The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t a long book; there’s an awful lot that’s glossed over, hardly mentioned. Not surprising, since it’s all from June’s viewpoint, and there’s a lot she doesn’t know. But that’s where the genius of this series is – filling in the blanks, making us understand and believe that this nightmare could happen to reasonable people in what had once been a free society.
In this almost-completely Offred-less episode, we saw just a slice of what happened after the takeover, and the terror and fever that gripped the country. There’s been a lot written about “mob mentality,” and how people will be easily persuaded to do things in a group that they would never do on their own. How many of the new fighters for Gilead really believed in the group’s ideals? How many turned against their fellow humans to save their own skins? How many would wake up from this action wondering how they could behave this way, and horrified that they did?
Luke is a “regular guy.” He’s in love with his wife and his little family. He’s not a hero, he’s not anything more than average. But having that family grounds him, keeps him from becoming one of the mob. June is a smart woman in an impossible situation – with no way to fight back, no superhero strengths. But she has had a child, and sees what’s happening to the rights of women in this new order. And she knows, better than Luke does, what could happen to women in a society where women have no power, no say, no name. And so she arranges for them to leave, convinces Luke that it’s time to go (wouldn’t you like to have heard those conversations?), and finds someone who can get them out – a former patient of her mother – do we presume her mom was a doctor? – turned human smuggler.
They obviously don’t yet know that Moira never made it to safety, they don’t know what awaits them, and they don’t realize that all the preparations they’ve made, including packing a mere handful of personal items and acquiring visas, aren’t worth anything. But those items that Luke grabs back from Whitford when he insists that their backpack have to go are terribly poignant, when he finds them laying in the woods. Hannah’s bunny, a couple of pages from a photo album – all that he has left of his family.
The timeline in this episode is a little confusing. How long were they at the cabin in the woods? Long enough to have pancakes “every day” for a while. But not long enough to get concerned that Whitford hadn’t returned? (and weren’t you just waiting for the stranger who found them at the lake to say “under His eye”?) How long was Luke on the bus with the survivor group? How long had the fighting been going on while Luke and June were at home and then at the cabin – that town looked like it hadn’t been occupied in quite a while.
Faye, the survivor group’s leader, tries to talk him out of running right back to Boston and trying to save June and Hannah, and shows him a grisly sight in an old church – nearly a dozen people hanging from the rafters. “The town fought back. They tried to hide the fertile women in here. There’s one of these in every town. This is what they do to people who fight back. If you go back, you’re gonna die. You’re gonna die and leave them all on their own. Is that what you want?”
This moment was – and wasn’t – a major shock. Sure, we’ve seen lots of grisly sights in this show, from the Handmaids kicking a man to death, to the bodies – and bodies – and bodies – hung against the walls. But those were individuals who had in some way offended the new regime. And this was a town. Not passed by, not left alone to believe what they wanted to believe. But rolled over, steamrolled over, by what had to be a large group of invaders. The Mongols, aliens, the Nazi army. With us – or against us. Give us what we want, don’t even bother to give us, we’ll just take. Regular people, who just a couple of years earlier had lived with their neighbors, mowed their lawns, attended different churches in the same town – turned into a hive mind whose only thought is to, literally, rape and pillage their way through the countryside.
One of the survivors on the bus went through a horror that must have been like this. Erin Jo Way, a Colony alum, didn’t say a word – and she didn’t have to. Luke is told she’s the only woman who survived when the army found a group of about 50 women being hidden in a school, children ripped from them, and most likely heading toward what was June’s fate, a Red Center. And our unnamed survivor has already been red-tagged (have you noticed the red tag affixed to their ears?) “We think they were looking for fertile women, gathering them up. And they weren’t letting go of them easily.” She doesn’t say a word throughout the episode, and doesn’t even have a name, since she hasn’t spoken to tell them what it is.
But she and Luke are the only ones who make it to Canada after an attack on their transport. I hope nobody’s ragging on Luke for giving up his wedding ring to the greedy boat captain – “This is free enterprise,” he says. What’s a piece of jewelry against your life, and the chance to live another day and potentially find a way to rescue the ones you love? June is doing the same thing, every day, with something much more valuable.
And three years pass. In our Facebook group, Gilead Online, we’ve had some discussions about how long this has been going on, and now we have an answer. Three years from the time June is captured until the day Luke receives her hand-written message. Do we need to know what’s happened during those three years? We’ve seen a bit of it from June’s side. We have to assume Luke has been working to help people who make it that far – that seems like the kind of guy he is. The walls Luke passes to get to the US representative are heartbreaking – all the missing people! (If you were a fan of Falling Skies, there was a similar wall in the school where they took refuge.) One little detail bothered me about that scene – one flyer showed up again and again. It seemed sloppy to me. But perhaps, if we had the chance to read the names, we’d see Handmaids and Marthas we’d recognize?
Details in this production are excellent. Not just in this episode – during the Waterford’s ceremony, the headboard forms angel wings around Serena Joy. Each Handmaid wears her robe just a little differently. The symbols on each can and box in the grocery store are all individual – we might not really see these details, but they’re all there. There’s been very little that looks like cutting corners. Even the show’s music is carefully selected – Sweet Baby James playing in the cabin was perfect. And the show’s consistent use of extreme close-ups during very emotional moments is particularly effective here, as it sinks in that his wife is alive – and maybe within reach. Will Luke be able to do anything about it? That remains to be seen. But her simple note – “I love you. So much. Save Hannah,” scrawled at haste, putting both June and the assistant in danger, is enough.
An industry group, Deadline, held an event where potential Emmy nominees could discuss their shows. Here’s a short video from Handmaid at that event.
Two Facebook groups for you to consider joining:
For show discussion and fan interest, join us at Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu: Gilead Online
and Hulu’s own Facebook group, just opened today, with artists, contests and more: #Maidez
Go to http://www.joinmaidez.com and enter code W1NQ3BQJ to begin.
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