Unwomen is Alexis Bledel’s episode. I liked her character last year, but I love her now! She has so much material in this hour, and she tackles it all beautifully with such enormous range.
The Colony Diaries
I had an image of my mind of the colonies last year, and Unwomen terrifyingly brings the post-apoclyptic wasteland to life in spectacular fashion. It’s a depressing setting – one that breaks down the “unwomen” both physically (nails peeling off, contaminated water) and mentally (they are all completely hopeless in every way).
Oscar winner Marisa Tomei guest-stars as a wife who has been banished to the colonies after cheating on her husband. She’s extremely sympathetic thanks to Tomei’s performance and the women’s treatment of her. Her dynamic with Emily is heartwarming, only for the show to completely subvert our expectations by having Ofglen poison the Martha and watch her die a slow death. It’s extremely shocking, and yet strangely gratifying (as twisted as that sounds) to see a Handmaid exert revenge and explicitly spell out how the Marthas allow rape to happen in their homes. For further impact, the Handmaids display Mrs. O’Conner’s body on a cross for the Aunts to see. Wow.
A Different Emily
The flashbacks of Emily’s past are actually even more disturbing than her present in the Colonies, which speaks volumes. After a student tattletales on her for having a picture of her wife and kid on her phone, she is asked to refrain from teaching for a while. She soon witness her colleague’s death in a vicious hate crime, and tries to flee the country unsuccessfully with her family.
The scenes at the airport are borderline anxiety-inducing, effectively tapping into all of our fears in today’s current xenophobic climate. Emily is told that her marriage license is invalid in a really chilling sequence, and then forced to watch as her wife and son travel without her. The entire scene is a bonafide emotional gut-punch that elevates Emily’s story to another level.
June’s newfound freedom (in a limited capacity at least) also features some surprises. She’s been moved to the Boston Globe, which she discovers is home to a brutal massacre of the free press. It’s especially traumatizing, and it culminates with Nick’s arrival and June initiating a relentless sex session. It’s a raw sequence that symbolizes June taking complete control of her sexuality, and not taking no for an answer (she urges Nick to carry on when he can’t anymore).
I don’t know why but I found June watching Friends on her laptop to be really disturbing. Maybe it’s because that’s a show we all turn to for comfort? It’s especially interesting that the scene in question is the iconic Monica erogenous zones speech in which she teaches Joey and Chandler how to pleasure a woman. The Handmaid’s Tale tackles female sexuality in such a thought-provoking manner, that the inclusion of this scene is so poignant in an episode where June reclaims her sexuality. Speechless.
Bits & Handmaids
– June takes Nick’s keys and tries to drive off, but can’t seem to bring herself to do so. I kind of wish I was more invested in their relationship.
– Notice how June emasculates Nick but pulling his hair down like men do so often with women. I found that touch so fascinating. .
– The nail on the soap bar really irked me out.
– Janine has arrived! Woohoo!
– June builds a shrine to honor the Globe victims at the end. It’s very touching.
June: “Gilead knows no bounds,” Aunt Lydia said. “Gilead is within you. Like the spirit of the Lord.” Or the Commander’s cock. Or cancer.
June: Under His eye.
Truck Driver: After a while, crocodile.
Unwomen is as disturbing as the season premiere, but also provides an insightful exploration into Emily’s journey. Terrific!