Let’s chat The Handmaid’s Tale SEASON 2 FINALE – episode 2.13 – “The Word”. In which we see a show literally at war with itself…
Remember the episode of Silicon Valley where Dinesh and Gilfoyle are talking about their enigmatic leader, Richard, and while they recognize he’s great, they also have to admit that some of the stuff he was doing sucks too?
Of course they had to preface every bad thing Richard was doing with how great a guy he was. Naturally, though, they got got sick of saying “yes, Richard is great but, y’know”. Being the great coders they were, they found a “dictionary patch” to compress all the “nice guy stuff” and narrowed it down to a nice uniform acronym: RIGBY. Here’s the hilarious refresher:
To be honest, The Handmaid’s Tale: The Word has me in RIGBY kind of mood.
The acting, writing, directing, cinematography, and pretty much anything to do with The Handmaid’s Tale is great, but, y’know, there have been times this season when it hasn’t been and it’s really frakking frustrating. But I can’t keep prefacing every damn sentence with all the nice guy stuff so I’m compressing it into a nice little acronym: THIGBY.
THIGBY – the show is clearly at war with whatever it truly wants to be, and it’s starting to become really apparent. When I wrote about the season 1 finale, I said:
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 OfglenOfsteve 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.
The good news is that I think the show no longer wants to go down The Hunger Games route. The bad news is that it doesn’t want to go in that direction anymore because it has already taken it’s first big steps in that direction.
THIGBY – ending the show with June not taking the newly minted Nichole to Canada herself while blaring “Burning Down The House” is clear evidence that Bruce Miller has rebellion on his mind, and thinks June is the perfect face to help bring down Gilead. i.e.: Katniss in The Hunger Games. In the back of my quarantine-hazed brain, I’ve sorta-kinda knew this was coming and while I am not entirely surprised, I am a tad disappointed.
Listen, I love The Talking Heads just as much as the next nerd, but it feels like the writers had this really cool idea for “Burning Down The House” and found a way to shove it in by any means necessary.
Of course there is an argument to be made that everything happens in threes, and this is the third (!) June has been shown the way to leave Gilead and has either failed or chosen to not leave. While the purpose is apparently an effort to find her first daughter, and, maybe, bring her to Canada too – I’m not a hundred percent sure they earned this decision or how it even happened.
Suddenly there’s network of disenchanted Marthas who communicate on the Reg, they’re highly organized, and they can smuggle people out at any time? I’m not saying it’s impossible but this feels like a fix to help build out the world of rebellion that the show wants to highlight going forward.
THIGBY – My ultimate issue with this choice is that The Hunger Games version of The Handmaid’s Tale is, by far, the less interesting version. I mentioned the exquisite shot of Emily being taken away in a van while her lover was being hanged for punishment and we get to see the whole thing via the rear window…
THIS is the version of The Handmaid’s Tale I love.
It’s an examination of our choices in a world that is legitimately not THAT far off from the one in which we are currently living. This explores the relationships that are forged because of trauma, patriarchy, and it explores the hope of keeping femininity in a society that has long since dismissed it. It’s cold, not easy to watch, and is very rarely uplifting in any sense. But it asks us as viewers to engage with the world and dares us to figure out how we would survive.
There are two perfect examples of The Handmaid’s Tale engaging in the kind of storytelling that makes it simply astounding:
- When Serena and June realize that it was actually Eden’s FATHER who turned her in to the authorities for her actions. Both are horrified to discover that it was he who sent his daughter (HIS OWN EFFING BLOOD) to a death sentence because she had an affair with an Eye. We see how terrified Eden’s sister is about the prospect of falling in love, and we also see Rita’s huge regret over treating Eden like a bag of unwanted melted M&M’s. This is dangerous. This is horrific. This is what it means to be a woman in a world flailing uncontrollably in the name of misguided religion and conservatism.
- “Call her Nichole.” June and Serena have been tenuous allies, embattled rivals, and bitter enemies throughout the run of this show. But for Serena to essentially admit that the world SHE helped create is not where she wants Nichole to grow is truly a shocking revelation. Not only that though, but she entrusts JUNE to get Nichole to safety. Two women, both ends of the world , coming together in the name of life even after all the crap they have done to each other.
It’s not a coincidence that this more interesting version of The Handmaid’s Tale finds it’s footing in the relationships that it has explored in previous episodes. Relationships are what any good piece of television and cinema should be based upon.
THIGBY – June pulling up the hood of her cloak to be an apparent bad ass who will get to work by bringing down the violent patriarchy, or even Serena getting all the women together to make a stand in front of their husbands is the version that is currently winning out. It doesn’t mean that it’s a “bad” version, or that it wasn’t fascinating to see how all these ladies bind together in the face of their abusive husbands, but it’s just not as interesting.
THIGBY- Commander Waterford sucks. The character just sucks and the show very clearly doesn’t know what to do with him anymore. Whether it’s how he deals with the Serena situation, or if he’s making perverse offers of visiting Hannah more to June, Fred is a relic of the early episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale. His problem is that he’s only interesting as a threat to June, which the show has obviously said goodbye to a long time ago, and how he orbits within Serena’s universe.
Ultimately though, there maybe a tad bit of life withing good ol’ Fred because after forcing Serena’s punishment for her actions with the other wives, the show is clearly setting a collision course between Fred and Serena. How will Serena explain Nichole’s disappearance off to Fred? How will he react? Will Serena go off to live in Hawaii after her conversation with the American agent? But, remember, this is not interesting because Fred is an inherently striking character. Rather it’s because how Fred interacts within the framework of Serena’s character. His character consists of nothing but plot reaction.
THIGBY – I’m still not sure how I feel about Commander Lawrence being the end game for June and the rebellion she is clearly undertaking by episode’s end. More questions pop up because of his involvement with getting Emily out, bringing June in, and how the hell he even got involved with any of these plans to begin with. While I loved Emily going full Norman Bates on Aunt Lydia, what that means for her character, and how Lawrence reacted to it (who DOESN’T love some Annie Lennox after a brutal attack, amirite?) I can’t help but think this puts Lawrence in far less interesting place for the next season.
As we discussed last episode, Lawrence works because of his unpredictability. But now that it seems he has thrown his lot in with the Handmaids, his character loses the gray areas that made him delightful at the start.
THIGBY – losing the Grey area in The Handmaid’s Tale is a derivative of the ultimate story of rebellion the show wants to tell. By making Lawrence fall in line with “the good guys” (whether outwardly, or even inwardly) we simply know that we can trust him now. In a show so aligned with Black and White characters, losing the grey makes this far less introspective, and much weaker thematically.
So The Handmaid’s Tale is at war with itself. Does it be the Emily-driving-away-in-a-van show, or does it be the kind of show that pulls it’s hood up as it walks away to the fine musings of The Talking Heads? Both are entertaining, and I’m sure both versions work for all different kinds of people. I just want it to make up it’s mind because I don’t think it can be both at the same time anymore.
Mary & Blake Certified: B
Season Grade: B+