Let’s chat The Handmaid’s Tale episode 3.11 – “Liars”. A tale of how directing can elevate clunky writing…
“Liars”, episode 3.11 of The Handmaid’s Tale reminds me of that random kid in Philosophy 101 during your freshman year of college.
While they are smart, they read the first part of Plato’s study on Forms and they suddenly think they’ve figured out the world. Next they’re wearing Tide t-shirts because it’s ironic, drinking Rolling Rock (because that’s a high class beer) and sharing their musings on the irony of the sun never setting on the British Empire while lovingly caressing their poster that has all the lyrics to Stairway To Heaven in their dorm room between bunks.
In other words, they’re not that smart, they’re cliche, they want to be so cool, they drink horrible beer, and they’re trying waaaayyyyyy too frakking hard.
Yep, that pretty much sums up “Liars.”
But here’s the good news, amidst all the crap — Commander Winslow’s death, June going full Sam Fisher from Splinter Cell etc. — there actually is some good television in here that is elevated by some terrific directing from Deniz Gamze Ergun.
We all know that there are no stakes when it comes to June. She can’t die. The show cannot let it happen. So, when Winslow shows up at Jezebels right as June is trying to make a deal with the bartender to get the kids out of Gilead, I had no sense of urgency. Of course Winslow is a freak. Of course he’s going to take June up to a room. Of course he’s going to subjugate her to his wishes. And, of course, June is going to fight back.
Was I surprised that she killed Commander Winslow? Nope. Not an ounce.
My sense is that we were supposed to be surprised because of Lawrence’s comments about June’s character – that she was an “ice queen” who always remains calm. But, we just watched June nearly lose her mind not two episodes ago when she tried to suffocate Ofmatthew and off Serena with a scalpel. June’s an “ice queen”? Really? This whole season has been full of June acting rashly and without thought whatsoever. Again, just ask Ofmatthew.
Yet, as I said before, this episode was saved by Deniz Gamze Ergun.
Winslow’s death may have been telegraphed from a mile away, but it’s the AFTERMATH that makes this episode worth the watch. Watching the montage of the Martha’s cleaning up June’s mess (as they have been wont to do this entire season) was a stroke of genius. They are serving Gilead – and everything that represents the worst of its putrid existence – but they are also doing their duty in complete defiance of Gilead by wiping the transaction between Winslow and June right off plane of existence. Winslow was never here. June was never here. Nothing happened.
Now there are some logical issues that should also present themselves as GIGANTOR red flags: there is bound to be surveillance of some kind at Jezebels, so when the Eyes come knocking after Winslow’s disappearance , someone is going to have to answer for his whereabouts since he was last seen there. Also, the Martha who walks in on June and the freshly cracked Winslow skull just happens to be the same Martha who June saved in an earlier episode?
Ok, fine. I’ll go along to get along. But only because that’s what the show really needs us to do. If you notice, the show jumps from scene to scene, story to story so quickly that you don’t really notice June having to sneak out and wonder how she got her hands on a cocktail dress and heels that just happen to fit her.
Maybe you didn’t notice that crap line Lawrence feeds June about her being cool under pressure even though he knew full well everything she has done to prove her opposite. It’s too fast. You didn’t notice it. But your TV-watching brain did.
When you look at the story here beyond any more than the epidermis, there are some glaring issues.
I have to say, also, the entire plot line with Lawrence this season — despite Bradley Whiftord’s valiant efforts — have been fumbled in a big way. But, again, the direction saves us in “Liars”. The tense scene between Mrs. Lawrence and Commander Lawrence, even June shuffling through Lawrence’s disaster of an office only to find a paper with the word “sorry” scribbled on it, are other high points for this episode.
The pies de resistance, though, is how we finally get a chance to put Fred out to pasture. THANK THE LORD OF LIGHT.
In the interest of being fully transparent, I was relatively shocked by Fred’s capture.
My gut was telling me that we were going to be subject to another “will they, won’t they” scenario between he and Serena. Look at them being total douches driving a Mercedes with the top down through the cold winds of New England. Look at them staying at a B & B and having these honest conversations about what money, power, stature, and Gilead means to them! Look at them reconnect.
Boy, was I wrong.
Again, this is where direction stands above the writing. Upon further reflection, I should have known the world was coming to an end for these two as soon as I saw them go to sleep in opposing single beds — separated by nothing, yet, by everything at the same time.
Watching Fred and Serena drive deeper and deeper into the woods of Vermont(?), especially when we see the literally snaking of the road from that gorgeous shot above the road, was a thing of beauty. But that’s only supplanted by Fred’s capture and his pleas to the agents from New America to leave Serena alone. Now, whether or not Serena is charged with anything, or if she has made a deal with the world’s most handsome secret agent to get Nichole back has yet to be seen. BUT, it does finally give us some narrative juice with Serena and even, I daresay, Fred.
Now that Canada has a high ranking agent of Gilead, and his wife, what will Gilead do in response? Does Lawrence’s complicity in everything with June go unnoticed because of this new crisis? What in the name of the Lord happened to MRS. Lawrence? I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.
Mary & Blake Certified: B+
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