The Handmaid’s Tale: Season 1/ Episode 10 “Night” [Season Finale] – Recap/ Review (with Spoilers)

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Solidarity is what causes and maintains revolutions. But for solidarity to sprout there needs to be one voice. One refusal to the oppressor. Which is what we get in The Handmaid’s Tale finale: “Night.”

Trigger Warning(s): Cutting open of flesh

Family: Luke, Moira

Moira makes it. She makes it to Ontario, Canada. However, with being free from Gilead comes the realization she is alone. Yes, the Canadian government provides some social services, but none of it will last forever. None of it undoes what Gilead took or did to her.

But, whatever worries she has disappear upon sight of Luke. Especially when he reveals that he placed her on his family list[note] A list that asks of the government that if this person arrives, alert me. [/note]. Something which she wasn’t expecting for she figured she’d be roughing it out there alone. Yet, with his kind gesture, she realizes she may not only have a home but family again.

Commentary

It’s going to be interesting to see how refugee life is after you pass the government support phase. For, and I think Moira realized this as she was given a paid cell phone and all that, that you are returning to normalcy. Sort of like when you get out of prison, you have to think for yourself again, get a job, and eventually pay bills. On top of that, you have to deal with all Gilead took from you. Be it your former status or your dignity.

Then, to make matters worse, while you are a refugee you are also a foreigner. So while there will be empathy, of course, it will only last until you become a burden. Which, considering all that refugees are given, you have to wonder how locals feel about that?

That all aside, I must admit it was so touching that Luke had Moira on his family list. Especially considering she thought she was going to be on her own when it came to getting acclimated. But now comes the question on how that quiet woman will react? For it isn’t clear what her and Luke’s relationship is, much less how the dynamic may change with Moira in the picture?

I think the only thing which may be clear now, when it comes to Moira’s story, will be guilt. Here she is, an escapee, and she has access to Luke. June’s Luke. So here is hoping we see them take part in some resistance movement in season 2.

Insurance Policy: June, Serena Joy, Fred

I do wonder, being that Serena Joy got the pregnancy test through illegal means, who is to say it isn’t faulty?

With Serena learning Fred is repeating past mistakes, she takes it out on him as well as June. However, with learning June is pregnant she backs down. But only for a little bit. For what started with a physical slap becomes an emotional one. For she decides, as an insurance policy, especially after the Janine incident, to show June that Hannah is alive.

This has mixed results. On one hand, it gives June something to live for. On the other, Serena Joy is using her to keep June from harming herself in more ways than one. Not just as a means of giving June hope but also threatening June that if her baby, Serena Joy’s, is hurt, so will Hannah.

Though I would be remiss to not bring up the threat that Fred sees from Serena Joy as well. Not as direct as she presents to June, but one which still could alter his life. For, you see, with Serena Joy knowing of Fred’s proclivities, and what happens to Commander Putnam (Stephen Kunken) [note]He is tried for his relationship with Janine and loses an arm[/note], it puts him on the defense. Something he doesn’t like to be, especially with Serena Joy. Thus making him act a little nasty and try to guilt her for his sins. Something which doesn’t stick, but we been knew Fred was a dweeb.

Commentary

I liked that there was some attempt to make Serena Joy’s decision complicated. For if there is one thing this show lacks, which truly keeps it from being great, is complicated people. Fred seems very straight forward, Nick lost his sense of ambiguity ages ago, and while Aunt Lydia is arguably a complicated character, she isn’t a big enough focus, most of the time, to take note of. So with Serena Joy playing on June’s emotions to keep her alive, it helps foster the idea Serena Joy isn’t a character to sleep on. For while she is as selfish, and self-righteous, as everyone else, she can’t be pinned down as a villain nor, at the very least, a sympathizer.

With that said, I wonder if the trial of Commander Putnam was foreshadowing? Much less, if Fred’s attempt to not have him severely punished was to gain support for his eventual trial? Because with Mrs. Putnam being the one pushing for the worse punishment possible, it shows what little power and influence the wife has. She can either be the savior or executioner, if she chooses to. Which, considering how Fred’s relationship is with Serena Joy, it’d be best to not give her power over him keeping his limbs.

But, before we move on, with seeing Hannah I find the need to ask how long this show may last? I say that because, with seeing her, Moira getting to Canada, and what comes next, clearly this show is aiming for a happy ending. The question is, how long will it drag out this story before we, nee June, gets it?

Solidarity: June, Aunt Lydia, Janine

Solidarity. After living so long worrying who might have been part of the eye, who might snitch, who can’t be trusted, June finds solidarity. She does through the letters Alma (Nina Kiri), had her risk her life to get, and also during Aunt Lydia’s stoning ceremony. For, you see, rather than the stoning focusing on a rapist or someone like that, it’s Janine. Thanks to her endangering a child she is subject to be stoned to death.

However, no one feels capable. In fact, Ofglen 2, of all people, is the first to speak out. Leading to her getting hit with the butt of a gun. But, following her, June drops the stone she was meant to throw. Alma follows, and as this happens we see Aunt Lydia in shock. After all, these are her girls. She believes she has domain over them and that her training is what keeps them in line. Yet, here they all are disobeying her. Granted, for someone Aunt Lydia cares about, but the fact remains: This is an open rebellion.

One which June is singled out and seemingly will be punished for. Now, as for what punishments can be dealt to a pregnant woman? Well, it isn’t like she needs more than a functioning uterus to give birth. So who knows whether the act may be worth it, long term.

Commentary

Said after she intentionally drops her rock and starts an open rebellion.

Though backstories on this show have turned nearly every Goliath into a David, I crave Aunt Lydia’s backstory. One which I hope is done right because she is the last person capable of making Gilead anything beyond the typical villains. For, as noted, there are no complicated or even formidable characters anymore. In the pursuit of showing how tough June is and empowering her, they have made her opposition demure. She plays Nick and Fred to a certain degree, clearly gets under Serena Joy’s skin to the point she feels the need to work with her, and that leaves just Aunt Lydia. She is the only one left who hasn’t bent to June’s charm or position. Making her the last hope of having an honest and true villain or someone to truly overcome on this show.

But I feel the need to ask: What will happen to Janine now? She was sentenced to be stone but her executioners refused. So what is to be done? Much less, with Ofglen 2 and June, what will be done with them? Granted, in the long run, we know June will be fine, but it is nice to pretend that maybe not the case.

Especially considering how evil and oppressive Gilead is supposed to be, but it is slowly becoming easy to forget that. For while, I haven’t forgotten, hundred of women are being raped on a regular basis, I feel like the show has shied away from the evils of Gilead a bit. Like they didn’t want them to remain and seem so formidable that June couldn’t start a movement against them. Even if, in front of every door, there is a man with a machine gun ready and trained to shoot.

But, overall, while the show did start to feel like a drag toward the end, I enjoyed it. I don’t know if I’d still recommend it, but its subject matter helps it stand out. However, I hope they don’t try to make this a 3, 4, 5 and beyond season show. The premise is not that interesting.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t think they really softened the villains in the show, they just made them more like people one might actually meet in day to day life and even like. Bad people can seem perfectly normal and have a nice side. This is actually more frightening.

    The fact that this Fred and Serena are sophisticated and likable on the surface with sort of understandable motives and this Aunt Lydia feels a twisted affection for her “girls” probably gives us a better picture of real life oppressors than the obvious thugs from the movie (which I have to admit did have it’s effective moments)..

    • It’s mostly the removal of the racist agenda that is part of the regime in the novel that bothers me – that is basically what I mean by “softening” the villains, they are noticeably less bigoted once the racism has been taken out… also, the casting of younger and more attractive actors, which I think is part of a trend with modern TV in making sure the leads have to be “hot”
      (Admittedly, “The Handmaid’s Tale” isn’t as bad in that respect as some historical soap operas, like “The Tudors” or “The Borgias”)

      • OK, I can respect how some viewers wanted the racist aspect of Gilead preserved since it is part of the novel and racism has always been a massive problem in our society.

        But I’d argue that Gilead in the show has a lot in common with the more modern kind of racism of tokenism and white dominance that doesn’t allow itself to be named.

        Just look at the cast.

        Commanders–Virtually all white. I saw one Asian guy in a Commander’s uniform on the Boston subway scene. One picture of an African American Commander on the fertility doctor’s wall of couples who have successfully reproduced (or their Handmaids have).

        Wives–Again, overwhelmingly white. Maybe a couple Asian and Hispanic ones in crowd scenes. Definitely one African American one at Mrs. Putnam`s party.

        Handmaids–Mostly white, as in vastly disproportionate to the actual North American population.

        Marthas–Largely non-white on the other hand.

        Common soldiers and guards–Black men are often seen in these roles.

        So it’s a white-dominated and culturally Anglo-American society that uses a lot of non-white labor and promotes the occasional minority member to a relatively high position.(in their minds Handmaids count as important though they’re really slaves while Marthas are just plain slaves).

        This seems like what most of the modern right is comfortable with aside from actual neo-Nazis.

        • I suppose I should be grateful that a series this powerful and thought provoking got made at all… judged purely on its own merits, Hulu’s “Handmaid’s Tale” is commendably ambitious thematically and extraordinarily well made on a technical level.

          But as a fan of the novel, I can’t help but be disappointed by the fact that this is such a loose and expansive adaptation, which makes so many changes, most of which strike me as unnecessary.

          I have similarly mixed feelings about Amazon’s adaptation of “The Man In The High Castle” – another commendably ambitious and well made dystopian series… that makes a lot of gratuitous changes to the source material and stretches a very short novel out across multiple seasons in a similar fashion to “The Handmaid’s Tale”.

          I had long wanted both novels to be made as mini-series, and perhaps it is unfair of me to be disappointed that “The Man In The High Castle” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” weren’t made in the style I wanted… and I should make more of an effort to appreciate them for what they are.

          Your point about class structure and more subtle racism is well made… and I can see some effort has been made with the series to make this version of Gilead seem like a plausible extension of today’s world.

          Much of Atwood’s novel reads like “alternative history” nowadays (what if the Cold War got more heated in the 1980s, nuclear fallout totally screwed over the environment. leading to an emboldened Christian-Right instigating a dictatorship sometime in the late 90s or early 00s). The references to cassette tapes and such are rather quaint. Because the movie was made only 5 years after the book, it also presents a future with an oddly retro aesthetic…. certainly, by updating Atwood’s story, Hulu have made it more confronting…. certainly, I’ve not read any reviews from professional critics that don’t compare this version of Gilead to the politics of today’s world (with Left leaning critics drawing comparisons to Mike Pence and Donald Trump… and right wing critics comparing it to various Middle Eastern governments)

          • As a big dystopian literature enthusiast (yes, I see where that might make me a strange person LOL) I’ve also been disappointed by adaptations, though I like this one.

            The problem might be that in many ways, the classic dystopian story is an existential one. It’s about a person’s usually tragic attempts to retain their sanity and sense of self in a world designed to shatter them.

            They may find companions along the way who share their desire for freedom and engage in open conversations in secret and attempt to rebel or at least break the rules. Often, this is about it, plotwise (except for being captured or escaping into the wilderness at the end).

            But written material is much less plot dependent than visual media so there is a need to add more action and events when adapted to TV or movies. The version of 1984 made in the 80s (I haven’t seen the 50s version) was the best dystopian adaption I’ve ever seen.

            Part of it was the quality of the acting and production, but the original story has a lot of stuff going on, even though Winston is no action hero. Offred in the book can’t have a simple conversation with another Handmaid or Martha. There’s no unregulated Prole side of town to sneak over to.

            The only time she can really express herself besides in her thoughts are with Ofglen once they figure out that they have similar feelings, in bed with Nick once their affair begins in earnest later in the book and ironically with the Commander.

            He likes exchanges of ideas as long as they don’t threaten his power, so he honestly wants to hear what someone who doesn’t like Gilead thinks. A truly faithful movie would largely center around these present tense relationships and the flashbacks.

            She’d have to act like a robot in every other situation. This is one area where I agree that Gilead was softened a little in the show because there seems to be no law against light conversation and people have a tiny bit more freedom of motion.

            The Man in the High Castle was enjoyable as a show, but it’s continued emphasis on the resistance and the development of complex subplots and new characters took a lot away from the ideas and main characters of the book. For me, Frank and Mr. Tagomi”`s stories were the main point, but they were so overshadowed by all the other stuff going on.

  2. I hope you do a blog post on the 1990 movie version eventually.
    Even though Natasha Richardson’s version of the title character (called “Kate” in the film) was less passive than her counterpart in the novel, she wasn’t built up and “empowered” to the extent that June has been in the 2017 series… the novel was about an ordinary person struggling to get by from one day to the next, and the movie better reflects this than the series, which goes to epic lengths to turn an ordinary character into a heroic one…
    Robert Duvall, Faye Dunaway and Victoria Tennant aren’t exactly complex villains in the movie, but they are unapologetically villainous at least. The movie doesn’t try to make them softer or more attractive the way the 2017 series does by casting Joseph Fiennes, Yvonne Strahovski and Ann Dowd… and there’s something about the brisk efficiency and casual cruelty of the movie’s villains that seems more authentically fascist than their TV equivalents, whose incompetence and hand-wringing often felt phony to me.
    I’d also say that Aidan Quinn is both more intimidating and more attractive in the role of Nick, though that probably has more to do with the physicality of the performer than his acting.
    Elizabeth McGovern and Traci Lind were also much more subtle in their depictions of Moira and Janine.

    In short, I feel most of the character attributes that you feel are lacking in the 2017 TV version are there in the 1990 movie version – which, even if it skimmed over narrative details in the process, couldn’t be accused of outstaying its welcome.

    The 2017 series has now adapted pretty much all of the novel…. the only things they haven’t included are some brief flashbacks to June’s relationship with her mother in the days before the US became Gilead… perhaps some of these scenes will be included in Season 2.

    There’s an appendix to the novel, in which a future-historian delivers a lecture talking about “The History Of Gilead” and talks about how June’s story came to be discovered
    (it was recorded on cassette tapes – another sign that Atwood’s novel was written in 1985 and in many ways hasn’t aged well)
    The appendix makes it clear that the Gilead regime eventually fell, due to a combination of incompetent leadership and external pressures. It also states that Frederick Waterford was eventually executed by the more conservative factions of Gilead’s leadership, because they found out about his sinful activities and wanted to make an example of him.
    Maybe Season 2 will dramatise the Fall Of Gilead that is alluded to in the novel… or maybe not, since the series has departed from the source in all kinds of ways…

    You have my assurances that every scene that is stupid in this episode is an invention of Hulu and isn’t in the book.

    I hope you have enjoyed reading my comparisons to the book and 1990 movie.
    I have very much enjoyed reading your blogging on this series. Getting the perspective of someone who has neither read the book or seen the film makes me view much of this story in a whole new light.

    Overall, despite its flaws, I still applaud Hulu for trying. That an adaptation of this material even got made at all is something of a miracle, that it has achieved the level of success that it has, even more so… and though I have criticised it for not being all that it could be, it is still a show that has more substance than the vast majority of TV programming on at the moment.

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