Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Season 2, Episode 1: “June”
Directed by Mike Barker
Written by Bruce Miller
* For a recap & review of the Season 1 finale, “Night” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Unwomen” – click here
Our lady June (Elisabeth Moss) is being transported someplace, shut away in darkness. She’s terrified, rightfully so. Bullet casings roll around on the floor, as if a constant reminder of the violence surrounding her. Like she needs a reminder. Soon she hears barking dogs, and she’s taken out into a warehouse. They strap her mouth shut, just as they do with all the others who’ve been brought along with her. The sounds of the men and the dogs intertwine, the noise of beasts. All the Handmaids are shuffled side by side, silent, through a long corridor, corralled the way we usually see done with cattle. Gilead’s misogyny has, effectively, rendered these women into cattle, to be prodded, to be used, to be replaced. A sickening sequence to see the Handmaids brought out of the livestock tunnel and into Fenway Park.
They’ve been brought to a mass execution, by hanging. Several platforms are setup around home plate, stages with nooses lined across them. Perhaps one of my favourite, most grim uses of music so far in The Handmaid’s Tale is right here, with “This Woman’s Work” by Kate Bush playing during the commencement of the hangings. Just emotionally brutal at every turn.
The executioner sets things in motion. Except it’s a fake-out. None of them are hanged. Merely an exercise in power by the patriarchal state of Gilead and misogynist-enabler Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd).
“For that is His love”
Jump back to before the fall of society. June and her family get along like normal. Well, not really; the horrific new way things become normal. Things are already being clamped down, June can’t even get her prescriptions refilled without the signature of Luke (O-T Fagbenle). They were also thinking of trying to have another child.
Aunt Lydia punishes all the women, forcing them to hold up heavy rocks with one arm in the rain, giving them the cattle prod when they aren’t doing it well enough. She chastises them, over and over. She’s one of the more unsettling characters, simply because she’s symbolic of several ways misogyny becomes internalised in women, to the point where they’ll take it out on others. Particularly so for Lydia, who’s past her child bearing years, and so the patriarchy makes her feel like an invalid for that. In turn, she focuses her resentment and anger on the Handmaids. It’s the same as the right-wing talking heads on Fox(etc) who happen to be women, propping up misogynists and racists. They’ve been indoctrinated, but they’ve been put to work by the patriarchy, to their purposes. It’s devious. And now, Lydia’s discovered that June is pregnant. Yikes. Let the creepshow begin!
Aunt Lydia sits June down with a meal. But the Handmaid refuses to eat. The older woman warns of “any more theatrics.” They have a frank discussion, and Lydia mentions Janine is being sent to the Colonies. And the woman’s in no mood for playing games. She takes June for a walk instead of lunch. Lydia takes her to see a Handmaid, Ofwyatt (Alana Pancyr), who endangered her baby, and is now confined to a room, chained around her bed. This prompts June’s appetite.
Back in the mess hall, Aunt Lydia one Handmaid handcuffed to an oven, the burner turned on. All the while the others stand watching, still shivering from the cold, and June sits forced to eat. This spectacle is another subtle way of turning the women against one another, something patriarchal society is terrifyingly good at; Lydia almost wants the other women to loathe June for being ‘privileged.’
“Blessed be the fruit”
Back to before Gilead. At work, June gets a call – her daughter has a fever. This causes shit because the state has protocol when it comes to illnesses, and it’s all tied up in bureaucracy. Little Hannah (Jordana Blake) is taken to the hospital, so June runs to get her. June’s asked a bunch of administrative questions, concerning her job, her husband, Hannah being “blessed” for having a “biological child.” It’s a conversation that really makes me feel a chill, as if the state’s crawling right up inside her life in more than just a paperwork kind of way.
June goes for a medical checkup from Serena Joy Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski), whose demeanour has only gotten nastier. The wife talks a bit of hard shit before the doc and Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) turn up. No privacy, at all. No surprise. So much treachery in the room, as well. The soon-to-be parents get a first look at their child in the womb. Gross how we see June made into a literal vessel, and that’s it – an object to bear a child. That’s how Republicans and right-wingers treat women, anyway (sadly). The Handmaid’s Tale makes it a literal image.
One good thing? The ultrasound tech (Sam Asante) knows June’s name. And after he’s gone, a key is left for her in her boot. She uses it to exit the room, finding only white walls, corridors, staircases. But there’s more – little red dots, like the one on her key, leading the way to where she’s meant to escape. She makes it down a stairwell, through a dark passageway, and at the end is a refrigerated truck. When she’s inside, the back door closes while the truck starts. Is this for real? Or a cruel test?
Back to before. A terrorist attack’s occurred, which is going to be the early catalyst for Gilead’s viciously misogynist law and order. National Guard is being deployed all over the place. The streets are chaos already. Even the White House is hit, and the current POTUS has to be evacuated.
The refrigerated truck pulls up to a building. June is let out by the driver. He tells her to “go in grace,” and leaves her there to be picked up by someone else in their covert operation of escape. Only somebody’s already there – it’s Nick Blaine (Max Minghella). He’s going to keep her safe until they can get her further away. This is a great moment, to see June be able to shed those Handmaid clothes FOR REAL for the first time in so long. Just to be half naked on HER OWN TERMS is enough bodily autonomy to make her happy, since she was robbed of it by Gilead. She burns her clothes. After that she cuts out the GPS tracking device the Handmaids are implanted with, and she tosses the pieces of her ear in the fire, too.
HALLELOO! Season 2 is killer already. Love that we’re getting into uncharted territory, past the original novel of Margaret Atwood. We’re in pure adaptation land now.
“Unwomen” is up next.