Under the Eye: “Unwomen”

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Is this what freedom looks like? I ask the same question, and it doesn’t look pretty. June is locked up in another truck taking her to Boston proper. The friendly old truck driver tells her to lay low in an abandoned building until something else happens. We’re not exactly sure. Maybe it’s like a relay-race and someone else will come along to help her continue to escape? Armed with a flashlight, she discovers in short order she’s haunting the once-hallowed halls of the Boston Globe. While June lays low, we get our first glimpse of the “Colonies,” a wide swath of land where “unwomen” (my guess is incorrigible women) are forced to toil, burying the radioactive soil after, what I presume, all the nuclear bombs were dropped. Ofglen (Alexis Bledel) flashes back to when she was a college professor (in the before-time, in the long-long ago). I’ve had to watch this episode several times to get all the back-story, because the back-story is the most interesting part of this series for me. Back when she was “Emily,” she was told by her superior (John Carroll Lynch) that she was to be shuffled to the back of the line, doing research instead of teaching. This infuriates her, but he means well because (as a gay man himself) he is trying to hide her from view. This confirms my suspicion that the seeds of Gilead were already firmly planted before the take-over. We saw this in the inquisition of June by the Nurse in the previous episode. In the present at the “Colonies,” new fish are brought in, among them, a Commander’s wife (Marisa Tomei) who cheated on her husband. Nice world for women, isn’t it? It’s interesting to me that even though she’s been imprisoned in this horrible work camp, she continues to be a true believer in Gilead.

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June tours the Boston Globe headquarters. This is a fascinating bit of world-building. She examines relics of the near-past: dust-covered coffee mugs, children’s artwork, one shoe, a Friends DVD. Something terrible happened here. This is a forgotten crime scene, and it tells a story. Down in the basement of the building where the presses were stopped, she finds a row of nooses, a blood-covered, bullet-ridden cement wall and the other shoe. It doesn’t take much speculation to figure out what happened here. It’s obvious The Handmaid’s Tale is a low-budget show, but the production designers do a great job of conveying mass carnage with a minimalist eye.

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June is overcome with emotion. Her tears are interrupted by the sounds of doors opening and footfalls. She grabs a hammer for protection. She breathes a sigh of relief to hear Nick’s concerned voice calling for her. Nick tells her he doesn’t have a plan. This enrages June. She doesn’t seem to be aware of her precarious situation. This becomes a major problem in the season, as June is more interested in rescuing Hannah than in escaping. She doesn’t understand that once free, she can plan a rescue, but she can’t do it from within, no matter how much the writers want to bend the logic. She argues with Nick over his choices, gets into a truck and starts it up, but again she isn’t thinking this through. She gets out of the truck and takes Nick in her arms. They make love, and it is a “love scene.” This isn’t rape, so then I begin to wonder how much she was forced by Serena to become impregnated. I’ve had this debate with countless fans who continue to insist the initial tryst was rape. If it was indeed rape, I don’t think June would be inclined to not only make love to Nick, but even have a sexual appetite in the current climate. This is turning into a soap opera.

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In the flashback, Emily didn’t get the clue to escape the new oppressive world when she was not granted her promotion because of her sexual orientation. Instead, it took the public hanging of her gay boss at the University to light a fire under her ass to get her wife (Clea DuVall) and their child to Canada. They have to go through the whole ridiculous process at the airport in addition to the authoritarian rule imposed on them only to be halted at the gate because Gilead doesn’t recognize gay marriage. Clea and the baby can go, but she is being detained because she’s fertile. I still have questions. This seems awfully fast and efficient to be able to put new “laws” into practice. I don’t care if it’s a banana republic or a first-world nation. Nobody gets things done this quickly. The flashback fuels Emily with anger because she sees the hypocrisy of Marisa’s character; once proud and educated (she has an M.F.A.) and then willingly surrendering her right to self-determination. I do understand completely. Emily poisons the Commander’s ex-wife instead of giving her pills to alleviate her radiation sickness. As I said, I do understand, but this does make Emily a murderer. Even as Emily outlines this woman’s sins (choices would be a better word), she is still a murderer – and in my judgment, murder is far worse a crime than rape. I’m sorry, but that’s how I feel. After she dies, Emily crucifies her. That’s going a bit too far, don’t you think? Some new fish arrive and among them is one-eyed batshit-crazy Janine. June passes the time at the Globe watching Friends on DVD. This is when she decides to put up a memorial (complete with photo collages and candles) to the slain employees of the Boston Globe, and I have to wonder, with all cynicism and irony, when this memorial will be torn down for offending the wrong group of people. Ah! Humanity!

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