Previously on The Handmaid’s Tale, “God Bless the Child”
June continues to make choices based on the idea that she has an ounce of power within Gilead. As a married person, I am surprised that she would think she has such an influence on the decisions Serena makes with Fred. Serena may be fed up but she isn’t a fool and knows the role she has to continue to play to get what she wants. And what Serena wants only ever briefly intersects with June’s desires and I am not sure June has caught on just yet. The decision to force June to identify Luke and then call him to set up a meet and greet was to the benefit of the Waterfords only. You don’t trace an innocent call to Canada if you have no ill intent. It was all malice. And it’s how they used that visit against June in the end.
There is this insistence on making the wives of the Commanders sympathetic characters and it isn’t working. This is not Game of Thrones where a trash character has had substantial character development and you may even empathize with their increasing level of villainy. In Gilead it’s all bad, from top to bottom, there are no “good” slave masters. While it is cute Mrs. Lawrence (Julie Dretzin) misses what her husband used to be, and his love of pop music, and making old school mixtapes, he was obviously misguided by what he thought was a righteous way to live. Anyone who thought reverting to a formal caste system in order to “save humanity” was never a good person to begin with. This window into the Lawrence’s life does give June an opportunity to have a human moment; she gets to jam and weep to some music from a tiny boom-box in the basement.
What do you say to the woman who assisted in building the world which allows your wife to be raped and passed around for breeding?
Luke does not mince words when he meets Serena for the first time, and I was here for it. She deserves every ounce of his hostility and guardedness. And though Luke softens towards her at the end of the interaction, and he finally accepts her gift. She also spits out that she is protecting June. This can be taken a couple ways: she actually believes she is protecting June or she is saying what she needs to say to get what she wants. In this case, for Serena, I think it’s a little of both although Luke may have taken it as a sign of altruism or that he can trust her.
The gift of music is always interesting. A mix tape curated by a loved one can really speak to your soul. Especially when there is a secret message embedded halfway thru the first track. June gets to speak to Luke in a genuine way for the first time in years. What would this be like? I can’t imagine being separated by miles and what feels like a lifetime just to hear your spouse’s voice crackle over a cassette. I would have broken down right on that bridge. Does this message telling Luke to move forward and find and accept love motivate Luke to move forward or does it motivate him to reassemble his family? We haven’t seen Luke do much as a pioneer for change beside what was hinted at in bits of seasons 1 and 2. Is Luke strong enough to lead a rebellion? A rescue mission? Does he coordinate with Nick (remember Nick?) in Chicago? Or is this the last we see of Luke for 3 episodes before we find out he has started dating?
So what did the Waterfords get out of all of their altruism this episode? What was the result of the phone call, the meet up, the baby holding, the weeping in the airport, the satellite phone tucked in Serena’s bag so she can commit treason and drink out of a coconut? The Waterfords go full lights, camera, action, and trot June out for the world to see as they beg for Canada’s aide to get their child back from Luke Bankole, the now infamous kidnapper, and another episode ends with a tight shot of June with clenched fists glaring tearfully into the camera while some dynamic, yet forgettable song plays through to the credits.
The most interesting bits of the show have become the moments not focused on Gilead but interactions between established and new characters. June’s walking partner, Ofmatthew (Ashleigh LaThrop), reveals she is pregnant and apologizes for being snippy (she has no reason to apologize; June is a pain in the ass.) After 4 episodes of not giving her an ounce of depth, they finally give us more. This would be the 4th child she is blessed to bring into Gilead. She and June both look mortified and a twinge of empathy is felt from June. It’s a brief scene but it’s enough for June to forget herself for a moment.
In between episodes, Jasmin (my co-reviewer who covered last week’s “God Bless the Child”) and I debrief a bit; not enough to influence each other’s ideas but enough to get whatever it is off our chest that we liked and disliked about the week’s episode. The past 3 weeks culminating into 5 total episodes, and we’ve firmly agreed that this season is proving to be weak as far as storytelling even though the performances have remained on par. They are relying too heavily on Moss’s face acting in order to infuse feeling into powerful moments when they could be more creative. Yvonne and Elisabeth are pros, they know their characters and motivations and they still give us great performances even with flaccid material.
The Handmaid’s Tale has found itself in a bit of a bind since going beyond the pages of Margaret Atwood’s original work. She still serves as a consultant on the show, but without the base material of the first season and part of the second the direction of the show generally feels all over the place. This is not because characters are making uncharacteristic choices, but it doesn’t feel like any of them are showing growth in a way that will move the story along. And maybe that is the point: Gilead creates this endless loop of suffering, with tiny wins and bigger losses.
What do you think is going to happen to June after the press push? Will we see Nick again?
The Handmaid’s Tale S3E5 Review Score
The Handmaid's Tale – S3E5 – Unknown Caller
The Handmaid’s Tale – S3E5 – “Unknown Caller” | Starring: Bradley Whitford, The Handmaid’s Tale, Ann Dowd, Elizabeth Moss, Joseph Fiennes, Max Minghella, Yvonne Strahovski , Alexis Bledel