Isn't The Handmaid's Tale just far too appropriate a show for our times? Wouldn't it be lovely if we could all laugh at how absurd it is, the reaches they make that would never ever happen, great science fiction, Margaret Atwood. But here we are. Let's roll S1:E8 Jezebels after the break and see what I'm talking about.
We open with Offred/June (Elisabeth Moss) pondering life while Nick (Max Minghella) sleeps behind her. She's castigating herself for her role in this Upside Down, for not being stronger, for starting to forget Luke. She could blame the patriarchy (that line made me jump - wait, they know about the patriarchy?) but she's there because it feels good and she doesn't want to be alone. Amen, sister.
Nick is so adorable as he wakes up, all thick hair and eyebrows and pouty lips. I think he's trying to remember every piece of her too.
We're back in Nick's past now, he couldn't hold a job and gets into a fight at Worthy Path Career Counseling, he has a lot of anger. Surprisingly, the career counselor follows him outside and offers to take him for coffee.
This is Pryce (Robert Curtis Brown) and he knows the reason Nick's been unable to keep a job is that he's been trying to take care of his family, including brother Josh who isn't handling the New Reality in Gilead all that well. He asks Nick to come see about the Sons of Jacob, who are trying to clean up "this screwed up world", there might be a job in it for him.
June comes upstairs after her tryst with Nick to find Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) sitting on her bed waiting for her.
We hold our breath until he asks "how's my fair little one?" and then we're grossed out by his and his wife's insistent need to infantilize a grown woman.
First they have to do something about those legs and what does THAT mean? It means he's going to shave them for her, which would be a great trust and bonding experience if he wasn't her rapist. She can tell he's done this before, he's assured and careful. Did he do this with the last Handmaid who killed herself?
He hands her a bag of makeup, time to get fancy!
TANGENT: this scene feels so reminiscent of my former situation where makeup and control of image was so carefully guarded. I started off wearing makeup all the time, graduated to never wearing makeup because covered in baby bodily fluids and then...then was grilled post that period whenever I used any enhancement at all that wasn't directly related to my partner at the time. Why did I curl my hair on a non-Date Night? Why was I wearing things that fit and matched and looked on purpose? Why was there makeup on my face? Did I have a date? At 7 am. That actually happened.
I was allowed one non-partner enhancement Out: if I going out with a mom's group, presumably full of people that also knew these rules. If so, I was cleared and no more was said. This was mostly enforced by the women in my life and "friends" online, but regularly by my partner and to this day I still struggle with putting on coloured lipgloss, in case I'm giving anyone the impression I want a man to stare at my mouth. Any and all pictures you see of me online are sans makeup or filters for the same reason. TANGENT OVER
HOW ALL THAT TIES IN: see how they've sexualized beauty in Gilead? Everything must be covered and not enhanced, lest someone get an uncontrollable urge to procreate. Interestingly, they've desexualized ACTUAL sex. So.
The Commander brings out a sparkly dress and high, sparkly shoes: he's starting to get a little put out with June for not being excited about all these fun things he's doing for her.
But if these women are being sold into sexual slavery for the Greater Good and these arseholes in charge aren't even following their own Rape Rules, it's even more unfair!
She looks lovely, he thinks, he just needs to let her hair down.
Ah, Mrs. Waterford is out of town, so he's taking her out and Nick is driving. June tries to apologize to Nick with her eyes, but he is stonefaced.
They're off and soon reach a checkpoint, where June has to pull up her hood to impersonate Serena Joy and then they're at the gates where no wives, I mean women are allowed.
We find out the reason for that correction shortly.
He pulls her into his lap, still treating her like a child, which is especially gross since he's using her as a fcktoy.
Nick drives, watching June and remembering listening to another conversation. A Commander Guthrie (Christian Lloyd) lays it out plainly: "all fertile women should be rounded up and impregnated by someone of superior status."
We need to unpack that, hold on a moment. "Round up" like animals? Women are to be rounded up like animals for a breeding run? And "impregnated by someone of superior status" shows a basic lack of understanding of biology and how it relates to social status. Having Commander before your name doesn't mean your sperm is superior, Hitler.
Commander Waterford brings up the wives. They won't get anywhere without their buy-in. Pryce suggest they be there for the Act, Waterford knows they need to work on how they sell that. Stonecold:
How about The Ceremony? Guthrie thinks the wives "will eat that shit up."
Back past the gates, they're inside the building and June doesn't have to hide any more. Why not, if no wives, I mean women, are allowed back here? I'm wondering is this is one more jete in the forever dance of men playing Look What I Got.
White Rabbit plays as June sees what's she's in for tonight. An orgy, arranged as they have been since time immemorial, fully dressed men cavorting with naked women of all shapes and sizes.
The Commander calls it "walking through the past" and that may be true from a male perspective but there is no women's input here and there's an artificiality at how it's presented, so I wouldn't call it the past at all. It's like when they try to recreate the 80s in shows, if it's not Black Mirror San Junipero it isn't done right, too bright, too intense, too unreal. That's what this party is: too much. It's so altered as to be false.
Waterford points out all the women that have been there helping them: a sociologist, lawyers, journalists, they've got "quite a collection." The Eyes turn a blind eye because everyone wants to feel human, you know?
And then we see MOIRA!!!!
MOIRA IS ALIVE!!
Moira (Samira Wiley) is alive and headed to the bathroom so we can all cry together.
They catch up while Nick is in the basement with Beth (Kristen Gutoskie) who he apparently barters with for the Eyes. Hmmmm, there's a vibe there that is confusing me, NICK HAS A GIRLFRIEND??? WHO IS A JAMES BEARD AWARD-WINNING CHEF??
Also, there was a gross reference to Ketamine, which is used by some of the men that have "Sleeping Beauty fantasies" which is colloquially known as RAPE and by the women to rob some of the other men, commonly known as robbery.
Nick turns down sex with Beth, confusing her and I, and moving back into the room to watch Waterford and June as they prepare to head upstairs to private rooms. He remembers finding the last Handmaid after she hung herself. Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) knew
And now he's doing it again.
In the private room upstairs, Waterford drinks and complains about work, he likes how she "understands" him.
What is it about men who can only share their feelings and be honest with women who are not their equal? Women whose livelihoods they hold in their hands, very young women enthralled by age or wisdom, anonymous nebulously female responders online?
He asks what she thinks of the club, again slightly annoyed that she isn't being grateful enough for the experience she's being gifted, then kissing her neck and working his way around. He thought they could just "be together." Fear and disgust make her throat thick, he takes it as desire.
While he is sleeping, she sneaks out to find Moira, watching a variety of perversions along the way. For instance, in one room they have recreated The Ceremony, but with added lesbian sex and that makes me think of Dietland by Sarai Walker. You should read that.
Another fun one is the couple in the elevator, the man frantically licking and sucking on a woman's stump of an arm, perverse because she most likely lost that hand by daring to read.
Moira is in with the other Jezebels, women who were given the choice of a life of sex and drugs or dying in The Colonies, at least until the "p***y wears out." They cry and hug and June tells Moira about Luke, shocking her. But "he isn't Us and he isn't in here" so June needs to take care of herself.
This is a huge difference from Moira at the Red Centre, scribbling in the bathroom so people would know they weren't alone. This is not the same life.
Nick walks Waterford and June back to the car as he remembers watching Guthrie being led away by the Eyes and he and Pryce watch. Guthrie had been sleeping with his Handmaids and skimming government funds. How's that for superior status?! What's that? It doesn't determine basic worth or morality? The dickens, you say!
Nick is now assigned to Waterford to watch for the same kind of misconduct and now we know how vulnerable Waterford is. Nick's seen this behaviour twice, all he has to do is report Waterford.
Serena Joy returns home to her "lonely" husband and Nick ignores June in the kitchen.
June is almost frantic, begging Nick to understand while he stands, stonefaced. She didn't have a choice as to whether she went with the Commander or not but his pride and jealousy is leaving him unmoved. June pleads for him to talk, to talk to her! Tell her about him, she knows nothing about him because he never talks. They've been relying on their insane chemistry but he's never talked about himself at all.
"Is this bullshit life enough for you?" she challenges? Is this enough for him? Nick calls her stupid, what else is there? Does she want to end up on the Wall? At least then maybe people would remember her, at least "someone will care" when she's gone.
That's too much for him and he moves to her, but she's angry now, having to go to that deep, painful place just so he can see past himself to how much she is in pain. He gives her his name but it's too late, Nick Blaine from Michigan.
Crying, June is found on the stairs by Serena Joy who has a gift for her. It's a music box with a key and two things:
- they can't seem to stop infantilizing her as they control her
- Offred is never grateful enough for them
In her room, June plays the music over and over as the dancer twirls, reflecting on how perfectly it sums up Gilead. A girl trapped in a box, only moving when someone opens the lid, when someone winds her up. She scratches "you are not alone" into the wall of her closet as she tells us she won't be that girl in the box and we are out.
Brace thyself, I have a lot to say!
As to the non-plot elements of the story, we have another dark and almost-impossible to see episode, we get it, it sucks in Gilead and lots of bad things happen in the dark. It would still be awesome to SEE those things, so maybe up the amperage a teensy bit since you're spending all that time and money filming it.
On to plot! That last scene with the music box perfectly relates to the current sexual harassment truth explosion going on in Hollywood. In case you've been living under a rock and don't know from whence I am speaking, a major player in the film industry has been exposed as a serial rapist and sexual harasser. Several other men have similarly been brought down in flames by extremely brave women and men, most notably Kevin Spacey who will never work again after admitting to assaulting a 14 year old boy.
He issued the most ill-thought-out apology slash coming out story I've ever seen, it could be the basis of a book on How To Kill Your Career and Alienate Everyone. Nobody cares that you're gay, Kev, and it fo sho doesn't have anything to do with you being a predator towards extremely young men/boys. Nobody ever blamed Roman Polanski's hebephilia on being straight.
But the point is, and I do have one, is that the rampant and pervasive misogyny (and yes, sexual harassment has everything to do with misogyny) in the film industry HAS to affect the films that we see, that are chosen to be made. Women's narratives are practically NOWHERE, like the women at the bar, waiting to be chosen as an adjunct. No stories of their own, no existence, waiting for the lid to be opened.
Many male actors and film industry peeps defended themselves against allegations of misconduct using their "wives, mothers and daughters" as examples of all the respecting they do. As though that precluded them from misogyny and also, by the way WOMEN EXIST APART FROM THEIR TANGENTIAL RELATIONSHIPS TO MEN.
Related: I just watched The Florida Project and it was excellent. I chose it because it was very well reviewed, especially Willem Dafoe in his role and I love Willem Dafoe. He was great in the movie, but Brooklynn Prince and Bria Venaite stole that movie because it was all about them. So why didn't I hear about them? I'd love to see more of them and hey: we'll watch! We'll watch stories about women that aren't all Little Women or Bad Moms 2, because I'd sooner a cheese grater. Until next time, I'm oot!