Thursday 17 May 2018

The Handmaid’s Tale – So that happened.

The Handmaid’s Tale: 2x05 Seeds. 

For a show that already started bleakly, and has spent so much time on the misery and violence that Gilead inflicts upon woman, it is terrifying that Seeds manages to go even further than that. After last time, June is without hope – she is attempting, desperately, to be rid of all her edges, to do what Gilead asks her to, to be an empty shell of a human being who is nothing but a carrier for the baby inside of her. Gilead wants its women to be incubators, but once June takes this to its extremes – refusing to engage in conversation, or show any kind of emotion, approval or disapproval, not even Mrs Waterford is happy with her. She is nervous, on edge, attempting to create an experience of a pregnancy that isn’t hers, all the while being observed by Aunt Lydia, who is taking suspicious notes on everything that is happening (the Aunts being one exception to the rule that women cannot write or read). What she ends up doing, out of frustration, or spite, or fear, is trying to get the Commander to get rid of Nick, who she knows is the true father of the child, and who has begun to speak up for June, because nobody else will: except what, for a moment, looks like Nick being transferred somewhere else (when Fred makes that appeal to his boss, we know it won’t end that way, as that same person placed Nick where he is to inform on Commander Waterford, and would have no intention to see him leave). 
What happens instead is more horrifying, as it reveals another side to Gilead. Nick and a few other highly regarded Guardians are married off – to child brides, in a mass marriage, hidden under facial veils. The reveal is horrible – that Gilead would take children, and give them away to its more priced young men, to keep them in line – and Rita’s “so that happened” is the perfect summary of it. It is only a small piece in what is happening to June in this episode, who starts to bleed early into it, somehow in spite of being under constant observation hides it, and then finally collapses – or rather, maybe, jumps – out of a window, when the attention is for a full second away from her, and instead on Nick’s new bride Eden. 
That bride is everything Gilead has been working towards. In an awkward conversation between her and Mrs Waterford, Serena attempts to prepare Eden for marriage, trying to tell her that there can be mutual joy in it – but this girl has been indoctrinated by Gilead, and knows no other world anymore. She is everything Gilead was trying to attempt in removing literacy and history from women’s minds. She believes that lust is a sin, that marriage is solely for the creation of children, that she is subservient to her husband. It’s an interesting moment between Serena, who has been unfulfilled by a marriage that she still wants to be fulfilling, intellectually and physically, and a girl who can’t even imagine anymore that marriage could be between equals. This is the world that Serena helped to build with her own hands, and it’s fairly clear that she is at least partly as horrified about it as we are when watching it. It is also exactly what June fears so much for the child she is carrying, who somehow, miraculously, survives the bleeding and the fall. 
June: Hey, listen to me, Okay? I will not let you grow up in this place. I won’t do it. Do you hear me? They do not own you. And they do not own what you will become. Do you hear me? I’m gonna get you out of here. I’m going to get us out of here. I promise you. I promise.
It’s a full journey, in that regard, from a place of no hope at all to a place of renewed defiance and purpose. It ties in with Emily’s journey, which to me at least was the more emotionally devastating part of this episode. It is absurd to believe that hope could be found in a place like the Colonies that works women to death, that is specifically designed to literally break them apart, into pieces, before granting them an undignified death. Emily hasn’t had hope for a long while, maybe that moment at the airport when she saw her wife and son leave and knew that she would never join them where they were going, and she has replaced that hope and love with pure revenge. But revenge isn’t nourishing, and Emily is someone who by nature nourishes, as she shows when she cares for her fellow inmates to the best of her ability, with kindness and gentleness. Janine, on the other hand, has suffered through similar torture, and yet still holds on stubbornly to her belief that god holds them both in his palms. 

It such a good and unexpected choice that The Handmaid’s Tale would choose to pair these two characters, who have made the greatest journey, with the addition of Moira, on this show. Janine a few months ago was mean and occasionally cruel, lashing out at everyone after losing an eye, incapable of comprehending what was happening to her, until they took away her baby and all of her hopes for the future. And still, somehow, the Janine that arrives at the Colonies and sees the misery there holds on stubbornly to the hope that god is looking out for them, in spite of everything that she sees. And Emily is drawn to her, maybe mainly because she is a familiar face, and tries to genuinely save her, help her survive this inherently unsurvivable place. 
Emily is so trapped in her idea that this is hell that she can barely see the other things that are happening – that two women fell in love there, Kit and Fiona, and are supporting each other unconditionally. They are exactly what Nick reads, after his wedding. They cling to each other even though they both know that their time together is limited, and that the Aunts still have ways of making this worse, for both of them. There is dignity in this kind of love, and in this refusal of a system that doesn’t just hate women, but any kind of true emotion. Janine sees it, and suggests a wedding ceremony, performed by a Rabbi. This ceremony is everything that Nick’s isn’t – it is true, and real, and they are surrounded by people who love and support them. It is all of these things in spite of the fact that Kit doesn’t even last the night, that she dies before their wedding flowers even wilt. 

And here is Emily, raging against Janine’s attempt to find dignity in this place, until she realises that she is right. 
Emily: This place is hell, and covering it up in flowers doesn’t change anything.
Janine: So what, we come here, we work, we die. Kit’s going to die happy, so what’s the problem.
Emily: Gilead took your eye, they took my clit, now we are cows being worked to death, and we’re dressing up the slaughterhouse for them.
Janine: Cows don’t get married.
Janine, in her own special way that is so very far removed from who Emily has been her whole life, insists on their humanity and inherent dignity. It is a refusal of Gilead, but one that takes a radically different shape than Emily’s (the flashbacks of her excursion in the 4WD are a reminder of that, before every episode begins). Emily understands that, in the end, when she fixes up the flowers on Kit’s body. 

Random notes: 

Seeds of hope, seeds of revenge, literal seeds (when Janine takes joy in dandelion, and makes a wish).

It's a good choice that to symbolise June's complete loss of hope, she burns the letters that she is keeping, which once gave her so much hope just because they proved to her that there were so many other voices of women in the same situation, all with a whole world inside of them to share. Maybe the most interesting thing about this adaptation of Margaret Atwood's book (which went with "The" over "A") is that maybe this isn't actually June's tale after all.

Eden is played by Sydney Sweeney from the sadly prematurely cancelled Everything Sucks!

Serena calls the “Prayvaganza” “not one of the Commander’s better efforts” which is as far as Serena goes these days in terms of sick burns. 

It’s interesting that Nick, defiantly chooses to tell the Commander that he hopes that God will grant him a child of his own, only to find June’s body moments later. I suppose at this point and through Serena’s very deliberate hints, he knows that Nick is the father of the Son that Aunt Lydia has promised. 

At this point in time I care mostly about Janine and Emily somehow getting out of this story alive, but I know how thin the chances for that are. We don’t even really know where the Colonies are – they look like a flyover state, but could really be anywhere. 

I cried when the Rabbi recited the Mourner’s Kaddish over Kit’s body. 

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