JUNE GOES TO GRAD SCHOOL IN GILEAD (HANDMAID'S TALE RECAP)
Welcome back to my Handmaid’s Tale recaps. If you need a refresher, check out my handy dandy catch up post right here on Heauxs. Hulu dropped three episodes Wednesday, which I consider cruel and unusual. With that in mind, I’m going to collapse all three episodes together and get our stories straight.
Here she is, Miss Protagonist. Immediately after sending her baby, Nichole, with Emily to Canada, June is picked up by Commander Hipster (the incomparable Bradley Whitford). He tells her to get in so she can catch the transport, but she vaguely threatens him into taking her to the Mackenzies’ house. The Mackenzies are the family that ended up with June’s other daughter, Hannah. June is insistent that she can take her kid back, so she barges straight in the house, blows passed the Martha like she’s demanding to see the manager, and runs upstairs. Hannah is sleeping, and the Guardians are surrounding the house, so June ties a string around the girl’s wrist and surrenders herself to the Guardians. Before she’s hustled out, she and Mrs. Mackenzie have a talk about their daughter. June knows that Hannah is well taken care of by the Mackenzies (she did find Hannah’s happy family drawings in the summer house last season.) Mrs. Mackenzie alternates between kind and intensely cruel, just like all the best Wives in Gilead. She loves Hannah, and she is grateful for June as her bio mother, but she also firmly believes that Hannah is hers and that June’s continued interference ends up with June “dead on the ground in front of her.” Anyway, yikes.
June is brought back to the Waterfords, where Serena is not doing well. Serena is not happy to see June back, and is even more upset that June gave the baby to Emily, “a murderer.” (It took me the longest time to remember that Emily did indeed murder some Guardians with her car attack in the first season.) But June and Serena have a serious talk in which they completely ignore Devil Fred. As angry as Serena is, she knows that she cannot raise a daughter in Gilead.
Devil Fred tries to take the situation in hand, (this is like a pun, almost), but when Serena is doctoring her amputated pinky, she decides to go all Farrah Fawcett and burn the bed. Pretty soon the whole Waterford manse is on fire, and June has to take Serena by the hand and lead her out. June’s put in the Handmaid’s van and taken to the Red Center, where she’s forced into penance, including foot torture and cleaning. She learns from a Handmaid that Emily and the baby have made it to Canada. (more on that in a minute)
June is reassigned to Commander Hipster’s house, which is basically grad school. Commander Hipster is the professor, and he is intent on teaching June a lesson: you are not as smart as you think you are. The games she played at the Waterfords do not work on him, or so he proudly exclaims. The Top Chef Martha, Beth, who used to work at Jezebels and booty call with Nick, is assigned to Commander Hipster, as is Martha Cora. The Marthas are at the center of the resistance, and they are caught trying to smuggle another Martha, a former high school chemistry teacher, out of Gilead. June barges in, protangonizes all over the place, tells Commander Hipster to let them do their work, and demands to go with them to the drop off point. Later, the Martha returns with an injured woman, who must be hidden as Guardians search the house. Commander Hipster’s wife, of fragile mental and physical composition, gets in on the action, but June essentially smothers the woman in an attempt to keep her quiet. Commander Hipster makes her bury the body by herself. She finds out that the high school chemistry teacher is going deeper in, to build bombs like the one Ofglen used in the suicide bombing of the new Red Center.
Cora is sent away, and all the Commanders come to Commander Hipster’s house for a meeting. They talk about Chicago being on the verge of falling to Gilead, and a shipment of women that need to be disposed of. Hipster makes June fetch a book and pretend to not be able to read after he catches her working Devil Fred for info. Like I said: grad school! Hipster tells her that he saved Emily because she was a brilliant scientist, and that lowly book editor June has nothing to contribute. He drags June out in the middle of the night to view the women that have been captured, telling her he will give her the choice of five women to save. They have a big argument about this trolley problem, (GRAD SCHOOL) and June at first refuses. Later she thinks about it and reads the files of the women, saving an IT professional, a doctor, a lawyer, someone else, and a thief. All skills that can be useful in the resistance. She’s passed her first assignment in Gilead Grad School.
Meanwhile, Emily makes the fraught journey to Canada, hunted by drones and forced to ford a river with baby Nichole in tow. She miraculously makes it to the other side, and is rescued by Canadian police and proclaims herself a refugee. I did tear up here, given our current political situation. Emily and the baby receive health care, and Luke and Moira find them. Luke struggles with the fact that Emily will not reach out to her wife and Moira tells him to shut up. Emily goes to the eye doctor (I hate the eye doctor so much. It is literally the most boring thing in the world, and the show does a good job capturing that feeling of intense and crushing boredom) and then finally calls her wife, who is so shocked and happy to hear from her.
Luke and Moira start raising the baby, although it seems like Luke is unable/unwilling to engage. He gets over it, though.
After the Waterfords’ house burns down, Serena goes to visit her mother, who is a real bitch, unsurprisingly. Serena smokes and looks at the ocean a lot. Her mother invites her prayer circle, and then Serena is promptly humiliated by the group praying for her marriage to heal. Devil Fred goes to Jezebels and practices his big speech to Serena. At last, Serena realizes (after her mother chastises her) that she has no place in this society without her husband. She goes back to Devil Fred.
While June is away at grad school, Aunt Lydia comes to visit, still suffering from the wounds Emily inflicted. June tries to be nice and gets a cattle prod in return. Aunt Lydia swears that she would never have placed June in another home.
Also, Nick, who was apparently promoted after the whole thing last season, comes to visit to tell June he’s being sent to the front. At first she’s like, so what, but then she does have a farewell bone sesh with him.
The show can still blow me away with acting and cinematography. The scene between Serena and June after June returns is, as Commander Hipster would say, Aces.
I love the red Handmaid luggage. Like, where can I pre-order that shit.
Bradley Whitford is good. He’s always good, so no big surprise there, but he’s very good.
Martha Beth is great.
June calls the chemistry teacher Breaking Bad and that was awesome.
What’s not working:
June’s protagnositis is out of control. She comes off as every middle aged white lady demanding to see the manager ever. She sticks her nose in things and makes them worse. Throughout my viewing, I kept trying to think of another show with this bad a case of protangnositis and finally clocked it: The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Every other non-teenage member of the cast is a hundred times more interesting and less annoyingly entitled than Sabrina. The difference here, though, is this: 1) June is a grown woman and not a teenager, like Sabrina. Teenagers are insufferably self-centered, so it fits sixteen year old Sabrina. It’s less cute in a grown ass woman. 2) SABRINA SPOILERS Sabrina is literally the daughter of Satan and is a chosen one and actually magical. Sure, she’s a brat, but she is Satan’s daughter. What else can we expect? June does not have this excuse.
Oh man, is this show bungling race. June has a new walking partner, a black woman, and we see a black Wife in the prayer circle, but the majority of women of color are Marthas. The Mackenzies’ Martha, who June blows passed on her way to Hannah, is a woman of color, cringing at the brazenness of June’s approach. The Martha who replaces Cora, Sienna, is a woman of color, and it is particularly excruciating when Commander Hipster is torturing her after spilling a glass. “Aren’t Marthas supposed to be clean?” he sneers at her, and the terrified young woman looks down at her dress, now soiled from kneeling to clean up his mess. Cleanliness and the lack thereof is coded racist language. The Martha who dies is also a woman of color, and when June bullies her way into helping the Breaking Bad Martha escape, we see a lot of Marthas, many of them women of color.
The show cannot pretend to be color blind, divorcing itself from the source material (and frankly, from common sense: misogyny and white supremacy go hand and hand. Look no further than the dual madness currently on display in this country: anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies built with cruelty as the point, and an out and out assault on reproductive freedom.) and continue to cast women of color primarily as servants. It does not work.
In my understanding of intersectionality, there has to be an acknowledgement that some women have it worse than others. Women suffer, but historically, white women have had an easier go of it. The show, with its color-blind casting, seems to suggest that the suffering of women will be equal in this fascist state. It refuses to acknowledge all the ways that the main characters are privileged by the skins they live in, the education they received before everything went belly up, the platforms their blonde whiteness afforded them. June is the avatar of every white feminist, and Serena the avatar of the Fox News blonde. I need the show to see what it is doing and reverse course. It won’t, but it should.