“Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers of today, but the core of science fiction — its essence — has become crucial to our salvation, if we are to be saved at all.”
― Isaac Asimov
Everything engenders discussion, debate, and bitter argument these days. I don’t care if the subject is politics or the best toothpaste on the market, you’re going to find yourself locked in a nasty argument with people who are, invariably, convinced they are right, and you are not only wrong, but the most horrible person on the planet for disagreeing with them. What has happened to people? Short answers? Social media. Too much time on their hands. Lockdowns. They smell conspiracy in everything, and I mean everything! The lunatics are on the grass. In a way, this is a good thing, because the truth always wants to come out, and the sad (yet beautiful) truth is that most people are assholes. It’s just easier to spot them these days. It would be much easier if they weren’t wearing face-masks.
I don’t know why people can’t live and let live, but here we are—2021: the Year of the Asshole. I put the Asimov quote at the top because while slogging through The Handmaid’s Tale season three, I’ve also been watching Stargate SG-1, a show that, in every way, surpasses the former in terms of writing, performance, and production value. At the end of Stargate SG-1’s 200th episode one of the characters utters those words, and I had to pause and go back to the beginning of the scene and watch it again. Asimov was absolutely spot-on with his observation. The Handmaid’s Tale does not want to call itself “science fiction.” It wants to call itself “science eventuality” and “speculative fiction.” It is neither, but it is science fiction, however probable it may seem to the constant viewer.
What if this wasn’t Earth? What if this wasn’t The United States of America, or Canada, or Mexico, or any other nation? What if it was the planet Zontar in the seventeenth galaxy? I guess I’m asking because I have to understand the tenets of science fiction while eschewing the “speculative” area of literature. Science Fiction is a form of speculation, yet The Handmaid’s Tale plays “theater of the mind” tricks on its audience by introducing us to an alien world on our own planet. Because there is such an unsettling shift in the logic and temperament of the people living on this planet, the body snatcher motif makes more sense to me. If I believed these were the actions of real people, I couldn’t watch the show, and I don’t normally stomach torture porn.
Our first scene is an execution, and because we’ve already seen several creative ways to kill people on this show, we’re treated to yet another—this time in the form of a thick rope the assembled handmaids must pull in order to sufficiently hang those deemed to be criminals. By making the handmaids complicit in the hanging, they become the executioners. It’s an interesting control tactic. By giving the handmaids a sense of the power of life and death, they can hedge their bets that not everyone will be disgusted by what they’ve done. In Canada, Emily is quizzed about her criminal behavior, perhaps justifying Gilead’s accusations against her.
It’s sort of like having your hands tied behind your back by a fair and just legal system that seems willing to protect the actions of murderers; the “blame the victim” mentality, but if you’ve seen Dear Zachary, you would know the Canadian justice system has problems. Commander Winslow’s wife takes Serena on a tour of a neighborhood in D.C. and shows her a lovely house that once belonged to (now dead) Baptists. Once again, Commander Refrigerator Humper gets close to Fred to tell him if they can bring back Nichole, it would look very good on Waterford’s official record of service. He just needed that excuse to touch him. June decides the time is ripe to manipulate Eleanor into helping her get to Hannah’s school so she can see her.
You have to feel for Eleanor. She was never complicit. She started losing her mind at the very beginning of Gilead. Perhaps because of this, June comes clean about visiting her daughter. Eleanor agrees to take her. Emily participates in a protest with Moira about Canada’s casual indifference regarding Gilead. They, somewhat hilariously, are arrested. Eleanor takes June to Hannah’s school (which is built like a fort) but June is unable to get past the guardians. We have guys with machine guns guarding schools? On the other side of the wall, June hears children playing and swears she can hear Hannah among them. It’s possible, I suppose. I’ve always had my ears trained for my daughter’s voice. Maybe I could pick her out of a medium-sized group.
Meanwhile, Eleanor has a mini-freak-out because she wants to see the children and the guardians won’t let her. June takes her home. Their little jaunt angers Lawrence, probably because he sees June for what she is, but seriously can you blame her? In prison, Moira and Emily bond over the various murders they committed in Gilead. “Under His Eye” has execution scenes for bookends. That’s the best way I can describe it. We do the big, thick rope again, and the pulling by the handmaids. Among those deemed to be criminals is Hannah’s former Martha who was caught passing information to June.
June later discovers it was her shopping partner, Ofmatthew (Ashleigh Lathrop), who dropped the dime. Did I mention I have a bad feeling about her? June snaps and tries to strangle Ofmatthew, but is restrained by the other handmaids as Fiona Apple’s “Every Single Night” plays us out. You, know, it’s been really nice getting all these needle-drops (as much as I love Fiona Apple), but it never works because it always seems to be out of context. The needle-drops exist only to show viewers how clever, how “with-it” the producers of the show can be; there is remarkable lack of organic storytelling and pure filmmaking present in The Handmaid’s Tale.
“Science fiction is any idea that occurs in the head and doesn’t exist yet, but soon will, and will change everything for everybody, and nothing will ever be the same again. As soon as you have an idea that changes some small part of the world you are writing science fiction. It is always the art of the possible, never the impossible.”
— Ray Bradbury
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