Today we’re chatting the season 1 finale of The Handmaid’s Tale: Night. We’re watching a show with guts – but also one that I’m afraid doesn’t know exactly what it wants to be.
There is no doubt that the Handmaid’s Tale is, so far, one of the most adeptly written and highly cinematic shows to grace our television screens today. Nothing, and I mean, nothing, will ever beat that incredible visual of
Rory Ofglen Ofsteve riding away in a van while her lover is swinging in the wind. Just as a quick reminder, this is what it looked like:
Whenever I think of The Handmaid’s Tale – this is the shot that comes to my mind. It was this moment that I realized that showrunner Bruce Miller, all the directors, writers, actors and everyone in between really “got it”. What is the “it”? Well, it’s different for every television show.
But for The Handmaid’s Tale, the “it” is about struggle, dealing with the complex and heavy emotions of women and their roles in the world, plus also being extremely creative in the ways in telling that story.
In the finale, Miller and co. keep us viewers guessing, give us a false sense of security, and do it all in a highly cinematic fashion. The use of slow-mo camera during the scene that included a near stoning of Janine was a truly inspired choice. Nevermind the shot of Serena praying over a pregnancy test juxtaposed with a similar shot of Offred leaning over a bath tub while bleeding onto the porcelain. Yes, this show “gets it”. But every so often, I really worry about where it wants to go.
Back in my first review of The Handmaid’s Tale, I lauded the show for all the creative choices it made – including the shot with
Rory Ofglen Ofsteve seen above. But I also hoped that the show didn’t go down The Hunger Games route – where it became bigger than itself and tried to balance a very difficult tale of grief, loss, and purpose with a larger politically motivated story of rebellion. As was the case with The Hunger Games, and pretty much any show/movie that tries to walk that razor’s edge, the plot of the politics always finds a way to nudge character off to the side.
Now I don’t think The Handmaid’s Tale is actively doing that at the moment, but I feel like it really wants to. Rebellion, in a larger sense, seems to be on the mind of Bruce Miller, and I’m not one hundred percent sure that’s the right choice.
We’re treated to how Offred first became a Handmaid, her early training, and how she relates to all the woman around her. It’s a shocking, and very personal, entrance to our main character that speaks to the heart of what Gilead would become. As quickly as it begins, we’re just as effortlessly transported back to the future when the Handmaids peel off from the market, go to their respective houses and we see Offred from the perspective of the infamous package. “They shouldn’t have given us uniforms,” Offred says, ” if they didn’t want us to be an army.” Sure, it’s well written, and at the very least, quite witty.
But this is the battle the show faces.
It wants to be a personal story about Offred, yet, it can’t help but go down the route of wide rebellion as they highlight the steely, self aware, and disaffected looks between the Handmaids. Now, I can’t help but think the smack Serena gives Offred is also meant for us too. It’s almost like Miller is telling us to take our collective heads out of our asses because while we think it’s cute that a rebellion is possible, it definitely is not. We are faced with reality the second Offred opens the door, gets wailed by Serena, smashes her head against the door frame, and is ordered to take a pregnancy test. This is ultimately Offred’s world. Ceremony, obedience, pregnancy, patriarchy. Don’t get it twisted.
Once again, we revert back to what the show does best – the complex relationship between women and how they navigate the world. Seeing Serena Joy on her knees was breathtaking – not just because it was well lit – but because what it means for the character. Serena is slave to the world she created, and ultimately the construct of the Handmaids and the social caste that was borne from Serena’s politics. It’s ironic to see a couple that is so well established and of “superior status” to be held hostage by a Handmaid’s womb.
The crowning moment of the episode, in my estimation, is the conversation between Offred and Serena after it’s revealed Offred is pregnant. We get the requisite, “praised be’s” and through the “mercy of the lord” catch phrases, but just like Serena smacked us into reality, Offred gets a chance to put Serena in her place. “You think I prayed for this?” Oh my word – sent chills up my spine. THIS is what the shows does best.
If the show kept at this style of storytelling, I would say that Miller just head faked us into oblivion with the whole package and saying “they shouldn’t have given us uniforms if they wanted us to be an army”. But, it doesn’t appear to be a head fake.
In fact, Miller seems to double down on the insurrection aspect by having the Handmaids not stone Janine for her transgressions. It’s a visually arresting scene, and feels like the culminating moment of a personal story of one Handmaid – if it were to just end there. God, the balls it would have taken to just end The Handmaid’s Tale with Offred getting in the van and – boom – cut to black. Never to hear from Offred, or this world again.
But we all know there’s a second and now even a third season.
We also know that Offred is actually pregnant too. So, within the rules of this world, nothing can happen to her. Which, in the end, kinda sorta undermines the rebellious part of what the stoning scene tried to accomplish. No matter what, Offred is going to be untouchable. Well, at least until that baby either comes out or if she has a miscarriage.
As such, there is no way this is the end of the Handmaid’s rebellion, Offred, or the story with the Waterfords. It has to continue.
Which is why the route the show has taken towards the end of this season worries me a little bit. It feels like it wants to be two television shows at once. On the one hand we have the show that hangs people in the window and explores the intricate passages of the relationships on screen. But also on the other hand, we have the show that wants to hold the rock out and drop it in front of Aunt Lydia.
For the show to progress, June has to escape, have or lose the baby, and walk the fine line of all out rebellion/war with June as a leader/ mastermind of said rebellion.
Perhaps I should just go for the ride, and allow the story to wash over me. Nick asks June to trust him when the Eyes come to take her away into the van. Is that once again Miller saying, “trust me guys, I got this – just go with it”? I really hope so. So I look forward to seeing where he takes us in the next season and if it goes where I want it to go, I’ll be the first to stand up and say, “praised be, bitches.”
Mary and Blake certified: A-
Season Grade: A-
Apropos of nothing:
- The show finally gave Always-Punchable-Nick something to do other than brood with his weird arms and perfect eyebrows. He kneels down to meet Offred’s newly impregnated womb, and doesn’t even care that Serena is watching. Is this, too, an act of rebellion? Or is it insight to a man who has seen his priorities set straight and Serena just doesn’t even matter? Either way, I like what they did here with Nick, and it finally takes a nothing character and gives him something to do.
- Watching Fred Waterford squirm during the hearing with Commander Putnam was a thing of beauty. “Haven’t we all sinned?” Sure, but when your wife asks for the most harsh punishment available, you’ve got problems bro. Can you just imagine what Serena could do to Fred by just breathing the word “Jezebels” to the committee? This may be a strict patriarchy, but Serena could end everything Fred ever held dear, and I love seeing the dynamic turn on it’s head. And something tells me that he’d lose more than just a hand…
- “Feelin’ Good” is just a tad too on the nose for me. It feels like a proud moment for the show, and that’s why there is no way they are not going to lean into the full rebellion aspect.
- This kind of feels like a Dumb & Dumber moment, but just when I think that the show couldn’t be any dumber by using “Feelin’ Good” the show goes ahead to use the simple phrase, “I’m sorry, Aunt Lydia” and totally redeems itself.
- I love me some Aunt Lydia/Ann Dowd. But Serena Joy is by far the best character on this show. I cannot wait to get more of her.
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