Under the Eye: “Nightshade”

The problem with the apocalypse is that no one is willing to admit there is an apocalypse. Apocalypse is a grand word; a big word filled with intent and finality. In Margaret Atwood’s universe, does the apocalypse begin when women and men become sterile and infertile? Does the apocalypse begin when the United States of America is destroyed and paved over to make way for Gilead? Does Atwood even see it as an apocalypse. In “Nightshade,” we finally return to Canada after June’s adventures in the Tobe Hooper Farm, and we are once again subject to that uniquely Canadian helplessness. Moira can be angry all she wants, but when she’s surrounded by a bunch of well-meaning hosers, it’s like being smothered in maple syrup; a slow death. What happens to the deadly mosquito when it is trapped in amber? That’s Moira.

I bring up the apocalypse because we may be, right now at this moment, in the midst of an apocalypse, but no one can either identify it or be willing to admit it. Lockdowns? Check. Food shortages? Check. Restriction of movement? Check. Rules for thee but not for me? Check. This is the first draft or scale model of an apocalypse. Maybe Moira wants to scream, but she can’t summon the energy. Maybe we all want to scream. It’s interesting. Moira was a character I disliked almost immediately when she was introduced in the first season, but she grew on me. I found her abrasive and angry (that overused “sassy” adjective) even before the time of Gilead. Even for all her prospective lovers and people who care about her, I reckoned it was a full-time job to put effort into a relationship with her.

It isn’t as though she softened, but she was able to create layers, and now I feel like she is a friend, and unlike Elisabeth Moss (and I know this is going to sound blasphemous), Samira Wiley is always thinking. She’s incredibly organic as an actor. “Operation– RESCUE!!” begat “Escape to Canada,” which was rebranded (officially) “Angels Flight,” or “Angel’s Flight” (but that would only be one angel), or possibly “Angels’ Flight.” That sounds grammatically correct. Either way, “Escape to Canada” is much better. Sounds like a half-assed low budget direct-to-video action movie from the late ’80s. If you know anything about kids (I don’t care how well-behaved you think they are), they’re not angels, but whatever. Can you imagine 50 of them on an airplane? This is true science fiction!

Moira works with Emily (Alexis Bledel) to place the children into foster homes or reunite them with family. Luke (O. T. Fagbenle) hosts a fundraiser for the “angels” or whatever, and there’s lots of polite applause. I have a question. Why are we still using money? This is an apocalypse, but we still need money? True charity begins in the human heart, not in the human’s wallet. Are there seriously like rich people during the apocalypse living comfortably in Canada and other places. We’re constantly being told that the human race is dying out on this show. Does the need for money even matter? In a rare instance of reality in the writing, it is revealed the children are having a difficult time adjusting to life in Canada. Well, it is Canada after all, but these are children who spent the majority of their lives in Gilead. Sometimes it feels like five years. Sometimes it feels like five minutes.

The kids are strangers in these homes, they don’t like where they’ve been placed. One kid even misses his Martha. Moira remedies this by bringing newly-freed Rita (Amanda Brugel) to one child’s home so she can talk to the kid and spend time with him. Rita and the child bond over their forced life changes. Even though Rita hated Gilead, it became her home. This is an excellent reversal, yet Moira is flummoxed just as Aunt Lydia, Serena, and Fred are flummoxed for the opposite reason. Everyone on this show thinks he or she is doing the right thing. Whether it’s abducting children or torturing Guardians. It’s amazing! We’re up against another moral quandary with June, who is making arrangements to move the handmaids to another safehouse. She travels to a Jezebels with a rather antebellum rustic, rural theme to it where she meets a fellow Mayday member who gives her the location.

While she’s there, June decides to kill two birds (or several Commanders, anyway) with one stone. The house is loaded with Commanders who are having one last party before being deployed to Chicago for a large-scale offensive. She consults with Esther on the best kind of poison to use to take down all the partying Commanders. They agree on nightshade, which Esther has been using to slowly kill her senile husband. Esther helps her make the poison, and June takes it back to the party where it is distributed while David Bowie’s “Suffragette City” plays in the background. “Ahhh, Wham Bam Thank Ya Ma’am!” Sometimes you have to stand back in awe of the stupidity on display in this show. These are the guys who captured and destroyed the United States of America, and brought the world to its knees? Okay.

After poisoning all the Commanders, June, fully in command of her demons*, returns to the farm, which is strangely quiet. She finds bullet casings on the ground. The editing in this scene is excellent. Very tense. Her Guardian driver is killed. A bunch of laser sights are trained on her. June is a small, unarmed woman and all these guns are being pointed at her. This is why Gilead fails. She is greeted by boyfriend Nick. Apparently the handmaids took off before the carnage began. Why are there so many bullet casings on the ground? My guess is the owner of the property did not permit any carnage to be shot inside, so the bullet casings fill in the blanks of the narrative. Low budget and simple, but effective. Nick asks her where the handmaids went. June tells him she doesn’t know.

Nick takes her into custody. I don’t understand this. Nick would rather see her tortured than executed. It’s obvious. The damage has been done. Why not simply put a bullet in her head and be done with it? She’s already cemented her status as a cult hero and a serious architect of rebellion. Why does this small handful of handmaids matter? This is an apocalypse. In other news, Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) is pregnant. She’s subjected to a battery of tests and medical examinations. Fred (Joseph Fiennes) tells her she is not Nichole’s mother. I feel a sea change happening wherein Serena will be rewritten as a victim. If you’ve been paying attention to movies and television shows of late, you know this is happening with villainous females. I so don’t care at this point, but I do have my theories as to who is the father of her child. I suppose we’ll get more of that as we go along.

*The Handmaid’s Tale is a story and a series that firmly believes a group of people are the identity of their leader. The show (and its writers) blames all for the actions of one, and one for the actions of all. There is no uncomfortable, inconvenient middle. I found this in my notes: “The chest of the world does not rise or fall on the breath of one person, or even a group of people, or even a nation of people.” I don’t quite know what it means, but I’m thinking about it.

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