling performance). So far, the Wives we've met haven't been sympathetic – Serena Joy, Mrs. Putnam, Marisa Tomei. But Mrs. Keyes is a victim of Gilead, big time. She's just wearing teal instead of red.

Little Mrs. Keyes was filled with completely justifiable rage at what Gilead had done to her, and hero-worshipped June as the personification of Mayday. She was even holding her side sympathetically in the same place where June was shot. But Mrs. Keyes is just a confused, victimized little girl. She wanted June, recovering from a serious gunshot wound and barely able to walk, to jump up and start fighting again immediately, and was deeply disappointed when that didn't happen.


That tantrum in the barn over the pork chop made Mrs. Keyes a bit less sympathetic (we all hate seeing Janine get hurt), but drove home how abnormal and abusive this world of Gilead is. June couldn't help but see Mrs. Keyes as her daughter Hannah. Mrs. Keyes even climbed into bed with June like a kid who had a nightmare. June is becoming a mother to all of these women.

What is Commander Keyes' story? Other than having his child bride horribly abused by many men in the hopes of getting a baby out of her, does he even know what she and David the Guardian are doing? Does he have dementia? June was going to kill Commander Keyes, until she shifted her focus to Guardian Pogue.

Blood bookended this episode. It began with June covered with blood, leading the way to the farmhouse with a raised bloodstained hand, and ended with Mrs. Keyes, covered with Pogue's blood, crawling into bed with June. There has been so many references to the fact that handmaid uniforms are the color of blood. Initially, they seemed to represent menstrual blood, fertility, but it's becoming something else, isn't it?

(I couldn't help thinking, though, when Mrs. Keyes got into bed with June, that a large quantity of spilled blood smells really bad. A shower would have been a good idea first.)

Meanwhile, this show just put my two favorite male characters together in the same plot thread, and thank you. Commander Joseph Lawrence was expecting execution and for good reason, but Commander Nick Blaine saved Lawrence's life because his brilliance could still be of value to Gilead. You'd think that Gilead's eternal lust for punishment would outweigh that sort of logic, but I'm just happy Lawrence is still alive.

The scene with the barber chair, and Lawrence's face when he saw it, was so Handmaid's Tale. We expect the worst because the worst keeps happening. Will I be executed in that chair? Is it going to be some horrible form of barber chair torture? No, it's just a little off the top. Could have gone either way.

Did Nick simply find a way to save June's friend? Who knows? Nick is such a cypher. I want him to be good but suspect he is not. Yes, he cares about June, but how much? Is he truly loyal to Gilead but just a little squishy when it comes to the oppressing women part, or is he hiding the soul of a rebel yet to emerge?

In Canada, Mark Tuello broke the news to the Waterfords that their recalcitrant handmaid might have just started a war. What I found interesting about this scene was that Serena and Fred reacted in the exact same way, with anger at the loss of those children to Gilead. Maybe they're not as estranged as they seem to be.

And we caught up with Aunt Lydia. Nineteen days of interrogation and torture didn't have any effect on her loyalty to Gilead... unless she's cleverly hiding her real feelings. She even appeared offended when Commander Calhoun mentioned that her frailties were considered. Is Aunt Lydia angry at June or the Commanders? And isn't it amazing that Ann Dowd's acting talents are so good that we can't be sure?

Bits:

— Eighty-six kids and nine Marthas! Wow! I don't think they ever said how many kids escaped, although it was a lot more than they expected. But eighty-six!

— The fact that Mrs. Keyes was only fourteen wasn't mentioned, but it was in the official synopsis so I went with it. Is Esther her first name? It wasn't clear.

— Alma suggested that working on a farm for a tyrannical fourteen-year-old might be the only freedom they are ever going to get. That's so sad.

— I loved that Janine covered her red eye patch with Martha camouflage. And that she named the pig "Mr. Darcy." Although I didn't love what happened to the pig.

— Speaking of, the pig's gender seemed to change. Janine called him Mr. Darcy, but later the dead animal was referred to as "she." Deliberate?

— Homemade penicillin. Oddly, there is also homemade penicillin in another show I'm now reviewing, which is Outlander. What are the odds?

— As usual, the music was deliberately jarring in contrast to this dystopia we're seeing. They opened with "I Say a Little Prayer for You" as the handmaids were taking June to safety; "Let There Be Songs to Fill the Air" while the women were dancing in the barn, and "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman" at the end with June and Mrs. Keyes. The meaning of all three songs was pretty obvious.

— Nothing yet from rest of the Canadian contingent. Next episode, hopefully?

— Title musings: "Pigs" probably refers to a shift in role. The women of Gilead used to be the pigs, sacrificed in different ways for the men to symbolically consume. June has changed the narrative. This time, Guardian Pogue was the pig.

Quotes:

Mrs. Keyes: (to June, with a big smile) "He sent me dreams of you. We were killing people together. It was the most wonderful dreams."
What an introduction to this character.

June: "Pain makes your world very small."
It does. June expressed the shock we all feel the first time our body betrays us.

Lawrence: "Was there a trial?"
Nick: "Yes, sir."
Lawrence: "How'd I do?"
Nick: "I'm here to thank you for your service to Gilead."
Lawrence: "That good, huh?"

Lawrence: "Do you think it's a good idea to invade Canada?"
It's never a good idea to piss off your next door neighbor. And who does Gilead think the rest of the world will side with?

June: (to Mrs. Keyes) "I think God is just. And I think that He is gonna make those men pay."
Is it me, or did the barn look a little like a church?

Nick: "Some men need to be led."
Lawrence: "The Tao of June Osborne."

So. Lots of developments and set-up I didn't expect. I liked it.

Three out of four pork chops,

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

2 comments:

Rachel said...

Great review! I know it's no spoilers here so I'll just ask this as a yes or no. I am curious, have you had a chance to read Atwood's follow up, The Testaments? I know Hulu has already optioned it for a spin off but some parts in these first episodes has me really wondering if we are going to see some key points of The Testaments show up here!

Billie Doux said...

Rachel -- thanks! No, I haven't read The Testaments yet. I did read the original book during the hiatus. I appreciate the spoiler-free nudge. :)