Under the Eye: “Liars”

For me, as a writer, good writing must make sense. It’s the Cardinal rule of fiction. There has to be some sense to a story, even on an internal level like say space aliens. Space aliens have to have rules, and those rules can’t be broken. They can be bent, but they can’t be broken. Rules of physics are also very important. For instance, a ninety-pound woman like Ruth Negga (in The Preacher) cannot beat a three-hundred-pound man to death with a plastic hotel pager. It is impossible to have Ming Na Wen (in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) beset by a group of big, bulky men; have her beat them senseless (in her 50s, no less) and nary break a sweat or let out a breath. It is physically impossible. I don’t care about adrenaline levels, and I don’t care how much of a bad-ass the character is written to be. It doesn’t make sense.

I’ve enjoyed both shows immensely, but I wince when a writer must break rules in order to either put together an effective scene or satisfy a political agenda. It stops being writing and starts becoming whoring. Good writing must make sense. It’s not always about fighting scenes. The Handmaid’s Tale had always suffered from pedestrian writing and ineffective characterization. What the show prospered in was minimalism and evocative production design, but the bills always came due with incredibly slow-pacing. “Liars,” like “Unfit,” last year’s “Holly,” and the first season’s “After,” are very dull episodes that go nowhere, but they are needed to round out the necessary production order. I swear. “Liars” felt like a three-hour Peter Greenaway movie translated to Turkish, and not a 51-minute episode of television.

As I’ve said, it’s not always about fighting scenes and actor acrobatics. A character is established and must manifest personal ethics. How far is that character willing to go to achieve his or her ends? Where does that character draw the line? I know there is a very black and white interpretation to this idea; that a character must be “bad” or “good” and never deviate from that analysis, but this is where the “bending” comes into play. We can bend the rules. “Bending” does not exist in The Handmaid’s Tale. Almost immediately after June tells Eleanor (Julie Dretzin) she has a plan to rescue 52 children (and assorted handmaids and Marthas), Eleanor is pointing a gun at Lawrence (Bradley Whitford). June manages to talk her down, but it comes at a cost. June asks Lawrence for help in facilitating the escape.

Lawrence points her in the direction of Jezebel’s and a bartender named Billy, who initially scoffs at June’s grandiose proposal. This is nearly the same reaction she gets from a gaggle of Marthas (even though we did get a whole bunch of muffins at the end of the previous episode). June is even compared to Che Guevara. I don’t know what executing blacks and homosexuals has to do with rescuing children but I tend to blame our education system. What’s more, I don’t appreciate the whitewashing of Guevara’s brutal history for the benefit of modern-day political talking points. Che Guevara was a psychopath and a murderer. He was not a hero and a revolutionary. On her way out of Jezebel’s, June runs into Commander Refrigerator Humper, who is there for a little fun.

He, I guess, mistakes her for a lady of the evening. I don’t know how he would come to that conclusion, but she agrees to go up to a room with him. His idea of fun must involve rape fantasies, because he proceeds to force himself on her. Rather than go along with it, and get the hell out of there afterward, she fights back. She grabs a pen and starts stabbing him. I guess she punctures a lung, because he stops fighting and has trouble breathing. She grabs a heavy figurine and smashes it across his face. What’s frustrating is that Gilead exists only to be evil, and “evil” does not exist as the basis for a self-governing body. Evil is a subjective quality. Gilead shows no sign of efficiency, economy, or morality. It rules with no other means than guys on street-corners with machine guns pushing women around, which would lend to easy rebellion. You’d have to be a moron not to see this coming.

Luckily we have a handmaid “cleaner” (let’s call her “The Wolf” as this is strictly a Tarantino operation) sympathetic to her cause and arranges for quick egress to Kate Bush’s “Cloudbusting,” which was a song I really liked (I’m not a Kate Bush fan) until it was appropriated for this show. I don’t think the producers put much thought into their needle-drops. Other than “men in power” in “big black cars,” there’s nothing about the song that could be considered analogy for the events in this episode. I’ve always interpreted it to be a song about love and impending parenthood. Apparently it’s about a rain-making machine. Still not seeing a connection. June’s a bloody mess as she walks out and nobody gives her a second thought. Adding insult to injury, my favorite Portishead song, “Only You” is ruined by placing it (as mood music) in Jezebel’s.

Fred and Serena take a little road trip. I don’t get much of the detail, but I have to assume Serena told Fred she made a deal with the brash, flirty U.S. Government operative to get little Nichole back. To my surprise, we have Creepy Fred summarily arrested for war crimes after he is tricked into entering Canada. I guess GPS is considered a sin or something, or maybe Gilead knocked out the satellites. Shrug. For a second there, I thought we were setting up a mob hit. This is a shocking episode because things actually happen, but because they happen so slowly, the final execution is beyond boring and doesn’t make any sense.

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