In light of recent events, I’ve changed my thinking with regard to how people can be manipulated to dangerous extremes and inflict violence upon their fellow man. I used to believe the “inner life” of The Handmaid’s Tale was simply a set of speculative fictions designed to provoke thought in the body politic. When the series premiered, it became more than that. It was a conscious meta-event brought on by the election of a President, though there was nothing to indicate Gilead was on its way to becoming reality. Now that we’ve witnessed unbottled rage, “new normals,” hatred, and violence run rampant across our shores, I’m convinced The Handmaid’s Tale is a work of prophecy and eventuality. I’ve seen more hatred for this country, my country — The United States of America than any dramatized hatred for Gilead. Why? The sensible voices out there are powerless to stop this, and the sleep of reason breeds monsters. We get two-and-a-half minutes of recaps to sum up the first season of the show before we launch into season two. June has been put into the back of a caged paddy-wagon, clustered together with other handmaids and herded into Fenway Park. No, the Red Sox have not returned to ruin another night of baseball for me, but there is a production of sorts under way. The assortment of frightened girls are gagged and fast-walked to the tidy gallows set up in centerfield. This goes on way too long before we’re privy to the practical joke of the scene (and the show). The inappropriate strains of Kate Bush’s “Woman’s Work” play as the nooses are fitted, and we’re treated to fear and terror. This is a terrible idea running through my head, but I thought a more appropriate musical choice would have been John Fogerty’s 1984 opus, and I heard the lyrics in my head: “Put me in coach! I’m ready to play today! Look at me, I can be centerfield!” Okay, that’s wrong. I know it, and now you know it.
Except, like I said, the whole thing’s a sick joke. No, the ladies are not killed. Just when you think the trap door is going to be released, nothing happens. The opening scenes of this episode were some of the most disgusting, repulsive, manipulative, and cloying I had ever witnessed (and I’ve seen Bloodsucking Freaks, mind you). There was such a lack of logic (i.e. Why go to all the trouble of setting up a mock-execution just to frighten a bunch of handmaidens?) that it puts into question all of Gilead’s motivations. Doesn’t the esteemed Republic of Gilead have better things to do? It goes on; such unimaginable (yet imagined up by an otherwise talented group of writers and producers) cruelty inflicted to such flagellant depths, and a breakaway crucifixion that will only create martyrs and resistance. You have signaled to the handmaids (and to any factors of resistance) that they are beneath worthless, that they can be excised and brushed aside. Am I to understand that the handmaids are a precious commodity until they resist? Next, we get a flashback (almost as if we’re to supposed to forget what happened) of happier times between Luke and June. June contemplates going off the pill for good. She wants to make more babies. That’s an odd choice for a woman in the current climate. In the present, the next day, the handmaids are forced to hold heavy stones in the rain while being kicked and shoved by Aunt Lydia. As the season progresses, we will see that Gilead continues to step-up their game of torture, inventing newer, more creative ways to make life miserable for these young women. This is the new normal, isn’t it? Lydia announces to the assembled torture victims that Offred is pregnant. She’s been filled with God’s light, also a generous portion of Nick. Heh. An overjoyed Aunt Lydia rings a big bell to signal to their private little slice of the world June’s impending motherhood.
Lydia wants to keep June fed and fat. June tries to practice passive resistance which, knowing what I know of Lydia, will have no effect (at least no good effect). When the discussion inevitably turns to one-eyed batshit-crazy Janine, Lydia informs her she could have gone to God peacefully, under a hailstorm of stones, mind you, but peacefully. June tells her friends don’t stone each other. Also friends don’t let friends drive drunk, but that’s another problem. When June refuses to eat, Lydia takes her for a walk to see another handmaid who refuses to eat. Ofwyatt is being restrained for her own protection, you see, but she’s gone a little loopy in her confinement. I guess this scares June because she starts eating. While she eats, her fellow handmaids are subjected to various tortures (cattle-prods, hands on hot plates, the whole mess). I wonder if the irony isn’t lost on the viewer; these are women torturing other women while June sips her soup in silence. Sometimes I wonder if the show hates men, and sometimes I wonder if the show hates women. In a flashback, June gets a call that Hannah’s sick with a fever and she’s been taken to a hospital. That’s a little unusual, but I suppose in this alternate universe with a lack of living children, the schools and institutions don’t want to take any unnecessary risks, so I’ll go with it. The Nurse (or whoever that is) takes on a lecturing tone with June, assuming that because she has a job, she’s too distracted to be a decent mother. What is this, 1950? She quizzes her about what she does when Hannah gets sick, as though June were a mental defective. Are we at the beginning of Gilead, and the stragglers sympathetic to the cause? The Nurse’s behavior is strange and interrogatory. In the present, June goes for a check-up at the hospital. Serena and Fred look at her sonogram, and they hold hands. Oh, aren’t they such a sweet couple!
After the check-up, an Orderly refers to her as “June,” meaning something’s up. She finds a key in her boot. The key is marked with a black square. The key leads her to a marked door she unlocks. The door leads to a stairwell that takes her down to a shipping/receiving area where she boards the back of a meat truck that spirits her away from the hospital. This appears to have been arranged well in advance by boyfriend-Nick. He’s resourceful! How did he manage this? When everybody’s watching everybody, how does he acquire a meat truck to take his baby-mama to comparative safety? While she waits in the back of the truck, she flashes back to taking Hannah home from the hospital. In the apartment, Luke is watching a news broadcast about terrorist attacks on Capitol Hill and the White House. Apparently, Canadian writer Margaret Atwood (along with the show’s writers) believes our Nation can be held hostage and deposed by blowing up the White House. It doesn’t work that way here. It might work that way in Canada (with its tightly-knit tapestry of socialism), but not here. Our system is way too complicated with checks and balances to be taken down by bombs and machine guns. In the present, June is delivered (I can’t think of a better word) to Nick. He tells her to put on some new clothes and cut her hair. She burns her old clothes and removes the painful “tag” from her ear with a pair of scissors. I would’ve passed out from the sheer pain of it, but I guess June is stronger than me. Much stronger. She stands up, her face half-doused in fresh blood, reborn. A baptism of blood. Her inner monologue tells us she’s “free.” No, she’s not. In fact, she’s more a prisoner than ever, but we’ll get to that when we get to that. If nothing else, “June” serves as an interesting dissection of the bizarre, disturbed minds who create the show.
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