American Horror Story – Season 7, Episode 6: “Mid-Western Assassin”

FX’s American Horror Story
Season 7, Episode 6: “Mid-Western Assassin”
Directed by Bradley Buecker
Written by Todd Kubrak

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Holes” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Valerie Solanas Died for Your Sins: Scumbag” – click here
Screen Shot 2017-10-11 at 12.57.46 AMAmerica for Americans,” screams Kai Anderson (Evan Peters). “We are the Wall!” his crowd chants. Then a gunshot breaks the celebration. Ivy Mayfair-Richards (Alison Pill) starts running, Harrison Wilton (Billy Eichner) telling her to go. She stops as a police presence walks onto the courtyard.
The shooter is Ally Mayfair-Richards (Sarah Paulson). And on the stage, Kai lies unconscious. Or dead? Oh, we’ll see.
Screen Shot 2017-10-11 at 12.58.33 AMCut back to Ally inside her home, Meadow (Leslie Grossman) outside telling her about the cult, that even Ally’s wife is involved, her husband. This surely will make the woman’s paranoia go through the roof, as if it weren’t already. She gets a call from Dr. Rudy Vincent (Cheyenne Jackson), saying that Ivy’d called him, they’re worried.
Ally goes across the street, where Harrison and Dt. Jack Samuels (Colton Haynes) are banging. She gets into the garage where Meadow’s hidden, amongst the barrels. She unties the poor wife. Only Meadow makes noise, alerting the men. They manage to get across the street to Ally’s car and speed off. They go to the Butchery, where the alarm’s going off. Why would they go there? Not that Ally’s one to think straight. Although if they go to the cops, they’ll just think she’s insane, plus there’s Dt. Samuels in the mix. So, it does make sense, I guess. And she’s also worried about Oz.
Now, Ally says: “Convince me.” She wants more proof. Meadow tells her intimate details about the cult’s plans. The trucks, that were just holding water. The dead birds, killed via poisoned feeders. All to drive people further into fear. Particularly those who don’t believe in much to begin with, because “if you already believed in something there wouldnt be room for him.” As in Kai, the all powerful cult leader.
Meadow discusses her love for him. Whereas Harrison was her friend, not a true husband, she felt Kai cared for her. He fostered her interests, made her feel special. Just like Manson did with his various women, just as many enigmatic leaders appealed to their followers throughout history. In a way, it liberated her. Of course, all liberation requires violence.
One day, however, Meadow discovered she wasn’t special, that it was all just rhetoric in order to lure her in; she witnesses Kai tell Ivy all the same things. But once you’re in with the cult, you can’t just walk back out. This made her lash out. Followed by retribution for her rebellion. Suddenly Kai ain’t so sweet and nurturing.
All this leads to her being saved when Ally showed up after she got tossed in that grave. The only way forward? Kill Kai.
Screen Shot 2017-10-11 at 1.09.55 AMSkip to April 2017, at a city council debate. Kai’s grandstanding about the federal government, local change. Blah, blah, blah. “The boogeyman” nomenclature followed by his rant about illegals, Satanic murder, the fake news he’s been creating himself. A woman named Sally Keffler (Mare Winningham) challenges him, believing he’s, essentially, full of shit. She gives it to him in front of everybody, and quite truthfully. Afterwards, she declares a write-in candidacy for council, too. This does not bode well for her.
Sally: “People like Mr. Anderson and Trump are not the garbage, they are the flies that the garbage has drawn.”
Day after the election. Ivy meets with Winter (Billie Lourd) about their having left Gary Longstreet (Chaz Bono) to a grisly fate, the bloody hand, all that. So Winter takes her to Kai. He chastises her for having done what she did, trying to prevent Gary from exercising his voting rights as a “redblooded American.” They sit down and play the pinky truth game. She admits difficult truths.
This takes us into the history of the Mayfair-Richards clan. Ally was the one to deliver Oz, to breastfeed. This drove a wedge between them, how she seemed to lord the fact of her physical motherhood over Ivy in subtle ways, the resentment because of it. Kai delves deep to the core, uncovering honesty even where it feels revolting to the teller. Thus begins the process of driving Ally insane, so that Ivy can secure custody of Oz.
Back to current affairs. Ally’s gone to the wrong person: Dr. Vincent. She’s also left Meadow there alone. Elsewhere, at home, Ms. Keffler pours a drink and relaxes, as she hears banging at her door. It’s Ally, who saw her on TV. Sally lets her in after a moment, hearing her out. They talk about the “modern day Charles Manson” corroding their city. It all sounds mental, naturally. But the woman understands how this type of thing occurs when the “patriarchys threatened.” She has very definite, intelligent ideas about men, how the gender goes horribly wrong.
But they’re fast intruded upon by the clown cult. Sally goes for her gun while Ally runs. They manage to subdue Ms. Keffler, and then Kai reveals himself. He rants against the “overeducated elites” before sitting down to her open Facebook. He posts a status in his insane worldview voice. All leading to a supposed suicide.
Kai: “Knowing stuff has no value anymore
Screen Shot 2017-10-11 at 1.31.48 AMWhen the suicide’s faked, they still have Ally left upstairs. She’s found by the elephant mask wearing clown. She wonders if it’s Ivy, and then she’s left alive. Oh, yes. This gives Ally the time to get back to Dr. Vincent. Except Meadow’s not there, doc says she left. Hmm. He claims there was nothing said about a cult, faking concern, as usual. She shakes him and his bullshit off.
Now we’re back at the beginning, the rally with Kai onstage. He even throws shade at Sally, for abandoning the people. What a pig. Just like his big orange papa. Ally watches nearby, she also sees Meadow in the crowd heading for the stage.
And it’s in fact Meadow who pulls the trigger on Kai. She fires on several people, as Ally pleads with her to stop, grabbing for the gun. Meadow puts a bullet in her own mouth after telling her: “This is the face of true love.”
This is how Ally’s left holding the gun in front of police, no one left to corroborate her story. Likewise, we discover it was all a twisted plan from Kai, using the love Meadow felt for him to elevate him onto a national platform. He enacts his own failed assassination using the power he holds over her.
Screen Shot 2017-10-11 at 1.38.35 AMWow. My favourite episode of American Horror Story yet, as in out of the entire series. This just cuts to the true heart of what the title speaks to, this might be the biggest horror story of all in America, the sociopolitical landscape of the country in 2017. So much going on here. Loved Sally’s bit on the patriarchy, it’s so true, so relevant.
“Valerie Solanas Died for Your Sins: Scumbag” is next! Some people hate Lena Dunham, I don’t. If you want to argue, go somewhere else. Because I’m here for this next one. Gimme some Warhol cultish madness.


American Horror Story – Season 7, Episode 4: “11/9”

FX’s American Horror Story
Season 7
Episode 4: “11/9”
Directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton
Written by John J. Gray

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Neighbors from the Hell” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Holes” – click here
Screen Shot 2017-09-27 at 1.17.23 AMJump back to Election Night, November 8th, 2016. Beverly Hope (Adina Porter) reports on the early polls, the spirit of the crowds. Then we’re introduced to Serena Belinda (Emma Roberts), someone Beverly’s clearly got no time for, and may give her the green-eyed monster. Outside people chant, Winter Anderson (Billie Lourd) proclaims “Down with the patriarchy.” Ivy and Ally Mayfair-Richards (Alison Pill & Sarah Paulson) head inside to cast their votes, the former making sure there’s no “funny business” from her partner like a Jill Stein protest vote, which we already know she cast. Everybody goes into the booth, marking their respective votes. Meadow Wilton (Lesie Grossman) writes in OPRAH.
We also see Gary Longstreet (Chaz Bono) being dragged in by Kai Anderson (Evan Peters). Gary’s bleeding; remember that wound we saw him with earlier in the grocery store where he works?
Welcome to Trumps America, motherfuckers!” Gary yells before returning his ballot.
Screen Shot 2017-09-27 at 1.19.35 AMA day after the election, Kai meets Harrison Wilton (Billy Eichner), his new trainer at the gym. They talk about what “flavour of gay” Harrison is, Kai says he doesn’t care about “leftist” labels. He’s a Plato guy, for the greater good of the community, the state. He says he’s a computer, works in coding. He doesn’t care about money; my guess is, he’s into power. He finds out more about Harrison, how they make him, because he’s gay, go in and hose down the loads in the steam room after guys beat off in there. This – a weak spot – is how cult leaders like Kai operate, they find that spot, then they work their way inside.
Before going home, Harrison finds Kai jerking off in the shower, so he watches for a minute. The beginning of a scary relationship. At the house, he and wife Meadow deal with the immediate foreclosure of their home, their eviction, which she’s been keeping secret. However, there are many other problems in their relationship, too. Least of which is the fact he’s not even straight.
When Harrison starts trying to give Kai the corporate bullshit, out of fear he’ll lose his job if he doesn’t produce at work, the latter of the two cuts him off. He tells him about the house, his money woes, which further brings out the cult leader in the young man: “Pain is essential, just like anger is.” His grandiose speeches prompt Harrison to go hard at his boss, spraying him with cleaning chemicals then crushing his larynx with a barbell. Then, of course, he’s got to finish killing the guy.
Afterwards, Harrison freaks out. We start seeing Kai work his magic, taking care of his new follower. Best of all, he’s a computer guy, he surely knows exactly what he’s doing, and that makes him even scarier than before. He has power, in his words, and in his digital capabilities/reach. Like Charles Manson for the digital age. That night, Meadow walks in on her husband, Kai coaxing him along, sawing apart his boss in the bathtub.
Kai: “You’re a part of something bigly
Screen Shot 2017-09-27 at 1.28.32 AMScreen Shot 2017-09-27 at 1.40.59 AMKai starts digging into reporter Beverly Hope. She once reported on an accident where a man pulled a similar event to FHRITP, which happened over and over. Eventually, she kicked the shit out of a skateboarder and lost her shit. Like you can guess, it was remixed across the internet and she became a meme, a joke. Enough to drive anybody insane. So, is this another person for our cult leader to find? Will Serena Belinda become a target for her rage?
Speaking of Serena, she’s essentially sleeping with their boss, Bob (Dermot Mulroney). She was the one who reported on Beverly going into a mental hospital after her incident, as well. An aggravating situation to work in. Hard enough being a woman, she’s a black woman in a white male dominated business.
Finally, Kai comes to her. They talk together. He speaks what she wants to hear; needs to, maybe. He speaks more about fear and “weaponising” it. More than that we find out he served in the Armed Forces, went to Iraq. Claims he studied political science and feminist studies, too. Not so sure I believe him.
Serena’s taping a story, doing her best to pretend she’s personable and not a real bitch. From behind her approaches someone in a clown mask. Several clowns approach; the gang. Not long until she and her cameraman are stabbed, hacked to bloody death.
Meanwhile, the Wiltons are getting to know Kai better. Then Beverly shows up, wondering if it was him who sent the violence for Serena. He admits, wholehearted. As if we didn’t know already, this is confirmation he’s the ringleader of the clowns, they are Kai’s cult. And now, he has a die hard follower in Ms. Hope.
Screen Shot 2017-09-27 at 1.54.41 AMThe Mayfair-Richards’ are arguing, the day before election. Ivy is more active, whereas Ally is passive, like many, believing there’s no way a “reality TV” guy like Trump could secure the White House. Yet, we all know what’s happened. Out at a rally, Ivy experiences firsthand all the nonsense, even gets sexually assaulted by Gary, who pulls a Donald and grabs her by the pussy. Winter jumps in, defending her, and running him off. This is where we first witness Winter infiltrate their lives. Ivy takes her to the Butchery on Main, they have a coffee, chat. They bond over battling the patriarchy, getting closer.
After that we cut to Gary at the grocery store, excited for his chance to restore America to its supposed former glory, y’know, before a black guy took over. When he’s closing down, he finds Winter in an aisle, Ivy, too. They knock him out., then tie him up, leaving him by himself chained to a pipe so he won’t get to cast that all important vote.
Winter goes home and tells Kai what happened. Then he goes to see Gary, a saw in hand. Suggesting the only way out in time is to use it; you know where. For the privilege of voting, like so many red blooded Americans, Gary is willing to saw off his forearm. All the while the leader watches his pupil.
Screen Shot 2017-09-27 at 2.09.35 AMOne of the best episodes, if not THE best episode yet. Peters is so magnetic, this is some of his better work on American Horror Story. Every season he gets the chance to do something different, he has incredible range. Can’t wait for more, as well as more of Adina Porter, she is the business.
“Holes” comes next week. Gimme more intense spookiness. NOW!

The Handmaid’s Tale – Season 1, Episode 10: “Night”

Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Season 1, Episode 10: “Night”
Directed by Kari Skogland
Written by Bruce Miller

* For a recap & review of the penultimate Season 1 episode, “The Bridge” – click here
Pic 1We cut back to when the women were first being introduced to Gilead. Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) laments the “parade of sluts” in their regular attire. Even though they’re all dressed normally. This is a hyperreality of misogyny.
They’re instructed to clasp their hands, look downward. June a.k.a Offred (Elisabeth Moss) reminisces from her present situation, about the look in the eyes of the handmaids now, sentiment only previously known in spurts, never prolonged. Now, it is all they know. They’re indentured to the patriarchy.
June is brought to a dark room. Where Aunt Lydia and other aunts insert some kind of tracking device into her, blasting it from a nail gun-like contraption into the flesh just above her ear. Such nasty stuff.
But remembering, not forgetting is important. It fuels the determined rage which June continually feels, hopefully leading to her escape from all this someday. Right now, Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) is taking out her frustrations on the handmaid. The lady of the house knows what’s been going on with her husband and their servant. She forces June to take a pregnancy test, after beating the shit out of her.
Whatever empathy I tried feeling for Serena is gone. She’s fully complicit in ways that go beyond any fear for her own safety. She is awful. Not as awful as the men, though. Never.
And now June is with child.
June: “They shouldve never given us uniforms if they didnt want us to be an army
Pic 1APoor June, she has to remember her first pregnancy, a much happier and safer time when she and Luke (O-T Fagbenle) were able to feel excited for the coming of their child. These days, it’s ugly. Nothing to feel good about.
We find out more of what Serena’s discovered when she confronts her husband Fred (Joseph Fiennes). There’s further evidence Serena also helped write some of the laws used to enslave women in Gilead. The same laws and misogyny her husband uses to keep her down, to literally make her feel as if she’s at fault for his lust. Like he wasn’t wretched enough already. Serena then blasts him as “not worthy” to father a child, telling him that Offred’s baby is not of his creation. Christ, I can’t imagine what this will cause.
Later on Nick (Max Minghella) discovers June is pregnant. He reacts with tenderness, though I still feel it’s very problematic. She did feel something for him when they had sex. However, the fact she even had sex with him in the first place is STILL forcible. She would’ve never otherwise done so if she weren’t shackled by the patriarchy in that nation-state. Every decision which led her to those moments in bed with Nick were forced by misogynist law. Therefore I find it difficult to find this meant-to-be-touching scene at all nice. It’s creepy.
Moira (Samira Wiley) is out in the cold, sneaking through the woods. She comes across a farm; she’s in Ontario, Canada. Across the border, finally! This is a bigger ray of hope than I personally anticipated.
Pic 2Off someplace unknown to her, June waits in the car. Serena heads into a house then comes back outside with June’s daughter, Hannah. Right there, where she’s unable to speak to the girl. This is one of the most cruel things Mrs. Waterford has done to the handmaid. Not THE most cruel; that would be holding her down to be raped. But this is so tragic, hurts the heart to see June so close to her daughter. Serena is despicable. And this has really pushed our woman over the edge.
June: “Youre fucking evil, you know that? Youre a goddamn motherfucking monster.”
Commander Putnam testifies to his sins, regarding the whole mess of a situation last episode with Janine (Madeline Brewer). The Council are sitting around discussing the offence. We see the hypocritical nature of them all, but most definitely Commander Waterford, whose own transgressions shine through clearly. Others aren’t so quick to forgive, such as Commander Pryce. So, what’s to be done? Putnam must offer a sacrifice to God, to show that he accepts his sins and the consequences. He gives over his left forearm to surgical amputation as a show of faith. Man alive, these fellas are some sick puppies. The lot of them. Bunch of perverted religious freaks.
That night, June goes to the Commander. Asking that he protect her daughter from Serena. She warns that Fred does not know his wife, the extent to which she’ll go, the depths she’s willing to sink to hurt one of her own kind. In her room June finds a packet of letters written by various handmaids, the postcards of abused and ravaged women calling out to the world for help. This is like viewing her own death, already written before her; figuratively and literally. It’s almost enough to make her want to give up. But she won’t, ever.
Pic 3Moira experiences a culture shock, going from the US to Canada. She is now an American refugee in the land of freedom, where women are still people. The biggest difference is just dealing with men, seeing a man that doesn’t treat her as an object. He processes her into the country, welcoming her to Ontario, and offering all sorts of things she hasn’t been able to do in so long. One of the basics? Read a book. So fucking sad to hear, and at the same time glorious. (Also feel good being a Canadian.)
Alone together, Fred and Serena hash out their issues. He’s looking to the future, the expectancy of a child coming to them. She is, of course, devastated that it isn’t her having a child. Just like a typical abuser, Fred plays sweet right now. He talks a good game about being “a family” after the baby is born, and after June is gone.
All the handmaids are out listening to Aunt Lydia, performing one Gilead’s many strange rituals. They take off their “wings” – the blinders on their head gear – and proceed to each pick up rocks. They bring out Janine, punished for the crime of endangering a child. Set for a fatal stoning. Ofglen refuses to comply, and she’s cracked in the mouth with a rifle. After that none of them move. Until June steps out of the line, the men draw guns on her. The handmaid drops her stone. Next is Alma, then the others, all of them. Each replying: “Im sorry, Aunt Lydia.”
Will this start a revolution? Is this the beginning of their rebellion, or will this cause something worse? I feel it’s one of the first acts that will help liberate the women. Every revolution must begin with small steps.
Pic 4In Canada, Luke and Moira find each other. She was on his list, as a family member. It’s a bittersweet reunion without June there, yet still wonderful. Just to know she is safe for now, that she isn’t alone.
Screen Shot 2017-06-14 at 10.52.00 AM
All the while June remains in her room, under lock and key. Suddenly, men come to take her away. Although Nick says to trust him and go. The Waterfords protest, but the men take her regardless.
She’s put into the back of a vehicle, carted off. To who knows where. Punishment, or being saved? We’ll have to wait to find out.
What a spectacular finale, loved it! We know there’s a Season 2 coming, and I think that helped me with the ambiguity of the ending. I’d still have enjoyed it, anyways. There’s a lot of character development, plenty of things to get excited over for next season, and the tension was unbearable during a couple moments. Love the writing, can’t wait for next season already.
Screen Shot 2017-06-14 at 10.58.52 AM

The Handmaid’s Tale – Season 1, Episode 9: “The Bridge”

Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Season 1, Episode 9: “The Bridge”
Directed by Kate Dennis
Written by Eric Tuchman

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Jezebels” – click here
* For a recap & review of the Season 1 finale, “Night” – click here
Pic 1Ofwarren a.k.a Janine (Madeline Brewer) goes through the ceremony of passing over her child to the infertile wife and her husband, as Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) watches on. Nothing goes as smooth as imagined, of course. The wife is a lot less understanding than the husband, even Lydia. But Commander Putnam (Stephen Kunken) manages to get Janine to hand over the baby. Such a tragic thing to watch. Every bit of this existence is tragic; to see this type of thing happen is even more emotional. She’s forced to carry a rapist’s child to term, to grow attached, then hand it over without so much as a whimper.
When they’re carting Janine off, Offred a.k.a June (Elisabeth Moss) asks Aunt Lydia if Janine is okay. The old woman says she’s fine. That this ought to serve “as a lesson.” A lesson in silence, obedience, in subservience to the patriarchy.
Afterwards, as the handmaids leave, June talks to Alma (Nina Kiri) about helping with Mayday. Receiving only a cold shoulder.
Pic 1AMeanwhile, Commander Daniel and his wife are receiving their new handmaid: Janine. She is Ofdaniel now. Another identity laid upon her like a wreath. Lydia, using a bit of old Victorian imagery, tells her to “go like an open flower” to her latest captors. Yet in these few scenes, much as this old woman is complicit in the patriarchy’s authoritarian rule, she has the well of tears in her eyes. As if it’s all getting too brutal, even for her. Hmm… I wonder…
Out for a walk with her new baby, Naomi Putnam (Ever Carradine) is totally ungrateful for the gift she’s been given, by another fertile woman. She longs for a more obedient girl, such as Offred apparently. And all the while she bitches to Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski), who still is without a child of rape to raise as her own.
Mayday does need June; so says Alma. She says they need her to go back to Jezebels, there’s a package there for them. But how will she get herself there? Will she go to Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and finagle a way to the club? This is exciting, and frighteningly intense.
She does indeed go see Fred, alone at night. Telling him of how thrilling their adventure outside Gilead’s walls was for her. She’s got a great poker face, I love it. Like playing a game of chess, she baits him. He takes it; hook, line, and sinker. She plays eager for him, and he sees eager. So, they plan for another trip late in the night once the house is asleep. And away they go, with Nick (Max Minghella) driving them as usual.
Pic 2While her husband is away, cheating and raping, Serena is at home with Rita (Amanda Brugel). The lady of the house continually worries whether Offred is with child, if she’s having a period. Not only is it all rapey, it is so invasive, so creepy and ugly. Serena may be in distress herself, she doesn’t do any favours for herself playing into the patriarchal society of Gilead. Slowly, as she realises her husband’s more buried faults, I imagine she won’t be so eager to keep chugging along complicit.
At her new home, Janine heads to the bedroom with the wife and they await the Commander. Another rape night. They go about their business and it’s even more mechanical than anything we’ve witnessed before. The wife chastises Janine when she fights it – “Be still” – before she pushes them off. Her identity is collapsing, she can’t let herself go from one man to the next, required in her hideous duty as a handmaid.
At the same time, June suffers through another rape herself. All to try getting to the package at Jezebels. She plays to his ego, talking him up. Although he believes she’s there to meet somebody, for which he’s made arrangements. In comes Moira (Samira Wiley), though under a different name working at the club. He acts like a suave lover, like he’s done them a favour and earned a few brownie points.
In the kitchen, Nick is asking questions about Offred. The woman serving him knows he’s got feelings, warning it’s a quick journey to hanging on the wall a corpse. Simultaneously, Moira is pissed at June for coming back, for spying and being part of Mayday. It’s as if this brutal new world has broken her, changed the fundamental part of who she is – a rebel, a fighter. Moreover, June thought she was dead, and that devastated her. This all puts the two women at odds, with one wanting to keep fighting and the other feeling like giving up.
Moira: “Go home and just do what they say
Pic 3When the Commander gets home Serena is, naturally, curious as to where he’s been all night. You can see the bond between them breaking, further every day. It’s a good thing, I think. Because there’s hope that Serena may someday see the light, perhaps step out of the patriarchy’s shadow and start thinking for herself again. Will she see the error of her ways? Or will Gilead swallow her whole entirely?
June is shaken awake in the morning by Serena. They take her out to the bridge, where Janine has fled with the baby. She stands at the edge above the water, child in arms. When the Commander protests, she yells about the “freaky shit” he wanted her to do and how he promised they’d run away, just the two of them. June is called in to talk her down. Janine hands over the child, then plunges into the river. She’s later carted off to the hospital and left under the care of Aunt Lydia.
Naomi: “Men dont change
Pic 4When June goes to pick up meat at the butchers, she’s given more than a cut of beef – she’s given the package meant to be picked up at Jezebels. And it’s a man handing it over. A trap? She isn’t so sure, paranoia runs high. Rather than not looking inside she curiously spies a card tucked into it; signed by Moira. YES, GIRL! YAS! Not only does she have the package for Mayday, she has hope again that her friend has not given up.
Poor Moira’s trapped at that club, her new identity as Ruby. She’s got a few little tricks up her sleeve, all the same; literally. She manages to get herself free, into a car, and out on the road. Where’s she heading first?
Pic 5Fuck yes. Great penultimate episode, so excited for the finale! Last up is “Night” and I’m hoping they’ll get our adrenaline pumping for the end of this amazing, nuanced, and brutal Season 1.

The Handmaid’s Tale – Season 1, Episode 8: “Jezebels”

Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Season 1, Episode 8: “Jezebels”
Directed by Kate Dennis
Written by Kira Snyder

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “The Other Side” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “The Bridge” – click here
Pic 1After last episode’s revelation where Luke (O-T Fagbenle) discovers June a.k.a Offred (Elisabeth Moss) is alive, we go back to Gilead with her, as she also knows her husband isn’t dead. She keeps going back with Nick (Max Minghella), she regrets that Luke’s memory is fading and she’s becoming “faithless” by the day. She accepts it isn’t a “fuck you to the patriarchy” like she imagined, but rather a genuine, budding relationship between the two. What happens when/if Luke is back in the picture? Likely, all that love June has for him will flood back. But what about Nick? I wonder how he actually sees her, if he believes she’s his property or if he sees her as a human, someone he can love.
Well, we go back to before the fall of American society, and see Nick in his previous life. He wasn’t exactly excelling, bouncing from one job to the next. A career counsellor named Andrew Pryce (Robert Curtis Brown) takes him out for coffee, they talk about Nick’s path since the economy took a hard downturn. Then they talk of the Bible briefly, of the problems facing America which are getting worse. This is where Nick’s first introduced to the Sons of Jacob, a group to whom Pryce belongs. Ah, the road ahead is opening in all its grim glory.
Back at Gilead, Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) shaves Offred’s legs. Usually this is done by the women, supervised so that they don’t commit suicide instead of shaving. However, something more intimate is happening here, and an odd tenderness in Fred is visible. I don’t like feeling that he’s human, because essentially he is not. He’s a monster. Part of what unsettles me in this scene is his monstrosity, juxtaposed against the small, intimate gestures he shows to Offred while she beautifies herself.
What’s most important? We see that, when it comes to his personal life, Fred is a hypocrite. He believes in the doctrine of Gilead, until it suits him not to and he’s got a woman around he likes to fuck. His misogyny shows more than ever. He likes to have his cake, and eat it, too. He doesn’t actually believe, he uses the authoritarian nation-state to empower his misogynistic whims.Pic 1AFred takes Offred out on a date, while Serena Joy Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski) is away at her mother’s place. So the Commander takes her for a drive, showing her sights she’s not usually privileged to see. For the first time in so long, she’s out past one of the many security checkpoints of Gilead.
Commander Waterford: “Past the gateway, wives arent even allowed; women arent allowed.”
Cut to Nick again, before the fall. He drives Pryce, Waterford, other Sons of Jacob around, as they formulate their plans. They talk about the “violation” of the fertile women, how to brand the misogyny appropriately. Moreover, we see how these men don’t totally believe, they use Bible verse and the spectre of religion to bend women to their will. On top of everything, Nick didn’t push back. In a time of economic anxieties, he chose to be employed over being human. Like the infertile wives allowing other women to be existentially – and often literally – slaughtered, Nick is complicity as much as any other man.
Present day. Fred takes Offred in for a romantic evening at a strange private club where men in suits lounge with half naked women, Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” playing in the background. A surreal experience, going from the handmaid society to this den of iniquity. More and more, the very foundation of Gilead proves to be shaky, barely even there. Not that there was ever legitimacy to its horror, but at least before there seemed a righteousness about Gilead, in all its savagery. Now, we see the hypocrisy of the male gender bursting through the seams like never before. And it’s not sitting well with Offred. Especially not when she spies Moira (Samira Wiley) from across the room, smiling, sitting for drinks and a smoke with important men and dressed almost like a Playboy bunny.
The two women meet in the washroom quietly. Moira is devastated for having left her friend at the train that day, though June knows it wasn’t her fault. While she’s not in the position the handmaids are in, Moira isn’t out of the clutch of the patriarchy. Although it’s hope. Bittersweet hope.
Pic 2The last woman who held the position in the Waterford house where Offred is now committed suicide. She hanged herself in her room. Found by Rita (Amanda Brugel) and cut down by Nick. What’s most interesting is how after they send the body off, Serena berates her husband in hushed, angry tones: “What did you think was going to happen?” She knows of his misogynistic needs, his extra time with the handmaid serving him. At the same time, we see how this world in Gilead is wearing Nick down. Perhaps he’ll end up proving himself worthy eventually, by not allowing June the same fate as the previous handmaid.
One of the more disturbing moments: a man in a dark elevator vigorously licks the maimed stump of a previously punished handmaid, then scuttles away with her after June shows up. Yikes.
Back awhile ago, Commander Pryce instructs Nick in his duties as an Eye in Gilead. He must report on his own Commander. We see another Commander being led shakily into a building, having apparently slept with his last two handmaids; going off the rails. Something we know is happening back at the Waterford house.
Present day once more, Serena gets home from visiting her mother, and the place must return to its previous state of secrecy. At the same time Nick and Offred’s burgeoning relationship comes to a halt, he appears to have chosen duty to the patriarchy over human emotion. She tries appealing to his better sense, the humanity underneath. Not sure if there’s any left.
Pic 3Serena brought a little present from her childhood home for Offred. A locked music box with a tiny ballerina spinning inside. There’s a desperate connection wanting to grab hold between the infertile wife and the handmaid forced into breeding for the patriarchy. I can’t see it playing out well, not for them both, or for either of them. Yet I can see Serena does care, even the slightest, for the Waterford’s handmaid. She also knows more than she lets on.
Offred: “A perfect gift. A girl trapped in a box. She only dances when someone else opens the lid. When someone else winds her up. If this is a story Im telling, I must be telling it to someone; theres always someone, even when theres no one. I will not be that girl in the box.”
What I DO know? June ain’t taking this all lying down. She refuses to be the victim and each episode brings us closer to her power exerting itself. How, we’ll have to wait and see.
Pic 4Every episode is just fantastic. One of my most favourite television series’ to ever be, maybe. I just know this Margaret Atwood adaptation is fantastic. Next up is titled “The Bridge” and it’s our penultimate Season 1 episode. Buckle up.

The Handmaid’s Tale – Season 1, Episode 7: “The Other Side”

Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Season 1, Episode 7: “The Other Side”
Directed by Floria Sigismondi
Written by Lynn Renee Maxcy

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “A Woman’s Place” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Jezebels” – click here
Pic 1We begin back before Gilead, as Luke (O-T Fagbenle) and June a.k.a Offred (Elisabeth Moss) flee with their girl Hannah. They crash their car, but Luke sends his wife and child off running while he gathers his gun and some ammo. In come the black SUVs and one fires on him, right in stomach. He fades out, thinking of June and his daughter.
When he wakes there’s an ambulance taking elsewhere, until they flip off the road upside down into a ravine. He makes it out alive, though remains wounded. Packing up a few supplies, grabbing a gun, Luke heads alone out onto the road.
But he isn’t well, his gut holding that bullet. He makes it back to the car where he last saw June, then goes into the forest. Soon enough he comes upon the remnants of his family’s things, neither his wife nor his child are anywhere to be found. An impossible situation. Full of terrifying emotion. What does a person do at that point? Aside from fear the absolute worst, knowing where June is likely to get taken.
Unsure where to go, what to do, he concentrates on mere survival.
Flashback to before they fled and crashed. In the car, they try driving out of the city. Moira (Samira Wiley) already left crossing the border on foot and June wishes they’d left then. However, things take time. Passports, all that type of thing. They had to be sure, to try covering all bases. At a dockyard they meet a mane named Mr. Whitford (Tim Ransom); turns out June’s mother gave him a vasectomy after it was made illegal, so he feels he owes them. He’s helping smuggle them out of the county.
Pic 1AWhitford helps them out to the woods where he lives, and they’re safe. For the time being. Their trustworthy friend also shows Luke how to load and handle a gun. Furthermore, U.S. passport “doesnt mean shit” these days, so Whitford’s heading into Canada to get them passports. At a lake near the cabin a man happens across June, Luke, and their daughter. In this world they can never be sure if it’s just another friendly face, or if it’s someone who’ll alert the Guardians to a free woman roaming.
Then switch back to Luke alone, as he’s found by two women who first believe he’s a Guardian. When he explains himself one of the women takes a look at his gut wound, which will surely be fatal if he doesn’t get help. And they’re with a few people that are certainly helpful. He’s piled into their little school bus and they head off together in that dark, new world.
For a while in Whitford’s place at the cabin in the woods, life is okay. Not normal, but okay. All the more sad when Luke thinks back to it, now without his girls and cast adrift with strangers. Many of them with similarly brutal stories surrounding the search for fertile women, the patriarchy knowing it’s dying and attempting to secure the future for them and the world in the most misogynistic way imaginable. Luke’s friends are headed to Canada. He’s determined on going to Boston.
When the man from the lake comes back to the cabin at night, he warns them people are searching for them, they know the car and the license plate. So he offers further help, to get them over the border. “This is pretty fucked up,” he says; and boy, is that ever a huge understatement.
Pic 2One of the women shows Luke what happened at a place where fertile women were being hid. The town was trying to fight back. When the Guardians found them all, they were strung up from the roof of the church. She makes Luke look, to see what’s happening. To understand the grave magnitude of the situation, the depths of the male, patriarchal depravity at play. This changes his mind and he decides on going with them across the border.
But suddenly they’re attacked by gunfire, though they manage to get on a boat and speed away into the night.
Cut to 3 years later. Luke is living in a city of relative freedom. He and one of the women that escaped, Erin (Erin Way), are drinking coffee. A far cry from Gilead’s authoritarian nation-state security. Then he gets a call on his cellphone, another luxury of this place compared with the rigid law in the city of the handmaids.
He goes to a place littered with posters of missing women, cards, drawings, et cetera. There he meets a woman who asks him about June, she has an envelope for him. Inside, a note: the one she wrote him and gave to the Mexican trade delegate. Although it’s only a short note, written three weeks prior, it is one major thing to him: hope.
Pic 3Wow. This was an emotional ride. While I care more about the female perspective and characters, it’s nice to see the other people out there, Luke included. Now I’m wondering what he’ll do, now that he knows for sure she’s alive. Will he and others go searching for June and the handmaids?
Next is “Jezebels” and I love the name of the episode, I’m excited to see something intense!

The Handmaid’s Tale – Season 1, Episode 6: “A Woman’s Place”

Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Season 1, Episode 6: “A Woman’s Place”
Directed by Floria Sigismondi
Written by Wendy Straker Hauser

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Faithful” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “The Other Side” – click here
Pic 1We start as we finished last episode, as Offred (Elisabeth Moss) falls into actual passion with Nick (Max Minghella). She thinks of it the next day, but laments it won’t happen anymore. “Sorry, Nick.”
The handmaids are out cleaning a wall of execution blood. Government officials are coming, so they don’t want any of the nastiness around to make Gilead look bad, now do they? Janine (Madeline Brewer) remarks how it doesn’t look the same without all the “dead bodies.” Amazing what you can get used to in Gilead. Back at home, Offred’s called to see Serena (Yvonne Strahovski), she preps the handmaid on the coming visit, a trade delegation from Mexico; the one which Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) went to arrange a short while ago. The woman of the house wants everything to go smoothly.
But will it?
Offred: “Reds my colour
We see Serena remember different times with Fred. They rushed to the bedroom in lust for one another. Although quoting the Bible’s a bit strange. Either way, there were happier moments for them. Now it’s all an eerie struggle, a routine, an elaborate, emotionless spectacle. Serena’s complicit in the patriarchy, despite any of her issues she continues trying to make her husband happy.
Pic 1AOne thing Offred, the woman formerly known as June, has not lost is her spirit, and her sense of humour. She’s very sly, in many ways. Also there’s a clear connection between her and Nick. He does his best, outwardly, to deny this fact. It’s obvious, though. And they keep it as quiet a secret as possible. In the meantime, Offred’s trotted in to see the delegation. There’s a vast divide between women in Gilead v. women from Mexico, for instance. She automatically believes the ambassador could not be a woman. Even as smart and tough as June was, still is, she’s been brainwashed, beaten down by the system in this nation-state.
On top of everything, she’s forced to say that she chose being a handmaid. When Ambassador Castillo (Zabryna Guevara) asks if Offred is happy, she reluctantly reads the script prepared in her mind. Sadly, she knows a woman’s place in Gilead. As do the barren wives, all too tragically. We find out more of Serena, too. She was a rebel. The ambassador puts it to her pretty hard and sees how these women, all of them, are trodden upon.
Ambassador Castillo: “Never mistake a womans meekness for weakness
More flashbacks show us a time before. When Fred was working towards the idea of Gilead, setting things in motion. Serena supported him every step of the way, which illustrates the lengths of her complicity in an authoritarian patriarchal rule. We see the divide between America then, Gilead now. Even Fred, he was slightly different. Before power took hold, anyways. Then suddenly he gets word about “three attacks” coordinated in several weeks. The beginning of the end.
So, as much as I pity Serena, I pity the handmaids more. She used an epidemic to subjugate the will of fertile women. Offred, and so, so many more, they suffer much worse because of what Serena allowed to grow in her own actions and support of Fred. Kinda like how I couldn’t give a shit now that Ann Coulter thinks anybody cares that she’s FINALLY figured out that Trump duped her and a portion of the country. Because she is one of those women whose toxic aid to the patriarchy of America has only made things worse for women who don’t hold the privilege of her status.
Pic 2Alone together, Offred gets closer and closer with Commander Waterford. Perhaps too close. It’s a dangerous game, even if it’s a part of a plan she’s enacting over the course of time. He feels wildly unpredictable. He asks for a kiss, which she grants him. Later she scrubs her mouth raw with a toothbrush to get the taste out.
Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) has the handmaids out, well behaved, going to a dinner. They even get to sit at tables like normal people. Present and enforcing strict dress code, Serena requires “the damaged ones” removed. But Lydia says they are serving the Lord, therefore it’s worthy of honour. To Mrs. Waterford they’re “bruised apples” and nothing more.
More flashbacks take us to before Gilead rose, as America fell. Serena slowly sees her privileges erode. Once a writer of books, she was on her way to never being allowed to read one again, being pushed out of the bureaucracy of the coming changes. Fred actually starts coming off as a guy who didn’t realise what would happen when he started out. As if he was one of those bible thumping Republicans who began hard on terrorism, letting civil rights erode, then watched as it all spun out of control. But no matter. Somewhere along the way he wholly accepted the state of things.
In Gilead, at their fancy dinner, Serena is allowed to speak. ALLOWED is the operative term. The handmaids are honoured. Blah, blah, blah. All for show. Then the children are paraded through to music, those who’ve been produced in Gilead like cattle. IT’s a way of blinding the delegation. All the sour, hideous shit is hidden beneath this glossy exterior, fabricated out of the sadness of these women who are made to stand by and, some of them, watch their own children who’ve been yanked from their arms being used as propaganda.
Worse – Mexico’s looking to trade for handmaids. That’s so terrible, so ugly. What a heavy scene. With all the heaviness that’s come before it, hard to imagine this is so weighty. One of the subtle, toughest moments shows us a flashback as Serena gathers things together, throwing things away; outside, garbage trucks and men take all things belonging to women, truckloads, and cart it away for a new beginning.
Pic 3A rare lovemaking moment occurs between Mr. and Mrs. Waterford, going against the whole idea in Gilead that sex is for procreation only. Tsk, tsk. But I wish they’d get back to that, their old lives. Instead of raping women into pregnancy for their own cruel needs.
Offred beats herself up for acting in front of the ambassador and everyone else, saying she’s happy there. It rips her apart, and no wonder. Having to say that, even if she doesn’t mean it, just having to let those words out of her mouth is a form of giving up to the patriarchy of Gilead.
The next day when the ambassador stops by before leaving, June tells her it is a prisoner there and about the abuse they suffer. She tells her everything. She pleads for her to do something, but the woman refuses. Another woman complicit with the authoritarian patriarchy of Gilead. Disgusting. All in the name of making babies.
Ambassador Castillo: “My country is dying
Offred: “My countrys already dead
However, the man with Ambassador Castillo offers to get a message to her husband. He is not dead, and Mr. Flores (Christian Barillas) knows. He also knows that her name is June. Wow. I could see the whole episode his eyes were kinder, somehow he was sensitive to their plight. And dammit, I was right.
Pic 4What’s going to happen next? What a grim yet still beautiful episode. Christ, they up the ante every week with this series. Next is “The Other Side” and I’m anticipating other, bigger things will come out.

The Handmaid’s Tale – Season 1, Episode 4: “Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum”

Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Season 1, Episode 4: “Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum”
Directed by Mike Barker
Written by Leila Gerstein

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Late” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Faithful” – click here
Pic 1After Ofglen (Alexis Bledel) being subjected to genital mutilation, and Offred (Elisabeth Moss) not yet pregnant, suffering the misogyny of fellow woman Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski), some might think Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale couldn’t get any worse. Right?
Offred’s been banished to her room, “thirteen days so far.” She is under lock and key, worse than usual. She likens herself to an explorer in the room, rather than getting too carried away with memories. She explores the closet where her uniform is, but then lays there on the floor. There she discovers NOLITE TE BASTARDES CARBORUNDORUM scratched in the door’s frame. Translation: Don’t let the bastards grind you down.
Flash to Offred and Moira (Samira Wiley). We get bits of their lives in the well-scribed dialogue, including that the handmaids aren’t allowed to write. Another piece of the patriarchy’s dirty puzzle.
Pic 1ACommander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and Serena don’t have much of a relationship, which isn’t exactly a surprise. “Weve got good men working on it” is his answer when she tries to give valuable input; albeit input into the patriarchal madness. Still, that divide between her place in that society and where she believes herself to be is always clear. More and more to herself, as well.
After fainting Offred is taken to the doctor by Serena, the first fresh air and sun she’s felt on her face in nearly two whole weeks. Even the rain is a delight to her after such isolation. She remembers Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) giving a lecture to the handmaids about possibly getting pregnant, moving in with their “new family” and such. They speak of “the ceremony” where the handmaids must have a rapey threesome on their fertile days. What we’re seeing is a lesson in complicity, in normalisation. Lydia and the patriarchy are conditioning these women to accept this hideous assault, justified with the Bible in perverted wisdom.
Aunt Lydia: “That is his word, dear. And we shall abide.”
At the doctor’s clinic Offred prepares herself for an exam by the doctor. It’s eerie, as he stands behind a sheet and her lower half is obscured. Far too clinical in an oddly puritanical manner. Doctors can’t even look at their patients, they must keep a sheet between them; not while peeking at the lady parts! Disgusting and weird. This adaptation of Atwood is chilling. Offred’s narration tells us that “sterile is a forbidden word” because their society of men has convinced themselves they are infallible. Even worse, the doc suggests he impregnate her because if the Commander’s sterile – many of them are apparently – then it’ll all be blamed on her, of course. Yuck.
Just viciously ugly. A stark look at the nation of Gilead. A place threatening not only the physical lives of women like Offred, it threatens their sanity even worse than today’s society (which is bad enough).

Today is breeding day. Offred’s been examined, cleared for what’s to follow. She goes back home and plays the part for Serena, asking to be let out from her room. No sympathy, though.
Flash to Moira and Offred. They trick Aunt Elizabeth (Edie Inksetter) into the bathroom where they take her hostage. They lead her through the building’s basement where they shock her, making her strip, so they can use her uniform. They tie her to a pipe then head off outside.
Back to the ceremony, breeding day. Except Commander Waterford breaks the rules a little. Things are supposed to proceed in a specific fashion. Instead he comes in to make another Scrabble date. Hmm.
Serena: “Blessed be the fruit
Offred: “May the Lord open
And so goes the ceremony, or at least it would if Commander Fred could stand at attention. He has… issues. Makes things twice as awkward having wife and rape mistress on his bed, so he walks out. Yeah, that’s no good for anybody. When Serena goes to help him out it’s like they’re no longer used to physical contact; sex has become no longer about pleasure, it is about power and breeding. He refuses a blowjob from her, too. Is Fred catching feelings? Ugh, gross. Either way, Offred doesn’t have to be assaulted for one night, at least.
Worse is how Offred internalises the misogyny, believing she is “not blameless” in that she could’ve shown him more affection, when he came to her before the ceremony. That is terrible. But what the writing does cleverly, in this not-so-hyperbole dystopian future, is outline how women internalise the hatred, many times totally unknowingly, and this happens TODAY. Not just in this terrifying Atwood adaptation. Remember that, men!
Flash to Moira in her Aunt costume taking Offred through the city. They see everything decimated, street signs removed and replaced, corpses brought through the square bloodied in a heap. In a subway station they look for a train to Boston. So militarised, every place they go. Then, as Offred talks to an armed Guardian, she lets Moira go off on the train by herself, as she’s taken back to the city. After her attempt to flee with Moira, Offred’s taken to Aunts Lydia and Elizabeth, who visit nasty tortures on her, whipping the bare soles of her feet like something straight out of the Old Testament.
Pic 3Pic 4Back to Offred, who uses Moira as inspiration to not let those bastards get her down. She goes to see Commander Waterford. They play Scrabble, he drinks and tells her of his trip to Mexico. THE MOST IRONY EVER: he complains a word she plays is archaic; such a perfect line for a man dominating an archaic society! On the shelf as she fetches a dictionary, she notices one for Latin, too (“knower of Latin, scratcher of words“). Once the game is finished they make a date again for after the next ceremony. And Offred does her best to try manipulating Waterford with that bittersweet element which at once gives her power and holds her down in Gilead: femininity.
Something that gradually comes out is the keeping of knowledge, how men and the patriarchy try keeping women down by filtering what they’re expose to and taught, or outright excluding them from knowledge (writing, language, et cetera). Of course that’s how authoritarian systems work.
We get a little montage of the power of women in the end. We see Offred recovering from her punishment having tried to escape. Other women bring her food at bedside, giving her strength and support. Through Waterford’s tale of the previous Offred, this Offred is given a renewed sense of life.
Offred: “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum, bitches.”
Pic 5Probably my favourite episode of the series so far! On top of that, Hulu renewed it for another season. How damn good can it get? Love so much about this episode, but as usual I’m excited for the next one. “Faithful” is next week; I wonder how much deeper we’ll go into the devastating patriarchal nightmare that is the reality for these poor handmaids.

ÉVOLUTION’s Sci-Fi Medical Redefinition of Gender

Évolution. 2015. Directed by Lucile Hadžihalilović. Screenplay by Hadžihalilović & Alante Kavaite in collaboration with Geoff Cox.
Starring Max Brebant, Roxane Duran, Julie-Marie Parmentier, Mathieu Goldfeld, Nissim Renard, & Nathalie Legosles.
Les Films du Worso/Noodles Production/Volcano Films.
Not Rated. 81 minutes.


DISCLAIMER: This review is a spoiler-filled discussion on the thematic aspects of the film. Usually I opt to discuss technical elements alongside theme, but because of the cryptic nature of Evolution, I’ve decided to solely look at the film’s meaning. Or at least what I feel it means.
screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-12-12-37-amLucile Hadžihalilović is a gem of a director and writer. Her work may not be accessible to every single viewer. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the time to explore. Her first full-length feature Innocence came to us over a decade ago, the story of a relatively ambiguous yet dangerous process, the grooming of girls at a boarding school for adult life.
Now, we swap genders and genres to take a look at a world where young boys are groomed, although for an entirely other purpose than the girls of Innocence. This time there are doses of horror, mystery, and a heavy dab of science fiction. The boys in this film are like a parallel to the girls of Hadžihalilović’s 2004 feature. Or rather, they may be a statement in line with them. This is something of which I’m still not totally sure.
For a pretty gruesome story, at certain (many) points, Evolution is equally as interesting. There area number of questions left at the end. Some will likely walk away confused and feeling slighted, as if Hadžihalilović didn’t give us enough answers. Others, like myself, might find them just enough, and good enough, to keep your brain mulling certain events, images, dialogue over and over.
And whatever the film is definitively about, one thing is for sure: you won’t forget some of what you see.
screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-12-22-57-amThe story is set in a seaside village populated solely with women, maybe in their mid-30s, and young, prepubescent boys. At first, there’s a quiet, idyllic quality about the place. You almost feel a tranquillity wash over everything. Without all that machismo and testosterone of a world filled with men, machines, noise, so on. But we get to a point where the nasty underbelly of the village is exposed, and discover the women aren’t the mothers of these boys, though they say so. They’re actually experimenting on the young boys. During the night, the women write naked, moaning together in the sand. By day, they watch videos of C-sections and implant the boys with medicine, force feed them nasty gruel, all in order to get them pregnant.
Oh yes. You heard me. So, is this a proactive smashing of patriarchy by redefining biology, literally? Science fiction has these women actually configuring the body of young boys to have children. And at this juncture, there are many divergent paths a thematic reading of the film can go.
One of my best guesses is based on the fact the women have suction cupped backs, like the underside of a tentacle running up their spine. First of all, they don’t look slimy or weird. It looks like they’ve either evolved from another form, or they’ve been transformed into something other than normal women. Secondly, a woman named Stella shows the main boy Nicolas pictures of doctors – which look like men, though you can’t actually tell (they have male hands, it appears) – with young girls, suction cups along the spinal cord. This seems to suggest the women were experimented on, as the boys are now. Aside from Stella, the women are cold and emotionless, to a robotic extent. She’s the only one to show anyone – Nicolas – any actual emotion. Therefore, it leads me to believe that perhaps these women escaped their own doctor captors, or a situation similar, and can’t reproduce. They then experiment callously on the boys like men once did to their bodies. I believe the women can’t reproduce because of the writhing sand scene: the women produce what looks like a bloody, dead fetus after moaning awhile together; assuming I’m right, this is a stillbirth and it suggests the women are infertile. Why else experiment on the young boys? Because if not then it seems their fertility work is born of pure revenge, a way to get back at the male gender for having treated them with such disdain.
screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-12-32-16-amUltimately, Hadžihalilović plays on the male fear of someday being treated exactly how women, particularly girls, have been treated since time immemorial. So many scenes take us to the limit, as we’re forced to watch these young boys, Nicolas especially, experience unnatural reconfiguration of their bodies. At the end we find out the women have abducted these boys from an industrial, modern-looking world, starkly in contrast to their simplistic and primitive village. The movie works as a futuristic fairy tale, an allegory about the male anxieties surrounding many men’s worst nightmare: what if we had to go through everything a girl goes through in order to, by society, be considered a man like they must do for us to see them as a woman? For women, beginning at a much too young age as girls, one thing is for sure: your body is not your own. Boys, men, this is a given; we own our bodies. However, the girls haven’t had it that simple. Evolution sees a sci-fi twist on gender roles to make those male anxieties come alive in a terrifying way.
Though hazy at the best of times the film is chock-full of symbolism. One of the most prominent and first to come about is that of the starfish. Sure, they can regenerate. They also represent the Virgin Mary in Christianity. It’s the fact they can reproduce both asexually and sexually which interests me. Much like the boys, who after the experiments would be able to both have a child and also impregnate a woman with child. Along with the starfish is the colour red. We see the colour repeatedly referenced throughout: a red shirt, Nicolas’ red swim trunks, and later the bright red hair of Stella. There are several symbolic meanings for the colour red, such as fire, blood, seduction. Which interests me most? Love, or passion, whichever you prefer. Why does it interest me? Because Nicolas is the only boy whose passion/love still exists. He’s the one in the red shirt, the red trunks, and likewise Stella, with her red hair, is the only woman to show any emotion (also notice that in terms of colour her eyes are not black like the other women; they’re blue). The other boys lack his thirst for knowledge. This ties into the other images, of the drawings. We see Nicolas draw a giraffe, a ferris wheel, all these images that are nowhere to be found in the village. In the finale we see Nicolas returned to the shores of that old industrial world of his, so it’s evident then that these are things he remembers, from back home, from where he was taken. But the red, his passion, it’s exemplified in how he refuses to become emotionless like the other boys or the women. Rather, Nicolas is unrelenting in wanting to discover the truth, to understand, to know, and his passion for knowledge, the love he feels in connection with Stella, these are ways for him to retain humanity.
screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-12-47-15-amI’m not sure what the true, overall message of Hadžihalilović’s film is, and after seeing the film a couple times I don’t know if I ever will, not positively. Evolution absolutely explores gender roles, though I can’t tell to what end exactly. Male anxiety is one thing, but there are many elements at play in this cryptic screenplay.
You can look at a lot of images, the symbolic use of red and the focus on the starfish among others, and draw your own conclusions. Please! Let me know what you think if you’ve seen the film.
We can almost relate Hadžihalilović’s story to a modernised fairy tale about what happens when we, the adults, interfere with the gender roles, or lack thereof, in the children of our society. The damage can be done on both sides, whether forcing them into certain roles, or even insisting constantly that they ought to be fluid and embrace both sides of their nature, whatever. Maybe Hadžihalilović is pointing out that kids ought to be left as kids. If we interfere too much the consequences are endless. But the consequences aren’t always good ones.

Female Psyche Under Patriarchal Pressure: UNDER THE SHADOW’s Haunting Allegory

Under the Shadow. 2016. Directed & Written by Babak Anvari.
Starring Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobby Naderi, Ray Haratian, Arash Marandi, Bijan Daneshmand, Sajjad Delafrooz, & Behi Djanati Atai.
Wigwam Films.
Rated PG-13. 84 minutes.

screenshot-2016-10-09-at-2-22-27-amI am a die hard horror lover. While it’s the genre for which I likely have the most love, it isn’t always a bouillon of cultural inclusion. Sometimes, yes, there are movies that capture a situation other than the typical bunch of white people and a token black friend we see so often, particularly in slasher sub-genre pictures. That’s not too often.
Under the Shadow isn’t just interesting or an inclusive look at stories outside the norm for Western audiences, it is also just a damn good horror flick. Director-writer Babak Anvari allows us a look into life, specifically for women, post-Islamic Revolution (also known as the 1979 Iranian Revolution). He taps into the anxieties and fears of people living in Tehran after the events of the revolution. More importantly, Anvari focuses on the plight of women through a look at a mother and wife whose life gets turned upside down during a period of bombing in Tehran.
A lot of people see a PG-13 rating on horror and they say “Horror is no good like that” or “Modern horror is shit.” To them I say: open your eyes. This is a fantastic, visual, creeping piece of horror cinema. Instead of the typical plot, Anvari opts to explore something outright political. Simultaneously, he cultivates poignant points about what the revolution did to and for women; or rather, what it forced on them.
You don’t have to view this movie as extending solely to the women post-Iranian Revolution, although it’s obviously centred on them to a large degree. Under the Shadow can similarly, on a wider scale, encompass the experiences and situations of women worldwide, and what living under a constant, forceful pressure of patriarchy can do to their psyches.
screenshot-2016-10-09-at-2-32-30-amAbove all else this film acts as an allegory. The haunting experienced by Shideh (Narges Rashidi) is symptomatic of the anxiety many women must have felt trapped between two worlds after the Islamic Revolution. For those who don’t know, part of the revolution involved a want – on the side of Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini – to distance itself from American influence. For instance, early on we watch Shideh exercising to an exercise tape of Jane Fonda’s workouts. The significance of this is the remnants of U.S. influence, and the tapes, as well as the VCR which plays them, come to illustrate more about how progressive families, and of course women, were kept on a tight leash living under Islamic rule. When a man comes to Shideh’s apartment to fix the windows, she must not only rush to put on her veil, she likewise has to hide the VCR and the tapes, so as not to alert the authorities. This one element examines deeply how anxious, repressed, fearful the lives of many were after a supposedly great revolution.
This leads into the overall subordination of women, which we see represented perfectly in Shideh. The plot hovers around the idea of the revolution causing family grief within families that weren’t exactly pro-revolution. In the beginning we witness Shideh trying to get her university career back on track. However, because she fought for her rights, putting aside medicine to rally for a different culture and an apparently more value-centric life, Shideh is sadly surprised – as many women were – that the Islamic Revolution merely made her wear a veil, cover herself and relinquish all her rights to husbands, fathers, men in general, and afterwards she also had to give up her dreams of being a doctor (because she was politically active). It’s like a massive kick to the guts.
But what does that mean in the grand scheme of the film’s themes?
screenshot-2016-10-09-at-2-53-31-amShideh’s situation is an allegory, a microcosm of the female experience, both after the revolution, and also nowadays. Women consistently must bear the brunt of wars fought and started by men. Looking at the main character after the ’79 Revolution is a way to get right at the core of such issues.
The movie uses djinn as the driving force of its horror. Within that choice of spirit is a further peek into the fears of women. The entire revolution has called the abilities of women into question; no longer were they capable of making decisions on their own, from wearing their veil to being totally at the mercy of husbands who could end a marriage at any time for any reason felt was worthy. Moreover, the concept of motherhood comes into the equation. When Dorsa (Avin Manshadi), her little girl starts feeling sick and probably stressed out due to being a child while bombs go off around her everywhere in Tehran, Shideh doesn’t only worry. Worse, she starts to question her own abilities as a mother. This is in part linked to the djinn, a woman in a veil appearing throughout their apartment and the rest of the building looking to take Dorsa away, because her mother can’t take care of her. Added to that, Shideh receives phone calls from her doctor husband Iraj (Bobby Naderi) who is away with the army – sometimes they’re normal, others she hears him say frightful things about her failings as a mother, a woman, and more. Between these nightmarish calls and the djinn lurking, Islamic rule looming large over women in Tehran, Shideh is constantly under the titular shadow.
She is under the shadow of war, of the veil, of Islam, and most of all, under the shadow of men. There’s one perfect image that explains how she, and many others, live under the shadow of war: as a missile lands on the roof of the apartment building, sticking down into one of the apartments, Shideh must perform CPR on an elderly man. This moment is so potent and yet almost gets lost amongst the tension. Aside from this image, the growing crack in the ceiling of the family’s apartment, similar to those in the house from Polanski’s Repulsion, comes to signify the constant anxiety and suspense, the cracks wearing through the home, which comes from living in such a difficult place and time.
My favourite image? There’s a scene when Shideh replaces tape on one of the windows, and as she finishes, standing back, the taped X sits in a shadow directly over her; she is literally X’d out, as in society. Maybe unintentional, or it could’ve come off as a nice use fo shadow. Either way, it looks fitting. There’s also an impressive jump scare, one of the best I’ve experienced in years – genuinely made me jump. A gradual build, as the screenplay feels in general, takes you with Shideh, step by step, before BAM! Grabs you by the throat, and it’s so brief you might find yourself winded a second or two, trying to determine what you just saw.
The performances all around are top notch, even young Manshadi in the role of Dorsa; she is both cute and full of energy. It’d be totally remiss of me not to talk about Narges Rashidi in the central role of Shideh. She is powerful, emotional. Just the look in her eyes during certain scenes is enough to pull you right inside her character. All the fear of inadequacy as a wife, a mother, a woman (because of male dominance) explodes from her. Rashidi is forceful at times, weak in others; she runs the gamut of the experience through which Shideh is going. Without her performance the emotional gravity of the role, and the entire film, may not have come through so magically. I’ve seen her in Asudem, and hope to see her more from this point on. One of my favourite performances of 2016.
screenshot-2016-10-09-at-3-02-55-amI could go on writing. For ages. Under the Shadow is by and far one of the best horror movies since 2010. The excellent, enjoyable frights make anybody whining about PG-13 horror movies obsolete. There’s enough spooky business in Babak Anvari’s film to last longer than its lean 84-minute runtime.
For anyone who isn’t acquainted with history, the movie also acts as a brief history lesson on the rights of women post-Islamic Revolution. But it’s not just that, either. The cinematography, the set and production design, they all make the film’s look spectacular and authentic. Furthermore, the atmosphere is nearly surreal for those of us who’ve never experienced living under the conditions of being bombed.
There’s one scene that subtly sets up the dream conditions throughout the screenplay. Shideh sits up in bed, sees her daughter Dorsa, holds and rocks her, all the while the camerawork pans and moves side to side with each movement – a fun few shots, and initiates us into the world of dreams Shideh must face. Only one instance of the fine cinematography.
You have to see this movie! It is a must, for any film lover and definitely any horror fans pining for better days. I cannot stop raving about Under the Shadow. For a first feature, Anvari has done wonderful things. Looking forward to whatever he conjures up next.