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Let’s chat The Handmaid’s Tale episode 3.05 – “Unknown Caller”. Where Checkov’s phone and a mix tape are the main ingredients for a surprisingly emotional episode …
I really wanted to be mad at The Handmaid’s Tale. I really did.
I especially wanted to be mad after last episode because THT showed how great it can be, and how muddled it can be all in one loose over-written package.
More to that point, even after watching THIS episode, I wanted to be mad because this is obviously the beginning of the overall rebellion narrative the show has so desperately wanted to explore — even if it meant twisting itself into a logic pretzel the size of Kansas to get there.
But, here I am, back again and I’m invested.
Do you want to know the biggest shocker of them all? It was frakking LUKE who did it for me.
Watching his wordless reaction to June’s recording was a thing of beauty and it was absolutely OT Fagbenle’s finest work to date. Hearing the woman you love tell you that the baby you hold in your arms is not a product of rape, but, rather, a product of love between she and the guy you met in Canada last season must have been heart wrenching. Honestly, I have no idea how the hell I would even process that information – let alone act on it.
The revelation about Holly/Nichole also forces Luke to make a real choice – he either has to accept the baby that was created out of love instead of rape, OR he has to choose his own selfishness and totally move on from June altogether. But the recordings of June make it that much harder, and the choice becomes far more real when he FINALLY hears the loving tone in her voice. (Which, by the way, is in complete contrast to the all business tone of their public conversation concerning Serena meeting Holly/Nichole.)
It’s these kinds of human choices that make The Handmaid’s Tale great.
Dare I even say it’s the scene between Serena and Luke that make The Handmaid’s Tale great as well?
There’s a certain authenticity to Luke’s darting eyes as Serena approaches him at the airport, or even as she holds Holly/Nichole. Add that to the overwhelming sense of humility and apprehension portrayed by the ever spectacular Yvonne Strahovski and this was a really genuine scene shared by a pairing that never appears together in the show and it’s a study a fabulous study in the human condition.
That human condition, of course, is also advanced through the guise of Serena alone. Would I have loved to see her transition from the Gilead frock to normal people jeans, turtle neck, and letting her hair down?
I think it would have been a fantastic sequence of watching the literal armor and layers come off this guarded character, but that’s neither here nor there. Ultimately, what matters most is seeing Serena outside of her comfort zone and thrust back into a world that is foreign, yet oddly familiar, to her. Witnessing Serena walk through the airport donning Old Navy’s best 50% off rack outfit is quite a shock to the system.
One might even say that it lends even more humanity to her character as she genuinely tries to calm Luke, connect with her baby, and even admits to helping June in an effort to seem more approachable.
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Regardless of her intent, Serena’s intent, and Luke’s acceptance of that intent, are easily questionable here, which make’s for a fascinating scene. Do we want to believe Serena? CAN we believe her? Because we aren’t allowed to know all the details of the trip, how it came together, and the breadth of Gilead’s reach within Canada, we are forced to question the entire situation. We, like Luke, have no idea what’s going to happen because there doesn’t seem to be enough plot armor for either character to protect them during their encounter. Yes, they’re main characters, but really, anything could happen to them and the show probably wouldn’t miss a huge beat.
Those are genuine stakes.
Those stakes are only heightened when our old American agent friend seems to drop Checkov’s-satellite-phone in Serena’s bag which is surely to reappear by the end of the season. Given the nature of their interaction last season, it was easy for Serena to turn away America’s most rugged and handsome secret agent. While he may have only been offering “treason and coconuts” at the time, this set of circumstances are going to make it a little more difficult for Serena to keep turning him away.
Because as we all know by the end of this episode, Serena gonna be Serena. She and Fred are back at it with their antics by taking June, plopping her on a TV set in their house, and declaring to Gilead and the world writ-large that they were getting Nichole back. Somehow this fractured couple has found it within their dysfunctional and despicable relationship dynamic to team up for one last ride, and somewhat frustratingly, put us back where we started – June vs. The Waterfords.
There is one hiccup to all this, however, and that, once again, is Checkov’s-satellite-phone. So Gilead is gearing up for what appears to be a political standoff with Canada to get Nichole back into the Waterford’s custody, and the Waterfords seem to be a united front in that mission. We all know, though, that front is as about as strong as the Titanic’s hull on a freezing Atlantic night surrounded by icebergs.
Inevitably crack will form between the two (because Fred and Serena are truly beyond repair regardless of the charade they are putting up) and the treason and coconuts are merely a phone call away. You better believe Serena will do anything to get “her baby” back, even if it means throwing Fred firmly under any bus to do so. As such, when whatever argument happens that is sure to split the Waterfords down the middle, you know Serena won’t have to track down America’s most rugged and handsome secret agent. All she has to do is pick up the phone and give him a brief call.
I, for one, can’t wait till when it happens (probably by episode 3.11ish).
Apropos Of Nothing:
- Whatever happened to mixtapes? I feel like that is a lost art that people under 30 have no idea about.
- OF COURSE Lawrence made mixtapes for his wife. He’s totally that guy. But the great thing about this tidbit is that it gives you insight into Lawrence, his relationship, and how everything has evolved over the course of a couple decades — all without having to TELL you anything. Good stuff.
- June recording her thoughts and messages to Luke was both scary and invigorating. Yet it was oddly personal and I loved it.
- The Handmaid’s Tale is starting to treat it’s characters like game pieces right now — instead of placing characters in positions that would be logical choices for them, the show is placing them in spots that move the plot forward faster and that is worrisome.
- How the hell did Fred not know about Serena’s trip?
- Serena just walking around a Canadian airport with no guards seems to be a little far fetched for me.
- Waterfords screw June, June looks into camera all angry, catchy pop-song plays over the whole bit. Rinse, lather, repeat. Sunday Bloody Sunday indeed – “How Long?/ How long must we sing this song?”
Mary & Blake Certified: B+
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