Sunday 7 July 2019

The Handmaid’s Tale – I think we’re good.

The Handmaid's Tale: 3x07 Under His Eye.
That's where the pain comes in
Like a second skeleton
Trying to fit beneath the skin
I can't fit the feelings in, no
Every single night's alight with my brain

Slowly, the focus of this season is zeroing in on June’s responsibilities beyond her two daughters. At least for this one story line, the question becomes about culpability, and how much she should be willing to sacrifice to get her other daughter Hannah, and eventually, herself, to safety. It’s a potent question because it has long gone beyond what June is willing to sacrifice on her own – because she has somehow come into power within Gilead, it is now about who else she is willing to sacrifice, and how many other lives she is willing to give for Hannah’s safety. In this particular episode, the theme carries over beyond the border, where Emily (incapable of communicating to her wife Sylvia what she has had to do to gain her freedom and preserve her sanity) and Moira talk about the horrible things they have done in Gilead, and what that may say about who they are now, or what it means that they haven’t killed anyone since leaving (what does it mean to be someone who survives fascism and then has to adept in a non-fascist society?). Both June and Emily are coming to terms with who they have to be in an extreme situation, and it’s a serious question, because there’s a good chance that Emily’s freedom, so hardly won, is only temporary. 

Two movements, in a way, towards each other: In Gilead, the regime is cracking down, to the extent that the horrible ceremony of Handmaids towing the rope that hangs the traitors has become a day-to-day activity, so trivial that the girls seem to be used to it by now. It’s a daily chore, like shopping, to be asked to participate in the killing of Marthas, other Handmaids and Guardians. It makes everyone suspect, everyone responsible, and more than that, it creates a normalcy around death that is truly horrifying. Outside of Gilead, Commander Waterford and his new friend, High Commander Winslow, are making progress towards an extradition treaty with Canada that could have swiping consequences for the refugee community that has come together in Little America across the border. It doesn’t just lead towards Serena, imagining the Washington mansion (a creepy leftover from the ascent of Gilead, abandoned by its Baptist owner in a hurry, with shoes lined up at the door) filled with children that include Nichole, but also to Emily, being asked questions about the “crimes” she committed before fleeing Gilead by the same Swedish negotiator that was speaking to June a while ago. As expected, Canada as a safe haven is a mirage, because Gilead is politically and militarily powerful enough to extend its reach beyond its borders. And when Moira, after unsuccessfully trying to prove that all Massachusetts lesbians must have at least one Shane in common, convinces Emily to take part in her political protest, Emily becomes politically inconvenient for Canada as well, like a sore or a constant reminder of the fact that it isn’t living up to its great humanitarian promise at all, but pragmatically playing both sides. Bad things ahead all around, clearly, because there can be no hope in The Handmaid’s Tale, and who could possibly be optimistic about the fate of political refugees in 2019. 

At the same time as High Commander Winslow suggests to Fred that Nichole across the border is politically more potent than back in Gilead, and that Serena pins all her hope for the future of Gilead, a power move to DC, and a renewed marriage, on Nichole’s return, June is making her own choices and trades. She sees an opening to meet up with Hannah, to ask her what she wants to do, now that Commander Lawrence has opened a window to freedom for them. With the help of the Mackenzie’s Martha, she finds a time and a place at Hannah’s school, but the plan is thwarted when there is nobody to safely take her there. In the end, because she has no other options and is afraid of the tightened security, she convinces Mrs Lawrence to take a stroll with her, a project that goes sideways almost as soon as the two hit the pavement. It becomes clear how isolated Mrs Lawrence has lived the past few years, and she proves almost incapable to act normally when they run into Mrs Putnam and her stolen baby. She later confides in June that she is taking medication – for some undisclosed mental illness that looks a lot like severe depression – and that presumably, Commander Lawrence decided that they shouldn’t have children of their own. June sees that Mrs Lawrence becomes a more radiant person out there, speaking to someone else, not locked away in the house, but she doesn’t realise how volatile her mental state is, and when she is locked outside the gates of Hannah’s school and Mrs Lawrence starts to panic, and obsessively asks about seeing the children, they come close to catastrophe. That is averted, but it’s the first sign that June is all-too-willing to endanger the lives of other women for her own gain (and perhaps, rightly so). Even worse – later on, the next execution she is asked to be part of includes the Mackenzie’s Martha, her only connection to her daughter (someone says that the Mackenzies have disappeared), and after having doomed this woman to her death, her walking partner admits that she informed Aunt Lydia of their secret meetings to protect June. It is a misguided care, one with terrible consequences, and June almost blows up all of her hope for a future when she shows her rage. It’s good that in this moment at least she has the other Handmaids to shield her. 

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