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Let’s chat The Handmaid’s Tale episode 4.02 – “Nightshade”. An example of when a person starts to buy into their own myth a little too much…
Well, you can’t say I didn’t warn you.
June and the handmaids are safe, she has a decent little plan, and all she has to do is enact it. But, of course, the show can’t let her totally escape (because then there would be no more show)- so that nice little plan is thrown out the window because of…reasons. And now June’s captured again.
Again, is it necessarily bad unto itself? No. There’s great tension here with the Eyes showing up to investigate the missing Eye who is currently being eaten by Mrs. Keyes’ pigs. There is a sense of dread as we build to the final moments knowing that this is all going to end up a total dumpster fire by episode’s end. There’s even some incredible visuals with Nick standing in front of the house, the Eye being shot in the face and the blood splattering all over June, and even the red laser targets suddenly zeroing in on June as she tries to assess the damage.
But here’s the problem, we’ve all been here before. It may be interesting, but this dance around freedom and captivity for June is getting really old. So despite it being good writing and storytelling (for the most part), because we’ve been here and gotten that t-shirt before, we’re just spinning wheels for the sake of the plot. June continues to make stupid mistakes, and go down paths that do NOTHING but put herself and her handmaids in danger.
When June is at the country club/brothel to meet up with the Mayday representative (suddenly there’s a ton of them now?), I literally rolled my eyes when June notes how there are military commanders taking part in the “festivities”. So, of course June thinks they should be killed. Of course June talks this Mayday operative into spiking the drinks and gives no thought to the safety of the girls at that establishment because that’s what June is now – a mastermind of rebellion. What’s worse is that she seems to buy into all this crap because her legend is definitely spreading among the people since she’s “The Handmaid who killed Commander Winslow”.
Since that little incident with the pen, June is told, “people are doing stuff!” Power lines are being cut, tires are being slashed, and minute rebellious acts are sprouting throughout Gilead. What’s more is that June’s mythological status has grown so wide that people expect her to be a towering figure of intimidation. “I thought you would be taller”, June is told by the Mayday member before they jump into finalizing plans to kill the military commanders. It was at this point that I realized not only is June buying in on her myth, but the show is too. In fact, this whole interaction felt extremely reminiscent of the scene in Braveheart when the legend of William Wallace spreads throughout the highlands of Scotland.
Instead of getting one of the greatest scenes in cinematic history, however, we just witness June convincing a vulnerable woman to poison some of the Gileadean(?) elite. Though, I will note the use of David Bowie’s “Suffragette City” in the following montage of all those commanders partying with their escorts was a really nice touch. Touché, Bruce Miller. Touché.
But as much as June is drinking her own Kool-Aid here, there is also a broadening of the consequences that come to fruition as a result of her actions. Yes, June killed Commander Winslow and the Marthas helped her clean it up, but Gilead came in an cleaned out Jezebels just as quickly. In fact, June’s Mayday counterpart is lucky to be out alive considering how quickly and efficiently Gilead came down on them. Not only that, but there are also some significant consequences for June taking a little detour to enact her murderous plot against the military commanders – Gilead swooped in and captured the rest of her handmaids while she was out leading her little rebellion.
Let’s also mention that while June’s ability to save 82 children and however many Martha’s were admirable, that “Angels flight” also causes some real problems for the displaced in Canada. June’s actions are creating real consequences for everyone around her (notice a pattern here?) and they are left to deal with the results. No better example of this exists than the emotional battle Asher faces as a refugee child in Canada. Taking him from Gilead is absolutely the correct moral choice, but is it what’s best for him? He’s away from his “parents”, his customs, traditions and even the food he has grown up with his entire life. Now he’s stuck in a house with a lady he doesn’t know, customs he can’t understand and terrible Canadian cuisine. To be honest, I see why he so desperately wants to return to Gilead.
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The consequences, though, don’t just end with Asher. In fact, we see Moira struggling to maintain her good will towards June as she tries to reconcile her friendship with June the person, and the rebellion leader who is potentially causing an invasion of Canada because of her seditious acts. Even Rita seems to lose her purpose until she is united with Asher to bring him out of his shell. It’s telling that Rita appears wildly uncomfortable during the entire runtime of this episode until she is back doing what she was best at in Gilead. Caring for others through service.
It is certainly frustrating to watch this show keep spinning in it’s own narrative circles to maintain plot structure, but I will give Miller credit in that he is at least starting to explore the moral ramifications of June’s personal rebellion. It is rather fortuitous that Nick is the commander who is given the responsibility to track June down. The Handmaid’s Tale wouldn’t be The Handmaid’s Tale without at least a little narrativium to keep June alive for the remainder of the season.
Speaking of narrativium, how do we keep the Waterfords in the story?! Let’s take Serena (who was once the star witness against Fred, and thereby, Gilead), arrest and invalidate her as a witness, then try and convince her to testify against Fred again saying that she was forced to commit her crimes due to abuse from Fred.
Wait, couldn’t we just not listen to Fred’s claims against Serena to begin with? But, wait, that wouldn’t allow us to have a relatively good scene of Serena trying to manipulate Fred into dropping the claims. And, we also wouldn’t have his glorious vindictive response, ““Nichole is not your daughter any more than she is mine, and if you think I’m going to let you have her, to walk free and go start some new life, you are delusional.” Oh my words that sent shivers up my spine it was so good. (I will give it to Joseph Fiennes as I think he has been terrific this season.)
The dealing back and forth, and even Fred’s response, would normally be par-for-the-course for The Handmaid’s Tale.
There is now a slight pea sized complication floating around Serena’s uterus. The great Deus Ex Machina of a baby. This throws a whole wrench into Serena’s well laid plans, and I’m also sure it mucks up everything our generically good looking American (spy?) agent had in mind for the Waterfords. Can Serena now condemn Fred knowing that she has his baby in her despite every reassurance every single season that there was no way, no how, absolutely not one frakking chance she could get pregnant after being shot in the stomach? My guess? No way. This is going to reunite Fred and Serena and it will take her off her moral high horse because she finally has what she wants – a baby. A baby unencumbered by governmental control, visitation rights, or the whims of a stressed out Luke. If anything, she’ll retract her claims and they get to go home to Gilead with no charges held against them and a baby on board. To be honest, I kinda like it.
I just don’t like anything having to do with June at the moment. And that’s a major problem – what do you do when your main character is the worst part of your show? She’s neither a hero like Jack Bauer, nor is she an anti-hero like Walter White. She is just annoyingly angry right now. Let’s see what happens when June is back in Gilead’s clutches and Serena goes back home to give June a piece of her mind.