Under the Eye: “Home”

I wish I could understand what goes on in June’s (Elisabeth Moss) damaged brain. It’s all a blurry line of images. Four-star hotel. Fruit basket with grapes. Crackers for pate maybe. Tuello’s hushed voice reciting a litany of instructions, pledges, and warnings. All of these things go by in a daze as the molasses of Etta James’ “At Last” plays in her head. She has a soundtrack for the ages in her mind, accessing songs to compliment her many moods. Luke (O.T. Fagbenle), feeling appropriately uncomfortable around her, offers her the amenities, but she just wants a hot shower. I wonder how all of this feels. Most of us (in the real world) don’t need a Gilead to show us how to be treated as less than human. Indeed, we are the animals, the unwashed, the second-class citizens and slaves to the “leaders” of this world.

The world is an oyster for the privileged, but it brings the rest of us nothing but heartache and pain. Have you ever wondered why the wealthy and powerful can make one mistake after another in this life and never surrender to the effects of those mistakes? Yet when one of us makes a mistake, we never stop paying for it? June always seemed to be middle-class, to some degree or another. She was a book editor, which really works in the central irony of the fact that women are not permitted to read in Gilead. I’m not sure what Luke did for a living, or if he even held down a job. They shared an apartment. Even though June’s man-hating mother was a physician, she didn’t seem particularly well-to-do either. Suddenly, June is elevated to an unusual benighted status. Luke is beside himself with joy at her arrival back in his life, but he remains nervous.

He apologizes to her for not doing more to rescue her or Hannah. She continues her same spiel to Luke from the end of the previous episode, lying to Luke that Hannah knows how much they love her. She speaks to him in such a strange, condescending way that I would know she was bullshitting me after being married to her for so long. As emotionally traumatized as the both of them are, he should know when she lies to him, and believe me, she hasn’t become skilled at it. I sense June feels like she is coming out of a long cerebral drought and a restorative fugue. Not necessarily a deep sleep, but a week-long fever that toasted her brain cells. She looks at the simplest tools and has to think about their function; a hairbrush, a napkin. What do I do with this? When Tuello debriefs her, she speaks of personal vengeance and Serena Joy.

She lets it be known that rescuing the children had more to do with hurting Serena and the other Wives than their welfare. Luke decides to end the interview. He takes her home to see Nichole. Serena prays in a chapel situation, thanking God for a healthy pregnancy. Like clockwork, Tuello shows up to continue the soap opera. Serena asks after June. Like Darth Vader, she can sense her presence, which is exceedingly creepy. Tuello tells her Fred wants to see her. She doesn’t want to see Fred. Again, we’re painting Serena as a victim. Fred thinks God wants them to be together because of the pregnancy. Serena isn’t buying it. She doesn’t sound so terribly religious anymore. I wonder why. Fred is worried with June’s arrival, they’ll be given something called a “maximum sentence.” Based on what they’ve done, they should be executed. The both of them.

Moira and Luke take June to the supermarket. There’s fresh food everywhere. The shelves and aisles are absolutely packed. The most egregious development in food is that all the potato chips have been made “healthy.” I wish I knew what that meant. As far as I can remember, potato chips have always been made of potatoes and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. June has a mini freak-out when she sees a couple of giggling Muslim women, and then sees a pair of wings on a bottle of spring water. This triggers her into flashbacks of abuse, and a shouting, abusive Serena shrieking at her through gritted teeth. Right, so the abuser makes her mark. Serena will live forever as a thought in June’s mind. There are images that continue to live in my mind from a traumatic past.

There are words and physical actions of abuse, and familiar smells that bring back even more times of abuse in my childhood that I’ve still yet to access, but I know they’re there. The abuser lives forever. Emily and her son, Oliver, arrive for dinner, as does Rita, and we get a kind-of reunion, but it isn’t terribly satisfying. Rita dishes about Serena’s pregnancy. This tends to enrage June, and rightly so, considering the hell they put her through. It seems it was never necessary to ritualistically rape June (and their previous handmaid) repeatedly. Because these are women, they immediately start in with Serena’s physical appearance, mocking and deriding her over the most superficial of reasons. Una stops by to leave June a gift. Moira tries to apologize to her, but Una is a woman, which basically means she’ll never forgive Moira for choosing June over her.

Maybe Moira should consider men. We may be horrible, but we don’t make women feel bad for doing the right thing, and what’s more, we know we’re not the center of the fucking universe. Unable to sleep, June summons Tuello, who takes her to see Serena. Serena tells June she wants to make amends. June tells Serena that she deserves nothing but a life filled with suffering. Serena gets on her knees and begs for June’s forgiveness. June tells her that God will kill the baby inside of her. She then leans down and shrieks through gritted teeth, “DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?!” This makes Serena cry. Poor girl. She still thinks she’s doing the right thing. It’s amazing. There are laws that forbid murder and torture; I’m pretty sure it’s in the Bible as well, but poor Serena thinks laws are for us, the Unwashed.

Much has been written of this next scene, which sees June return home, climb into bed with Luke and proceed to have sex with him. A lot of people consider this scene rape. I don’t. I will now explain why. I am a man. This is not how you rape a man. Luke is twice her size. He doesn’t feel fear before or during the act. Rape is fear. Fear and violence. If I want to inject the idea of rape into the conversation, I would say that June raped herself with Luke’s penis*. June tells Tuello that Serena is pathological, a sociopath (well, which one is she?), a consummate actress, and that she will she lie to get what she wants. This episode definitely hates women, but more importantly, it hates June and destroys her character. It takes what was once promising and reduces her to the level of Aunt Lydia and Serena Joy.

*This scene sharply divided male and female viewers. Female viewers, invariably, saw it as rape. Male viewers did not. I remember reading a study not too long ago wherein women, victims of rape all agreed the weapon used in rape is not a man’s penis, but a man’s hands; hands which are used to restrain their victims. June’s weight isn’t even enough to restrain Luke.

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