HULU’s The Handmaid’s Tale Season 1 Analysis and Commentary

THTS1ArmyCrop

They Should Never Have Given Us Uniforms If They Didn’t Want Us to Be an Army.

After watching the 2017 Emmy Awards, Metamaiden and I finally got around to our long-planned rewatch of HULU’s The Handmaid’s Tale. We watched it when it aired weekly in the spring, along with everyone else, and loved it. I didn’t write weekly recaps because I know the book, having read it in the 80s, and I haven’t figured out how to write about ongoing series based on a book that I already know.

So, after binge rewatching the entire season, we present to you the compromise post: our typical season ending discussion.

 

Review

I’m not going to bother with much of a review. This series has won 8 Primetime Emmy Awards, and every one of the winners for Handmaid’s Tale deserved it. There could have been multiple winners in the various outstanding actress categories. The acting, cinematography, production design, and direction all deserve the many accolades they’ve received.

The look and feel of the show is unique and immediately recognizable as The Handmaid’s Tale. The elements of the production design all work together perfectly to take the viewer into the claustrophobic, rigidly controlled zone that June lives in, where her only escapes are to get lost in the memories of her past and to wonder about the current whereabouts of her loved ones. The writing masterfully expands on the world of Gilead and the characters, while keeping the focus on the plight of the handmaids at the forefront. This remains June’s story, told from her point of view, as it should be.


 

Overall Analysis

Three elements, in particular, stand out. The use of a shallow depth of field for the camera’s focus is a reminder, even when June is out in the world, that she sees and knows very little of it. Gilead is a land of guards, whispers and secrets, with few conversations between people who would normally become friends, and even fewer conversations to be overheard. June’s route to and from her daily errands is predetermined for her, with armed guards on the street corners ready to report handmaids who linger too long or look too closely.

Her required uniform, a long, loose red dress with a white bonnet that not only covers her face, but extends several inches in front of it, known as the handmaids’ “wings”, serves the same purpose as the shallow focus. The wings give the handmaids tunnel vision, and, since they are generally expected to keep their eyes cast downward, cut off their peripheral and most of their forward vision of the world. They are made into anonymous childbearing machines, with the loose dress taking away anything that would convey the individuality in their bodies, and the wings taking away their hair and faces. With their names also taken away, they have no way of recognizing, remembering or distinctly describing each other, so it becomes difficult to form a network that would remember and pass information from handmaid to handmaid. The shortsightedness is intended to extend to the length of their memories of each other. Since the handmaids have more reason to rebel than anyone else in Gilead, they must be kept from forming alliances at all costs.

Third, June spends most of her time alone in her room. Over and over, we are shown images of her in nothing but a plain white slip, universal symbol of female powerlessness, framed against various windows, doors and furniture that serve to surround her with a stark box. The handmaids aren’t allowed to read or have any entertainment, so June sits and stares, or, at most, stares out the window. She lives in the box of her room until one of the Waterford family members decides to take her out and play with her for a while, or until she is allowed to perform one of her few household duties. In the meantime, she is left in a form of sensory deprivation. This is undoubtedly an attempt to Yellow Wallpaper the handmaids into such mental numbness that they’re unable to wake up and use their faculties when they do get out into the world.

Margaret Atwood has said that she took all of the dystopian elements in the book from real historical events. Many of the attitudes toward women come straight from the 19th century, such as the idea that reading and thinking are too taxing for women, so they should be limited to nothing but childbearing duties. Others come from the practices of some Islamic countries, such as Saudi Arabia, which strictly limit women’s activities and visibility, and impose severe punishments on anyone caught disobeying the rules.

THTJuneinaBox

The sound design and soundtrack also evoke the claustrophobia of June’s life. The Waterford house is very quiet, with every member tiptoeing around the others. Every small sound, such as the ticking of a clock, becomes magnified, in sound and importance. In contrast to that, modern pop songs are occasionally inserted, reminding us that the characters used to live in our world, and are as lost in this new environment as we would be. But the characters don’t hear that music. The women hear almost no music or television, sitting or working in silence except for the rare times they are with another woman and can carry on a bit of brief small talk. Trust is also a rare commodity, so the conversation of even the wives generally doesn’t move beyond the superficial.


 

The Music Box

An exception in the sound and entertainment scape is the music/jewelry box that Serena Joy gives to June. Serena says that it was hers as a child, and she thinks that June might enjoy it. This gift has as many layers of meaning as an onion. The first is the surface meaning. Maybe Serena Joy really does feel sorry for June, and doesn’t want her to get as depressed as the handmaid who committed suicide, so Serena Joy gives June the music box to help relieve her own guilt over the dead handmaid.

The second reason is to establish her dominance over June. It’s a child’s music box. June is not a child, but the wives all treat the handmaids as if they are barely intelligent children. Serena is reminding June that she has as much power over June as a parent does over a child, and that she knows June has a child and can be blackmailed because of it.

The figure inside is a dancer, meaning that Serena can make June dance to her tune any time she wants. The dancer also reminds June of her own daughter, and probably sparks memories from her own and her daughter’s childhoods.

The tune inside is a form of entertainment, a bit of solace for someone as bored as June. But. it’s also a repetitive song that will get on her nerves and stuck in her head eventually, potentially exacerbating the difficulties of a fragile mind like Janine’s. June isn’t that fragile, but Serena Joy’s motives have to be questioned.

The music itself is the haunting Swan Theme from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, in which a woman, Odette, and her companions have been turned into swans by an evil sorcerer. They can only return to human form at night, and the spell can only be broken if someone who has never been in love before swears undying love to her. She meets a prince but the sorcerer tricks him into falling for another woman, who is disguised as Odette. Odette is sentenced to being a swan forever, and the lovers kill themselves together by jumping into an enchanted lake made out of her mother’s tears. This frees the other women from the spell, kills the sorcerer, and the lovers ascend to the heavens together. Symbolic death is a powerful move, y’all.

June is an obvious metaphor for Odette. Luke leaves her behind, and is convinced not to go back. He takes up with another woman, leaving June to her symbolic death. Their story probably isn’t over yet, so it remains to be seen what happens to the swans.

In another version of June’s story, Nick is her prince. He’s had his head turned by the lies of the Sons of Jacob/Gilead, but now he sees the truth, and he and June are throwing themselves into the lake. It might be the beginning of the death of the sorcerer and the freeing of the handmaids/swans.

It’s Serena Joy’s music box, so she’s also Odette. What kind of home did she grow up in, and did she dream of a prince to save her from her cursed childhood? Is that why she wanted to change how children are raised?

Fred is Serena’s prince, and the Sons of Jacob/Gilead are the sorcerer for them as well. He’s not a very faithful prince, unfortunately for Serena. He’s had his head turned by both handmaids sexually and emotionally, though not really romantically. The real Odile in their relationship is ambition, and Fred’s willingness to sacrifice Serena for the sake of his rise in the power structure. He does float back to her occasionally and try to make amends, but, like Luke, he’s not making the sacrifice play required to free his swan.

THTSerena&Fred

Serena might just change the rules of the swan game, since she passed the music box on to June. She’s either gathering allies, disposing of enemies or finding a new fairy tale for herself. I don’t think she’s waiting for Fred to save her.

Which brings us to the final discussion point. The music box also contains a mirror. June can look at herself in the mirror, either to take time to assess or improve her looks, or to see the fading bruises given to her by the men of Gilead. All three are dangerous activities, since they remind June that she’s an individual with a history, with a face of her own that changes over time. The events of her life can be traced and recalled through those changes.

But the most obvious reason for the gift of the music box is that the mirror is made of glass, which is banned for handmaids for a very good reason. June could break the glass off of the box and use a jagged edge to cut open a vein of her own or as a weapon against someone else. We’ve seen how tightly controlled the handmaids are, and how little they have to lose. The Waterfords have already lost one handmaid to suicide, albeit by hanging instead of cutting. Janine has tried to kill herself and others, while Emily murdered at least one guard with the stolen car. The handmaids are tightly wound due to the extremely repressive conditions they live under.

So what was Serena Joy’s motivation for giving June the mirror? Did she want to give June the chance to escape this life, either out of compassion or malice? Was she projecting her own bottled up anger onto June and wanted to give June the chance to fight her way out of her enslavement? Serena Joy is a complex character, and her motivations are also likely be complex. She packed an immense amount of emotion into that little music box.

 


Character Analysis

June is the handmaiden assigned to Commander Waterford. It’s her second assignment. We don’t know anything about her first assignment, other than that she didn’t get pregnant.

She begins the season numb, thinking of herself only as Offred, the name given to her to denote which man she’s assigned to. June is slowly awakening to herself over the course of the season. Things happen that she can’t ignore, like hearing from Janine that Moira’s dead, Ofglen’s first disappearance, and Janine’s breakdown. These cause her to break out of the apathetic state she’d fallen into during her first placement, and begin to fight for her individuality and freedom again.

In the pre-Gilead world, June worked in an office and was married to Luke. They had a daughter named Hannah who was around five when the war started. Moira had been her best friend since at least their time in college together.

June tells us that she, like many other people, was complacent at the first sign of the takeover by the Sons of Jacob. She didn’t protest when they took over the federal government, suspended the constitution, and declared martial law, because none of those actions seemed to affect her daily life much. She believed the stories about terrorists infiltrating the government.

She only realized the seriousness of the situation when the harsh restrictions on women were put in place all in one day. Suddenly, she and Moira lost their jobs, their bank accounts, and their right to own property. They became dependent on their closest male relatives for financial support and legal decisions, like women had been in the 19th century.

They tried to protest at that point, but it was too late. The Sons of Jacob had been quietly recruiting men from the working class, which had been desperately struggling, for years. Now they turned those loyal recruits into an army of conservative religious enforcers with the power to use military force on even peaceful protesters.

Even at this point, things weren’t bad enough for most Americans to risk their lives, so June and the others stopped protesting quickly. June had a husband who vowed to take care of her and didn’t fully comprehend the enormity of her loss, so he wasn’t on board with continuing to protest.

Instead, they slowly worked toward escaping to Canada, but didn’t act like it was an emergency. They just really couldn’t comprehend that things in America could turn so bad, and continue to get worse, especially Luke. They made the mistake of taking too long to make decisions, and not being paranoid enough, right up until June and Hannah were caught by the Gilead soldiers, and June was taken to the Rachel and Leah (“Red”) Center.

THTJune&Lydia

At the Red Center, June was quickly singled out by Aunt Lydia, as was Janine. June learned to appear compliant whenever the aunts were around. Moira was already at the center, too, and they became conspirators, passing information, breaking the rules when they could, and planning their escape.

After June’s failed escape attempt, she tried even harder to appear compliant, but she still helped the other handmaidens when she could. Without Moira to help keep her going, she sank into depression and apathy, especially once she was isolated at her first placement.

Her second placement reunites her with many of the women she knew at the Red Center, giving her more of a community to relate to. It allows her to rekindle friendships and have meaningful relationships again, especially her complicated relationship with Janine. It also leads to her breaking the ice with Emily and learning about Mayday, the resistance organization.

She and Serena Joy have a tense relationship, but there’s a spark between them from the beginning. They challenge each other and are worthy adversaries. A certain amount of respect develops between them. If they weren’t on opposite sides of a war, they’d be a formidable team. I really, really want Serena Joy to join the resistance and for them to become frenemies.

June learns to flirt with Waterford, in order to manipulate and use him for her own purposes, the way he’s using her. It doesn’t seem like she was that kind of person before the war, but she’s learning to be ruthless in order to survive and fight her battles.

And she is a fighter. She has times when she needs a break, and gives up for a while. But, she always rallies eventually, and comes back fighting hard. She’s ultimately relentless, one of those slow-moving aggressors that won’t be pushed aside, no matter what the faster fighters do.

Her strength and endurance are what draws Nick to her. He can see how she’s been worn down, and how she keeps getting up again. He draws strength and inspiration from her, which is why June is bathed in light so frequently when he’s around.

June originally sees Nick as a fling. She’s touch and affection starved and doesn’t realize it, so she blames herself for being frivolous and cheating on her husband. When she goes to Nick on her own at first, she thinks Luke is dead, or lost to her forever. Nick is the one thing in her oppressed, deprived life that she can have for herself, that will break up the pain and monotony. No decent, compassionate person could find fault with her.

After she finds out that Luke is alive, and she sends a message to him, she continues to see Nick. If I were her, I would feel betrayed by Luke, whether it was logical or not. It’s been years since she and Hannah were captured, and he escaped. What has he been doing for all of that time? Why isn’t she getting a message from him? Is he working with the resistance? Has he even tried to rescue them, most especially Hannah?

As a mother, you’d want your daughter gotten out of that situation as quickly as possible, before the indoctrination into Gilead’s beliefs couldn’t be undone, and before she was raped. For June to realize that Luke has been safe in Canada all this time, while she and Hannah have been hostages undergoing mental and, in her case, physical torture, must be a serious blow. On the one hand, she’s happy to know he made it and survived, on the other hand, she feels abandoned and forgotten.

This is human nature, whether or not it’s fair. And, honestly, Luke got out because they were captured. He owes it to them, especially to Hannah, his daughter, to try to help them, at least by working to bring down Gilead, helping the resistance, or working on a handmaidens’ underground railroad. We have no evidence that he’s doing that.

So, June, by continuing to see Nick, is taking care of her own needs. If she doesn’t, she’ll eventually crack like Janine, and be of no help to anyone, including herself and her daughter. Nick genuinely cares about her, so she feels genuine physical affection from someone for the first time since she lost Moira’s hugs. Someone is looking out for her welfare, just because she’s her, for the first time in years. Those are powerful emotional supports for someone who’s been completely alone in the world, and probably help June much more than she realizes.

She gradually becomes the emotional leader of the handmaids, asking Lydia the questions that everyone is thinking, refusing to stone Janine, working with Mayday, convincing Janine not to jump with her baby. She lends her emotional strength to Moira when Moira has given up, leading to Moira’s escape.

THTJune&Messages

She finds some hope and solace in knowing that she’s done what she could to change the world and make it a better place, for Hannah. She’s does that several ways, including by adding her own secret message scratched into to the wall of her closet and passing the written stories from handmaids that she’s gotten from Mayday on to Rita. Her small acts of rebellion add up and will no doubt send ripples out into the world and season 3.

But, she’s still just a handmaid, and Gilead is ruthless about putting down dangerous elements. In the end, she’s subject to Serena Joy’s whims, and only saved by being pregnant. She’s subject to Fred’s whims, and escapes before we find out what his retribution would be for being pregnant with Nick’s child. She leads her army of handmaids down the street after refusing to stone Janine, knowing that punishment will come for them before long.

Nick gets her out before the enemy Guardians can come, asking her to trust him before she gets in the black van. Her last words echo Blanche Dubois on the way to the mental hospital: “Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

June says: “Whether this is my end, or a new beginning, I have no way of knowing. I have given myself over into the hands of strangers. I have no choice. It can’t be helped. And so I step up, into the darkness within. Or else the light.”

Like Blanche, June’s fate is ultimately controlled by men and an unfair patriarchal society. Or a shadowy resistance group. She fights and fails and fights some more, but the system is too big and rigged against her. She can’t beat it, or even change her own situation and Hannah’s, based solely on her own efforts. All that she can do is hope and trust that someone will see and understand her situation and decide to help her. June is stronger than Blanche, and will hopefully do better than her in the long run. Janine is the true counterpart to Blanche in The Handmaid’s Tale.

June is at peace with her decisions and her fate, whatever it may be. She made her choices knowing they might lead to torture or death, but knowing that her conscience wouldn’t let her do anything else.

 

THTMoira

Moira is June’s best friend and her companion at the Rachel and Leah Center where handmaids are trained. They’ve been best friends for years, despite having different lifestyles. June is settled down and married, with a child. Moira is single and childless, having had a series of shorter relationships with women.

They are close enough to talk openly and honestly to each other about any and every subject, even though Moira can be closed off emotionally. They are harsh with each other when it seems necessary to get through to the other one. Moira gets June to start fighting again at the Center after she’s lost Luke and Hannah, and June snaps Moira out of her inertia at Jezebel’s.

Moira is resourceful when it comes to escaping. In both the Training Center and Jezebel’s, she turns a piece of the toilet into a shiv, then uses it against someone who’s blocking her escape. She escapes both times, but is caught the first time and sent to Jezebel’s, a brothel. Moira tells June that she doesn’t find life too bad there, compared to being a handmaid, since she can talk more freely, drink, do drugs, and only has to work at night. She’s being flippant, but there’s an element of truth to the statement.

Moira is sarcastic, rebellious, fun-loving, and spontaneous. She’s almost the only character we see exhibit some of these traits, since we see them in flashback. In the present day, we see her depression and cynicism, then she rallies and finds a core of optimism to draw from. Her grit and determination carry her all the way to Canada. She finds Luke there, who’s listed her as family. The emotional hug she gives Luke is one of the few times we see her totally drop her emotional walls.

Though she and June are close, Moira is also emotionally guarded. She’s blunt and outspoken, and uses those as weapons, along with her sense of humor, to keep people at a distance. June is the only person we see her be close and trusting with, until she’s been torn down by Gilead and realized that she needs more people. Then she greets Luke with an amazing hug, even though she’s been hard on him in the past.

 

Serena Joy is a fascinating person. The TV version is very different from the book character, who was older, a singing televangelist, and much less sympathetic. Now, Serena Joy is similar in age to June. She should be bearing children herself, but the toxic environment has stolen that from her. Instead of being a hypocrite who sings and preaches to make as much money from viewers as possible, as in the book, Serena Joy is a religious conservative who believes that society has given women too much freedom, thereby leaving children and families behind. Pre-Gilead, she writes popular books and gives speeches all over the country discussing her theories. Post revolution, this makes her a liability to the Gilead government. Gilead’s Commanders feel women’s opinion isn’t necessary on anything. Not even on issues which affect women most specifically, on which women have traditionally worked directly and had much to say, dating back to the 19th century.

During the revolution and the time leading up to it, Serena Joy was instrumental in writing the laws and position papers that set the agenda for the new government. She couldn’t imagine that she’d be sent back home with so little to show for her input. Fred happily took credit for her ideas. Serena let him, because she wanted her ideas out there, rather than suppressed, but even then it rankled that she wasn’t being listened to on her own merits.

Now, she’s a super bored housewife, with servants to do all of the work of the household. The wives are left with very little to do,. They mainly, along with their children, function as status symbols for their husbands. Fred won’t even have sex with her. He turns to June for recreational sex and date nights. Fred and Serena have occasional meaningful conversations about what is now his work, rather than theirs, but he’s fully embraced his role in the new Gilead patriarchy, and isn’t willing to bend the rules much for his wife. He bends them for his latest toys (handmaids), but not his life partner who was a large part of getting him where he is today.

This leaves Serena Joy vacillating between doing what she believes is the right thing, and simmering with unexpressed anger and resentment. Waterford and June are the representations of everything that’s gone wrong in her life.

Serena has lost her faith and trust in Fred. She tries to make the best of her marriage, because she has no other choice, but Fred doesn’t treat her with the respect that even Gilead expects husbands to show their wives. He made his name in the movement based on her work and ideas, then allowed the leaders to shut her and the other founding women out without a complaint. Now, he cheats on her with prostitutes and handmaids (outside of the ceremony), ignores her and doesn’t share the details of his work with her, and treats her as if she really is as ignorant and stupid as Gilead wants to keep its women.

Serena has compassion for June, but allows her own anger and overwhelming desires to get in the way. She thinks she views the handmaids as a necessary evil, but in truth June is a reminder of what Serena views as her failure to succeed at women’s most important function, having children. Every month that goes by without June becoming pregnant feels like another month of failure for Serena as well. Serena feels she is somehow failing to provide the proper environment for June to conceive.

Serena is a perfectionist, with high standards for everyone, but the highest standards, by far, for herself. She needs to be in control at all times. She can be soft, warm, and loving with Fred, but it’s been a long time since he gave her much reason to, and Gilead is set up to keep people from trusting each other. Someone like Serena, who starts out with walls, is unlikely to make many close friends. Naomi seems to be her closest friend, but Naomi also has walls and is unhappy and jealous, so the friendship is currently at a standstill.

Serena attacks June over what are really Fred’s indiscretions, because she can’t attack Fred. She knows it’s not really June’s fault, but it doesn’t matter. She’s a trapped, angry animal at those times, snapping at whoever seems to be a threat. She’s wounded, she’s humiliated, she’s angry with herself for getting herself into this situation and for still caring about Fred, and she’s angry at the world for allowing this to happen, even though it was what she wanted.

Serena Joy knows that she’s smarter and better than her husband. It’s only a matter of time before she takes some sort of action against him. At the very least, she’ll try to find a way to effectively blackmail him into letting her have a more active, working role, as she did with the state dinner for the Mexican diplomats.

 

THTJanine&Lydia

Aunt Lydia is one of the greatest TV characters of all time, thanks to Anne Dowd’s nuanced, heartfelt performance. In a different actress’s hands, she could have been another flat, evil, Nurse Ratched, a villain who grinds the handmaids down and only pretends to care about them in order to manipulate them into behaving.

In Ann Dowd’s hands, Aunt Lydia is a true believer, who loves the sinner but hates the sin, and lives by those words. She’s willing to do whatever it takes to save the souls of her beloved girls, and she knows that our mortal flesh is a mere vessel. Better that we corrupt the flesh than lose the battle with sin and the devil.

She sees the girls’ suffering on their way to becoming handmaids as a holy battle with sin and evil, and loves them all the more when they’ve triumphed after a particularly difficult time, as with Janine and June. She truly wants them to succeed, and it pains her to punish them at every stage in their careers as handmaids, but she knows that it’s necessary.

But she’s also there to love and support them at every stage. She escorts them to their placements, lovingly coaches them through childbirth, feels the same sense of injustice that they do when a handmaid has been raped and murdered. She speaks to them as honestly as she’s allowed, and is as kind as the ultrastrict rules of Gilead will allow. She doesn’t hurt them because she enjoys it, but only for their own self-improvement and punishment, as the Gilead laws require.

But the dark side of Aunt Lydia requires her to follow the orders of her masters, whether she agrees with them or not. She’s an extreme religious conservative, who wholeheartedly supports everything Gilead stands for, so she usually has no problem enforcing rules that seem harsh to others. Her girls are valuable because they are breeding stock, chosen by God to perpetuate the human race, despite their previously sinful lives.

Until it gets to the point where Janine, her special angel, has broken down. Janine is clearly the victim of her exploitive Commander, and of a gang rape by other men before him, besides having lost her first child in the revolution. Her fragile mind has snapped from this final insult, threatening to take baby Charlotte/Angela with her. When Janine is threatening to jump off the bridge, Lydia wants to save the precious child, and the precious fertile womb, but she cares about Janine for herself as well. She’s frantic over her loss of control of the entire situation, and shows rare vulnerability in calling on June for help.

The triangle between June, Lydia and Janine is also interesting, with the three of them conspiring to help each other keep their humanity, in a way, even Lydia. Lydia drops her front and makes concessions most often for Janine and occasionally for June. Rarely for anyone else, until the scene of Janine’s almost-stoning.

This is the first time we’ve seen Aunt Lydia lose control of her girls, and be unable to reign them in, probably because she didn’t have the will to do it, deep down. She could have bashed Janine in the head with a rock herself, if she were committed to the cause. But she wasn’t. She loves Janine as a special, redeemed soul, and knows that Janine is incapable of acting out of true premeditated malice.

The fact that she sends the girls home to think about what they’ve done, the punishment last resort for frustrated, but gentle, parents everywhere, shows that she’s evolving away from the detached religious fanatic that she was when we met her in the Red Center. These are HER girls, that she’s mothered through trainings, births, and deaths. The law probably required her to let the guards arrest them all, but that would mean they’d all end up missing body parts, or if it wasn’t their first offense, on the wall or in the Colonies (or Jezebel’s). She couldn’t bear to see that happen to all of them at once.

Sure, it’s a failure for her, and she’ll undoubtedly be punished. But I think that the horror of what they do to the handmaids was finally driven home to her, when it was Janine they were supposed to stone to a bloody pulp, and when all of her girls could have been lost at once.

Lydia performs a protective function for the girls, standing between them and the more severe punishments that would be doled out if they were arrested and punished by the government, like Emily and her Martha. She knew this, and worked hard at it, but didn’t allow herself to think deeply about it. When the guards started grabbing girls and pointing guns at them, her worst fears came true.

Where does Aunt Lydia go from here? Will she be brought before her superiors and punished or demoted? Will she join the resistance or try to escape? Will she work even harder to keep her girls in line? She faced a moment of truth on that field. The odds are good that she and Gilead won’t be the same.

THTJune&Nick

Nick is the Waterfords’ chauffeur. He’s also an undercover Eye, the Gilead spy organization, and possibly a member of the resistance group Mayday. He lives over the Waterfords’ garage, is quiet and keeps mostly to himself. He does warn June when she’s about to be questioned the first time, and tries to save her some pain by telling her to cooperate with the Eye doing the questioning She should tell him what he wants to know, since everyone talks eventually. He tries to save her some pain and humiliation.

He’s been the Waterfords’ driver since the war, so Serena Joy trusts him enough to ask him to have an affair with June in order to get June pregnant. Serena suspects that Fred is infertile, and wants to increase her chances of having a baby. Nick agrees, so Serena Joy escorts June to Nick’s room during the appropriate time of the month so that he can try to impregnate her.

Nick and June’s “ceremony” sex is better sex than Fred and June’s, possibly because they’re both attracted to each other, possibly because there’s more choice involved. Possibly because, even with Serena Joy there, Nick’s a decent guy and tries to make it good for June.

After the Serena-approved visits, June keeps sneaking into Nick’s room, and their relationship develops into an affair. Nick seems to truly care about June from the start, and that seems to grow over time. Even before they grow closer, he’s always polite to her, and warns her of what’s ahead when he can.

June is frequently filmed while bathed in light when she’s being seen by Nick. I think he’s gone numb from all of the atrocities committed by the Sons of Jacob, and didn’t realize Gilead would get this bad when he signed up. Now, he’s given up, and has had no one to live for and nowhere to escape to.

The light surrounding June shows that she’s the light in his life who shows him that another way is possible, with her fighting spirit and determination. She never gives up fighting. June takes breaks sometimes, but she always finds a way back to fighting the Gilead authorities and trying to find her daughter.

Nick slowly falls in love with her, but thinks she’s safe for the moment. He thinks their baby is a miracle and doesn’t intend to let anyone harm it. When June is in imminent danger because she refused to stone Janine, he acts quickly and decisively to get June our of the situation, and possibly out of Gilead.

We find out via flashbacks that Nick was taking care of his brother and father before he joined the Sons of Jacob. This was demanding enough that it caused him to lose one job after another. The lack of a community support system to help Nick or his family leaves him a candidate to join a cult. The Sons of Jacob get him a job and give him a new purpose.

He becomes one of Commander Pryce’s trusted advisors. They speak honestly and openly to each other in a way that we don’t see from anyone else in Gilead, where no one trusts each other any more, and everyone speaks in prescripted phrases. The Commanders have important conversations in front of him. As an Eye, he’d be trusted with sensitive information. He also trades on the black market for the Eyes, and presumably for the Waterfords. He likely knows a lot of people’s secrets, and they count on him not to say anything.

He may also be part of the resistance. He knew that Ofglen was in Mayday. At the end of the season he got June out of the Waterfords’ house quickly, while making it look official. That would make him a highly placed double agent, if it’s true. Or he may just have had the connections to make a deal with Mayday to get June out.

Either way, he appears to have betrayed the Sons of Jacob for June and the baby. It’s likely that he was never a true believer in the religious side of the movement. He joined for the support and security that a cult community could promise him, and agreed with some parts of the philosophy.

It could be that he started to become unhappy when they transitioned out of wartime and into a continuing Reign of Terror, and/or when they decided to be so restrictive toward women and others. Even Serena Joy didn’t realize how bad it would be for women, and she was writing the rules, up until close to the end. The restrictiveness and ruthlessness would give him a reason to have been part of Mayday from early on. Developing new empathy because of June and the baby would give him a reason to want out later on.

 

THTJanine

Janine is a mentally fragile handmaid who has a baby with her commander after he convinces her he’s in love with her. She’s moved to a new placement a few months later, but suffers a breakdown and attempts suicide, along with threatening to kill her baby.

We meet Janine at the Red Center when June is brought in. Janine is also new, and mouthy. She doesn’t get the message to be quiet and submissive, so Lydia has her taken away for punishment. When she’s returned to the handmaids’ dorm, she’s missing an eye and most of her marbles.

Janine’s spirit is largely broken from then on, but she’s also unstable and delusional. She tries to be cooperative with Lydia, but keeps bumping up against painful realities that set her off.

We find out that she was gang-raped when she was very young, through a ritual at the Red Center where the other women are forced to yell blame and insults at the victims of sexual crimes to put them in their places. Any sex outside of a first marriage or the handmaid’s ceremony is sinful in Gilead, and always seen as the woman’s fault. Women are chosen to be handmaids instead of Econowives (the wives of lower class men) if they have some sort of sinful sexual past, such as a second marriage, or being a victim of rape. Part of the Red Center training is humbling these fornicators and sinners so that they’re suitable to be near the good people.

The training is harsh and tears Janine down further. She had a child before the war, who she’s also lost. Her grip on reality becomes tenuous at best, but she’s still fertile, so she’s sent out to get pregnant.

Commander Putnam initiates an affair with her, convincing her to perform sexual acts that his wife won’t. He lies to her and says that he’ll leave his wife for her once the baby is born. She places all of her hope on his lies, which leads to her being disrespectful to Naomi Putnam, and having a harder time giving up the baby.

When she goes to her new placement, she breaks down and can’t participate in the ceremony, because it would be cheating on Putnam. She’s waiting for him to come and rescue her. In her delusions, she’s reverted to an almost childlike innocence, where she believes what she needs to believe, without questions or close scrutiny.

She finally runs away from Commander Daniel’s home, returns to the Putnam’s and kidnaps the baby, then climbs up on a bridge and threatens murder/suicide. Lydia sends for June to see if she can talk Janine down. June is successful in getting the baby, but Janine is done with life, and jumps.

First responders pull her out of the water and bring her back, so that she can have a proper public execution, as someone who tried to hurt a child. Gilead is just that sick and vicious. Janine is still divorced from reality as she’s brought out for the execution, smiling and waving to the other handmaids. She asks them to make the execution gentle. She seems genuinely confused when the handmaids leave without killing her.

The last time we see her she’s sitting on the field, waiting to die. We have to wait for season 3 to find out if find out if she’s dead or has been granted a reprieve.

THTEmily2

Emily is a handmaid who is June’s shopping partner at the beginning of the story. She follows Gilead’s rules to the letter on these trips, so June thinks that Ofglen is very pious and agrees with the laws. After a salvaging, June discovers that Emily has thought the same thing about her. They’ve both been playing their roles so well that neither could see through them.

Emily turns out to be a member of the resistance movement Mayday. She encourages June to find out anything June can about Waterford and his work. Emily is also a lesbian, who was married and had a son in her previous life. Her wife and child made it to Canada.

Emily is arrested and convicted of being a “gender traitor”, the Gilead word for homosexual, when she’s caught having an affair with a Martha in her household. The Martha is executed in front of her, then Emily is taken for a clitorectomy.

After her clitorectomy heals, she’s placed with a new commander, and becomes Ofsteven. Commander Steven’s wife is sympathetic to Emily, and let’s her skip the ceremony as often as possible. It’s not clear if she’s also a member of the resistance.

June and Emily are reunited when they run into each other at the grocery store. Emily is miserable and beaten down. She can’t work for the resistance any more, because she’s being watched too closely. She gives June what information she can about Mayday.

On a shopping trip to an outdoor market, Emily seizes her opportunity, and steals a car. She doesn’t get very far before she’s caught again, but she kills at least one guardian, and injures others, while she’s driving, so it’s a victory. She’s taken away and we don’t see her again.

Emily was a good friend to June once they revealed themselves to each other. She was caring and supportive. But she was also reckless, and encouraged June to take chances. Gilead drove her to being a violent rebel with their treatment of her.

She’s an example of why extreme oppression backfires in the end. She’d already lost her family and entire life once, then Gilead took away her lover, again, and did surgical mutilation on her. At that point, she had nothing left to lose by becoming violent, and a lot of reasons to make a desperate escape attempt.

 

Rita is the Martha/housekeeper for the Waterfords. Marthas are lower status, infertile women who do the household chores for wealthy and powerful families in Gilead. They also act as nannies if there are children in the home. Rita is biracial, suggesting that race may play a role in determining who ends up a Martha.

Rita has uneven moods and treats June inconsistently. Sometimes Rita is standoffish, or even hostile to June. At other times she is friendly, or even seems to be looking for June’s friendship. Rita was the one who found the previous handmaid’s body after she’d hung herself. She’s still haunted by that moment, and doesn’t want to repeat it with Offred.

She looks forward to having a baby in the house, and is much happier and friendlier to June when she thinks June might be pregnant. Rita confesses to Serena Joy that she had a son who died at age 19 during the war. She manages to be polite through Serena’s trite thanks to her and blessing of her sacrifice, but you have to wonder what was in her head. The policies Serena Joy helped create led to the war that sent her son to his death, and now Serena Joy is desperately hopeful that she’ll be able to steal another woman’s baby at birth.

It’s hard to imagine a mother being okay with watching babies be stolen, but maybe Rita has given up on fighting and is just trying to survive. We’re told that the marthas have a network of their own and aren’t watched as closely as the handmaids, but we haven’t seen much evidence of them rebelling.

June gives Rita the written handmaids’ stories when she’s taken from the house by Nick and the Guardians. Rita looks excited to see them when she finds them hidden behind the tub. Season 3 will give Rita her chance to rebel.

 

Fred was a marketing executive before the war. He used his advertising expertise to help make the principles behind Gilead seem attractive to people. He continued in that role as the new system was created, helping to set up the rituals and practices that form the culture of Gilead. But now that things are settled, his gift for selling things, and making things appear to be something they’re not, isn’t as necessary.

He also got many of his ideas from Serena Joy before the war. Now that he doesn’t share his work with her, and borrow her thoughts, he doesn’t seem as talented at selling Gilead. You can bet that if Serena were in charge of foreign relations, those trade deals would have been signed long ago.

Commander Fred has let his power and position go to his head, and doesn’t realize that the other commanders are noticing his hypocrisies, like taking handmaids to Jezebel’s and drinking alcohol. He’s so corrupt that he thinks corruption is the way of life for everyone at the top.

He does still have some compassion left inside him, as he breaks the rules by bringing June to his office so that they can do activities that are forbidden, like reading and drinking. But, at the same time, he blames Serena Joy for things that go wrong in their marriage that are either his fault or a combination of the two. He tells June that things are better now that Gilead has taken over, but, “Better doesn’t mean better for everyone.” Like all of the authority figures in Gilead, the wellbeing of the women is an acceptable loss to him.

THTLuke

Luke is the shining example of a good man in the pre-Gilead world, who’s not prepared for how bad things can get, and who survives through sheer, dumb luck. Yes, it also took grit, intelligence and the will to survive to get to Canada. But, in the beginning, he survived the ambulance accident by chance. He ran into the other refugees by chance. They could just have easily have been a guard patrol.

Luke learns to be a survivor from the other refugees, after he and June have made the mistakes that lead to June and Hannah’s capture. He’s one of the lucky few who make it to Canada, where he settles in with his replacement handmaid.

Pre-Gilead, Luke was a typical middle class professional and family man. He seemed like a decent guy, but his and June’s relationship did start as an extramarital affair. I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt, and say the affair was okay because they’re soulmates, but they each moved on to new partners as soon as one was available. That doesn’t sound like soulmates.

So, he’s a good guy, but not particularly loyal, and not particularly determined, since he didn’t try to find a way to get June and Hannah out of Gilead once he was in Canada (as far as we know). He goes whatever way the wind blows him, and assumes it’s fine. He treated the pre-Gilead tightening of restrictions on women the same way, joking about Moira and June losing their jobs and access to their bank accounts. He truly didn’t seem to understand why it wouldn’t be enough for June to be supported by him financially and not have money of her own.

 

Ofglen #2 shows us the other side of the coin for the handmaids. She is one of the few women whose life is better now than it was before. She tells us that she was a drug addict and prostitute before Gilead took over, so having regular meals and a guaranteed home seems like a good deal to her. She thinks she’s willing to collaborate with the government and turn in her fellow handmaids, if that’s what it takes to keep her comfortable lifestyle. But, once the other handmaids have become human to her, and she’s had a chance to realize just how oppressive Gilead really is, she has a change of heart and is the first to refuse to stone Janine. She has strong feelings and is an outspoken person. If season 2 continues to follow the handmaids in the Waterfords’ neighborhood, it will be interesting to see if she holds onto her rebellious energy or regrets it.

 

Commander Pryce– Pryce is at the top of the food chain in Gilead, the truest of true believers. He’s one of the creators of the Gilead philosophy and power structure, and one of the architects of the Gilead rebellion against the US. Like Aunt Lydia, he believes that what he’s doing is for the greater good, and understands that, unfortunately, sometimes people get hurt along the way. Unlike Lydia, we’ve never seen Pryce waver in his commitment to the power structure of the new world order. Unlike both Waterford, and ultimately Lydia, he does believe that better has meant better for everyone. The dead and the rejected were already damned. The actions of Gilead did nothing to increase the suffering they were always fated to endure by God.

Pryce brought Nick into the Sons of Jacob when Nick was at a low point in life. He’s good at reading people, guessing what their needs and feelings are, then tailoring his approach to them. He comes off as warm and grandfatherly, with his silver mane, and direct, humble demeanor and speaking style which encourages people to trust and listen to him. His unwavering belief in his cause gives him strength and confidence.

He was working in an employment center when Nick met him, helping people find jobs. It’s likely that he used his job to recruit other men, besides Nick, to the Sons of Jacob. The approach he used, getting to know Nick, sympathizing with him, and offering him a better way out of his troubles, is an effective recruitment strategy that’s used by real life cults. It’s probably one that was used to recruit many of the loyal true believers who formed the rebellion.

 

Naomi Putnam seems like one of the women who didn’t fully understand what the revolution she supported would mean for her. Without her cause or career, all that she’s left with is a husband who cheats on her and neglects her, leaving her humiliated, lonely and bored. She thinks a baby might solve some of her problems, but the baby turns out to be loud, demanding and boring. It’s only good for eliciting envy in the other wives. She hates her husband for the position she’s ended up trapped in, so she tells Commander Pryce that she thinks Putnam needs the most serious punishment possible in order to save his soul. She still has her pride, if not much else. She’s growing bitter and angry, which could make her dangerous. Right now, she’s still firmly on the side of Gilead. She’ll probably be looking for a new husband before long. Naomi strikes me as the type to turn in suspected rebels rather than work with them, so the Waterford household will need to be careful. Naomi could become a spy for the Eyes of Gilead.

 

Commander Putnam– Like Fred, Commander Putnam has been corrupted by the power he now holds, and complacent in thinking that no one can bring him down. He may have always been a manipulative jerk who cheated on his wife, but now he’s a manipulative, womanizing jerk who’s helping run a country.

Gilead’s system does seem serious about punishing men who commit crimes against women and children, but maybe there are better methods than cutting off body parts, or death.  A punishment that’s too harsh leaves a criminal who wants revenge when it’s over. Putnam seems like the bitter self-entitled type who would go after the people he thinks got him punished. This show is likely setting up some bitter enemies for future seasons.


Diversity in Gilead

There have been several high profile articles published about the way The Handmaid’s Tale handled “the race issue”. Margaret Atwood sidestepped race completely in the novel, not as a cop out, but because she wanted to focus on the women and what was happening to them. When racial issues are brought into the mix, before long the focus tends to turn to what’s happening to men of color, not just women of color (as happened in the article The Atlantic published on the issue). In Gilead, the women are treated the way they are because they’re women. It’s a biological gender issue, based on the ability to bear children. It has little or nothing to do with a woman’s ethnicity or skin color. Real life modern society may have decided that womanhood isn’t determined by biology, but, in a society that’s dying out, fertile, biological women would be seen as precious, and receive a lot of focus.

That’s not to say that other women would necessarily be shunned, but fertility is everything in Gilead. That’s hard for us to fully comprehend in a world where we worry about the effects of overpopulation on resources, habitat, the climate, and the Earth as a whole. The intensity of the drive to save the human race and control the few remaining women who are the key to that would be intense on an apocalyptic level.

Race isn’t the only issue that could realistically affect the handmaids. It’s also not the only issue that affects women that wasn’t shown in the show, that was in the novel. However, the TV series did show many types of women living in a complex world, in a wide variety of situations, being affected by an even larger number of variables, one of which is probably race.

Some of the articles written about The Handmaid’s Tale and race list terrible things that have been done to women of color in the past in real life, from the forced sterilization of incarcerated women to the abduction of the babies of enslaved African-American women. These are horrible crimes against humanity that should never be repeated or forgotten, but they are also in the past. This is a fictional book that takes place in the future. Gilead is a unique system, with its own rules. The most important aspects of handmaids are that they’re biological women who are fertile. A handmaid is even more valuable if she’s had a previous child, which proves that she can produce a viable baby without birth defects. This is in stark contrast to the value normally put on being a virgin, a major variation from most real life and fictional cultures.

There is no reason for a fictional culture like Gilead, whose experiences have diverged significantly from our own, to portray issues the same way as they would be in our culture. That what makes it a work of speculative fiction, after all. One of the things that’s changed is that fertile women who have already had one healthy baby are now valued more than virgins.

This was only the first, 10 episode, season, and it had to introduce us to the entire world of Gilead and its era. This season had a lot to cover. They made an amazing show that focussed on women, with the men being minor supporting characters, for the most part. They showed us that some of the issues which have always plagued women, like rape, sexual assault, prostitution, drug addiction, homophobia, misogyny, emotional abuse by men and other women, torture and violence are still issues for ALL of the women in Gilead. ALL of the women, including the women of color.

They showed us that life is harder for lesbians in Gilead, if they are allowed to live at all. They showed us that women who had been living on the streets in their previous lives found being a handmaid to be an improvement, at first, with its promise of stability, until they fully realized the price they were paying for stability. They showed us a mentally ill woman (Janine) trying and failing to cope with being a handmaid. They showed us that the government of Gilead goes out of its way to make women physically disabled, either permanently or temporarily, in order to discourage them from acting up or trying to escape. But it leaves them with one hand or one eye, so they are still functional.

There are other diversity issues in Gilead. LGBTQA women are treated harshly, even executed. Women caught practicing their religion are persecuted, even executed. Gilead is ageist against women, and this is highlighted in the book. The old women are missing from the show as well, except for Margaret Atwood’s cameo. Older middle-aged women are represented only by the aunts. Nobody brings that up, because out society is ageist too. Severely disabled women aren’t shown in Gilead, presumably because they’re sent to the colonies or killed. This also isn’t noticed by most writers, because the severely disabled are rarely shown in our entertainment.  It’s hinted that it’s Gilead policy to kill the babies who are born with birth defects that don’t die on their own. Where is the outcry over the ableism and potential infanticide? Deaf women, blind women, women with cerebral palsy, women with diabetes who use insulin pumps, women in wheel chairs, and women on crutches can still have children. Where are those handmaids? Or, where is the reproduction center where they are impregnated and cared for during their pregnancies, if families don’t want to take them on as handmaidens? Why is race the only aspect of diversity that matters to the writers of these articles?

We heard Rita, played by a biracial actress, living as a maid in the home of a wealthy politician, telling the story of how she lost her 19 year old son in the war, while one of the architects of the war and the current oppression, Serena Joy, lamely thanked her for her sacrifice. Is this a hint that soldiers of color were sent to the front lines more often, and given more dangerous missions, as has happened in real life, such as with the treatment of Japanese American soldiers in World War 2?

THTMoira&June

We heard Moira’s story of her escape, and the choice she was given between the colonies and Jezebel’s, while June, who also escaped, was beaten and returned to the training center. Janine has committed countless infractions, but was only beaten or maimed until she committed the unforgivable sin of endangering the life of a child. Emily also commits serious infractions, and has surgery forced on her to take away her offensive urges. Why did the authorities give up on Moira so easily? Why not just maim her so that she was unable to run, as was sometimes done with slaves, curtailing any further escape attempts? Was Moira less valuable as a handmaid because of her dark skin, and so not worth the effort of breaking her spirit?

There have also been complaints that Moira didn’t get enough focus in the story, or enough intimate focus from the camera. The thing is, she’s hardly in the book at all. She got much more time and storyline than Margaret Atwood gave her. I viewed the lack of close camera work as indicative of her character. She’s a guarded person, despite being June’s best friend. She keeps her walls up, and even June can have a hard time getting past them.

Her heart isn’t on her sleeve for the camera to focus on, until she’s been broken and ground down to nothing by the time she gets to Canada. We start to see a different Moira at that point, in the barn where she realizes she’s safe, and when she throws herself into a hug with Luke.

Next season, we’ll see Moira rebuild her life. She has big decisions to make about what she’s going to do with herself now. That’s when I’d expect to see more focus on her face and actions. This season, we were kept away from her because June didn’t know if she was alive, and because she’d shut down inside. Now, she’s awake and activated.

I believe that they were planting the seeds for issues that they’ll explore further in future seasons with incidents like Moira’s excessive punishment and Rita’s story about her son’s death. We see women of color in Gilead, usually as marthas and handmaids, but most, if not all are lighter skinned than Moira. Hannah, June’s daughter, is biracial, like the actress who plays Rita. That could be a set up for the racial attitudes of Gilead. There could be a sliding scale of tolerance (similar to real life), with the palest women given the most leeway, while darker-skinned women are held to a higher standard. Infertile dark-skinned women may have been sent to the colonies right away, along with the old ladies. But, in Gilead, every fertile uterus would be given at least a chance, as long as the woman didn’t have any markers for genetic disease.

They showed us Fred reacting unfavorably to Ruby/Moira and calling her a deviant, even though he’s had sex with her in the past. Some of his distaste could easily have been because of her color. They showed us handmaids of different ethnicities under those uniforms, and they showed us the reactions of people from Canada and Mexico to the handmaids and Gilead’s way of life. Given that they’ve already shown us that much diversity and the issues that go along with it, it’s safe to say that they’ll continue to explore diverse kinds of women in future seasons.

THTEmilyArrested

 


Speculation

This is an amazing, tense, taut character drama. My hope is that continues and that it doesn’t become too caught up in moving the plot forward at the expense of exploring the characters’ interior lives, as we possibly move into a more active part of the story next season.

The style of the show will most likely change some, now that world is opening up more. The focus on June’s interior world and isolation from season one isn’t maintainable in the long-term. The characters will have to talk to each other more if we’re going to have expanded storylines, which will be necessary to avoid repetition and boredom. Hopefully they’re going to show us the other social classes, more of the world, and use more pov characters. It would make sense to have storylines going in two or three locations, say, following Moira in Canada as she works with the underground railroad, Serena and Rita as they join forces with the resistance and work to take down the Sons of Jacob from within, and Nick and June as they do whatever they’re going to do. Maybe be on the run for a while, and end up at Jezebel’s, end up in the colonies, end up in an embassy, eventually make their way to Canada. They could also stay in hiding right outside of Boston in a Mayday enclave and work to find and free Hannah.

The Commanders’ wives have been given a raw deal by their husbands, and they each seem bored, angry, or both. Generally, the wives of the aristocracy in repressive regimes are given some perks that the lower classes are denied, but the Commanders’ wives aren’t being given the ones they undoubtedly wanted: The right to run the women’s side of the government and service organizations, and leniency with forbidden activities like reading and writing. In the book, the aunts are allowed to read and write as part of their work. If the show aunts have the same privilege, the wives must know this, and it probably makes them even angrier that they aren’t allowed to be involved in any stimulating activities.

I predict that the wives will be part of the eventual uprising against Gilead, possibly a major part of the resistance organization. Who better to give intelligence reports on their husbands? They’ve all been so thoroughly betrayed by the policies of Gilead and their husbands’ overzealous, misogynous behavior under the Gilead government, that I doubt they’d feel any guilt about doing whatever it takes to get their rights back.

The marthas and Eyes are already cooperating in the black market and resistance networks, as evidenced by Nick’s interactions with Beth at Jezebel’s, and his friends who helped steal June away. June and Emily also mentioned the Marthas having their own network. Both groups function more independently than handmaids or wives, since Marthas would be functionally invisible, and Eyes would normally be above reproach. They will also be key to a rebellion, since moving information around is crucial.

The handmaids will turn out to be the footsoldiers of the uprising. They are angry, and ready to rip people apart with their bare hands, as we’ve seen in the salvagings. Give them any sort of weapon, and they’ll attack with enthusiasm, and deadly force. Hell hath no fury like a woman who’s had everything taken away from her, and then been raped and beaten on a regular basis for years.

The handmaids can be patient though. They’ve been trained to be quiet and follow orders. The aunts inadvertently put them through a rigorous boot camp, and since then have encouraged them to use violence as an outlet for their anger. On command. It’s a dangerous game. {[Spoilers] Gilead will lose, according to the last part of the book. It’s just a matter of time, and letting the inevitable downfall play out.}

The guards and the lower classes are a question mark as to how they’ll side when it comes to Gileadean Civil War. The leaders of Gilead seem to be trying to root out corruption, but does that mean that they’ll end up further weakened, having routed out many of their most popular and experienced leaders? Will the public lose confidence in Gilead leadership when it sees how many familiar faces are missing or mutilated?

What will happen in the near future to Janine, Aunt Lydia, and the handmaids who refused to stone Janine? Is it possible that Nick got more people out than just June? It doesn’t seem likely, but we don’t know how far his influence spreads. He’s been in on the Gilead conspiracy since the early days, which means he might have been in on the resistance since the early days as well. We also don’t know how many of the other handmaids had connections of their own that might have helped them get out before they were arrested.

Can Gilead afford to lose this many handmaids at once? They’re planning to trade handmaids to Mexico, and possibly other nations, so the answer would seem to be yes. The offending handmaids would also be likely candidates to put at the top of the list for a trade to Mexico. Who knows what conditions they’ll find there.

The Mexican ambassador ate up the stories she was told about their lifestyle and the way they supposedly chose it and like it. She didn’t want to hear June’s real story and have her fantasy ruined. It’s likely that the handmaids will be treated even more like livestock in Mexico, since they’ll truly be slaves, outsiders who’ve been bought and paid for, a valuable, limited resource brought in to do a specific job. There won’t be any walks to the store or being treated like a family servant.

Nick and Pryce have spoken about arresting Waterford for his indiscretions. At some point, Pryce will be ready to move on that. Waterford was in the minority with his loose attitudes about breaking the rules when he spoke during Putnam’s trial. The rest of the committee was dripping with disapproval. Once things are stabilized after Putnam’s punishment, I wouldn’t be surprised if Waterford is next.

Will Serena Joy be taken as well? She gave June the music box, and smokes cigarettes. Fred seems like the type to turn on her during his interrogation. He knows that Serena Joy encouraged Nick and June to sleep together. And Rita now has the package of written stories from handmaids (and marthas?). If the house is searched, all kinds of contraband will turn up.

Luke may have lived complacently in Canada with his replacement handmaid, but it’s hard to imagine Moira doing the same, after it was June who gave her the boost she needed to get herself out. Hopefully Moira will try to organize some kind of rescue for June and Hannah. It seems like she’d at least try.

[Spoilers] The book has the Handmaids’ Underground Railroad. Right now, Moira looks like the perfect person to get that started, since she was able to get herself to the Canadian border. She can retrace her route and try to contact some of the people within Gilead that she knows would be friendly to her cause. The women at Jezebel’s are in a reasonably stable position, as are the marthas. If Nick and maybe even Lydia could be brought in to help, the women who are in the most dire situations would have a chance at being smuggled out instead of executed, perhaps after a fake execution.

It’s hard to say what direction the show will take next season. Will they go for small changes and the beginning of an underground railroad? Or big changes and all out revolution? Will June somehow end up back with the Waterfords, at a new placement as a handmaid, still in Gilead, but in hiding, or make her way to Canada for a reunion with Moira and Luke?

[Spoilers] Alexis Bledel and Amanda Brugel, who play Emily and Rita, have been promoted to series regulars for season 2, so we will probably see more of them. That means there’s a good chance we’ll be spending time in the Waterford house. Emily hasn’t been seen since she stole the car and killed the guardian, a serious crime. She’s a repeat offender, so she’s probably at Jezebel’s or in the colonies. She dies in the book, and I assumed she’d be executed in the show for murder. In the book June’s mother has been sent to the colonies. Maybe this is a way to introduce her, when she and Emily run into each other cleaning up toxic waste. Or, maybe it turns out Emily is pregnant and in prison.

 

THTHandmaids


 

Simple Gifts

The song Simple Gifts is used in the beginning of the final episode:

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.

Besides having lyrics that are perfect for the episode, this is an old Shaker song. The Shakers were a religious community that began in 18th century England, then moved to America. They had rigid gender rules and practiced celibacy. Because of their strict way of life and inability to have children to produce more Shakers, they had difficulty attracting new members and the religion died out in the 20th century. In 1957 the Shaker elders voted to close the official membership to new members and let their religion become extinct rather than change their rules to attract new members.

Is this a hint about Gilead?

Gilead is also based on the Reign of Terror in France, which is very loosely the time between Bastille Day in 1789, when the monarchy was overthrown, and when Napoleon took over in 1799. It was a time of chaos, martial law, and frequent executions. One of the most prominent groups involved was called the Jacobins.

The History chapter at the end of the book also references Gilead as being short-lived. Maybe the Shaker reference suggests that Gilead chooses to die rather than change, which is what the French aristocrats did as well. The French time period suggests a life span of about ten years for Gilead, which would leave around six or seven years left for the series to cover. That’s enough for many seasons of a resistance movement, underground railroad, slowly heating up war, changing foreign relations, and spy vs spy intrigue, with the characters and settings that were set up in season 1.

THTStoning

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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