Under the Eye: “Testimony”

June cuts her hair to Portishead’s “Glory Box.” Is this supposed to be symbolic? The song has nothing to do with The Handmaid’s Tale. My daughter wants to cut her hair constantly. I don’t know if she sees the long hair as a chain; the great albatross, the systemic tool of punishment. I think my daughter wants to be different. Entre’ to “Encounter Session,” the meeting of minds, the Victims, the victimized. Pop psychology. I wonder what scientologist Elisabeth Moss thinks about Encounter Therapy. I realize actors can be actors, but there are some things actors refuse to do. I remember when Lisa Whelchel (on The Facts of Life) refused to participate in an episode where her character, Blair, lost her virginity, because it went against her Christian beliefs (Lisa’s Christian beliefs, not Blair’s).

June can’t wait to testify as to the atrocities of Gilead. It’s interesting how she takes everything personally when Gilead represents, more than anything else, the murder of humanity and not one single handmaid. It’s a slow-motion murder, to be sure, but it’s still a murder. The group is confronted by a former Aunt named Irene (Carly Street), who passes a note to Emily. It’s time for delicious hate, isn’t it? It’s okay to hate and wish death upon certain groups of people. This is why we never learn. I’m tired of enemies myself. I’m tired of being told who to hate this week. Some people need enemies. It makes them feel alive. I’m not going to hate anybody this week. Take a breather. As Luke and June wash dinner dishes, it becomes clear to me that June will never adjust to normality in glorious Canada, land of spring water and Muslim imagery.

June is hateful, and she shuts down Luke in mid-discussion. This occurs maybe a few days after she forces herself on him. Why does he put up with her? Why does anybody put up with her? Fred and Serena have access to Canada’s version of “discovery material,” so they get to set up a proper defense. A proper defense? How do you defend abduction, sexual procurement, rape, and torture? Based on the notes they review, June is going to tell tales out of school about Fred’s waning potency. Oddly, there is no Bible* to swear on as June prepares for her testimony (or “victim’s statement, as it is known). There’s no need for me to go into this, is there? She’s just going to cherry-pick the most horrendous of anecdotes from the previous three seasons to tell a story we’re all intimate with at this point.

How many of her stories matter in a world that hates women, and then refuses to define the word, “woman,” while simultaneously making the word so nebulous that anyone (and I mean anyone) can call themselves a woman because they view it as less a biological gender than a state of mind? I am sorry if this sounds a tad preachy, but recent events have weighed heavily on me while watching this show. June gets a massive monologue (and surely an Emmy nomination for actor/director Elisabeth Moss). She asks for the “maximum possible sentence.” What does that mean? For me, if it isn’t being sodomized with a cattle prod until their heads explode, then it isn’t a “maximum sentence.” June is cross-examined in an effort to make her look terrible or something, I don’t know.

She is called an adulterer by Fred’s lawyer, as if that means something in this context. I don’t understand this process. The attorney makes it seem as though Gilead was her choice. Okay. That’s an interesting take. June walks off in disgust. The former handmaids in Canada have nothing left in their hearts for pity or compassion. There was also the lack of a Bible in a tribunal proceeding, hence no higher authority, providence, or standard by which to be judged except in the flawed perception of human justice. These creatures have traded in their gods for the imperfection of their own hearts. In a rare digression, Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) is shown to be back and in full flower. She tortures handmaids (and her fellow younger Aunts alike) as they gossip and scrub floors.

Because of her recent power grab (courtesy of Commander Lawrence), she is emboldened as she cattle-prods a handmaid for not scrubbing out a stain, and then turns the prod on her fellow Aunt. The writers have destroyed this character by turning her into a shallow cartoon caricature. Commander Lawrence dresses down Lydia for her violent outburst. Jeez, this episode is a slog. I’m only halfway through. He tells her in no uncertain terms to stop torturing handmaids. Now, we have the most ridiculous development: the re-capture of Janine (Madeline Brewer), for Christ’s sake! This poor girl. Nothing but a punching bag for Gilead and for June ( as well as the writers). She begs Lydia to not be made a handmaid again. Lydia blames this on June, as though she were an infection, but that will never change the fact that Janine tasted freedom for roughly a couple of weeks, but the point of this subplot was not to show us what happened to Janine.

It was to remind us of what these Aunts actually do. This is why June wants to hear what former Aunt Irene has to say. Yes, she tries to justify her actions, but that doesn’t matter. She is here to be punished. She tells them she hasn’t had a moment’s peace and she asks for forgiveness. Has she been watching this show? There is no room for forgiveness in the world of Gilead. June accuses Irene of hiding behind God. As an Atheist, I can smell the words of my fellow atheists. As with Serena last week, these are not the words of Christians, of Bible thumpers, of the devout. These are the words of people who practice hatred and intolerance as a constant matter of course. What has happened to atheists of late? Apathy was our tool. We didn’t care what you believed. We wanted to be left alone, but now that’s gone.

It’s become a cancer; an aggressive hatred for anything that isn’t us. Later Emily (Alexis Bledel) murders Irene. Not as a simple act of murder, but by her indifference. She forces Irene to murder herself by suicide, and the casual antipathy of the former handmaids telegraph even worse developments as we move swiftly to the finale. Once again, I find myself caring not for June. Once again, as directed by Moss, June is a monster, not a fighter, not a revolutionary, not a messiah. “Testimony” was the episode that destroyed Aunt Lydia and Emily as characters. In the aftermath, the former handmaids tell Emily she shouldn’t feel guilty. Emily tells them she feels, “amazing.” Only Moira (Samira Wiley) seems to have a problem with this thinking. The scent of the blood is in the air. There’s no turning back now.

“Testimony” saves the best sequence for last. Fred and Serena discover they have fans. People smiling and proudly holding signs in support of these monsters. It turns out, they’re cult heroes in Canada. I wanted to see a woman hold up a sign that reads: “Hey Fred! Rape me!” That would’ve been perfect. This is the double-edged sword of freedom, but this isn’t Canada. Canada knows nothing of free speech. They understand that people say and believe in controversial ideas and that based on the severity of those beliefs, they may face jail time or heavy fines. That’s Canada’s idea of free speech. It does make me wonder how much we are required to protect. Does speech only matter when we agree with the speech? “Glory Box” plays us out, but it’s all wrong. This time it’s heavily sampled as part of another song, an inferior song. Here’s the better version.

“I’m so tired of playing
Playing with this bow and arrow
Gonna give my heart away
Leave it to the other girls to play
For I’ve been a temptress too long
Give me a reason to love you
Give me a reason to be a woman
I just wanna be a woman.**”

*June is not even given the option of swearing on a Bible, which is unconstitutional. Perhaps Canadians don’t swear on Bibles, but the Bible is considered a standard upon which to measure truth. That goes for us atheists as much as it does religious people. If The Handmaid’s Tale’s writers remove the Bible from criminal court and inquiry proceedings, it means they have no respect either for the book or the process of jurisprudence.

**Isaac Lee Hayes, Beth Gibbons, Geoffrey Paul Barrow, Adrian Francis Utley. “Glory Box.” 1995. Dummy. Go! Beat/London, 1994

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