The Handmaid's Tale: Milk

"We're going to the front of a war in a refrigerator!"

Apologies for posting this review so late. I think my subconscious was rebelling against writing four Handmaid's Tale reviews in a week. It's not like this is an easy show to write about.

Although it's somehow appropriate that I'm posting this one on Mother's Day. June, Janine, Rita, Serena, all mothers or mothers-to-be. I can't think of four more different women.

Let's just zip past how unlikely it is that anyone would leave a tanker full of milk open to falling leaves, railway road grit or flying bird poop (not to mention refugee handmaids) because I have to give them credit for originality. In my many years of television viewing, I have never seen two women swimming in a tank car full of milk before.

(The big unanswered question is, did they drink any? No, wait, question two. They must have smelled horrible. Why didn't the rebels who gave them a ride mention the stench? Plus you'd expect a drain would only open from the outside. Plus you'd expect several miles of milk on a train track would spark suspicion. Okay, moving on.)

June told Janine, "I won't let anything happen to you," but look at what just happened to Alma and Brianna. June admitted to Janine that she gave up the location of the handmaids because they'd threatened Hannah. Janine said she wouldn't have given the handmaids away. But what if they were torturing Janine's son or daughter in front of her?

The flashback gave us a bit of Janine's backstory. There she was, a waitress at Denny's, reminding me of my own mother who never finished high school, who waited tables and tended bar her entire adult life with no medical insurance or sick leave. Pregnant women need all the help they can get, said the woman at the so-called "crisis pregnancy center," but no one was there to help Janine raise her son Caleb alone on practically nothing.

That woman at the center was right about one thing, though, that Janine is used to being underestimated. Flashback Janine got the abortion that she needed, in spite of the crisis center blockade. Present day Janine was strong enough to give freedom fighter Steven what he wanted, providing food and shelter for June this time. Maybe June needs to treat Janine more like a partner instead of a hindrance or an obligation.



Because Chicago isn't what June had hoped. There is no Mayday there, no strong, well-funded Resistance to oppose Gilead. The streets are bombed and burned out, and starving, desperate people are attacking and ransacking trains for supplies. That is what Gilead has done to the United States. It was like scenes of the future in Terminator lacking only the killer robots.

Meanwhile in Canada...

... we checked in on Rita, who is still making homemade bread and praising God, just as she did in Gilead.

Serena Joy Waterford summoned Rita into her presence, assuming that Rita was still her slave, still hers to command. I wondered for most of the episode if Serena might be right. It wouldn't be unbelievable if Rita had been so beaten down for so long that she would welcome the familiar, if she was ready to be the free babysitter and cook that Serena expected. Serena even believed Rita would testify in court for her that everything that happened in Gilead was Fred's fault. Later, Fred told Rita, I was never cruel to you, as if that in any way mitigated keeping her for years as a slave in his kitchen.

I spent most of this episode actively rooting for Rita to verbally hurl her anger at Serena and Fred, to tell them what monsters they are. Instead, and delightfully, Rita quietly and metaphorically stabbed Serena in the back by giving the sonogram to Fred.

The Handmaid's Tale does such interesting things with light and shadow; I thought the scene where Rita and Serena prayed in front of the windows with the snow falling on the tree was just gorgeous, a visualization of faith. But the kitchen scene where Rita prayed and then smiled before eating her sushi with Diet Coke, a meal she could never have had in Gilead, was even better. Bright sunshine complemented by freedom. Can't be beat.


Bits:

— Janine sang the same song to little Caleb that she sang to her daughter Charlotte/Amanda in season one. It feels likely that this season, Janine is going to find out that Caleb was killed. I hope not, but it seems inevitable.

— Like Rita, Janine still believes in God. That maybe God took Alma and Brianna because they were nicer people than June.

— June's face as she was deciding whether or not she could prostitute herself with Steven was, as usual, an acting class in itself. We could see her initial determination overtaken by confusion, and see her deciding she couldn't, that she'd prefer to starve.

Title musings: Well, of course, the episode began with a tanker full of milk that helped get them to safety. But I think it was all about motherhood. Serena being pregnant. Flashbacks to Janine's second pregnancy. Rita, who lost her son to war.

Quotes:

Rita: "It's a boy?"
Serena: "It's a boy. Can you imagine? Toy trucks and scraped knees. Catching frogs."
Yes, it's the 1940s in both Gilead and Serena's head. Wake up and smell Canada, Serena.

Janine: "I'm not a mushroom. I'm not!"
June: "Okay."
Janine: "So you can't keep me in the dark and feed me lies and shit and expect me to just be okay with it!"
June: "I don't do that."
Janine: "Yes, you do."
Yes, she does. And that's this episode in a nutshell. Janine has finally moved up.

Janine: "This is stupid and dangerous! We're going to the front of a war in a refrigerator!"
Best line in the episode.

Rita: "Did you know in Gilead, I was officially considered property of the Waterford family?"
Mark: "I did, yes."
Rita: "Registered and everything. Like my old Nissan Altima."

Steven: "Actual fucking sex slaves in America."
June: "We weren't in America."

Janine: "It wasn't so bad. He thinks my eye patch is cool."
It is cool. But it was still nice to see both of Janine's beautiful eyes for a change.

Two exceptional actresses, Madeline Brewer (Janine) and Amanda Brugel (Rita), got a well-deserved spotlight this week. Three out of four refrigerators,

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

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