After the bombing of the new Handmaid center, some of the women are brought back from the colonies. In one of the disturbing scenes of the show Emily's Commander dies on top of her while he is "performing the ceremony." When the Wife is shocked Emily casually states that she should lay down as it helps the process.
When the Wife runs out of the room to get help, Emily gets up and angrily kicks the dead man. This is what Gilead does and this is what the women have to face. The paper would like to issue trigger warnings for sexual assault, rape, child abuse/murder, misogyny, body mutilation and other forms of torture. The paper does not condone or encourage these actions but are detailing events present in the show.
An episode begins with June all alone. She has been abandoned in a derelict district. She even apologizes to the audience that the story has been unbearably dark and grim. She apologizes but this visceral way is the only truth one can say. The pain, humiliation, dehumanization is seared onto the flesh so the flesh cannot be omitted in the flashbacks, in the narrative and the overall shape of the show.
The tortured body has a perverse shape; the body has been tortured by Gilead and it is this body of women that Gilead tries to censor and mutilate that becomes the testament of the endurance of Good against Evil. Though the lines are also blurred.
There is no true Satan here but mankind being ruthless to womankind because it can. Emily kicking her rapist after he is down is the only way she can rebel. She will choose it because her justice is famished and it will eat what it can.
Why was June abandoned? The episode is the birth of her new daughter, Holly, whose father is not Commander Waterford, but Nick. Even in the original novel, it was heavily implied that Fred is infertile. In Season One the doctors of Gilead state that most Commanders are infertile.
The ceremony gets its logic through the misogyny that only "bad" women can be handmaids thus through the blessed loins of the pure couple they will bear fruit and in it gain redemption. This sort of sacrilege of the human body, a woman's body, can make anyone feel nauseated. When Fred is in the hospital after the bombing we see Serena and June become reluctant bedfellows.
They are partners in crime to ensure that Fred can keep his position so Nick, Rita, Serena, Eden, Isaac and June can all live peacefully. As much peace that a place like Gilead can offer. As June endurably spoke: she must gain from whatever circumstances she can afford.
This Season shows the strain between June and Serena but also the deep respect both women can have for one another. It is not consistent as Gilead keeps on pitting them as enemies.
This was also depicted in the novel, the novel also closed with tapes that June had one day recorded so June's voiceovers are a feeling of a posterity that can happen, a life posthumous of Gilead. Serena wants a child so badly that she sometimes dehumanizes June because of it. However, June is the better person. She sometimes, tenderly, calls Serena by her name. Especially, when Serena seems lost and out of hope.
One of those moments is when Fred beats Serena for doing his paperwork while he is the hospital. Fred feels emasculated by the bombing and further emasculated when he is reminded by the truth: Serena has always been better than him. Like any despicable misogynistic man, he cannot take it.
Using the bible as an excuse he gets a cane and strikes Serena. She begs him not to do it. She hopes he wouldn't as she has done everything for him. Fred only wishes to please himself. June is so disturbed by this that she breaks down. Despite what Serena did to her she cannot understand how Fred can be cruel to someone he has been married to even before Gilead.
A bruised Serena, thereafter, is told to go to Canada with Fred. Gilead wants to make diplomatic talks with Canada. Serena looks at the free women, going to coffee houses, riding bikes, reading and remembers she cannot have these freedoms anymore.
She is further insulted when the itinerary given to her by a Canadian woman delegate are all pictographs. They decided to abide by the rule that Gilead women should not read further enforcing Serena's humiliation. This is where Nick meets Luke, June's husband.
He chases down Fred and even Serena sees him at their hotel, seething with rage and saying how he raped his wife. Serena looks at him with suppressed compassion but Fred brushes him off and says he doesn't know what he is talking about. Fred's frigid and cold behavior is reminiscent of many sociopathic killers and Fred had murdered people even before Gilead, as shown in flashbacks. In short, Fred is a nasty individual so much so that Joseph Fiennes says he hated the character that he played.
Max Minghella, the actor who plays Nick, then meets Luke at a bar. When Nick tells Luke that June is pregnant, Luke is enraged and so full of sadness, not knowing that Nick is the father. He pushes Nick and calls Gilead citizens sick. Though Nick doesn't fight back because June was raped multiple times by Fred in guise of a "ceremony."
That is the truth he cannot escape, neither can June nor Luke. Minghella states about the meeting to Harper's Bazaar: "What was thrilling about the Canada episode was finally getting to engage with these other parts of the world. O. T. and I are very different people, which is smart casting because Nick and Luke are also wildly different.
It's a smart dichotomy with these two men, which I think reflects two sides of June." It is actually refreshing in a show to see female desire, lust and love so widely explored. June being polyamorous is only natural and it stamps out the sexist notion that only men can be. Even without Gilead I am sure June had men she loved.
There is no competition between Luke and Nick, nor is there any derision for June for loving both men. We may speculate who June may finally chose or if she may not choose any of them. After all, Nick will remind her of her life in Gilead and Luke a time before that. Unless these men can help her and help themselves carry those burdens no future is really possible. Nick gives the letters of the captive women of Gilead to Luke.
These letters, as shown in Season One, are from various women who by writing their experiences were trying to resist Gilead (that is why the last episode is called The Word). Luke and Moira, with their friends, post these online. A shocked Fred is told to leave Canada by the delegates saying that they trust the women more than their propaganda of Gilead. Fred calls them cowards and scowls as he leaves.
The same lady who handed Serena her pictographic itinerary asks how she has been so broken down, how she accepts this torture? Serena can only suppress her answer. She knows the woman is right. The gashes on her body from the caning are proof of it.
Serena and Fred return home without Canada as their ally. Soon June goes into labor. Only, it seemed to be false. Angered by everything around her, Serena tells Fred to rape June so that her birthing arrives quicker. In one of the most disturbing scenes of the show, Serena aggressively holds down June as Fred rapes her.
June does not ask Fred to stop, she pleads Serena. After it is over, June feels re-violated again. Fred thinking, he can gain June's affections arranges her to finally meet Hannah. In the car, June is in a daze and Nick can only repeatedly, desperately ask her to talk to him.
When June meets Hannah, Hannah is angry at June. She thinks her mother did not fight hard enough for her. She says, with childish stubbornness, she has new parents now. June can only look at her apologetically. Hannah notices her mother is pregnant. She knows her mother is a handmaid and the reality her sibling will not stay with her mother hits her.
She wants to stay with June. The audience are in tears when they realize that Hannah wants to still be Hannah and June's daughter. She is kicking and screaming, she wants her real mother, she doesn't want to go back to her new parents. June cries in desperation but then slowly clutches Hannah one final time. She tells Hannah to be strong and know she is loved. Hannah leaves knowing that her mother is helpless. Even a child is destroyed by Gilead.
Nick has a misunderstanding with a few Guardians making June hide in the house she was has met Hannah in. In seems to be winter, it's cold and the car in the garage doesn't work. To make matters worse, there seems to be a hungry wolf outside. June waits in the attic, trying to keep herself and her unborn baby warm. Soon Fred and Serena show up and they have an argument.
Serena finally has a breakdown and tells that Fred left her with nothing. Fred can only bark that she is the one who made him rape June before meeting Hannah. Fred always blames the women in his life. Never takes any responsibility or accountability as a man.
June finds a double barrel shotgun. She is tempted. She takes it to shoot them. Once again, Serena's desperation make her change her mind. After all, despite everything, June's empathy treats Serena as a victim as well. Not an enabler. Even though Serena never once calls her June.She stays and goes into labor and realizes she must be caught to save her child. She goes outside and shoots the gun and goes back inside.
As she gives birth to her new daughter, she names her Holly, after her own mother. June is initially kept away from the baby until Lydia believes she must stay for Holly's, who is named Nicole by Serena, welfare. Fred tries to gain sexual favors as he wants a "reward" for reuniting June with Hannah. She turns him down with disgust.
Eden runs away with Isaac and in turn is drowned and killed along with him as a punishment. As Minghella stated: "[I]t's normally quite a playful set, even when we're shooting dark shit-but that drowning scene was really devastating for all of us. There weren't many fake tears."
Eden dies because she refuses to repent loving Isaac. Her mother pleads to her to just repent but she doesn't, instead the 15-year old starts quoting Corinthians 13:4-8 "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others…" as she is put down to drown for her love. Eden's and Isaac's dead bodies are hanged as an example.
June disturbingly finds out that Eden's own father, when she came for refuge, turned her in with Isaac. When she says,what will ever happen to Nicole, Fred slaps her and tells her to remember her place. She slaps him back, which seems to make Fred happy. Fred is infatuated with June and wants her to stay, he wants to "keep" her and June tells him: "Fuck you Fred." It is then that Rita, the Martha of their house, finally acknowledges the relationship with Nick by saying to him: "Your girlfriend is a badass." As Nick holds his baby for the first time and is happy to have her and June by his side.
What about Emily? She is assigned to one of the "architects of Gilead." Commander Joseph Lawrence is a strange, eccentric man who has art in his house and also seems to know that Emily is lesbian. His wife is mentally ill because she is traumatized by all the wrongdoings of Gilead.
When the night of the ceremony comes, Lawrence does not rape Emily and instead tells her to do what she wants. Lydia is told the ceremony did happen and she is just upset by Emily's "bad behavior." Emily, in a moment of rage, stabs Lydia and pushes her off the stairs. Lawrence knows now he can't keep Emily around.
Serena's small pinkie finger is cut off. When June finds out Eden could read and wanted to read and understand the Bible, Serena likes the idea. She also wanted that girls could read the Bible. The council punishes her for questioning them. June angrily states to Fred: "You let them do that to Serena." Holding him responsible for her torture.
Rita amasses a chain of Marthas in one night to het June and Holly out of Gilead. Serena spots them but she accepts that the baby must leave nor else a horrible fate waits her in Gilead. A car finally comes and we see Lawrence was driving it with Emily inside. A van secretly arrives. June hands Holly to Emily and tells her to call the baby Nicole. They are leaving Gilead.
June walks off into the darkness of the tunnel. She will stay. She will fight for Eden and Isaac. For Emily. For Janine. For Rita. For Nick. For Serena. And for herself. She will fight Gilead.
The writer is a Copy Editor at The Asian Age
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