Under the Eye: “The Word”

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Say the word and you’ll be free
Say the word and be like me
Say the word I’m thinking of
Have you heard the word is love?

It’s so fine, it’s sunshine
It’s the word, love

In the beginning I misunderstood
But now I’ve got it, the word is good

Martha Rita didn’t have a kind word for Eden. She treated her like shit. June slept with Eden’s husband. Eden won’t be remembered. Her remains will be fed to animals. Her clothes will be burned. She’ll only be permitted to vanish. In June’s Gilead, women are classified only by their respective functions (wife, Martha, handmaid, slave, prisoner). June brings Serena Eden’s Bible, shows her that Eden had been reading, studying, and annotating her Bible. Serena tells June that Eden was wrong and sinned. June shouts at Serena that Nichole will grow up in a world where she will be forbidden from reading the Word of God. In another part of the house, Eden’s father apologizes to Nick for her behavior. “We tried to put her on the path to God,” he says. As it happened, her own parents dropped the dime on her, so to speak. Fred seems pleased with this development. June has already sewn some seeds of doubt with Serena, but she presses her luck with Fred, asking him what he will do when they come for his daughter. He smacks her hard across her face. This fills her with righteous rage. She turns around and smacks him hard in the face. He grabs her and tells her, “The mouth of a woman is a deep pit.” You know, Fred might actually be evil. Fred might be yet another cog of evil in the machinery of Gilead. It occurs to me that the hostility toward women isn’t based in any religion, but a deep-seated psychological hatred, and I will point out that a hatred of women is not necessarily a form of sexism or even dogma. There may be some deeper psychological issues at play here. When Rita sees Nick and June holding their baby, she puts two and two together. How long did it take for her to process this information? I think Rita has finally decided to become a hero.

THT213 Fred

Spread the word and you’ll be free
Spread the word and be like me
Spread the word I’m thinking of
Have you heard the word is love?

It’s so fine, it’s sunshine
It’s the word, love

Every where I go I hear it said
In the good and bad books that I have read

Next, we have handmaids talking without any Guardian supervision. This is new. Janine has been officially broken. I guess it was that last hit from Isaac. She doesn’t seem to understand that two young people were killed for no reason, that they were drowned for trying to run away together. Emily tells June her first Ceremony is scheduled for this night with Commander Lawrence and his wife. Emily is thinking about her son, who would be seven years old right now in Canada. At Commander Putnam’s house, Serena and Naomi gossip, but the gossip leads to a discussion. Serena advances the idea of worrying for their children’s future. “We want to give our children the best life they can have.” You know, before they are beaten, raped, mutilated, drowned, shot, or put on the wall. I mean, hey, you can’t have it all! Emily prepares for her Ceremony. Lawrence is blaring rock music all throughout the house. I don’t know if I’ve made mention of this before, but I believe the Commanders who are held in the highest esteem are given the nicest houses. Isn’t that interesting? Putnam’s house is big, gorgeous, and sunny. Waterford’s house is smaller (still big), but darker. Lawrence’s house is a disheveled mess, dark and confined. Lawrence lives like a master of war. This is a character I don’t understand. He’s pissy and he doesn’t care who knows it. He has a sense of humor. It’s unsettling. The Ceremony comes and goes, and nothing happens. The next day, Serena speaks at an open council meeting. She tries logic on the group of snickering men. She brings in the Commander’s wives. They stand behind her. Serena wants the children to learn to read. New law I just made up! Wives are to be kicked in the stomach twice a week from now on! Uh-oh. Serena is reading! Heresy! Off with her head! Some of the wives start leaving as she reads.* Fucking cowards. “You’ve given us a lot to consider,” Fred tells the assembled wives.

THT213 Serena and Naomi

Say the word and you’ll be free
Say the word and be like me
Say the word I’m thinking of
Have you heard the word is love?

It’s so fine, it’s sunshine
It’s the word, love

Now that I know what I feel must be right
I’m here to show everybody the light

Serena tells Fred she did it for Nichole. A couple of Guardians take her away. Nice place, huh? At the Lawrence household, Aunt Lydia visits Emily. Lawrence lied to Lydia, telling her the Ceremony went swimmingly. When she sees that Emily is uncommunicative, she turns her back on her and leaves. Emily grabs a steak knife she has stolen from the kitchen and stabs Lydia in the back, sending her tumbling down the stairs. Emily calmly follows her down the stairs and kicks her repeatedly, sending her down the rest of the way. Lawrence’s one-eyed Martha sees this, and puts Emily in a room, and tells Lawrence to call for an ambulance. Emily laughs with glee, and then she becomes afraid. When Serena returns later that night, June sees that her little finger is gone; chopped off. “We had a difficult day,” Fred tells her, “but all will be well.” Well now! If I remember my Gilead history correctly, Serena wrote a book, and that book became popular with a certain sub-section of the population, and here she is minus a little finger. It’s okay. She can still knit! Just sayin’. This is June’s fault. This is what June does. June is explicitly not a hero. Everything she has done has been in service to her survival. She does not sacrifice. She is the vessel for everyone else. Emily, Rita, Nick, even Janine early on were the conveyors of resistance. June is the Charlie Brown or the Pooh, witness and observer of the world around her; the non-reactive substance. The canvas, upon which the true heroes and villains paint their landscapes. Fred tells June that Serena needed to be reminded of her station. “God, send me an obedient woman,” Fred prays. I feel a righteous anger rising up in these women. Fred starts bargaining with June. He tells her she could stay with them. June tells Fred to go fuck himself.

THT213 June

Give the word a chance to say
That the word is just the way
It’s the word I’m thinking of
And the only word is love

It’s so fine, it’s sunshine
It’s the word, love

Say the word love
Say the word love
Say the word love
Say the word love**

Imagine being Emily for a minute. Alone in a dark room, not knowing what future has been written for her. Lawrence enters the room and says, “What are we gonna do with you?” He puts Emily in his car and they drive off. He turns on some Annie Lennox. Walking on, walking on broken glass… Emily cries in the backseat. Lawrence is really digging the song. She asks him to turn off the music. Emily doesn’t like Annie Lennox, so this is like torture for her. So, this week the show hates women! Over at the Waterford house, a bunch of fires are being set to distract from Rita’s plan to get June and the baby out of the house. Good for you, Rita! Suddenly we have developments. Apparently this was a coordinated effort by the Marthas. June is flying out the door when she runs into Serena and permits a tearful goodbye between her and her non-daughter. We’re spoon-fed the drama in small doses for the remaining twenty minutes of the season. Fred is oblivious to what’s going on. He rushes to Offred’s room and finds nothing but a handwritten message on the wall: “Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum” loosely translated as, “Don’t let the bastards grind you down,” or even more loosely, “Go fuck your mother, Fred!” Unfortunately, everyone anticipating June’s escape should know this is a television show, and we can’t have our lead character ride off into the wild blue yonder. Meanwhile, Lawrence has arranged for Emily to escape Gilead. To fill out the running time, beautiful flashback shots of June and Hannah are wedged into shots of June hooking up with Emily, giving Emily the baby, telling Emily to call the baby Nichole, and then finally turning around and re-entering her handmaid life (set to the strains of “Burning Down the House”) as Emily and the baby escape in a truck. What?! Because it’s not a solid win if she can’t get Hannah out of Gilead? I’ve said it before. So much more could be accomplished in Canada if June was not encumbered by the restrictions placed on her life. She could plan surgical strikes and rescue operations, but no … June is not a hero. I don’t even think she’s expected to be a hero. She might be a well-rounded female character brought to life by a decent performance, but I wouldn’t call her a strong female character. Oddly, on this show, she’s defined only by her motherhood.

*I don’t know if anybody caught on to the fact that Serena was not actually reading from the Bible. She held the open book in her hands, but her eyes never met the pages. She was reciting verses from the book, not reading them. Hence, no law was broken. The idea was the crime.

**John Lennon/Paul McCartney. “The Word.” 1965. Rubber Soul. Parlophone Records Limited, 1965. Capitol Records Inc., 1965

That about does it for season two.  I’ll be back in a few weeks to cover the original movie, The Handmaid’s Tale from 1990 starring the late Natasha Richardson, Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall, and Aidan Quinn.  Thanks for reading!

Under the Eye: “Postpartum”

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“Out for a drive. To go into labor. Then deliver in an empty house. I can’t bear to think what might’ve happened if those neighbors hadn’t found you.”

Aunt Lydia, explaining Offred’s disappearance.

This is Gilead Rumor Control (Fake News Department). No, Offred was not abducted. Offred did not flee. Offred did not try to escape. She was not abandoned. She was “out for a drive” by herself, even though I’m pretty sure women are not permitted to drive cars, certainly not handmaids. She was forced to have her baby without the assistance of our do-nothing health care professionals, wives, and Marthas. Everything is fine! Just forget it ever happened! There was also a wolf. (drop page) Hard-reset. This time, the drama is based or set (sort-of) around the character of Eden. I had no idea where we were supposed to go with Eden, but she may have been required to fill out the purchase of additional episodes for Hulu. She was added for ballast, but … to me, her death was meaningless because her character was meaningless. She was created and shoe-horned into an episode to set up the “child-bride” theme in Nick’s subplot. This should have served the dual purpose of reinforcing Nick’s love for June (which is also meaningless) in his somewhat cruel indifference to her as his wife, and showing us Eden’s indoctrination and Gilead programming (also meaningless because most of the characters behave this way). It didn’t. A better actor could have made her a better character, and I find it hard to believe she was created to be killed in a smattering of episodes where she’s never given any focus, and instead creates another easy escape route for the writers to avoid story progression. The reality, I think, is that the writers sensed she was a weak substitute for an evil-twin-June and needed to get rid of her so that she would be unavailable to assist June in her ultimate escape, hence Eden’s death is just a set-back for June. This was a very sloppy, clumsily mishandled excuse for a story-arc.

THT212 Serena

Holly is given the slave-name (don’t kid yourself, that’s what it is) “Nichole.” June is separated from her, yet is forced to provide milk, but she isn’t producing very much. Serena marvels and delights at the daughter who is not hers, and Nick hangs a new portrait-sized photograph of Fred, Serena, and Nichole on Fred’s office wall. Eden holds the new addition while Serena tells her it’s worth all the hard work and effort to become a “mother.” Whose hard work? Whose effort? Offred is taken to an empty church where Fred presents her with the baby in the hope she’ll lactate and produce more milk. I’ve heard of this theory. It’s part folk-medicine and part old wives’ tale, but we see it happening before our eyes. Nichole starts crying and Offred starts leaking. Okay. I didn’t know it was that easy. We had such a hard time with our daughter, I guess we just needed to make her cry. Serena is, once again, livid, shrieking at the thought that her child was touched in any way by Offred. Why is she so horrible? Could you imagine living with this woman? Even Fred can’t tolerate her. In the previous episode, Serena feared they would both end up on “the wall” for losing June, and Fred bemoaned the idea that he would spend eternity hanging next to her (a hilarious line I neglected to mention). Aunt Lydia takes Emily to her next posting (after reminding her that four other families turned her down — is this like a job or something?) at the Lawrence household, ruled by the great Bradley Whitford. Whitford’s a rare type in these circumstances. I think the writers gave him license to improvise around his dialogue, which makes the situation somewhat refreshing. He bitches incessantly at his one-eyed Martha. He doesn’t stand on ceremony with anybody, and he’s almost likable. Emily meets his loopy wife who tells her Lawrence was the architect, the Albert Speer (if you will) of the “Colonies.” Was this really the most ideal posting for Emily?

THT212 Emily

Eden and June have an interesting conversation in the kitchen. It starts off with Eden asking June if it hurts to have babies, and ends with June telling Eden she should grab love wherever she can. Blessed be. Nick and June share a moment as the true mother and father of the baby. He tells her they should run away and start over. Problem is there’s no place to go. Another problem is Luke, but I guess we’re not going there. She tells Nick she named the baby Holly after her mother. Fred interrupts to tell Nick Guardian Isaac never showed up for work. It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out what’s happened. All this “rancor” is upsetting baby Nichole, so Serena tries to breast-feed her. Um, what? Nichole doesn’t like her “Mother’s” breast. Score one for Offred, I guess. Offred finds some of baby Holly’s clothes and smells them. For a show about reproductive rights, The Handmaid’s Tale sure loves babies. It turns out Eden (taking June’s advice) has run off with Guardian Isaac. Fred is shocked to discover June was hiding the whole time in the attic in the previous episode. Why is he shocked? Does he not know what he is? If Fred had lived in our Country for any length of time (which I assume he did, I assume he was born here), he would have to look at himself as America would look at him. He would see himself as a terrorist, an enemy of the State, an interloper, an infidel. He would know he did not create our infrastructure. He would know he did not construct the magnificent home he has stolen and is now occupying (as all of the Commanders have). He would know that Gilead is a very loose association of thieves occupying parts of America and terrorizing it’s own citizenry. If he knows all of this, and can still live with that knowledge, then he must spend an enormous amount of time lying to himself and convincing himself (in a dangerous way) that he is some kind of hero or messiah for the cause of Gilead.

THT212 Execution

Lawrence sits Emily down for a little drink and a little talk. He’s done his homework. He knows all about her life in the before-time as well as her recent transgressions. He tries to engage her in debate, and as smart as Emily is, she does twist the knife, but it’s obvious (at least to me) that Lawrence has been driven half-mad by the great ideas he had when he helped plan for Gilead’s future. I wonder if Speer felt the same way. The Martha Rita wakes Offred in the middle of the night to tell her they found Guardian Isaac and Eden. Nick advises Eden to lie, to say that Isaac abducted her, or that she sinned and she’s sorry, or beg for forgiveness. Eden doesn’t want to lie. This is partially Nick’s fault for driving her away. It’s also June’s fault. Eden is a 15-year-old girl. She has no idea what is going on, only that she wants to love who she wants to love. In keeping with the policy of the series to show newer, fresher ways to execute people, Isaac and Eden are pushed off a platform above a swimming pool with weights chained to their ankles, drowning them. We started with the hanging-by-crane, we had the aftermath of the massacre with machine guns and hangings at the Boston Globe, the fake-out mass hangings at Fenway, the head-shot at the airstrip, and now we have drowning! What’s next? Burning at the stake? High cholesterol? Instead of pleading for mercy, Eden twists her own kind of knife, reciting Corinthians: “Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy. It does not boast. It does not dishonor others.”* All of this happens while Eden’s parents, June, Fred, and Serena look on. Great place, huh? Later, Offred tries to comfort Nick, but he wanders off. Max Minghella does well when he doesn’t have to carry much emotional weight, but he fails here because he does not behave as a mourning man, or a widower. Instead, he acts like he got the lowest score on Metroid. Eden doesn’t fair much better. She was just a stupid 15-year-old girl who never got a chance to grow up.

*1 Corinthians 13:4-8 NIV. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

You don’t have to be a Christian to understand that.

Under the Eye: “Holly”

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Previously on As Gilead Turns … when we last left June, she was trapped in an enormous, vacant house after a tearful reunion with her daughter, Hannah, and Nick was arrested and taken into custody. Will Luke admit that Nick loves June? Like sands in the hourglass … these are the Handmaids of our Lives … There was some speculation going around that the producers of The Handmaid’s Tale received a commitment for ten episodes (same as the previous year), but then Hulu asked for an additional three, which puts us now at episode eleven in this series. The problem is that when the Network asks for more episodes, they’re required to put up the money to produce those episodes. “Holly” is obviously (somewhat painfully) a “filler” episode, shot very quickly, utilizing the location from “The Last Ceremony,” with three speaking parts and a celebrity cameo. Because the producers didn’t have a plan for the additional episode order, “Holly” becomes a tedious, minimalist exercise in “survival.” This is also when I notice that fans are becoming impatient with the show’s structure; to such a degree that they begin to question everything that had happened up to this point. We need a firm, bedrock foundation for a beginning, a balanced middle with action and conflict, and a satisfying resolution, and we have yet to see that. This can be maddening when we take into account the fact that the producers want this show to go on for ten years, and I don’t know if I can keep looking at Elisabeth Moss’ anguished face for ten freaking years.

THT211 House

The problem in “Holly” is June’s contractions. It’s obvious the baby is ready to be born, but with June trapped at this beautiful mansion, she can’t leave. She has a golden opportunity to flee, but the writer(s) won’t let her. Worse yet, she spots a wolf emerging from the woods giving her the “stink eye.” All we need are a wake of buzzards circling high overhead to complete the effect. She goes back into the house and starts looking around for anything she can use. This is an incredible house. I’d love to live here, but it’s gotta be a bitch to heat! She can’t find anything, but then again, she’s not looking under the white sheets that cover all of the furniture. She makes it to Hannah’s bedroom and stops to ponder her stolen child’s existence in this house. Like I said, it’s a nice house and this must be a step-up from the cramped apartment she shared with June and Luke. She flashes on what I presume is Hannah’s first day at school. Hannah doesn’t want to go to school, and June doesn’t want to let go of her. I felt the same way when my daughter started going to school. As a parent, it’s like you don’t want your kids to grow up. You want them to stay frozen in innocence for the rest of their lives, but still learn discipline and responsibility. June finds the keys to the garage. The car, a 1975 Camaro (with awesome racing stripes) is hidden under a white sheet. June gets in, turns on the radio, and hears a disc jockey (Oprah Winfrey) give the skinny on the growing conflict between Gilead and the rest of the world. She says, “stars and stripes forever, baby,” which makes June smile, before launching into Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart.”

THT211 Shotgun Blues

It seems June has a means of escape, so she looks for supplies. She finds a coat, looks at herself in a mirror and, for some reason, flashes on getting ready for a social function with Luke. I’m starting to hate these flashbacks. As with Lost, they become a crutch when the writer can’t think of anything else to offer. June hears a vehicle approaching the house. She hides. Fred and Serena charge into the house and call for Offred, Nick, or Commander and Mrs. Mackenzie (Hannah’s adopted parents). Serena is livid, probably because she has to know Offred is hiding somewhere. Fred wants to get the hell out of there. June finds a shotgun with shells and squirrels herself away. Serena moves from room-to-room. She sees Offred’s handmaid uniform. This is so stupid. Are you really going to be this loud and announce your presence considering how sneaky Offred/June can be. Why didn’t they coast quietly up to the outlying edge of the property and sneak stealthily into the house so that they could catch her? They argue about the rape, and Fred tells Serena the rape was “her idea!” This is amazing to me. “I gave up everything for you,” Serena tells Fred, “and I only ever wanted one thing in return — a baby.” These people are psychotic, and yet, they run the show, don’t they? They argue at the bottom of a stairway landing as June watches them. She trains the gun on them, BUT SHE DOESN’T FIRE! Fred and Serena leave the house and drive off! Are you kidding me? I’ll tell you what I would’ve done in a minute.* For now, June is about to have her baby.

THT211 Baby

Flashback time! June’s mother, Holly (Cherry Jones) takes her and Moira on a tour of a “birthing facility.” She doesn’t want her granddaughter to be born in a hospital citing disease and infection rates. This woman’s a doctor? June wants to have the baby in a hospital. And now for the most frustrating scene in the entire series. June enters the garage, tries to get the door open, but it’s frozen shut. She gets into the car, revs up the engine and tries to force the door. It’s frozen shut. We know she has the capacity to make fire, and there is water. Barring setting fire to the garage door, she could pour boiling water to melt the ice. Or look for salt. Instead, she grabs a shovel and tries to dig her way out, but nothing doing. She slips on the ice and falls. The wolf shows up again to say “howdy.” He looks hungry. June feels the baby coming as she stares down the wolf. The wolf howls. This would be brilliant in any other television show. Here, it’s only a faint reminder of neglected premises and forgotten possibilities. She stumbles outside with her gun and fires into the air to get attention. None is forthcoming, so she goes back inside. Of course, she flashes on having Hannah as she is self-delivering this new baby by a roaring fire. This is some serious next-level natural child-birthing. I can only guess this is how vegans would want to have their babies. It’s an excruciating scene and Moss makes it look real, but it goes on way too long. She screams by the fire-light and the baby comes out. June is a blood-covered mess by episode’s end as a car’s headlights are seen coming up the driveway. June names the baby Holly.

THT211 Wolf

*Remember the wolf? Okay. Fred and Serena enter the house, of course shouting at each other like idiots. June tucks herself away in the attic. She makes as much noise as she can so Fred and Serena will hear her. They come up to the attic one after the other. Serena enters first. June shoots her in the stomach. Fred rushes in. June shoots him in the head or neck as he rushes to Serena’s aid. June gets up, drags Serena’s body down to the first floor creating a trail of fresh blood for Mr. Wolf. She opens the front door and moves Serena’s body outside, positioned between the woods and the open front door and the hungry wolf. She grabs Fred’s keys and drives off in the vehicle. Cut to black and needle-drop Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart.” That’s what I would’ve done.

Under the Eye: “The Last Ceremony”

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Previously on As Gilead TurnsIf you want rape, this is the episode that has lots of rape! We’ve drifted away from the Ceremony, but now we’re back in full force. We start with Emily, who gets into “crash position” with an old Commander and his wife. He thrusts in slow-motion. He looks like a mannequin, betraying no emotional conceit. This is like whip-stocking, or forcing cattle to breed by means of dangerous looking contraptions and gloved hands. The Commander collapses in mid-rape. The wife runs out of the room, hysterical. Emily stands over the Commander and kicks him repeatedly. I believe it was around this time that I became frustrated at observing what seemed like an extended “snuff” movie being played out on my television week after week. I came to the conclusion (my “come to Jesus moment,” if you will) that we, the viewers, were the handmaids to the disturbing desires of the writers (the Commanders in this scenario). That we were the victims of torture and rape in having to share the misery of the central characters. There was one of two reactions from viewers. Disgust or exultation. It’s strange to consider but the second reaction could be attributed to a form of Stockholm Syndrome. As I questioned and pondered the motivation (or lack thereof) of Offred/June, I was ridiculed and attacked by “true believers,” the people who go with everything the story tells them. They began sharing stories of abuse and molestation. I tried to tell these people the show was being manufactured by people who do not understand abuse and it’s psychological implications (among other items). The show is not the real world.

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This is emblematic of the responses I’ve gotten:*

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This is where we’ve gone (as a people) and what we’ve come to.  I pray one day people will wake from their very long, very deep slumber and embrace reason and logic.  It’s just a television show.  Sorry.  This is turning into a speech.

June begins to have painful contractions, and because only “selective” science is utilized, it’s time to make preparations for the new arrival. Fred breaks out the cigars for his fellow Commanders, among them a Black Commander, which effectively eliminates the racist undertones of Atwood’s book. According to the book, Blacks were sent “back to Africa” by means of boats. Apparently, Margaret Atwood cannot tell one black person from another, but that’s none of my business. After a few hours of Serena pretending to experience labor with the other wives, Lydia announces “false labor pains” and our little get-together ends. An impatient Serena asks the Doctor (Orphan Black’s Kristian Bruun) to induce labor. He doesn’t advise inducing labor under these circumstances. The baby is healthy, just not ready to be born. Lydia suggest a certain tea. Serena scoffs at this. The hatred has returned to Serena’s face. Offred, the worker, dares to exist in her house, fertile and always able to carry babies. She has no place in Queen Serena’s hive. Offred tries to appeal to Fred that she should be moved closer to her daughter, Hannah. Either she implies or Fred picks up on the idea that the child she carries is not his. When June** tells him he’ll never truly know what it means to be a father, Fred is filled with rage. It’s almost as if Fred and Serena are being held hostage by this pregnant woman, so they decide to take action. With Serena holding her down, Fred rapes her, and I mean this is a serious rape, with the kicking and the screaming. They seem to think that intercourse (or rape, depending on who you ask) is the most natural way to induce labor.

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I don’t know what I find more disturbing about the scene. The ideas presented by Fred and Serena or that nearly everyone I discussed the scene with advocated for the idea that “intercourse” is a proven method of inducing labor. It’s a disgusting scene I cannot watch. In fact, as I write this, I have the program muted. From what I understand, it’s an old wives’ tale, an old-fashioned “midwife” philosophy. I tried to explain that there is no medical science or even Biblical passage that claims intercourse (forced or not) will somehow induce labor. I don’t know where they (either Gilead or the writer) get their information. Unless it’s just another reason to hate Gilead and Fred. I really didn’t need more of that. It was a completely tasteless, terrible scene executed with no subtlety or tact, and then lacking credibility on any level. No doctor I have ever known (including my Mother) has ever recommended this, nor have I ever heard of it. Perhaps the writer knows a lunatic down the street who said something about it. I would gather anybody in medical science would say this sounds extremely dubious and incredibly dangerous. I’m desperately grasping at logic straws to find some justification, but I can’t, because all of this is absolute bat-shit and it makes me angry. Later, Eden meets up with Guardian Isaac and they share a kiss in the garden as Nick watches them. They have it out in Nick’s Fonzie style apartment. Eden begs forgiveness. Nick tells her, “don’t worry about it.” Eden wants to know why Nick is so distant. You’re a 15-year-old girl, Eden! I beg of you to get a clue. Instead of figuring it out for herself, she turns it around on Nick, accusing him of being in love with June. Oh, Eden. I think we’ve found a character to rival one-eyed batshit-crazy Janine’s stupidity.

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Perhaps out of guilt (though I’m not entirely sure), Fred arranges for June to see her daughter, Hannah. Nick drives her up to a big house in a rural area covered with snow. Inside the house, the furniture is covered with white sheets and it looks as though the occupants are moving. When she sees Hannah, she’s overcome with emotion, and this is one of the few moments Elisabeth Moss earns as an actress on this show. Most of her performances can be summed up as moments where she stares menacingly either into the camera or off to the side as though she’s contemplating a china cup resting on a saucer as ominous music or an inappropriate needle-dropped song plays. Here, she earns it. Hannah has the temerity to ask June why she didn’t try harder to rescue her. Shut up, kid. Before they take Hannah away, June tells her to “enjoy her life.” What? Enjoy your life? This “enjoy life” shit really irritated me. I would’ve whispered to her, “Do you know where they keep the knives? Okay, I want you to get up in the middle of the night, grab a knife and start stabbing people and then run like hell, maybe get that nice lady to help you? Stab as many people as you can. You have Mommy’s permission. Because this, Hannah, is not life. This is a slow death. Best to gun it when you’re running on fumes, okay?” I’m a father myself. I have a daughter and I would tell her to fight. I would tell my wife to fight. I would tell anyone who meant anything to me (and a few who don’t) to fight. To always fight. Putting up with this nonsense instead of fighting back is what led to Gilead. We don’t know anything of June as a true mother (the flashbacks don’t help), and based on Luke’s capabilities, it’s a miracle he’s alive at all. I wonder if any of the writers are parents. I wonder if they understand they’ve created deliberately helpless characters.

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So they take Hannah away, speeding off in a jeep as June cries and clutches Nick. This is a nice moment. Just then, a vehicle comes up the long driveway. Nick takes June inside and tells her to hide. Two Guardians appear and place Nick under arrest. I assume this trip was unauthorized and Nick’s not supposed to be at this house. Isn’t that on Fred? They take him away leaving June alone in the house. This is why I keep watching The Handmaid’s Tale.

* It’s very interesting for me to consider the enormous amount of antipathy my reactions to the episode caused among “fans.” I had likened it to the groups of Christians who would assemble for the live reenactments of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Onlookers seemed delighted at the torture and death of a religious figure, just as fans of the The Handmaid’s Tale seem to delight in June’s torture for the benefit of a television story.

** The diligent reader will observe I sometimes refer to the main character as June, and sometimes I refer to her as Offred. This is because I view her as two people. When she is Offred, she is the dutiful, disciplined handmaid. When she is June, she is thinking, fighting, or exercising self-determination. I know it can get confusing, but we should always remember that these characters are two halves of a whole.

Under the Eye: “Smart Power”

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O Canada!
Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!
From far and wide, O Canada,
We stand on guard for thee.

I open the review with that little ditty because Fred and Serena (with Nick) are bound for the Land of the Rising Maple Leaf for … I don’t know, some kind of diplomatic mission? Maybe they’re selling Gilead Chocolate. You know, I hear Gilead Chocolate is the best chocolate. Serena is crestfallen after the beating she took in the previous episode. She can’t drum up the enthusiasm she once had for her perfect world. Fred wants to show off his wife to the Canadians. He wants to show them the “strong Gilead woman.” Eden, being her sweet and clueless self, gives Nick cookies to take with him on his trip. She behaves like a 15-year-old’s fantasy of a good wife. Nick continues to keep his distance from her. He might even appear cold to her. Eden doesn’t understand how wrong and psychotic all of this is, but she is 15 years old, for crying out loud. Before Serena leaves, she utters a little prayer for the baby’s health and then tells Offred she will be leaving after the baby is born. No nursing. No quality time. No singing. Just get the hell out of here. These contradictions make me crazy. You’re raped and made pregnant with said rape-baby, but then you have motherly impulses and affection for the rape-baby; these handmaids want to have it all, don’t they? If you’re a progressive woman in 2018, you scream for reproductive rights, but then you are forced to carry a child for whom you’re not permitted to care, and then you develop a maternal bond with that child. In Canada, Moira identifies Fred coming off the airplane. She and Luke demand his arrest at the Consulate office. Her American representative tells them she can do nothing; that they are guests in this Country and have to abide by Canada’s laws. Talk about a smack in the face!

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Fred and Serena meet with Canadian officials. One of them makes a point of telling Fred he enjoyed visiting the States way back in the before-time with his husband. Oooh, burn! Serena is given a schedule of cultural activities. It’s just a piece of paper with pictures on it (because women aren’t allowed to read, you see) but the schedule exists as not only a reminder of Serena’s station, but also an acknowledgement of Gilead’s “culture.” I’m aware of the irony that our Nation has dealings with other cultures who subject their citizens to unspeakable horrors, so perhaps this is the episode writer’s observation of that contradiction. Later, while walking with Janine, Offred lets it slip that she will be required to leave the house when the baby is born. This, understandably, freaks Janine out, and when she tells the Guardian Isaac to “suck her dick,” after he calls her an “unwoman,” he slams her in the face with the butt of his machine gun. This is a nice place, isn’t it? In Canada, the “normies” are freaked out by Serena, and because we live in an identity-based society, everything that Serena “represents” is everything Serena is. Serena goes to the bar and orders a drink. An unshaven man approaches her and, in short order, reveals himself to be an operative working for the American government. They make some flirty small-talk until he puts his cards on the table. He gives Serena the opportunity to defect provided she write of her experience as a Commander’s wife. She tells him Gilead is her home and she could never leave. What’s this, a week after she was whipped by her husband? He tries to talk some sense to her, but she isn’t having it. Gilead is a cult, after all.

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Meanwhile, back at the cult, Isaac and Offred return home. Offred notices there is a sexual tension between Isaac and Eden. They like each other, but because we’ve made Isaac a bad guy by beating down Janine for no reason (and it was Offred’s fault), Isaac can show or manifest nothing but a hulking-bully presence in the kitchen when Eden feeds him strawberries. At a protest outside of the hotel where the Waterfords are staying, Luke holds up a large picture of himself, June, and Hannah. He shouts at Fred as he gets into his car, calling him a rapist. Fred tells Luke he’s the victim of misinformation. No, no, no silly boy, Gilead is a good place! Luke tries to attack Fred but is restrained by security people. Good for you, Luke! Nick catches up with Luke at a bar. He tells Luke that June is his “friend.” A friend with benefits, but we won’t get into that. He tells Luke that June is pregnant by Waterford. Well, sort of. You know how it goes. He’s not going to mention his contribution because he doesn’t want his ass handed to him. Instead, he gives Luke the letters he was able to save when June tried to burn them. I begin to suspect Luke might be a “beta.” He takes no action. If it were me (in my idealized nature) I would be planning a rescue. I would put myself inside Gilead with fake credentials, armed to the teeth, and leave a trail of bodies right up to June’s door, or I would die trying. Luke does nothing. In Gilead, June successfully manipulates Aunt Lydia. She asks her to become the baby’s godmother, under the presumption that her life will be marred by violence and that the baby will need to be protected. Whether or not Lydia agrees to this, she gets the message. Well-played, June, well-played.

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Luke, Moira, and Erin go through the letters, reading stories of atrocity. They already knew about this. In fact, I’ll wager the whole world knows about this, so why are they shocked and appalled? Moira even echoes my complaint from last season’s episode, “Night.” Letters? Letters! That’s what this was about? That’s why she risked her life? You don’t win wars with letters. You win wars with bombs. That’s how Gilead played it, and they won. The letters are publicized and all hell breaks loose, so to speak. The letters become little bombs, of a sort. Fred and Serena are given the bum’s rush out of Canada. They’re told to leave immediately. So, basically it was the bad press that caused Canada to change their position, and not the actual brutality of which they were all aware? Their limousine is attacked on their way back to the airport during another protest. I see only women at this particular protest. Why? At a “watch party” later that night, Moira officially announces that the plane has left Canadian air space, which kicks off a muted rendition of “America, the Beautiful” among the participants. It’s a sweet gesture, but it does nothing for anyone. The plane should have been bombed. Based on what I’ve seen the last few weeks in this Country, in 2020, this response is underwhelming. Our fellow Americans are killing each other, setting fires, destroying private property all in response to an incident which would be marginalized in The Handmaid’s Tale. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction. If there was ever a call to violence, destruction, and scorched earth, it would have to be these letters. Anyway… Fred and Serena return home in shame. It was a failed mission. A somber but shaken Serena sits by the fire, and it almost seems she’s considering the consequences of her actions, and the chance she had to escape from it all. Nick tells June about the letters, and also that he met Luke. He tells her he loves her. Thanks, Nick. Thank’s a lot! Next time on As Gilead Turns …

Under the Eye: “Women’s Work”

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“Man works from sun to sun, but woman’s work is never done” I never found it to be in the story’s favor that Offred was chosen to be the Unreliable Narrator. It gives a writer license to ignore his or her own rules in establishing narrative. Margaret Atwood wanted The Handmaid’s Tale to be a historical document, but instead it comes over as a made-up history. In a made-up history, you’re free to create the most unrealistic story possible to suit your needs while ignoring the rules and logic established in the framework. When we last left Serena and June, they were getting ready to establish new laws in Gilead. I had no idea Fred had this much power. Serena wants to end the nightly patrols and the executions. Serena is an idea woman, so she leaves it to June to edit her madness into readable paragraphs*. Serena (with June) is breaking the established laws. Writing requires reading, and reading is forbidden to women. The flaw in the logic is that no one else appears to take the reigns; that all of this is left up to Serena’s devices. How much control or influence does Serena have, and how much of Gilead is subject to her whims? I’ve looked at some maps. In the north, Gilead stretches from Maine to Wisconsin and goes south to the Carolinas. The outlying areas are delineated by the atomic wastelands known as the “Colonies.” Portions of Florida, Louisiana, Texas, and California are “rebel-occupied zones” otherwise known as The United States of America.

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Based on the maps, Gilead occupies roughly two-thirds of the U.S.A., but more than half of that land is irradiated and unusable. How much of that land is under Fred’s (or Serena’s) control? Because I like to make sense, I have to put all of this in perspective. I have to assume that the high-ranking Commanders control specific sectors of Gilead. Fred’s territory was New England. How is Serena able to effect sweeping change? It doesn’t matter because Fred gets better and he’s able to come home. This is downright miraculous! It’s also unbelievable. All he has is a pronounced limp! Even as he exchanges forced pleasantries with the women-folk, I get the shivers. He locks Serena out of his (her) office. It would be yet another hard-reset, if not for the consequences of Serena’s actions, which are soon to come. For all her hard work, Serena gives Offred a charming little music box. One-eyed batshit-crazy Janine walks with June to a vegetable market where they speak of “blessings” and try to make conversation with an obviously miserable Emily, who tells them the only blessing bestowed on them was Ofglen the Second’s bomb. The talk of the neighborhood is the baby Janine was forced to have: Angela (or Charlotte, depending on who you ask). The baby is sick, and shockingly, nobody can figure out why. This freaks Janine out, as it should, but it really is none of our concern, right? If we detest the society that raped us and made us have their children, why should we care about the babies? Why should we care about anyone? There is no “love” in this schizophrenic culture. Only service. Serena wants to bring in a neonatal specialist, but the best one available is a Martha, and of course, she is forbidden to practice medicine. She goes to Fred but he shoots down her idea, citing “God’s will” or some such nonsense.

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This is where the episode loses me. How is it possible that no one has any practical medical training? They’d have to know that when you have a cut, you’re supposed to clean and bandage it, right? That’s medicine. They do use technology in their Gilead hospitals, so how do they not know what to do about this baby? June suggests to Serena that the baby might benefit from a visit by the birth mother. Serena takes that suggestion to the Commander and Mrs. Putnam. The Commander thinks it’s a good idea. The wife doesn’t. The wife (as with all the wives) hates Janine and the other handmaids (for reasons I don’t understand). They bring Janine into the hospital, but they don’t let her have physical contact with the child. Serena goes over Fred’s head to get the neonatal Martha into the hospital. She immediately starts ordering full physical work-ups for the child. Nobody else knows to do this? Her immediate superior even informs her he studied under a doctor who was one of her students! This makes no sense! Even more shockingly, the neonatal Martha can do nothing for the child. Guess who can? That’s right! One-eyed batshit-crazy Janine! She holds the baby in her arms and sings to her. The healing power of song miraculously HEALS THE BABY! You want to bet that’s just enough to reinforce everybody’s belief in “God’s will?” Don’t take the bet. When Fred discovers Serena forged his orders, he punishes her with a whipping right in front of Offred. Though Fred blames himself for Serena’s actions, he takes it out on Serena’s ass, horse-whipping her while he spews out verses from Ephesians. Nice place, isn’t it?

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Can we talk about Ephesians for a minute? There is nothing in Ephesians, or any other part of the Bible about viciously belting a woman’s ass. And if Gilead takes their law from literal interpretations of the Bible, it’s embarrassing to me (as an atheist) that the writers (or Atwood) have never actually read the Bible. They’ve simply done what they accuse others of — cherry-picking the verses they use to suit their interpretation. It is a “vocal minority” interpretation of Christians and Christianity. The overwhelming majority of Christians do not use the Bible as their personal justification for ridiculous and/or unacceptable behaviors. The vocal minority get the most Press coverage for the very reason that they make the news with their insane behavior. The Westboro Baptist Church does not represent all of Christendom. They represent a very small fringe element of Christianity. Again, I don’t think the writers (or Atwood) have ever read the Bible. If they did, they would understand (as most, if not all Christians I’ve spoken to) the Bible is a series of parables best suited to teach morality to those who seek wisdom, not to justify atrocity. They would also understand the need for medicine.

Matthew 9:12-13 But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.
But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

You don’t have to be a Christian to understand that.

*Special thanks to my wife, Bronwyn Knox, who also edits my madness into readable paragraphs.

Under the Eye: “After”

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Unintended consequences. Let’s let that one sink through just a little until it creates a bruise. Unintended consequences. 31 handmaids died in Ofglen the Second’s attack. 26 Commanders died as well, but 31 handmaids died. I admit I don’t fully grasp the physics of explosions, but Ofglen the Second did manage to bury herself deep in a clutch of bearded Commanders. In the final wide shot showing the explosion, we do see handmaids on the second level of the Rachel and Leah Center blown backward against the glass from the effects of the explosion, but the majority of them fled when they saw what was about to happen. So how did fewer Commanders die? Unless these numbers were falsified. Hmm. Now why would they want to falsify numbers? Hmm. Even Fred managed to survive and Ofglen the Second was running straight toward him! Was it not a very good bomb? Was it hastily or shabbily made? The handmaids gather for a funeral service, and again we have the push-pull of treating them as though they are special, fragile vessels of God, and then in the same breath, assaulting the endless “parade of sluts” with cattle prods. Several high-ranking Commanders were killed. Fred looks like he was barely singed from a barbecue grill mishap. Because so many handmaids were killed, demand for them increases, so one-eyed batshit-crazy Janine and Emily are taken away from the “Colonies” and returned to Gilead-proper.

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In Canada, a crowd gathers to hear the death estimates of the bombing. How would this information get to Canada so fast? You’d think Gilead would keep a tight lid on any news of insurrection and rebellion. Moira flashes on a bit of lazy ret-conning. Because of the shortage of live births, childless couples are paying top dollar for surrogacy. Moira agrees to become a surrogate mother. In the present, Moira is led to a room of black file cabinets filled with the names of the people who died after Gilead seized power. It’s obvious she’s looking for someone in particular. A woman named Odette. Odette was an obstetrician who monitored Moira’s pregnancy. She was more than that, though. She was also Moira’s fiancée. I don’t know how or when that happened, but she was never seen in previous episodes, nor was she ever referenced. Remember Nikki and Paulo from the third season of Lost? They were among the crash survivors, but they were never seen or referenced until they were introduced in one episode and then killed off ten episodes later. Offred is summoned for an interview with a Commander Cushing, who has taken over for the slain Commander Pryce. He questions her with regard to her knowledge of Ofglen the Second, who she describes as “pious.” Cushing wants to know if Waterford was somehow involved in the bombing. He even has the nerve to refer to the Mayday movement as terrorists. I guess it takes one to know one. Offred looks out the window to see two Marthas shot dead in the street. This is a great place, huh?

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This is when June puts on her game-face. With Fred enduring a very slow recovery, June decides to manipulate this system from the inside. She’s aware that Serena has seen her “power” (what power she believes she had) erode in the wake of the bombing and she outlines ways in which Cushing is pushing (hey!) for a power-grab. It isn’t just Marthas being executed. It’s any Commander or underling he suspects of some form of treason against Gilead. This might be a smart move on his part, but Offred’s revelations alarm Serena, so she gets “pro-active,” forging orders to have Cushing arrested. In effect, Serena seizes power in Fred’s absence. I would ordinarily applaud this, but Serena is a monster, and I have no sympathy for a monster taking power from another monster. Gilead is in lock-down after the bombing and Guardians patrol the streets nightly. Think of it as a kind of Gilead “Patriot Act.” In the flashback, Moira gives up her baby to the people who paid her for the use of her uterus. She meets up with Odette later and the two strike up a friendship leading to what I presume is a romance. I have to wonder what happened to her money. You’ll remember in the first episodes all the money was taken away from the women. What happened to that money? She didn’t grab as much cash as she could carry? She arrived in Canada penniless and was immediately put on the government dole. In the present, Moira looks through a catalog of dead people and finds Odette. I guess her name is “O-dead” now! Poom! Sorry. I know the show wants me to care, but I don’t, because this character’s birth and death was thrown into an already-padded episode to increase the running time and make Moira feel worse than she already does. So it goes.

Under the Eye: “First Blood”

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Nearly a season-and-a-half has gone by in this Handmaid’s Tale and we’ve ignored or neglected another handmaid’s tale. This is the story of Ofglen the Second, conscripted to replace Ofglen the First (or Emily) who got caught with her hand in a cookie jar and had her clitoris removed for the good of Gilead. Then came Ofglen the Second. Fast-forward to one-eyed batshit-crazy Janine’s stoning ceremony. Offred and the other handmaids drop their stones and apologize to Aunt Lydia. Ofglen the Second spoke up for Janine and her tongue was removed. Nice world, isn’t it? What with all the on-demand tongue and clitoris removals, public hangings, and cattle prods! We only get a brief bit of Ofglen the Second in the show’s second and third episodes, but she deserves a back-story. She deserves it more than June. Her real name was Lillie Fuller. She wanted to play it safe. She didn’t want to make waves initially and resisted all contrarian talk from discontented handmaids. She lived in poverty before Gilead, so she had little reason to complain about her current circumstance. That was until she was slammed in the head with a Guardian’s machine gun after refusing to cast a stone at Janine. Ofglen the Second led a parallel life to June, but she took action. I suspect she took action because she had nothing left to lose. Where June had “stakes,” that of her daughter, husband, and life outside of Gilead, Ofglen the Second had no one and nothing looking out for her. When you have nothing left to lose, you become dangerous. When you have nothing to fear, you become a weapon.

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The Handmaid’s Tale is not the story of Ofglen the Second. It should be, but it isn’t. Instead, for this episode, we’re treated to more of Serena’s story. In our current 2020 world, where would Serena fit in? Serena could be a political “pundit,” author or journalist; an intellectual who advocates for a return to “simpler times,” when women wore dresses, cooked dinner, and made babies. Serena believes we’ve moved away from tradition. Her book, A Woman’s Place, is an international best-seller I would assume, given the enormous amount of people who want to kill her for her beliefs, and this was before the love & terror cult of Gilead rose to power. I’m getting away from the premise of the show; this bizarre, sadistic slice-of-life character study of June. I find I want to get away from June. June is boring. She has but one ambition in life: to get away from Gilead. Serena is a much more fascinating study, being the monster she is. Ofglen the Second is even more fascinating, but this series is not about Serena or Ofglen the Second. We’re back to business as usual after June’s near death from the previous episode. Stress is a killer, and Gilead is a Petri dish of stress. Keeping Offred emotionally off-balance is Serena’s specialty, so she converts a guest room into Offred’s temporary bedroom so that she doesn’t have to walk up and down so many flights of stairs every day. Today, Serena is being … nice. She sets up a small dinner party for June and her “handmaid friends,” but she monitors every aspect of it, surgically removing any chance of fun from the proceedings. Serena (stupidly) chides Ofglen the Second for not talking. She has to be reminded Ofglen the Second has no tongue. Oh yeah, right, I forgot about that. The next day, Serena isn’t so nice, particularly when June asks to see her daughter, Hannah. Serena complains to Fred about June’s selfish desire to see her daughter. In other news, the Rachel and Leah Center is nearing completion. I don’t know why I feel this way, but I don’t think Gilead constructed this building. Gilead is a lazy creature that simply moves its ghastly carcass into already-constructed facilities. Gilead does not create. Gilead destroys.

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Delving deeper into Eden, it’s obvious she is a true believer. She’s sweet in trying to make pleasant conversation with Nick, but he resists, either because he loves June, or because he is creeped out by this idea of impregnating a 15-year-old. In our very real world, this would be known as “child grooming.”  She looks like a little girl. When Nick tries to avoid her, she tells June she suspects Nick might be a “gender-traitor” (that’s a phrase I’ve been hearing a lot lately, but in a different context) as in homosexual. This causes June to take Nick aside and advise him to do his manly duty and knock up the girl. Nick protests. Eden’s 15. It’s creepy. June tells him, “Oh, you have to fuck somebody you don’t want to? Poor thing.” Nick tells June he loves her. This is getting complicated. Serena goes back to the time when she could wear tight pants and attempt to give lectures about the book she wrote. We have to remember this is the Serena of the before-time, and not the monster she would become. She psyches herself up and Fred gives her gentle encouragement. She’s met with a chorus of jeers. Why are these people here? Why are there so many of them? She’s not two words into her speech when a young woman stands and shouts, “Nazi cunt” at her. She’s called a “fascist bitch.” Wouldn’t that be considered “hate speech?” Or is it only hate speech when the “nazi cunt” speaks? People can be incredibly stupid. I mean, she wrote a book. No one knew that the book would serve as a foundation for indoctrination of America by Gilead. Most of the time, I’ve noticed, from controversial lectures like these, the fans and enthusiasts greatly outweigh those who dissent, and that the right to protest a form of speech is itself a freedom of speech, but this is a world where the observation of irony is in short supply. There are no “dangerous words,” only dangerous people. Serena may be a dangerous woman, but her book is just a book. Security tries to get Serena out of the building, but she is met with an angry crowd of protesters. She rebukes the crowd, shouting back at them that they are “spoiled and privileged.” Interesting words. She cites the low numbers of live births. As they exit, Serena’s assistant is shot and killed. Serena is shot in the stomach. Even understanding this bitter polarization between people, I must quote Bill Maher when, in 2004, he said, “no one should have to die for writing a book.” Freedom isn’t free, it’s a hefty fuckin’ fee!

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Taking a cue from the Book of Joyless Sex (I just made that up, but I’m sure there’s a book like that out there), Nick has relations with Eden through a festively embroidered hole in a sheet. Contrary to the popular belief, this is not the preferred method of sex for Orthodox Jews, rather it was a literalist interpretation of passages from the Torah (and as we know, one literalist bad apple spoils the whole damned bunch), but God bless Nick for giving it the old college try! In the immediate aftermath of the shootings, Fred and his team have managed to grab the assailants. He takes them into the woods and executes them. So Fred, this Commander Fred, is a murderer in more ways than one. Like Serena, he murders dreams but he also murders people. Atypically, he’s also capable of compassion. He visits June and gives her a photograph of Hannah. Oddly, Serena is incapable of this. To Serena, Offred is a fertile creature to be filled with child to keep the line going. To Fred, Offred is an object of desire. In the midst of all of this, we’ve forgotten about Ofglen the Second, haven’t we? Of course, we have. The Handmaid’s Tale is not about her. She comes back like roaring thunder at the opening of the Rachel and Leah Center. What is the Rachel and Leah Center? To save you a trip to the Good Book, Jacob had two wives, Rachel and Leah, who were sisters. Leah was the “unloved” wife. Rachel” is the “favorite” wife. Jacob had four wives in total, fathered seven children with Leah, and two each with the other wives (two of whom were Rachel’s sisters). Yeesh! It’s kind-of gross when you think about it.  I guess that’s what you did when there was no sports or pornography. So, at the opening of the Rachel and Leah Center, Ofglen the Second, her face a mask of rage, charges the stage with a detonator in her hand and a bomb explodes, killing many Commanders and handmaids, and this was the first time I applauded the show. The episode ends right there with “Oh Bondage Up Yours!” by X-Ray Spex playing during the credits. This might be the first appropriate use of a song in the show’s run. When you have nothing left to lose, you become dangerous. When you have nothing to fear, you become a weapon.

Under the Eye: “Seeds”

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Maybe June’s lost what’s left of her mind, I don’t know, but it’s the middle of the night, she wakes up, grabs the pile of clandestine letters she received in the package from Mayday and starts burning them in the sink. When Nick confronts her, she tells him she’s not supposed to leave her room in the middle of the night. She could be putting herself into a trance-like state so that she can cope with all these ridiculous rules. It could be an act to make the Man think she’s finally been broken. With the burning of the letters, the show has officially been given a hard reset, or so we’re supposed to believe. This makes the previous season’s subplot of the package and the letters completely pointless. The next day, Lydia and Serena have a brief exchange about smoking and the baby’s health. Fred wants to know the sex of the baby. Lydia tells him they’ll have to wait until the baby is born to find out. Meanwhile, in the “Colonies,” the “unwomen” are singing the Cat Stevens song, “Morning Has Broken,” which is bizarre to me. You would think the “unwomen” would not be permitted to sing, let alone a Cat Stevens song, but the Aunts working there don’t seem to care. Janine and Emily catch up. Emily gives her the low-down on the “Colonies.” Poor, broken one-eyed batshit-crazy Janine cannot negotiate this madness, even as she staggers across irradiated fields with dying women. There only seem to be a handful of Guardians and Aunts, and if the “Colonies” is not a place where an incredibly violent uprising must occur, then these women, frankly, deserve their fate. This is when we place women (all women) into the “victim” column.  Explain that idea to the first women to join the Green Berets Special Forces recently.

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These “unwomen” are the intellectuals who can’t be taken to Jezebel’s to serve out the remainder of their existence as prostitutes. While using the toilet, Offred notices a bloody discharge from her vagina. This can’t be good. Aunt Lydia keeps assuring everyone the baby is healthy, but she’s not an OB/GYN, so how the hell would she know? Serena takes a “forced walk” with Offred so they can make small-talk, but Serena is dissatisfied with Offred’s intercourse. She doesn’t want to do all the talking, but if I remember correctly, she flew into a rage the last time Offred spoke, so you can understand her trepidation. Nick expresses his worries about Offred’s mental state to Serena, who doesn’t seem to care. She tells Nick that Offred is not his concern. We also must remember that in the before-time, Serena was an intellectual, and that if she wasn’t a “Commander’s wife,” she’d be hauled off to the “Colonies” or forced to work at Jezebel’s. Nick attends a “graduation ceremony” of sorts with others of his station where they are given medals and wives. Wives? Yes, wives. Their faces are covered until they are given wedding rings. Nick’s bride is a beautiful, young (very young) woman named Eden. I had a crush on a girl named Eden in high school. She was a gorgeous redhead, kind of looked like the actress Alicia Witt. I bring it up because I’ll never forget that name. Anyway… We move on from excessive creepiness to excessive cruelty in the “Colonies.” An “unwoman” collapses while trying to dig, and she is carried away. This finally angers one-eyed batshit-crazy Janine. Offred begins to bleed heavily from her crotch, and she doesn’t know if she can hide it. Remember that her worth is solely dictated by her fertility, and even then, she’s still pretty much worthless, and since the women are blamed for the lack of healthy babies in the Great Society, she fears her days are numbered. In the “Colonies,” Emily washes her face with brown water and tries to clean her teeth, but one of them falls out of her mouth.

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A female rabbi conducts a wedding ceremony for two “unwomen.” This was Janine’s idea. Emily takes her aside and tries to tell her this place is Hell, reminds her of her one-eyed status and Emily’s lack of a clitoris — all because of Aunt Lydia and Gilead. I don’t know why these women, all these women, do not rise up as one and kill or be killed. Can the fear of death override all rationality? Yes, it can, but what of the fear of a prolonged death? Serena gives Eden a primer on what to expect in sexual congress with Nick. She also commits a no-no by telling her she can also enjoy sex, to which Eden mentions the sin of lust. See? Serena chooses what she wants to believe, as do we all, but that kind of talk will only result in getting her tongue removed. Before Nick can make his way up to his Fonzie-style apartment to do the deed, he sees June outside in the rain, bleeding profusely. How did no one notice this? He calls out for help as he cradles her in his arms. The “unwomen” wedding turns into an “unwomen” funeral, officiated by the rabbi. Offred wakes up the hospital. The baby is fine. Offred speaks to the baby, promises to not let this baby grow up in this place, and that no one will “own” this baby. Read into that what you will. It does sound mighty cryptic until she promises she will get them both of out Gilead. So, in the end, Offred/June has not lost her mind. How comforting.

Under the Eye: “Other Women”

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If I could point to one “saving grace” in The Handmaid’s Tale, it would have to be that the protagonists, the “good guys” are flawed. Even to degrees of selfish hypocrisy, all or most of these “good guys” are not that good. They’re not of the Mary Sue variety; elevated to impossible heights of perfection or bastions of virtue. Early on in the show’s first season, June was referred to as an “adulterer, a worthless slut” by Aunt Lydia. In this episode, we get that back-story. After she is re-captured and re-tagged like an animal, Lydia tells her “June” (perhaps the idea, not the name) will be executed and “Offred” will be re-born. Fred, who we’ve not seen practically hide nor hair of these first few episodes of the new season, enters proclaiming this to be a “happy day,” that the Lord saw fit to bring Offred back to his home. For June, there was a brief scent of freedom and then huddled captivity. I think freedom tastes like a chocolate shake, but June did not even get that taste. Somebody brought the chocolate shake into the room and she could smell it, but the shake was removed before she could get her taste. She returns to her room and her bed. Like an indoor cat, she sits on the window sill and looks out. Serena, the monster enters and grabs Offred by the throat and shoves her against a wall. This is Serena. This is what she is, and always will be. I’ve (like most people) never laid a threatening hand on anybody in my entire life, but this is Serena, a beast in a woman’s body. Maybe these people don’t like Offred’s face. You’d have to be completely tone-deaf to not be able to read the room.

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Offred stares daggers and smiles wickedly at these people, as though she’s conjuring up scenarios of special torture for all of them. Which brings up another dilemma in all of this pageantry. You’ve enslaved more than half the population, forced them to do your bidding, but then you are shocked to discover you’re reviled because of this practice. This is not how you control people. You control people by giving them everything they want. Think Brave New World and Wall-E. That’s how you get the population to play ball. We all know the central hypocrisy of Gilead — that these people do not practice what they preach, so why do they play make-believe with not only their ideas but the collective reactions to their ideas? Nick is, at least delighted, to see that June is alive and reasonably well, but he can’t do much more than that, because everyone is fixated on her, even down to monitoring her beverage intake. The vitamin beverage makes her sick and she throws it up. No worries. Lydia will make another. So it goes. Serena has a half-assed baby shower of sorts with all her Commander-wife frenemies. I call them frenemies, because it’s obvious they hate each other, but they’re not permitted to show it. Meanwhile, Fred goes skeet-shooting with the other Commanders. Fred asks to be named “special envoy” to Canada. It’s cute that Gilead thinks it’s a Nation. It’s not though. It’s a terrorist dictatorship.

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Lydia visits Serena while she sneaks a smoke. She gently advises Serena not to treat Offred so badly, if for no other reason than to insure the health of the baby. She also absconds with Serena’s cigarette. Bad for the baby, you see. More than halfway through the episode, we finally get flashback context. We know that June committed adultery with Luke because he was married. She is confronted by Luke’s wife, who tells her she’s destroying her marriage. She calls June a “selfish bitch,” which is absolutely true, but the dialogue is one-sided and does not engage or negotiate Luke’s infidelity. It was his choice to cheat on his wife. Luke is also a “selfish bitch.” When June returns home, she finds Luke screaming into his phone, presumably telling off his wife for approaching June. June feels terrible about this, as well she should. It’s interesting in that I don’t know the purpose of these scenes. Other than setting up an “anti-hero,” are we supposed to believe Gilead is a form of penance for June’s flaws? Is this a kind of solipsism or proof June is living in a simulation, possibly punishing herself for her actions? We get another example of Serena’s cruelty. When June speaks of her own baby shower (and having to give away half of the gifts), Serena turns and smacks the Martha Rita hard across her face. Why? This is Serena. Serena charges into Fred’s office and demands that Offred be removed from the house. Fred tells her to deal with it, that Offred is nothing. That this is her baby, not Offred’s. The show hates women this week!

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Serena’s intensely personal hatred for Offred is never explained, and with every instance of violence perpetrated by her, she diminishes herself in my eyes and becomes just another mustache-twirling, one-dimensional villain. Lydia takes Offred for a walk and shows her the latest collection of bodies hanging from the walls. One of them is the Muslim man who tried to help her. She tells Offred the man’s wife will be given to another man and the child will be separated from her. This is such a nice place, isn’t it? Offred is made to kneel before Serena and Fred and beg to stay in their home. She tells them she is not “worthy.” I don’t have anything more to add to this except that no man or woman should be required to kneel before another, but this is Gilead, land of the subjugated, and home to the cowardly. Later, while Offred tries to sleep, Serena enters. She lays her body next to Offred’s and touches her pregnant belly, telling the baby “all will be well.” Yes, Serena speaks to the baby. I can’t tell if this irritates or nauseates June. Probably both. In the greater context of the episode’s “theme,” I don’t see the connection between the two stories, Offred’s impending motherhood and June’s affair with Luke, other than that choices lead to more choices and there are consequences to actions. June prays to God that Hannah will forget her. So here we are, and nothing has happened in this episode other than the consequences of the actions from the previous episode.