Under the Eye: “Border”

Why does everything have to take so long? Is it me nursing the impatience of old age? It’s one of my chief complaints when watching current television. Writers take too long in telling their stories, and directors and editors accommodate those wispy, meandering deficits by making everything look far more important than it actually is, and giving everything a lazily “epic” feel. If you don’t believe me, try sitting through Rings of Power. I think a grand total of three things happen in “Border.” June (Elisabeth Moss) freaks when she sees Hannah (Jordana Blake) is wearing the color purple (not the movie or Broadway show) in the live broadcast of Fred’s funeral. I guess she’s never seen purple in Gilead, but she knows (as I noted in my review of the 1988 movie starring Natasha Richardson) this is a color-coded dystopia for women.

It’s almost as if Gilead were designed by obsessive-compulsive nail technicians and fashion theorists. I can totally see all of these dresses in a Sears catalog. “Morning” began the disturbing trend of ret-conning character motivations, but this episode takes it a step further by introducing extemporaneous ideas designed to give previously sidelined characters a further boost of motivation. This week’s extemporaneous idea is a cadre of refugees living along the border between Canada and Gilead, and every now and then those refugees go to Gilead to stir up some shit. It’s possible this group could’ve been in existence from very early on, but the revelation of them so late in the show’s run smells more of narrative desperation than a clever caesura.

In addition, the initial introduction of Lily (Christine Ko) is handled so poorly it’s almost unintentionally silly. I was expecting a clandestine meeting at night in the woods, but no, her enormous attention-grabbing SUV is parked right in front of a heavily-traveled thruway in broad daylight. Are they joking? June’s reaction makes no logical sense when Moira reveals her knowledge of the refugees. She is angry at Moira for not telling her sooner. Once again, we have June believing this world (and everything in it) was created in front of her glaring, Kubrickian eyes. Moira (Samira Wiley) tells her the last thing she needs right now is a militia of psychologically damaged ex-handmaids and Marthas. Wait, what about her vigilante friends from the season premiere, or are we done with them?

Regardless, June insinuates it wasn’t Moira’s decision to make. God! I can’t believe June is supposed to be the hero of this mess. She’s a big baby. Moira gives the baby her bottle and takes June to meet Lily, one of the refugees, who works out of a cabin protected by women with machine guns, not unlike the Oceanside community from The Walking Dead. I know I’m going to keep comparing this show to The Walking Dead but that’s probably because zombies make more sense to me than an authoritarian patriarchy. With the introduction of Lily and her breathy assertions, I know I’m being set up for another blind date with a character that will either prove valuable and desperate or worthless and neurotic and then eventually die. My money’s on the latter.

That’s what happens to day players and “under fives” on this show. It’s worse than being a red shirt on Star Trek. Lily reveals that she is part of Mayday, and June comes to the conclusion that Mayday is much bigger than any one group of people. How is it I knew that years before June evidently figured it out? How is it also that an organization as vast and efficient as Mayday can never seem to deal a harsh blow against Gilead? Particularly since both sides seem to rely almost exclusively on guys with machine guns. It’s almost like Gilead thumbs its nose at Mayday and vice versa like two children playing grab-ass in a schoolyard. June manages to get her color-coordination question answered by Nick in a secret phone call (How are they able to call Gilead?).

Purple signifies, I guess, when a girl is ready to be taught how to be a proper wife. We used to call it Finishing School. What I’m trying to understand is how Hannah managed to escape being turned into a handmaid. She’s not anybody’s daughter, except that of a terrorist, and I’m sure if Gilead truly wanted to punish June, they would turn Hannah into a handmaid. Of course, the hierarchical structure of women in Gilead confuses me. Sometimes, it seems Commander’s wives are the highest rank. Other times, I’ve seen the Aunts push them around. Marthas cook and clean, but seem to be treated better than handmaids who, while obviously the most valuable women in Gilead, are treated the worst, excluding possibly the Jezebels and the woman who work the Colonies.

Gilead doesn’t seem to have an hierarchy based in merit, but rather a tired, repurposed caste system of privilege. Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) soon discovers she’s had her privilege revoked. She tells Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) that it would be in their mutual interests for him to marry her, but he doesn’t seem all that jazzed about the idea. Serena is told in no uncertain terms to go back to Canada, become a “global ambassador,” and rally support for Gilead. She, somewhat hilariously and cluelessly, asks for a staff and budget. Serena is incensed when she is shown the door and put on a plane with Tuello (Sam Jaeger) when, in reality, she should be grateful she was not mutilated and, being fertile, transformed into a handmaid to be raped on a nightly basis until she was forced to hang herself in her upstairs closet under a sign that read, “Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum.”

Gilead is not a government. Gilead is a loose association of well-dressed terrorists. Tuello is relieved because he’s obviously head-over-heels in hopeless love with Serena. Sure, she’s a beautiful woman, and men are stupid, so Tuello can’t help himself. Can you imagine those two in a romantic comedy? In the third subplot, Aunt Lydia visits Janine in the hospital, smacks the comatose Esther across her face, and shouts a prayer to God promising to be a better person or better Aunt, or something like that. I wonder if God listens to prayers from psychotic Aunts. If I were God, the first bit of advice I’d dispense would be to stop hitting girls that are in comas, but I’m silly that way.

Serena returns to Toronto in defeat where her limousine is met with a vigil of people who apparently worship her. Her driver calls them fans. She calls them “servants of God.” The limousine is blocked further up the road by June who warns her, “Never touch my daughter again.” Serena is, somewhat poetically, freaked out by this encounter. Oh well. I want to think this newfound cult appeal of Serena’s will lead to a satisfying narrative pay-off, but I have very little faith that the writers know what they’re doing. If there was one thing the writers knew about Atwood’s original story, it was the irony of self-hatred that women seemed to possess, and they used that irony to further the story. In the fifth season, The Handmaid’s Tale is stuck in some very thick mud. Somebody needs to get out and push, or at the very least, get this beast off the road.

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