The Handmaid’s Tale is back and as beautifully shot and disturbing to watch as ever. With June stepping into the Eye’s van to conclude last season and officially take the production off book, many of us assumed this was her ride to freedom. Wrong!
Spoilers. Under His eye, spoilers!
Honestly, it was silly of us to think this was June’s escape plan. The Handmaid’s Tale loves to torture us and keep us guessing. We should’ve known better. Instead, June finds herself in a dilapidated Fenway Park. Here’s where I, an Orioles fan, typically would toss in a joke at the Red Sox expense, but considering Baltimore is probably in the heart of Gilead, I’ll pass on my derisive comments. The only way we’re going to make it through season 2 is in unity.
Fenway Park has turned into a massive gallows where numerous handmaid’s are ushered up on to the platform for a hanging. As they slipped the rope around their necks, something didn’t add up. No way would Gilead waste so many fruitful uteruses. Enter Aunt Lydia stage left. She still around, still torturing the haidmaids into submission, and still as faithful as before.
And if you thought like June she was immune to the sadistic ways of Gilead because she’s preggers, you’re wrong. Aunt Lydia shows her where they chain up pregnant handmaids who refuse to submit. I understand why the imagery of the woman chained to a ceiling around a bed is needed to show June the consequences of her actions, but something about it didn’t translate from production to screen. That one scene felt out of place, perhaps because the chained handmaid seemed insane. Perhaps that was the point. Watch yourself or we will drive you insane. But it also just looked like a set from a play in the middle of a room; it felt staged. For June. And I didn’t buy it.
The latter scene with June watching her fellow handmaids be tortured due to her refusing to obey Aunt Lydia and stone Janine carried more weight. These were handmaids we knew. Friends of June’s, and June was the source of their suffering but could only sit and eat her food as she listened to their cries.
No freedom for June. No black van to Maine, which is fine because instead we got the pleasure of watching June make her own decision to stay in Gilead or to slip down the rabbit hole to potential freedom.
When the RN leaves and speaks her name, June, not Offred, my skin tingled. Here we go. A key with a red rectangle. Does she go through the backdoor into the unknown or home with the Waterfords? Brilliantly, the show decides to let us follow the character’s decision to escape. It isn’t something that happens to her, where she’s picked up from the Waterford’s, told by Nick to get in the van, and given no choice. Her freedom is her choice. Her freedom is her’s to steal back. And she does, all the way down the red-marked path to the freezer van with slaughtered pigs.
At her new destination, Nick is there to greet her and help her change her clothes and hair. And we close on the gruesome, toe-curling scene where June takes a scissors and cuts into her ear to remove the tracking device.
As visually horrible as that scene was to watch, the most disturbing scenes were those in flashback to June’s life at the start of the war. First, she cannot even receive her birth control without her husband’s signature. Some of you may think this is a stretch and will never come to pass, but scarily it isn’t that unimaginable. There are people on Capitol Hill right now trying to make it near impossible for women to receive contraception, certainly to make it costly. If you aren’t rich, you don’t have the priviledge.
Second, June and Luke watch the destruction of the Capitol building. This was probably the hardest scene for me to watch. With all the horrific mass shootings our country is experiencing, the dichotomy of watching violence and destruction unfold on TV while tucking our kids in bed and keeping them safe feels all too real. Too close to home.
In episode 2 we finally see the dreaded Colonies. Gorgeously shot. As my colorist husband mentioned, the colors chosen for these sequences are telling. The sun isn’t glorious but sickly, menacing. The ground smokes as if a forest fire was just extinguished. The Aunts wear gas masks that look like a sleek upgrade from WWI while those banished to the Colonies suffer the air, the infected water, the rank conditions.
Although as much of the episode was dedicated to June wandering the Boston Globe building and discovering the massacre that happened there, I wanted to stay on the Colonies. I had so many questions. What are they shoveling? Why do they need to bag the earth? What are the noxious gases? What is the purpose of their work? I couldn’t help but think of Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail when King Arthur encounters the autonomous collective who are simply piling mud on top of mud with no sense of purpose. Is there a point to shoveling the dirt in the Colonies? I may have become overly fixated on this question. But still. Questions need to be answered if tax payer dollars are going to this new infrastructure.
Emily (Ofglen) returns and we see some of her backstory as a grad student teaching at a university. She’s in an open, gay marriage and has a son. I love seeing the fall of the country and the rise of Gilead, but something feels amiss with some of the flashbacks. It’s very rushed. One scene she’s not concerned about anyone’s thoughts on her sexual orientation, and then her openly gay professor/mentor is hanged for being gay from the building. Jump to Emily and her wife and child (thank goodness of Canadian descent!) rushing to Logan to flee the country. Huge brute security men who look like they’ve waited their whole lives to shut down a lesbian family are there to – well, shut down a lesbian family. Emily’s marriage is null and void and she no longer has the right to leave the country with her wife and child. How did we go from her teaching openly at the university to suddenly an army of toxic masculinity blocking the gates to the airlines?
If anything, it does peak my curiosity more. Yes, I want to see June escape. Yes, I can’t wait to see Luke and Moira hash out a rescue attempt. Yes, I can’t wait to see Emily rise up and take down the Colonies. (That has to happen, right? RIGHT!) But I almost want more to see how they got here. We get glimpses, some hauntingly familiar, but others too fast to make sense of.
Regardless, this show needs a cinematography award.
Watch The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu.
Photos courtesy of Hulu.
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