The Handmaid’s Tale: A Woman’s Place – episode 1.06 review: a fantastic tale of world building, getting too much of what you ask for, and shock endings…
Yep – that does it. I am on the Serena Joy train. She’s favorite character of the show and it’s not even close. “Mark it eight, Dude.”
Listen, I’ve loved Yvonne Strahovski for a long time – especially since her days as the infamous Hannah McKay on Dexter. I’ll even admit that, despite her excellent performance on The Handmaid’s Tale so far, I’ve had a hard time seeing past her role as Hannah McKay. But, damn the torpedoes, I’m all-in on Serena Joy.
Right off the bat – anyone could see that there were a lot more layers to Mrs. Waterford than what we were privy to, and it was just a question of when – not if – we were going to see them. By god, do we see them.
THIS. WOMAN’S. GOT. ISSUES.
And, boy, do I love me some issues.
Keep in mind, I’m the guy that loves Black Jack Randall on Outlander.
Nevertheless, Serena Joy is complicated, complex, and just plain fascinating. Say what you will about her ethos, this was a woman who was powerful in her field, wrote books, commanded respect among her crazy peers, was deep in a passionate (if not creepy) marriage to Fred Waterford, and played an integral role in not only overthrowing the UNITED GOD DAMN STATES, but supplanting it with Gilead in it’s place. Yet, we get to see her in the future, stuck. Powerless.
In the current time – Serena Joy is mired in a world of non-action, blind obedience to her husband, and stripped of any real agency. She is, I daresay, sympathetic.
I almost feel bad for her. Keyword being: almost.
Feeling bad for her, in any respect, blows my mind because she is ultimately the one who did it to herself. She is the reason she can’t put anything into action, she is the reason she has to be blindly obedient to her husband, and worst of all, she is the reason why she (or any woman for that matter) doesn’t have any agency. It’s a tragic, awful, and nearly pitiful life for Serena Joy and that fact is best expressed when she has a brief conversation with the Mexican ambassador.
In fact, I would argue the interaction with Mrs. Castillo of Mexico is a perfect barometer for the ironic tragedy of Serena’s life. You could see the sense of accomplishment from Serena when asked about her book, “A Woman’s Place” by Mrs. Castillo. A sense of fire and achievement that was quickly doused by her current reality, and the sobering question, “back then, did you ever imagine a society in which women can no longer read your book, or anything else?” In one beautiful facial expression, Strahovski hits all the right tones of sadness, depression, angst, and disgust when she provides the simple answer, “No, I didn’t.”
In that answer lay all the intricate details of the thin veneer of stability under which her marriage, and Gilead for that matter, operates. Once respected and truly loved by her partner, she now has to do what she is told. Once a vital part of it’s creation, she is forced to be in the shadows of her glorious husband as he takes the credit for Gilead’s monumental feats. Instead of being in the conversation to help form her new country, she’s relegated to having conversations with Fred during the previews of a movie about overthrowing Washington D.C.
Learning that Gilead was formed by people, for the people, is a sobering fact. It was planned, the overthrow was planned, and the founding principals were planned – and our couple torturing Offred played a willing and pivotal role in that formation. Serena created this hell for women, and now she’s subject to her own personal hell of male supremacy because of it.
I gotta tell ya – it’s juicy as hell and I love it. Not the situation of course, but the irony of it all. It makes an awesome character.
What’s worst about the whole endeavor is that everyone in the world seems to be “in on the joke” too. As we learn late in the episode, Gilead is trading the Handmaid’s like currency, and the rest of the normal world just seems to be turning a blind eye.
People, for the most part, always have ulterior motives and Gilead is no different. So I’m not surprised by how fake the Mexican ambassador is when she deals with the Gilead officials when it comes to the Handmaid’s. The whole world knows how the Handmaid’s are being treated, but they can’t (or don’t want to) do anything about it.
The lack of empathy for the Handmaids is best expressed by Mrs. Castillo when Offred admits she lied to her. Offred lays out the whole truth about rape, her pitiful existence, and the pain that the Handmaids are subjected to on a daily basis. What was Castillo’s response? Essentially a shoulder shrug and copping to the fact that she couldn’t do anything about it. Her country is dying, and (essentially) what do the lives of a few Handmaids really matter when compared to the health of an entire country?
Perhaps I should have seen it coming a lot sooner, especially when Aunt Lydia parades the Handmaid’s out for dinner, and then brings out all the children that are the fruit of the Handmaid’s work. That was the last nail in the coffin for anyone at that dinner – the kids. Anyone who felt ANY kind of compassion for the Handmaids quickly had their minds changed (and I suspect Castillo was probably one of them) so as to treat the Handmaids as a trade commodity instead of actual humans.
How sick is that?
Here’s another admission – it may be sick, but it’s terrific world building. I get a real sense of the countries, the world, the politics and how the Handmaids “universe” works.
Which brings me back to the veneer of Gilead – sure there’s all this great talk about contributing to the world and being the lambs of god etc., but under that veneer, we still have a group of truly sick people. Make sure the damaged Handmaids aren’t allowed at dinner. Clean up the blood and dead bodies hanging on the wall. Speak when spoken to and make sure to “speak wisely” when prompted. This facade is just enough for everyone to allow countries to still interact with Gilead and grant themselves the freedom to sleep at night.
This gloss is a happy little lie upon which Gilead operates, interacts with other countries, and in which Serena Joy is forced to live.
And *spoiler alert* it ain’t gonna end happy. For any of them.
Their foot went over the line, even if just a little, and they’re entering a world of pain. I can’t wait.
By the way, Luke is still alive. Saw that one coming from a mile away. I understand the need to end on a happy note, and keep the viewer coming back for more. But I just wanted this episode to end right before the Mexican ambassador’s aide told Offred. There would have been something so haunting and gorgeous about ending on Mrs. Castillo telling Offred there was nothing she could do.
So, this episode goes from an A+ to just an A for me because of the predictable, and misplaced ending. Which is saying something because aside from the ending, this is the best episode of the season so far.
Mary & Blake certified: A
Apropos of nothing:
- I’m terribly sorry for the overt references to The Big Lebowski – but it had to be done. AM I WRONG?!