Under the Eye: “God Bless the Child”

“O sinners, let’s go down
Let’s go down, come on down
O sinners, let’s go down
Down in the river to pray”

Gilead processionals are like masterfully-executed geometric configurations. Though the world is a murky, relentless tomb, the blood red lines of handmaids are vibrant as they march alongside the walking dead Aunts to celebrate new live births. June flashes back to Hannah’s baptism. When the godfather misses his train and can’t be there, June’s mother, Holly, wants to cancel the ceremony. It’s not like she needed an excuse. She just hates Catholics and proceeds to insult them in their own church. Holly needs to work on her “indoor” voice. June insists on the baptism. Good for her. It does make me wonder how much of June was destroyed by her own mother.

Emily (Alexis Bledel) takes a train to a place called Dufferin. Dufferin sounds like pain relief medication for your tuckus. Got ass pain? Try Dufferin! She meets up with her wife, Sylvia (Clea DuVall), and they hug each other amidst the befuddled Canadians. This is a strange situation for the both of them, because they don’t know how to talk to each other after a handful of years. Their child is, interestingly, dealing with the sudden reappearance of his mother in a much more gracious and welcoming manner. Children abide and endure. That’s something I’ve always believed. It’s sad they grow out of it and become frantic adults. Emily’s story represents a sharp dichotomy to June’s experience. In a way, Emily does everything June could’ve done if she had joined in her escape.

I remember thinking (and most likely, writing) at the time that June stood a better chance of escaping and then going back into Gilead, surgically, to recover her daughter. In any other television series or movie, opposing forces would not be rendered impotent so quickly, but The Handmaid’s Tale trucks in misery and despair, not hope and retribution. It is a place where, I begin to suspect, June has chosen not to reunite with Luke and Moira. June does not behave like a woman who misses her family; at least not the way Emily misses her family. Consequently, in portraying June, Elisabeth Moss appears to be “phoning it in” for these first episodes of the 3rd season, while Bledel has positively shined. Even after seven years of Gilmore Girls, I had no idea she was this fantastic an actress.

The last three episodes I’ve cared more about Emily’s situation in Canada than anything going on in Gilead. Luke has suffered the worst character erosion. He’s gone from incompetent man-bun to balls-out asshole. This episode brings back Janine (Madeline Brewer) and Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) as prominent characters. You would think, at least from an observer’s perspective, that Lydia would learn a little humility after her ordeal of being knifed then pushed down a flight of stairs. Perhaps she should not foment situations that would cause similar outbursts of violence. You would think that Janine would reacquaint herself with her rebellious nature after all the torture she has endured. But no. Lydia is meaner than ever, and Janine is a banal sponge of her former self.

At a social gathering, June starts working her charms on Serena, encouraging her to take more direct action. If this truly is June’s plan, I applaud it. Stir up dissension within the ranks, even the lower ranks. I don’t think this is a plan. I think June is improvising because she has smelled this “weakness” in Serena. When Janine suggests to the Putnams that their baby, Angela, could have a brother and volunteers her services to them, Lydia beats her mercilessly in front of the assembled Commanders and their wives. This goes on just long enough for June to swoop in and act the hero. Janine is taken away and everybody stands and stares at Lydia. She apologizes and leaves.

I don’t know what to say about that scene. Other than it being a cruel reminder of the show from its earliest episodes, the scene merely demonstrates what Lydia does with her cane, what she does with her cattle-prod. This is what people in power do with their weapons. Sometimes their weapons aren’t sharp or blunt. Sometimes their weapons are the words they use to instill fear in their lessers. June’s new shopping partner, Ofmatthew (Ashleigh LaThrop), feels left out of the gang by constantly reminding them she is a pod person. Again, these characters don’t know how to read a room. She doesn’t understand their antipathy. After all, who wouldn’t trade their personal autonomy and self-determination to be raped, beaten, and subjugated? I know, right? It’s crazy. Jeez!

Before Serena leaves the party, she gives June a tip on how to find Hannah through the school in which the MacKenzies have placed her. For the final stinger of “God Bless the Child,” some video footage makes its way to Gilead. Recorded on a phone, it appears to be Luke and Moira at a protest holding little baby Nichole. Serena identifies Nichole immediately. She had the baby for a total of two weeks, but is instantly able to identify the mass of swaddling, and even note how big she’s gotten in the intervening time. Whether they know it or not, Luke and Moira have put enormous pressure on June because of this video. Because we must have neat, tidy, circular endings, Nichole is baptized at the end of the episode to the inappropriate strains of “Down in the River to Pray.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: