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Let’s chat The Handmaid’s Tale episode 2.09 – “Smart Power”. Sometimes coconuts and treason might be your best option…
Sometimes there’s table setter episodes, and then there is Smart Power. Granted, Smart Power is still very much a table setting episode but there is something about this episode that just lands with more punch than normal.
To be honest, the answer is fairly simple: Serena.
Serena continues to be, and I think always will be, the most interesting character on The Handmaid’s Tale. What’s more is I get the sneaking feeling Serena’s journey is only just beginning.
Now before I gush all over the writing, I first have to call out the directing in this episode which was helmed by Game Of Thrones alum, Jeremy Podeswa. When I think of Podeswa’s work on Game Of Thrones, I think of one scene, and one scene only – Daenerys’ arrival at Dragonstone.
It’s a crowning achievement in visual storytelling, patience, and letting the actors ACT. Say whatever you want about the ending of GoT (I was honestly a fan of it), but this was a masterpiece in allowing the story to stand for itself with nothing but visuals and an eternity of five and half minutes without one single ounce of dialogue. I’m not kidding, generations of filmmakers should watch this as a tutorial in awe.
Ok, sorry, a little freak out moment over my queen.
Back to the Handmaid’s Tale. Podeswa actually employs many of the same tactics in THT that he did in the above clip. In fact, Serena’s story, within the context of Smart Power, is relatively similar to that of Dany’s in Dragonstone. Both women are traversing through a world that is foreign, yet vaguely familiar to them, and the story lay within the choices they’ve made throughout their lives to get them to where they are.
They were two scenes that stood out to me, the first being when Serena and Fred are driving through the free streets of Canada. No words are necessary to capture the wide range of emotions swishing around Serena’s deranged brain. Kudos to Yvonne Strahovski here too because her ability to portray equal amounts of condescension, pity, jealousy and sadness is spectacular. People riding bikes, kissing in public, words on signs and ongoers just living their lives are commonplace to us but they are a reminder of what just exactly Serena lived and killed all at the same time.
The likelihood of Serena just walking around Canada, or even the hotel for that matter, without an escort is a little hard to believe for me. BUT, I’m willing to go along to get along because it results in the second scene that caught my attention. It also happens to be one of my favorite scenes in the brief history I’ve seen of The Handmaid’s Tale: Serena waiting at elevator to go up to her room.
WHAT A SCENE.
Just imagine the kind of woman Serena is, and has become. Her sole purpose in the god forsaken existence of Gilead is to simply bring up a child – her social stature depends on it. Beneath the veneer she employs, you can tell there is a small layer of motherly goodness sandwiched between vindictive bitchiness and straight up sociopath. So as she waits for her lift, a little girl approaches and seems cautiously curious about our favorite beautifully teal clad Gileadite(?). Yet, the child’s mother walks over, pulls the little girl close, and suggests that both of them will wait patiently for the next elevator to come.
Man, I’m getting anxiety sweats just thinking about how terrifically awkward and how all around gorgeously produced this scene was.
Regardless, once again, this scene says everything and nothing all at once by allowing actors to act, directors to direct, and the character arc take precedent over what could have been easily over written.
Could the whole setup of Smart Power been over written? Absolutely. Why would Canada ever even entertain the notion of speaking with Gilead – regardless of how power Gilead might be? I could see how this episode would easily get bogged down by the stuffy political mechanics of it all, but Bruce Miller and co. just expect you to go along with it because it’s accepted in that world. That’s just part of the rules we have to accept and I’m totally ok with it.
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So as we continue on in this story and embark on that back nine of this season, it’s no coincidence that Canada and Gilead are firmly on a collision course. Perhaps not militarily (I don’t think that THT is that kind of show) but at the very least, they are on some kind of political precipice. Enter Serena. All roads are leading us to a confrontation between she and Fred, and being saved by the gruffly attractive CIA agent she so not so conveniently ran into at the bar. He may only be offering her nothing but “treason and coconuts” right now, but that offer is going to either be improved soon, or Serena’s situation with Good ol’ Fred is going to worsen. Either way, this thing with Serena is going down.
Despite how much I hated how they didn’t have the guts to kill off Fred during the attack, I now see why they couldn’t. Fred sucks. But he has to be the motivating factor in making this plot move forward for Serena. How delicious would it be for Serena to screw Fred over (the man who helped materialize her sick vision of Gilead) for the sake of having a baby? There’s also no coincidence that the agent makes mention of how they think they discovered why babies aren’t being born and it has nothing to do with what Gilead believes.
It’s also no coincidence that the letters June once held are now in the hands of the Canadian public (yay for finally paying that thread off in a terrific way!). Between the current political pressure of those letters, Fred being Fred, Serena’s run in with the CIA, the discovery about the babies, and just how awful Serena seems to feel while walking through a free Canadian world, this HAS to be the narrative force for the rest of the season, if not next season too.
My final question about this episode is this: what happens when the title of your show is based on a character that isn’t the most interesting part of that show? June is great, and Elisabeth Moss is a tremendous actor, but the whole schtick of revolution, and June staring angrily into a camera as it slowly zooms on her face is getting a little old.
What interests me most about Smart Power is how it sets up the conundrum of Serena navigating this world now that her eyes are starting to open, even if it is subconscious? The show isn’t so much a HANDMAID’s tale anymore as much as it is a tale of surviving Gilead because Serena, in my estimation, is just as big a part of this story as June now.
Mary & Blake certified: A-
Apropos of nothing:
- Watching Fred bascially get kicked out of the hotel with Serena was awesome.
- Super props to the guy who bodied the Gilead envoy when he talked how much he loved America when he visited it with his HUSBAND. Boom. Roasted.
- “You remember my face, because I’m gonna remember yours and someday this will all be over.” Them’s fighting words, and it seems like series finale bait to me!
- June’s story has definitely taken a back seat here, and it should. But I DO have a hard time accepting the fact she will allow her baby to be raised in Gilead by Aunt Lydia as godmother. June just got done telling her fetus that she wouldn’t let it be raised in that world. What gives?!
- I know I’ve fawned all over Serena in this episode but watching her walk among the plants and read pictures for her itinerary was a perfect metaphor for her life as mere decoration to not just Fred, but the entire expedition to the Canada.
- Nick sucks, and I hate his punchable face and stupid arms. BUT, he finally did SOMETHING worthy of note and I give him a lot credit for how he handled the whole situation with Luke. Is it weird that I don’t know who to root for in this situation?
- Did you expect Serena to stop the car, or at least jump out of the car at the end? Part of me kinda did.
- Gotta love Moira just staring in at the car as Waterford drives away. His ghosts are coming to get him.
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