Is anyone out there crying? I know I was through a good portion of this episode. It packed a punch on so many levels that just as you thought you couldn’t feel anymore, another hit came out of nowhere. From what deemed to be the death of a dream to the restoration of baby Angela, the power of women ebbed and flowed happily and tragically. Even the formidable presence of Aunt Lydia at the hospital couldn’t dampen the beautiful spirit of love and salvation that emerged through a dark night of the soul. Praise be.
Easy Like Sunday Morning
Every scene where Serena and June appear to be growing closer plays like a highwire act. How far the fall, how breathless the scenery is hangs on each word and exchange. “This is the new normal, or an offence to God.” Partners in crime, sinners in the eyes of Gilead and all it stands for, two women sitting in a living room, absorbing each other with a tenuous sense of camaraderie. We discover that Serena detests knitting and it is a girlfriend moment that has June smiling. As the moments pass, each relatively normal moment feels precious.
And with a statement that kills the joy and spontaneity of this most unusual time together, the vibe changes on a slow-turning dime. The Commander is returning home tomorrow. My heart dropped to my shoes, feeling the dread of having been bad children waiting until Dad came home for some kind of punishment. Serena and June do not welcome his presence, yet neither can say the words. What passes between them is a pallid Praise Be, said with little conviction and guarded souls. Uneasy lies the head that has worn the crown temporarily!
Domestic pleasantries do not a happy homecoming make. Fred’s return home is a near funereal moment, big black car pulling up to the Waterford home. With every footfall on the stairs, the overpowering feeling of oppressive gloom hangs in the air. With his handmaid and wife creating a bond in the spirit of improving Gilead’s policies, Fred is like a spy in the house of love. The more Eden speaks, the less I trust her, as she asks June about whether the Commander liked her gift of a monogrammed handkerchief. Either she is the perfect Gilead wife, or she spies further ambitions in the society. I am reminded very much of the film All About Eve, where the cloyng ingenue slyly calculates the flaws of the star and works to replace her and cause her demise. Watch out for her, she is not what she seems.
With each little update of what has transpired since his hospitalization, Serena grows a bit, enjoying being part of the process again. She is a natural leader and shines when sharing with Fred that she has worked his agenda on the Montreal trip. The tragic descent into things returning to normal emerge when Fred issues a tightly lipped Praise Be and purposefully closes the door on Serena. No women allowed in this sanctum anymore, save for whatever his whims or passions may want.
Music Box Dancer
When June finds the music box on her bed, the look of wonder on her face is incredibly precious. Hannah is never from her thoughts and the sight of the music box with the ballerina and the white rose of purity has her delighted like a small child. Light years from the moment that Serena viciously tortured June with seeing Hannah outisde the car and being denied a touch or a word to her. Politics may make for strange bedfellows, but here, a common cause can unite the coldest of enemies.And news of baby Angela binds the women in another effort to help
“Rape is not a blessing.” Emily is not a happy handmaid and her return from the colonies has her angrier than ever. Janine, dear woman, is trying to see the bright side of her situation and declares that just participating in the ceremony is great, no blow jobs required, like God has given her some kind of dispensation .Is this the new normal that is to be celebrated? And what of the mindset that will follow?
With further condemnation for anyone involved with the bombing, Emily wishes death upon them. She is a firebrand of abject rage, no room for forgiveness there. I felt a huge amount of trepidation for June. Once allies in the cause to free themselves of Gilead’s oppression, they are no longer on the same page. “Stay inside Gilead long enough and it starts to eat you from the inside out” is full of self-awareness, but perhaps June doesn’t know how far her mind has changed from that carefree woman we met early in Season One.
Is June the victim of a prolonged case of Stockholm Syndrome, slowly assimilating the idealogies of her captors? Has there been a rape of her soul, a measure of brainwashing? In the spirit of survival, has she become part of the jihad by staying silent about the bombing, or is she just trying to see another day to the end?
In Gilead society, children are the most important commodity they cherish. All hearts must be in the throats of viewers when baby Angela has taken sick and is in the hospital. From the moment I saw the Putnams in this series, I knew they weren’t fit or meant to be parents. Naomi Putnam has treated every moment with her child as if it is a enormous inconvenience and an alien one to her way of life. It is so fitting that Janine describes her child’s movement inside her like something out of Alien. She says it with humour, while Naomi looks like the baby is speaking a different language and is not of this world.
With a life in the balance, exceptions are made and a pediatric expert who is now a Martha is allowed to come to the hospital. The look on her face as she dons a stethoscope is as holy a ritual as a priest wearing a crucifix, her calling restored. This world of men making the decisions, fashioning reality and never thinking beyond the strictures of the law proves dire and maddening. My heart kept saying over and over again, “Give her to Janine!” Angela’s condition resembled failure to thrive, in which a child’s will to survive is severely compromised. Since Naomi looked as if she had never held Angela for more than a minute, it’s the last bit of common sense medicine that is available, when all the experts have dire predictions.
When the Whip Comes Down
The moment of truth comes down and it is a sad, sorry, terrifying look at a marriage damaged, of trust violated and enlightenment fading. “What is there but a greater cause than Gilead”, Olivia asks. “Obey your husband.” utters Fred with a cold threat in his manner and tone. And the gloves are off in a scene of mounting horror. Fred goes totally Old Testament on Serena and with every strike of the belt, Serena is reduced further and further into the ‘model’ Gilead wife, submitting to the punishment her husband lashes out. I wept for her pain, degradation and soul as the monstrous face of Gilead and male supremacy are laid to waste on her back. June’s tears for Serena are evidence of the their newfound alliance. When at one time this might have played out as a revenge fantasy, it is now a solemn, sad and sorrowful empathy for a sister in the fight. Men fear women will laugh at them. Women fear men will kill them. Sounds reasonable right now.
Janine! My beautiful, one-eyed, slightly mad handmaid. Yours is a heart that has no bounds for love. With everything your heart and body have endured, you remain a pure soul in total love with your child. All is supposedly lost, baby Angela declared gone from this world, another child claimed to Heaven. Yet there remained something so fundamentally wrong for this child to be in an incubator, hooked up to tubes, and no one touching her. To see Naomi and Warren in the lounge, nowhere near the dying infant, June’s motherly instincts prove correct and humane. Let Janine kiss her goodbye. I was hoping, praying for a good result, but in this world, felt it was foolhardy.
In a scene that felt like a dream, like a wish fulfillment, a sweet voice was heard singing the old Bay City Rollers classic, I Only Want to Be With You. And Janine, looking like Mother Earth and Suzy Sunshine, cradles Angela in her lap, laughing and playing, a truly natural woman. You can’t kill this woman’s heart in the light of the love she feels for her daughter. Nothing nurtures like the skin-on-skin contact a mother shares with her child. Or destroys like the beating sustained by Serena. Whether descending into the pain and darkness of physical cruelty or the light of maternal love, all of our ladies will face an uncertain future. Baby steps, please.
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