Let’s chat The Handmaid’s Tale episode 2.10 – “The Last Ceremony”. Why Walter White and June have a lot more in common than you think…
If change is one of the benchmarks to measure a good story, then The Last Ceremony should be Citizen frakking Kane.
It’s one thing to begin a certain way, and in a different way – but this episode takes it to a whole other stratosphere.
Let’s just look at the facts – June starts the episode narrating over Emily’s ceremony (rape) saying how it’s just a job and you treat it like “an unpleasant job to be gotten through as fast as possible.” In other words, she’s basically Peter in Office Space doing as little as she possibly can to slog through just another day at Initech and avoid Bill Lumbergh’s annoying memos about cover sheets on TPS reports.
But by the end, June is left stranded, abandoned, and desperate for any kind of help in a snow covered mansion god knows where, and she is ripe to pop out her baby within *checks notes* seven and half seconds.
That’s not to say June would be begging for the attention of a ceremony by the end of the episode. You can sense, however, that she would welcome the sight of the Waterford’s even if it means being subjected to their psychotic trappings just so she could give birth in that truly surreal setting with other handmaids and commanders wives she so easily dismissed earlier in the episode.
Them’s some big changes. In both character, and plot. Best of both worlds.
But let’s not jump too quick here.
Once again, we have to give major credit to director Jeremy Podeswa (about whose genius we chatted last episode) and writer Yahlin Chang. Both know that it’s not enough to move their characters from place to place. Plot never drives character. It’s ALWAYS the other way around.
In this case, it’s the relationships that each of these people share that drives the plot of this story.
June knowingly needles Serena when she goes into “labor” and all but straight up embarrasses Serena in front of her colleagues and servants. Which, of course, is a derivative of the fallout between the two women from their antics in a Fredless household. This culminates in what could be technically considered a “ceremony”, but in all reality, is straight up brutal rape. What’s worse is that we don’t look at Fred, necessarily, as the aggressor, but rather it’s Serena.
Serena dictates the terms, holds down June despite her vehement protests, and it’s Serena who is willing to do whatever it takes to get this baby out of June.
The sick thing is Serena almost seems to enjoy the whole trauma.
Is it out of jealousy? Maybe. Is it out of dominance? I think we’re getting closer. Perhaps it’s just the truly perverted logic and insecurity Serena stares down when she is even in the same room as June. The fact remains that it would be easy to blame the rape on the plot mechanics of needing to get the baby out of June by seasons end, but the beauty is that the viewer doesn’t have to do that.
There’s enough of a relationship between June and Serena to know what the real intent is without even having to reference the mechanics of it all. The rape and potential birth of this baby is (pardon the pun) borne out of their mutual hatred for each other. Both provoked. Both antagonized. And now both have to pay – one physically and the other with what little moral credibility she had left.
So we go from getting through just another day at Initech, to being left alone, lifeless and emotionally deadened on a bed in the Waterford’s master bedroom. This isn’t just a case of the Monday’s like it seemed to be before. This is a true violation.
Going back to Podeswa and Chang, however, they know it’s not enough to just torture their main character.
They know that they have to KEEP torturing June in order to fulfill the massive impact they need to achieve.
Start June off hating her monotonous job, teasing Serena, and almost taking joy in it. Dare I say even comfort too? But then they have to rip that comfort away in cruel and ironic ways (remember my whole thesis that June’s actions are essentially meaningless within the story because she can’t suffer any consequences due to her pregnancy? Yeah that’s out the window.) They give her a little freedom with the hope of seeing her daughter and even pairing her with Nick for the long journey. She gets closer to her goal – a happy encounter with her daughter and the man she seems to love.
But Chang and Podeswa don’t end the torture there. Hannah doesn’t want to interact with June. She’s scared.
But that’s not enough either, June has to actually PARENT this child who now has a different name.
That’s still not enough torture for Podeswa and Chang, as June finally gets to hug her child and love on her, but then get’s ripped away not once but twice. She willingly has to give Hannah up AGAIN.
But that’s STILL NOT ENOUGH.
Nick, the man whom June loves and is essentially the only person she trusts in Gilead has to defend June and gets taken away without a trace of where he’s going or what’s going to happen to him.
Once again though, that is not the summit of torture Podeswa and Chang have in store for June – that comes when she is left alone and cold with a baby clearly on the way.
June is lost, vulnerable, and unable to navigate her way back to safety. In fact, they’ve written themselves, and, inherently, June, into a great corner. How the hell is she going to get out of this?!
The funny thing is that it reminds me quite a bit about how Vince Gilligan famously (and purposely) wrote himself into a corner with Walter White at the end of Breaking Bad between the penultimate episode of “Granite State” and the series finale of “Felina”. Of course, we all know how that turned out for good ol’ Walt.
Walter once gave a lecture about Chemistry being the study of matter, but really it’s a study in change. You could argue that was the thesis for the entirety of Breaking Bad, both conceptually but also practically. “Matter” being “plot” and “change” being “relationships”. As a refresher:
So it’s no coincidence that Gilligan crafted one of the greatest television shows ever written with this in mind, and wrote himself into a corner based on that need for “change”.
Everything has changed for June, and her world is about to erupt. The only way we can feel that eruption, in a world as desensitized as the Gilead we experienced in the beginning of the episode, is to continually torture the main character, and bring her to the absolute brink of collapse so that when she hopefully pulls herself out, we feel.
AND IT’S FASCINATING TELEVISION.
Mary & Blake certified: A
Apropos of Nothing:
- Podeswa and Chang — 2020!
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