Let’s chat The Handmaid’s Tale episode 3.04 – “God Bless The Child”. Further proof that The Handmaid’s Tale is defying all logic by getting better and worse at the same time…
How can a show have such a great pulse on some of it’s characters, and then have a complete lack of understanding for it’s main character?
Let’s start with the good first. Emily’s journey has been a true revelation for The Handmaid’s Tale.
Her story is what makes me want to continue with the world The Handmaid’s Tale has presented us on the whole. Why? Because I frakking care.
Let’s get all the superlatives out of the way – yes, Clea DuVall is amazing as Sylvia and so is Alexis Bledel as Emily. Not to mention the little kid who plays their son. But it’s the silence that makes this entire story continue to work and do all the heavy lifting for a show that has kind of gone off the rails with it’s plot mechanics.
Not only was I legitimately engrossed by Emily and Sylvia’s reunion, but I was heartbroken too. “Does he remember me?” Emily asks Sylvia in regards to their son. I can’t even imagine the courage and vulnerability it must take to ask that simple question, but also the kind of guts it takes to walk into a house that was never hers to begin with. The unsure embraces, stilted silence and false starts of conversation, and even painful movements Bledel and DuVall share are television gold.
But nothing beats the face acting from Bledel when she enters her son’s room to see that there are pictures of her all over the place, and even drawings of her as a superhero trying to come back home. Yep, I shed a tear or twenty upon that revelation. In fact, here’s a live look at me during this moment:
THIS story is what makes good television great. The circumstances may hyper reality, if not straight out of a dystopian novel, but the emotions and reactions are real. They are relatable.
We’ve all been in a situation where we’ve reunited with someone after a long time and we have NO IDEA how to act or react. We’ve all been embarrassed to admit the state of our lives, what we’ve been doing with our time, or even admit to our complete lack of understanding on a situation. Most importantly, however, we’ve all be afraid to admit that we’ve lost control of a situation, that we may not be the best version of ourselves, and that our worst nightmares might, in fact, be our current reality.
Honestly, how the hell does one even navigate a situation like the one shared by Emily and Sylvia? Unsure of how far to go, how quickly to embrace, or even how much to talk about? The truth exists between the two of them, but neither wants to make a step that will offend/hurt the other simply out of affection for each other. It’s an absolutely PAINFUL dance to watch, but it is riveting.
The mood does lighten and transitions into a much needed breather from the high tension when their son arrives from school.
This, ladies and gents, is fantastic writing.
We need the awful tension between Emily and Sylvia. It has to be confronted head on because not only do the characters need it for their eventual catharsis, but we need it as an audience to invest in the relationship we have never seen before. But, we can only go so long with this level of tension before we snap.
This well needed relief comes in the form of their son who is innocent from all of it. And as kids are wont to do, they just call it like it is. All the tension, all the buildup, all the awkwardness is swiftfully carried away with his arrival and says, “I’m not allowed to hug you until you’re ready.”
OH. MY. GOD.
This is exceptional writing because not only does it follow a very simple format of tension, and release of tension, but it also gives us a clear statement on how this relationship should be ok going forward using thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.
Wow – that’s big concept drop. Yes, I know. But bear with me here.
Thesis: Things are super awkward between Sylvia and Emily. In fact, life just seems to be too complicated to even move forward between them.
Antithesis: Their child is a product of love and innocence. He is the opposite of the thesis, and simply sees his moms for who they are to him regardless of the world’s tragedies which befell them.
Synthesis: Sylvia and Emily are able to connect emotionally finally because of their son. Even though he gets frustrated with Emily’s reading through tears of joy and takes over the bedtime story, it’s his desire to take the story forward that shows the family unit working as one. They can move forward together not because one person is tough, or the other is caring, but because all of them are a family and only together can they triumph over their deficiencies. This is what allows Sylvia and Emily to have a much more heartfelt, and loving conversation once their son goes to bed, and gives them the momentum to move forward as a unified couple.
Thesis and antithesis come together to form an equitable synthesis.
Luke and Moira baptize June’s baby and we witness some pretty inconsequential flashbacks to Hannah’s baptism – although I will make any excuse for more Cherry Jones as June’s mother.
Aunt Lydia is definitely back, but back in absolute RARE form — going full Joan Crawford on Janine.
I use the Mommy Dearest example by design here because the subtext of it all — Aunt Lydia is the abusive mother figure for Janine’s innocent girl who doesn’t know any better. The scene is shocking, and it shows a kind of evolution for Aunt Lydia that I was not expecting. Her run-in with Emily has definitely hardened, if not jaded her beyond my wildest imagination and I can’t help but think that the beating is a physical manifestation of Aunt Lydia’s frustration with her current status.
Aunt Lydia has been stabbed, thrown down a ::checks notes:: couple flights of stairs, and she is now relegated to being “hell on wheels”. The fall from grace and dominance for Aunt Lydia must be excruciating for her because she has come to rule the Handmaid’s with nothing short of an iron fist.
Her status, at least as she sees it, is contingent upon not only fear but also the appearance of graciousness (see: The Fenway Park scene in season 2). She’s supposed to be in control and that is what bestows her power. The problem is that she is far from being in control during Angela’s baptism, and she knows it, and goes to poundtown on an easy target like Janine.
Where The Handmaid’s Tale continues to stumble is June. Now we have her playing a power broker between Fred and Serena? WTF?!
Sure, I do love the visual of Serena handing over a cigarette to June for many a reason. June is the living embodiment of a womb whose sole purpose is to generate babies. She should not be smoking. But it also highlights the level of burgeoning relationship between Serena and June. They are more equals now than ever, and that is interesting. But then we are subject to this line that actually exists in the canon of The Handmaid’s Tale:
“It’s a deal worth discussing.”
This, my dear reader, is everything wrong with The Handmaid’s Tale right now in a nutshell. June is trying to bring together two hateful characters, who hate each other, for the sake of the rebellion because she needs allies. She’s like a little owl in Harry Potter bringing notes back and forth between two scorned lovers. I say again, WTF?!
What the hell has this show become? The Godfather? She’s gonna make him on offer he can’t refuse? “It’s a deal worth discussing” is an actual line, in an actual episode of The Handmaid’s Tale. How?! HOW?! (Wait, nevermind, this is also the show that made Fred ask June, “are you mad at me?” in season two like they were married couple arguing over what to have for dinner that night. Yep, I can see it.)
Fred Waterford sucks. His character sucks. Everything he does sucks. Everything he makes the show do around him sucks. Suck, suck, suck, and more suck. A giant suck sandwich.
Maybe there’s a little more at play between June and Serena because of the dynamic between the two female characters who have a shared history of supplanting Fred’s authority. This is confirmed by the expressly over-written line “where the dress, pull the strings.”
But everything between these oddly shaped troika just feels off to me, and I also feel like the show is spinning it’s wheels to maintain a way to keep Fred and Serena involved in the show’s A-plot. Once again, this is confirmed by the random officer who walks up to notify Serena and Fred that they believe they have located Nichole, and wouldn’t you know, it’s good ol’ Luke who is wearing her.
The path has been set for Serena to throw Fred under the bus to get her daughter back as I predicted last episode, but it also ropes June into the mix because the lie they have all perpetrated has to not only be legitimized, but it needs to have June’s involvement going forward given who has custody of Nichole now.
Apropos Of Nothing:
- Don’t be surprised to see some sort of political battle with Fred at the forefront to get Nichole back while Serena is working behind the scenes independently of Fred.
- Also don’t be surprised to see Serena undermine Fred at every turn because her way is better.
- Also don’t be surprised to see June working against both of them and finding a way to get in touch with Luke to warn him about the impending battle.
- Also don’t be surprised to see a backstory about Aunt Lydia soon – this episode basically confirms it.
Mary & Blake Certified: B-
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