Under the Eye: “Fairytale”

Bowling for Gilead. So Canada, right? Supposed to be America’s surrogate? Land of the … somewhat free? Home of the … arguably brave? Does your average American citizen have the rights afforded them by their Constitution and Bill of Rights, and are those rights recognized by the Canadian government? The reason I ask is because Canada is not the same as the United States. Not by a longshot. What about the roster of privileges with regard to “free speech?” There seem to be sycophants and protesters in the land of maple syrup and hockey hair (and spring water and Muslim women) yet, as we’ve learned, Canada is a place where a person can be arrested for not using the proper personal pronouns.

In the fictional world of Gilead, Canada makes life difficult for Mayday, or at least the violent refugees of Mayday. They want them gone. They’re guarding the borders. This is too much for Luke (O.T. Fagbenle), who volunteers to penetrate into the no-man’s-land between Gilead and Canada to rescue one of their trapped contacts. June (Elisabeth Moss) decides to go with him. This seems like a dry-run for a full-on rescue of Hannah. What’s more it seems incredibly stupid considering Luke and June haven’t done any research. This is where we get our requisite flashbacks to the first episode; the separation of the family, Hannah and June being snatched away, Luke left for dead. Meanwhile Moira (Samira Wiley) waits with Lily (Christine Ko). Excuse me. Why isn’t Moira out there with her friends, helping them?

Instead, she gets drunk with Lily (obviously telegraphing a new little girlfriend—maybe this one won’t be as much of a pain-in-the-ass as Oona) and yells, “Fuck Detroit!” Kind of unprovoked considering the world of Gilead is just one big Detroit, but since Moira hails from there, it’s all good … man! Nobody seems to realize that just because they’re in Canada, it doesn’t mean that they’re free. They’re still prisoners. Remember the creepy image of the sycophant hugging Serena’s belly in the final frames of “Dear Offred?” As it happens, Serena (Yvonne Strahovski), being viewed as a fertile goddess, invites worship from Gilead sympathizers, all of them women wearing conventional dress and creepy smiles.

They all want to touch Serena’s belly as though she were a Buddha capable of providing prolificacy. Serena is essentially imprisoned inside this house with no means of communication with the outside world. There’s not a hint of irony in the fact that these women are free to worship or believe what they want in Canada (even though that isn’t actually true in the real world), and that they have willingly subjugated themselves in observance of Gilead’s prime rubric. In a conversation with the thick-headed Commander Putnam (Stephen Kunken), Serena wants to place less emphasis on Gilead (as a structure) and more emphasis on fertility, which sounds like a good idea. Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) likes the idea, but Putnam doesn’t want “the love and support of the whole world.”

Putnam’s Gilead is about rape and immediate male gratification, plain and simple. Lawrence knows Putnam’s attitude could signal the end of Gilead. Why isn’t he in charge? Meanwhile, Luke and June cross the Iron Curtain and find their contact, a whisper-thin Guardian named Jaden (Owen Painter), who leads them to … a bowling alley? Whatever. I hear Frogger in the background. I’m game! He tells them about the “plums,” girls who are trained for marriage. The information isn’t particularly useful (we already pretty much got what we needed to know from Nick in the previous episode), no matter how much trouble he went through to get it. Because Luke and June have to wait for nightfall to get back to Canada, they get a little bowling in with Jaden.

Luke finds a Hammond organ and performs “Let’s Stay Together” for June. He’s note perfect, which makes no sense to me unless it’s in the context of actors being singers, but nobody should be able to sing like Al Green, except Al Green! I pray for the day when actors pretend to not be able to sing*. So, this bowling alley turns out to be a strange oasis that almost makes you forget about the apocalypse. But not quite. The apocalypse is still a fucking thing because we have land mines. Jaden steps on a landmine and there is an explosion. Jaden loses a leg. June and Luke tie it off and make a run for Canada, but are tackled a couple yards short of first down. I’m not sure who is tackling them. Is this Gilead?

Do they really monitor the border so dilligently? Are they waiting for interlopers to cross an imaginary line so that they can be abducted and taken to Gilead? Jaden had told June and Luke that he goes to the bowling alley when it’s too cold to patrol, so these Guardians don’t strike me as dilligent. Jaden’s an idiot and, once again, if he is emblematic of Gilead, how does Mayday not destroy them? In fact, this seems like a really shitty, horrible job best left to the lower 99%. Yet here they are, tackling people. If it is Guardians. I don’t trust this show. This show lies. We’re halfway through the season and both Luke and June are captured? Is this all for Hannah? Regardless of my questions, this may have been the best episode of The Handmaid’s Tale in a long time just for the sheer weirdness of it.

*I’ve always been suspicious of characters in television series and movies suddenly revealing previously-unseen abilities to entertain. A good example would be most of the cast of Ally McBeal, ostensibly lawyers, singing like professionals. There’s also Howard and Raj from The Big Bang Theory, engineering and astronomical geniuses performing their song, “Calling Dr. Jones.” Or Dr. House with his electric guitar. It only makes sense when you consider that these are actors and not the characters they claim to be portraying. They’ve had years to learn most aspects of entertainment. Very, very few lawyers and engineering and astronomical geniuses can perform like that in real life. Real people don’t sing, dance, or play musical instruments all that well. They’re too busy doing what they’re paid to do. End of rant.

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