How much terror can viewers handle? I asked myself this question during this week’s terrifying (is there any other kind?) hour of The Handmaid’s Tale. And yet, I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen; it’s that brilliant.
June vs Offred
Give Elisabeth Moss the Emmy. Just give her all the awards now, because no other actress comes close. Her journey in Other Women is spellbindingly good, as a recaptured June is slowly broken down until she is nothing but a shell of her former self. By episode’s end, she IS Offred, as evidenced by the complete tonal shift in the voiceover. Until now, her voiceovers have always been a symbol of defiance – a place where our heroine could say ANYTHING. But “we’ve been sent good weather?”. Now that’s what rock bottom looks like.
Aunt Lydia’s final burst of psychological torture is particularly horrifying, as she takes June to Omar’s hanging body and places the blame squarely on her shoulders. Even worse, Omar’s wife is now being forced into sexual servitute as a handmaid. Are we even surprised by the episode’s cliffhanger with June giving in completely as a result? Incredible.
The Blame Game
Most remarkable are the flashbacks this week. Although they’re brief, we witness firsthand June’s trials as “the other woman” in Luke’s marriage. When his ex-wife confronts June at her work, it’s raw and cringeworthy, and when June spots Anne watching them in a coffeeshop, it’s immensely unsettling. Effective flashbacks don’t just reveal a character’s history, they illuminate their current state of mind. Here, June’s past guilt resurfaces and leads her down a dark path where she blames herself, and ends up submitting to Offred. It’s so poignant and affecting.
It’s worth mentioning that Yvonne Strahovski is also delivering stellar work as Serena. I loathe the character, and that’s a testament to Strahovski’s impeccable performance. Whether she’s barging into June’s room and choking the life out of her in a very anger-inducing sequence, or crawling into bed with her and placing her hand on her growing belly, Serena is remarkably layered and compelling. Yvonne showcases just the right amount of vulnerability beneath that simmering range, and it’s a feast to behold.
Bits & Fruit
– As foreshadowed in the season premiere, a pregnant June is chained next to a bed (where she counts 71 roses on the comforter).
– It’s a small moment, but it’s chilling how Lydia orders June to improve her “posture”. By posture she of course wants her to bow her head down in servitude.
– So the official story is that June was “kidnapped” Yeah right.
– Supremely odd scene: Lydia interrupting June’s bath and giving her a towel to clean herself “down there” as she watches. Notice how June stares at her defiantly while doing so. Love it.
– Serena notices when June smiles at Nick. Uh oh.
– Very uncomfortable scene: Lydia forcing June to drink the shake which she promptly throws up.
– Probably one of the best moments of the week: June announcing that the baby kicked and silencing all the giggling wives in the process.
– The scene with the men at the shooting range further evidenced how much more intriguing the women are on this show. Everything about the baby shower was spectacular (even the stunning cinematography).
– Fascinating scene with Lydia and Serena on the balcony as the latter nervously smokes. And Lydia’s dig about smoking being bad for the baby? Burn.
– Mayday’s gone silent. Hmm…
– I actually felt like June was trying to bond with Serena when she discussed giving the gifts away. Sadly all it does is make the housewife slap Rita as a consequence.
– How creepy was that ritual with June kneeling before Serena?
– First time we see Serena with her hair down. Yup Yvonne is gorgeous.
– My heart broke when June got out of bed and slept in the closet after Serena violated her privacy.
June: I have done something wrong. Something so huge I can’t even see it, something that’s drowning me. I am inadequate and stupid, without worth. I might as well be dead. Please, God, let Hannah forget me. Let me forget me.
As always, this episode is tremendously difficult to watch, but oh so rewarding and complex. Another fantastic hour!