Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Season 3, Episode 9: “Heroic”
Directed by Daina Reid
Written by Lynn Renee Maxcy
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Unfit” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Bear Witness” – click here
“Heaven is a Place on Earth” by Belinda Carlisle opens this episode with grim irony. Ofmatthew a.k.a Natalie (Ashleigh LaThrop) is in the hospital, after taking a bullet. She’s watched over by June (Elisabeth Moss), who’s reciting the lyrics to Carlisle’s song in her mind, as if it’s the repetitive drone of the fascist state being pounded into everyone’s brains. “You‘ll hear it,” she says. Ofmatthew’s effectively nothing but “a vessel now,” like she wasn’t only a receptacle through which a child would be born unto Gilead before.
The whole stay at the hospital is existential dread, more than usual. June has to watch quietly on her knees. She’s usually by herself. Sometimes she’s joined by the other Handmaids, or the barren wives praying. A lonely state of existence for the sole Handmaid, watching over her walking partner until the baby comes.
Life’s reduced to nothing but the five senses.
It goes on so long June can barely stand. Her knees are bruised. Laying on the hard floor’s no better. Added to her weary body is the wear and tear of her mind. She’s seeing things— people, too. (These aren’t hallucinations. The girls in pink have “flowered,” meaning they must learn about childbirth.) She goes to Natalie’s side and inspects the tubing, part of the web of machinery keeping the Handmaid technically alive. She squeezes it shut until it sets off an alarm, bringing nurses.
Natalie’s body keeps wasting away. She writhes through seizures, defecating herself and suffering. Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) prays for the baby to be saved, no words or thoughts for the woman carrying it. Like a sick wet dream for right-wing Republicans. June silently prays for both Natalie and her child to die, so they’ll be spared all the continuing horrors of that wretched place.
At night, June reaches into the biohazard container, sticking herself with a needle. She’s going for the scalpel she saw a nurse place inside earlier. She wants to put an end to what Natalie is experiencing. She gets interrupted by Janine, there overnight due to an infected eye. The poor one-eyed lady is so brainwashed she believes her lack of prayer for Natalie caused a recent seizure. Maybe June can help her open that remaining eye to reality. All she can think to do is suggest they “end it.” Janine refuses to help, and her brainwashed mind just lashes out at June.
“God never gives us
more than we can handle”
At the hospital, Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) shows up with the other wives to pray. She has a moment alone with her former Handmaid, seeing June isn’t doing well, neither physically nor mentally. She’s attacked with the scalpel, getting away before too much slicing happens. “This has to end,” the bloody Handmaid tells her while crawling along the floor. Doesn’t bode well.
The doctor (Gil Bellows) comes to stitch her hand. He won’t tell anybody. But she calls him on his oath as a man of medicine, standing around watching Natalie become a womb on life support. The doc actually knew June’s mother, Dr. Holly Maddox, so he understands the fire in the Handmaid. He also recognises suicidal ideation.
That night, Natalie’s vitals go into a tailspin. She’s bleeding. It necessitates a C-section. The doc and his team remove the child, which is their number one priority. The mother is treated as an afterthought. June watches on while the procedure’s completed and Natalie is left to be used as practice for doctors in training to stitch, seeing as how she’s basically nothing more than a carcass to them.
Now, it’s time for June to go home. Suddenly she wants to stay with Natalie, who’s clinging to life, even if only for a little longer. She goes back into the hospital instead of riding with Aunt Lydia, choosing to not to abandon her walking partner. Meanwhile, Lydia gifts Janine a spiffy red eye patch to cover the hole in her face— y’know, to compliment her Handmaid outfit. A subtly cruel gesture, using fashion / vanity unfairly against an already psychologically damaged woman.
June pledges to Natalie she’ll get her newborn son out of Gilead somehow, along with as many children as she can manage. She won’t allow that place to win. Tough because not only do women battle for bodily autonomy, which is entirely taken away from them in that place, they’ve got to contend with the devastating mental effects of their experiences, showcased by the back-and-forth June goes through from time to time, teetering between rebellion and self-preservation.
“How will you
honour your daughters?”
Others can feel how they want— Father Gore loves Season 3, almost more than the initial season. There have been a few snags. Overall, it’s a great bit of writing, plus there are more women penning scripts this time around + more women behind the camera. That’s much needed perspective in a series such as this one.
“Bear Witness” is next time.