JUNE (HANDMAID'S TALE RECAP)
Under His eye, bitches. Here we are, off and running for season two of The Handmaid’s Tale. I made a few predictions in my recent catch up post on the show, and I feel like my averages are pretty good so far. We’ve gone off book now, into the new world that the writers and showrunner have created. And what do we find in this new world? A whole lot of grotesquerie.
We start right where we left off, with Offred/June in the truck, being hauled off to some fate. That fate turns out to be the most excruciating ten minutes the show has yet produced. The door is flung open, June is muzzled with what frankly looks like a tucking panty, and finds herself in a straight up nightmare. She is surrounded by her fellow Handmaids, and herded down a tunnel while dogs bark and snap at the women. In my notes, I made a super obscure Mean Joe Green/Coke commercial joke, but that seems declasse after the hellish scene unfolds. The women are pushed out into Fenway Park, which is in disrepair, and are greeted with the sight of a huge gallows. There is a noose for each woman, and they are pushed into place. Aunt Lydia appears to spout some psuedo-Old Testament bullshit about obedience into a microphone. A woman pisses herself, about one second after I thought “I’m surprised they haven’t shown someone pissing herself.” Basically, this is fucking terrible. Intellectually, we know that they are not going to kill the main character, and from a narrative standpoint, the Handmaids are too valuable of a resource to be squandered like this, but the scene has the shape and texture of a nightmare. Nightmares are illogical, and this whole sequence progresses with that terrible nightmare inevitability.
The executioner pulls the switch and the platform drops...two inches. The women are terrified and told that they should be grateful for the mercy they are receiving. They are in this situation for their disobedience, when they refused to stone poor Janine after she stole her baby and tried to commit suicide. The torture for that disobedience has not come to an end yet. Aunt Lydia makes the women kneel and hold up a rock in the rain, and we get a lot of beautiful overhead shots of this torture, as well as closeups of E. Moss’s incredibly expressive face as she suffers. Aunt Lydia talks about “freedom to and freedom from” which is one of my favorite parts of the book, but seems a bit out of place here. Soon, though, another minion comes up and whispers something to Aunt Lydia, who rejoices about Offred’s “little secret.” Her pregnancy buys her a ticket out of the torture fest, and Aunt Lydia climbs the stairs to joyously ring the bells like the Hunchbitch of Notre Bitch.
Offred’s pregnancy gets her dry clothes and some soup, which she refuses to eat. Aunt Lydia parries with her, and Offred crosses her arms like she’s me, circa 1997, attempting to drive my mother crazy by refusing to eat her food. Lydia tells her that her disobedient stunt only bought Janine a slow death in the Colonies, when she could have had a quick death by stoning (I’m sorry, but death by stoning is a pretty horrible fucking death.) Offred says “Friends don’t stone friends” which is as accurate as it is awkwardly written. Lydia calls Offred out on her privilege: she led the women to their rebellion and now she is protected by her status of as a fetus container. Lydia takes Offred on a walk, where she shows her an extremely pregnant woman who’s been in the dark, chained on a run. Ofwyatt was recalcitrant, and is being punished. When they go back to the cafeteria, Offred tucks into her soup with haste. The other women are brought into the cafeteria, lectured at, and then dragged into the kitchen, where they are handcuffed to a gas stove and have their hands burnt, all while Offred eats her damned soup.
I pretty seriously considered closing my browser at that moment. Here’s the thing: what do we get from this? What does this satisfy, except a lizard brain taste for horror and grotesquerie? Does it make an eventual triumph sweeter? Does it prove that women are resilient, and that in turn, we as women are resilient? I’m not sure. I love the book, and I appreciated the first season, but I’m not sure where all of this is going. It feels heavy handed and obvious, like the motif of fire that is threaded through this episode. These are open questions, and I’m curious if the show is going to be able to answer them.
We next find Offred in an all white exam room, bisected by a curtain. Again, a lovely, if obvious visual. The doctor is joined by the Waterfords. Serena hisses that Offred better quit her smart girl bullshit, and Offred tells her to calm down, Beyonce, lest she harm the baby. The doctor performs a transvaginal ultrasound and the Waterfords stare at “their” baby. Serena comes around the curtain and kisses Offred, truly happy with this event and seemingly willing to forgive.
Both Aunt Lydia and Serena Joy’s joy is genuine and acted with great skill, which at the least shows us how precious babies are in this world, and perhaps may even be a window into possible redemption. Then again, Serena Joy will also get a status boost when she has the baby, and Aunt Lydia may have some quotas to hit for her annual evaluation.
After the ultrasound, Offred is left to get dressed. The ultrasound tech bids her a Gileadian farewell, and calls her by her real name, June. This was exciting! She finds a key marked with a red square in her boot, and follows the red squares into the underbelly of the hospital and eventually into a meat truck. Unlike the Eye van, the meat truck is brightly lit.
The Waterfords get the news of her escape and everyone is freaking out. Meanwhile, Offred is helped out of the meat truck and delivered to a temporary safe house. Guess who’s here? Baby Daddy Nick! I suppose if you like Nick this is great, but I don’t like Nick, so boo. Also, dude, that “trust me” shit was a bit of a misdirect. He left out all the torture that was going to happen. These two embrace because Offred is very horny for Nick for some dumb reason I’ve never understood, in the novel or any other adaptation. She dramatically burns her handmaid uniform, cuts her hair, and I muse about the female urge to cut one’s hair. Like, we all do it eventually, and usually it's a sign of some serious shit. Offred takes the destruction one step farther, and cuts the handmaid tag out of her ear. Just like ten gallons of blood comes out, and I’m sorry, but ears do not have that much blood in them. She looks like Carrie by the end of it. Or really, like the Final Girl in a horror movie: in her underwear, covered in blood, defiant and still on her feet. Sexy and bloody and tough. Action Offred.
I’ve spent a lot of words on this so far, and I haven’t even touched the backstory. Basically, June and Luke get horny on each other, and we find out that pre-Gilead, women had to have their husband’s consent to get birth control. Thanks, future President Mike Pence! These two horndogs discuss having another baby. June takes Hannah to school, but she gets a voicemail from the school that Hannah is sick. She asks to speak to her teacher and tells her that she will come pick her up, but is informed that Hannah was taken to the hospital, due to the school’s strict fever policy. June rushes to the hospital, and she is interrogated by the nurse, who refuses to call her by her own name but instead calls her Mrs. Bankole (my god that annoyed the shit out of me, as it is a struggle yours truly faces all the damned time.) The nurse wants to know just how much June neglects her precious daughter in order to do her job. This scene has a nightmare quality to it as well, but in a more Kafkaesque way than the earlier straight out terror scene. At first, June brushes her off, but as the questioning goes on, she becomes more alarmed. She gets Hannah home, where Luke is standing, gaping at the TV. Terrorists have attacked the Capitol, mowing down senators with automatic weapons. June wants to watch TV, but she has to tend to sick Hannah, and basically kids are pretty terrible, right? Luke stands there and narrates the news to June, and basically husbands are more terrible than kids. The White House is attacked as well, and the Sons of Jacob make their power grab as martial law is enacted. June lays in bed with Hannah and listens to the end of the world. Here comes Gilead!
Thanks, future President Mike Pence!