Saturday 10 August 2019

The Handmaid’s Tale – I’m proud of you.

The Handmaid’s Tale: 3x12 Sacrifice.

What happens to kind people in Gilead? How can anyone preserve a shred of human dignity in a regime that is built on denying the humanity of fifty percent of its population? 
June’s plan to rescue the children of Gilead is ambitious and grand, so far beyond anything anyone has expected that several people have told her she will die trying. But at every step on the way, her response has been a resounding yes. Baskets and baskets of muffins from the Marthas of the families that harbor stolen children, and another basket even from the cynical young man who bartends at Jezebels and is in contact with the smugglers who pilot the secret planes. Her plan is outrageous, but the amount of support she has for it is overwhelming, and more than any other struggling character on this show has ever received. 
We began this season with Commander Lawrence’s accusation that June is transactional. This was a statement made by a man living with great privilege, a man instrumental in the creation of a world in which it is essential for women to be transactional if they want to survive. We haven’t glanced across the border to see how Emily is coping in democratic Canada in a while, but her struggle to readjust to a normal life has made it clear how far removed from that Gilead is, and how much of a shock the adaptation to Gilead is. June is transactional because she has to be, there is no other way to survive in Gilead, and it is even more necessary when she is trying to accomplish something for the greater good. The thing to remember here is that June is beyond saving Hannah, as she doesn’t even know where her daughter is – the flight she has successfully organised will not include Hannah, nor any of the children beyond the reach of their Martha communication network. June is doing this for the other hurt mothers who have been robbed of their babies, and she is doing it to make Gilead and all the families who have been profiting from this system of institutional rape hurt. 
Also, for the first time in a long time, June got lucky. Commander Lawrence gave her a gun, expecting the forces to roll in at any moment after the death of Winslow, but instead, the ominous approaching of a van, followed by boots on the stairs, is only a group of panicked Commanders, trying to strategize with Joseph about what to do after the Waterfords’ arrest in Canada. Winslow, for now, is only missing, since the women who helped out June at Jezebels have done a good job at getting rid of his body. Voices are calling for war in retaliation for Fred’s arrest, and Lawrence, cautious what a closing of the borders would mean for the transport he has just successfully organised, attempts to cool the tempers. 

Across the border, Fred and Serena are in a holding facility (a luxurious one, like a minimalist hotel with locked doors), Fred raging against what has happened, assuring Serena that Gilead will negotiate for their freedom – until Serena’s pleading with him makes him realise what has actually happened. It’s funny almost how long it takes him, as if he is somehow still underestimating his wife (who, as we’ve been told before, has always been able to out-think and out-write him, at least when she was still allowed to do the latter). Of course all of this is of Serena’s making, and at some point, unobserved, she placed a phone call on that ticking time bomb of a secret phone and traded Fred for Nichole. I wish we knew more about Mark, the man who saw that opportunity the first time he encountered Serena, who recognised her transactional nature and the fact that she wanted so much more out of the whole regime that she created with her thoughts. Fred is on his own now, and Serena gets to see Nichole (Moira and Luke hesitant, but presumably aware of how this solution is better than fearing for Nichole’s life in the negotiations that were happening between Canada and Gilead). I wonder where Serena will go from here – it’s hard to believe she will be satisfied with an occasional visit – and it appears that Mark knows about her potential, since he tries to engage her political mind, trying to gain her trust by showing how seriously he takes her intellect. 

To complete the triptych of women at the centre of Sacrifice, Eleanor Lawrence stands as the example of what Gilead does to women who are inherently incapable of being transactional. Faced with the prospect of children being rescued from a place she considers abhorrent; she can’t make the kind of calculations that June makes. She isn’t capable of being pragmatic about the lives of children, pragmatic the way that June was when she picked who got to live from the women in cages that Joseph showed her. If there is a way to save the children, then all the children must be saved from living in Gilead. Eleanor’s mind makes her believe that this is a common goal, which has a rationality to it – because any kind, rational person must truly recognise how horrible Gilead is, and how essential it is to protect children from living here. But of course Gilead has destroyed any such rationality, has created its own parallel universe of virtues, one that is impossible for Eleanor to navigate. 
She does not understand that there are people she needs to keep secrets from. She raved about saving the children, unaware that this is a secret plan, not one widely shared. And therefore, she becomes a terrible liability, one that is becoming more and more dangerous the closer the departure date is. June knows this, and very probably, Commander Lawrence knows this, but June is the one who walks up to Eleanor’s room and finds that she has taken an overdose of whatever pills she had left, and instead of saving her life, gently closes the door. It’s June’s calculation – the life of one kind woman against that of the 62 children she will fit on the plane – and Gilead is the reason why she has to trade one life for that of many, has to make such an impossible decision. Of all the burdens that June has had to bear, maybe this one will prove the hardest to shake, and one of the questions that arises from Joseph’s accusation is – who will June be, once she manages to leave Gilead behind? It’s Fred’s threat, across the border, when he tries to demonstrate his ridiculous, remaining power to Luke: telling him that the Gilead he helped create has turned June into someone he won’t even recognise once she returns to him. 

Random notes: 

Interested to see where the Waterford plot goes, and what Mark’s intentions are here – he knows exactly how to play this, feeding Fred’s ego by telling him he wants him to explain Gilead to the world (while the other truth is that if Fred goes to the Americans instead of The Hague, he will be executed).

A very nice moment, and I guess maybe the last chance, of bonding between Rita and June over the news of the Waterfords’ arrest. I’ll miss Rita, should there be no place for her in June’s future. 
Moira: You are still the same woman that held down my friend so your husband could rape her. You know, he raped me too. At the whorehouse. Treated me like shit, like I was worthless. Look I am who I am and I have sinned plenty. But you, you are the gender traitor. 
Moira reminding everyone who may feel differently about Serena now what kind of woman she is, and what she has done.  

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