Under the Eye: “Morning”

I wonder when it happened that people stopped caring about The Handmaid’s Tale. I’ve read countless articles proclaiming the show should have ended three years ago. That the repetition of June’s torture and subsequent return trips to Gilead, as well as her predilection for cultivating an intensely unlikeable character, made cheering for her all the more difficult. It’s almost as if June knows she’s the subject of a television show that popularizes her being raped and tortured weekly. A recent Decider article titled “I’m Sorry, But I Just Can’t Deal With ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ in 2022” by Meghan O’Keefe even goes into bitter detail about how irrelevant the show has become. The A.V. Club stopped reviewing the series.

This was a series that earned eight Emmy awards in its first season and countless nominations in subsequent seasons. Hulu promoted it as important, timely television. Producers claimed the show could continue for ten years. In 2022, it’s an obscure oddity, a leftover like The Walking Dead that people have to remind themselves is still on the air. In “Morning,” we pick up right where we left off, but with some significant ret-conning. A bizarre sequence of revisions changes some key motivation in the characters of June (Elisabeth Moss) and Serena (Yvonne Strahovski). In the final minutes of “The Wilderness,” Fred Waterford was torn to pieces, beheaded, and liberated of his finger and wedding ring, which were then shipped to Serena.

We were there when she opened the package, revealing the grisly contents (as well as her reaction to said contents). We were also there when it was revealed Fred’s life was put in the hands of the former handmaids to do with as they pleased. With the revision made to the story, courtesy of “Morning,” the package was evidently intercepted by authorities before it could be sent to Serena. In this rewritten scenario, Tuello (Sam Jaeger) tells her what is in the package. June surrenders to authorities and is incensed when she discovers she won’t be punished despite knowing full well this was a joint operation between American, Canadian, and Gilead officials.

For all her proselytizing in the previous season, as well as the troublesome death threat she leveled on Tuello, she demands to be punished, which is weird. Before she is taken into custody, though, she returns to the rendezvous point: a diner out in the sticks where she proceeds to have breakfast with her fellow vigilantes. The arrest makes no sense to me, except to provide information for the benefit of the viewers. If she committed no crime, why was she picked up? If the Canadian government doesn’t care that Fred was murdered (another unbelievable development), why was she picked up? What is justice? If a man rapes you repeatedly under the guise of restoring the human race, and that rape is sanctioned by a governing body, are you morally justified in tearing that man to pieces with help from other angry parties?

Notice how the question shifts to one of mob brutality. If this were June, all by her lonesome, locked in a room with Fred, all by his lonesome, it’s easy to answer the question. This is vigilantism. This is an exchange of murders, and that is what it truly becomes. These are murder parties put together by escaped handmaids and Marthas. It’s like a pyramid scheme of murder. We get all our boys (or girls) together and murder your Commander, then we all meet next weekend for another murder. All that’s missing is a veggie platter. If we keep doing this, the act will get easier and easier to perform. Murder will become easier and easier to justify. As weeks of this go by, it will become a fact of life, like doing the dishes after dinner.

Indeed, when June expresses apprehension at continuing to exact “justice,” she is met with derision from her fellow vigilantes. She wanted to use their anger to rip Fred to pieces, and now her appetite for destruction is sated. For now. There’s always Serena to consider. Because of the ret-conned resolution to “The Wilderness,” Serena has to be taken away to a secure location to keep June from … what? Slicing her belly open and eating her unborn child, Caligula-style? Jeez! I can’t believe this is where we are in human discourse. It is hilarious that Canadian military people greet a barefoot, pregnant woman with machine guns drawn. What are they worried about exactly? Are they afraid she’ll give birth on them? Now that would be an entertaining twist! No.

Instead, they’ve elevated Serena to myth and unintended cultural icon; a literal madonna. It’s called the Streisand Effect. What Serena needs to do is hide in plain sight. It worked for Gus Fring. For a while anyway. Serena and June aren’t the only characters who have suffered under rewritten motivation. Moira, once militant and angry, is horrified at June’s actions, and worries for Nichole. In the era of Gilead, she should worry about every child being born under this brutal whip, and where Samira Wiley has quietly elevated her character, the writers have dealt her this cheesy reversal while promoting Elisabeth Moss (who directed this episode) at every opportunity. The departure of Alexis Bledel as Emily is a further blow to the series.

Rather than being written out with a respectful send-off, characters are given clunky expository dialogue about how Emily decided to go back to Gilead to “continue the fight.” Considering this exit had to take place right after the execution of Fred, she’s probably still waiting at the train station. How does one get to Gilead? I don’t think it’s on the bus schedule. It’s more likely Bledel left the show without warning and the producers had to scramble to cover for her absence. So the fifth season of The Handmaid’s Tale begins with the deck stacked against it. Be prepared for more ridiculous soap opera stories, more psychotic Kubrickian gazes into nothingness, and more inappropriate needle drops. Have no fears, they have stories for years!

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