It’s easy to get desensitized. Both in terms of what the show offers and in general. Thus making the job of an actor harder for they have to give more of themselves over to you – the audience. Now, up to this point, I shed no tears, felt no significant shock, and only admired Moss and Dowd’s performance. But in this episode, one of those things changed.
The Things Asked of Us: Janine, June, Moira
June is no longer satisfied with just surviving. After her talk with Nick, after seeing Moira give up, she wants change. She wants to help Mayday and someday soon, be reunited with Hannah. To do so though, she needs to get a package. One which can only be gotten from the Jezebel club. So, June does what she needs to. She uses whatever feelings poor and simple Fred has to convince him to take her. Problem is, what she needs is at the bar. Fred doesn’t want to go to the bar. He wants to stay in his room. [note]While this all happens, Nick asks questions in suspicion of June’s plan. How does the woman he knows go from anxious and scared to devious in her smile? He knows something is up but just can’t prove it.[/note]
Luckily, he does arrange for Moira to come up though. However, she is not in on this plan nor wishes to take part. She has settled into her Jezebel life it seems. So no matter what promise was made in a former life, she has no intention to keep it. Thus breaking poor June’s heart.
Heartbreak isn’t hers alone to own though[note]We learn that Rita had a 19-year-old son who died in the war. Now, while age is a likely factor, it does lead you to wonder why she didn’t end up a Handmaid.[/note]. Janine is separated from her baby and sent to a new home. She is expected to give another family a child and ripping her away from Charlotte comes with consequences. At first, seemingly just to Janine’s mental state, but it goes beyond that eventually.
This is the episode before the finale and I can’t even fathom what that episode may hold. But with this mystery package in play, who knows what we should prep for? Should we prep for an explosion, a death, or false hope? Either way, with there being a season 2 already planned, we know that package doesn’t contain June’s salvation. It is but something to prove her worth.
But focusing on Janine, let me say off the bat that my opinion of her has not changed. If anything, what that character does is amplify Aunt Lydia and makes it so much harder to damn the woman. She is an enforcer but her faith is weirdly inspiring. Aunt Lydia is on the side of the oppressor, an enforcer of their will, but how she talks about and interacts with Janine makes it difficult to see her as a true villain.
Maybe because villains aren’t given the ability to be truly complex anymore. Which isn’t to say this show has the most ambiguous or developed villains. Nick and Fred are very basic in intention and motivation. However, when it comes to the women, you can’t say the same. Even when it comes to Janine’s former mistress, there is this desire to prod and question. Did she even want a child or just wants to do what is expected? Does she even love her husband or just wants to make him happy because there are worse lives out there? These things you rarely feel like asking about the men. A strange but welcomed change from what I’m used to.
The Soul, It Cries for Freedom: Janine, June, Moira
She can’t take it anymore. For each of the women this topic is about, that statement holds true. However, it is especially true for Janine. On top of being stripped of her agency, her child was taken away. Her trust in her former commander is gone, even after all she did for him. So what is left? Nothing. Nothing but Charlotte.
So, Janine kidnaps her child then stands on the edge of a bridge. She peers at the icy waters below and sees freedom. Freedom from a world she cannot mentally survive. Thus leading June, from out of her bed, being called down to talk Janine out of this. Yet, a decision has been made already. So no matter what hope June tries to place in Janine’s mind, it is for naught. She has been maimed, twice given birth and even if things went back to how they were, who’d want her? That’s the trigger right there.
Janine has been rejected so many times, no matter what she has done. She was promiscuous before and all that got her was a child. Janine was obedient in this life, after her maiming, and what did that get her? The one time she would have been shown off and treated like something to be proud of, she got rejected? When it comes to the man who is the father of her child, he whispered sweet nothings then rejected her – publicly.
Yet, Charlotte. Poor little Charlotte. To spare her from this life or just take out the factor which could make it complicated? June is able to save the baby but not the mother. Janine decides to jump to the horror of everyone, but especially Aunt Lydia. [note]It seems Janine’s confession about what she and her commander did get him arrested by the eye.[/note]
But while Janine has succumbed to the pressure, June has not. For while she wasn’t able to get the package at the Jezebel club, she does at the butcher. Moira, through who knows who, has the package delivered and the butcher hands it over. What’s in it? Who knows. But what is clear is that Moira is back to fighting again. She even stabs, perhaps kills, a driver and takes their vehicle. Here is hoping second time’s the charm.
It is hard to say if the moment I got teary eyed came from Janine jumping or Aunt Lydia’s reaction? For while you can understand Janine’s reasoning, the actress was leaning heavily on Moss. However, for Dowd and that moment post-jump, that was all her. That was a culmination of her personally investing in this girl. Being firm, but tender. Yet, from what it seems, that not being enough. That not being the type of love or reassurance that child needed. A personal failure in a world where, arguably, Aunt Lydia has one of the most important positions.
See that? How complicated that is. Aunt Lydia’s feelings for Janine can be both selfish and loving. Her reputation vs. dealing with a baby bird who developed in a cracked egg.
But for June, all this is for the best. For it seems everyone is very reactionary when it comes to Handmaids. Only when they do something rash or drastic they are treated nicely. I mean, that is what softens up Serena Joy and Fred. The fact their last Handmaid killed themselves. And while Serena Joy has been cruel to June at times, when there was that reminder that she could contribute to a woman killing herself, she tried to be more tender. There was an attempt to be more understanding and have June get pregnant by Nick so that she could fulfill her duty.
Leading to the question: What happens when Handmaids don’t get pregnant? Serena Joy, a few episodes ago, noted June’s time with them is almost up. Hence the Nick pregnancy idea. But the consequences of not getting pregnant have yet to be noted.
That thought aside, all eyes are on that package and any signs Moira made it to Canada. But with the way this show is tonally, I’m not going to be optimistic. For with a second season planned, I know there is the potential of something major. However, I’m not naïve enough to think both Moira and June will find freedom during it. At most, we may finally get a glimpse of Hannah in the present day.
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Yea, the state as such will probably survive, but a great deal of in-fighting and purging seems to be on the way. I’d say a war between the super-corrupt (Fred types) and “Gilead is too liberal” ultra-fanatics (Price) threatens stability and pragmatists step in and take over.
Given the way its history is spoken of in the epilogue of the book, it wouldn’t surprise me if it continued to exist for a very long time (maybe all or most of the character’s lives) making personal victories bittersweet. They’ll end up in another country or autonomous enclave and be reasonably free, but without their home and many people they love.
This episode marks a turning point for this series… up until this point the narrative has adhered closely to Margaret Atwood’s novel, with most of the additional scenes being either elaborate dramatisations of things that were hinted at in the source material or reasonable speculation upon subjects the book left open….
But with this episode the series has outright betrayed the source material…. perhaps “betrayed” is too strong a word… “defied” might be more appropriate. Whatever, as a fan of the novel, the actions of these characters seem utterly alien to me.
Everything in this episode not only didn’t happen in the book but couldn’t have happened given the way the characters were written there.
In the book there was no moment where June hatches a plot to seduce Fred for the resistance, there was no return trip to Jezebels, no scene where Fred seems to hint that he’s up for threesomes, no moment where June rallies Moira to action…. at this point in the novel, June sinks into a state of apathetic depression and contemplates just giving up on everything. The complete opposite of her defiant attitude here.
Janine, in the novel, is characterised as a conformist, who more than anything wants to be liked and fit in. She actually believes all the religious rhetoric that is fed to her, and feels genuinely guilty about being raped. Janine is NEVER openly rebellious in the novel, and there are no hints that her relationships with Warren and his wife are anything other than orthodox. By the end of the novel, she has cheerfully accepted her designated role in this society and the last we see of her, she is grinning at a public execution and telling June to “have a nice day”…. the novel’s Janine is still mentally ill, but her madness manifests itself in more subtle ways. Mostly, she regresses into a childlike manner of speech or zones out to the world around her… even at her most delusional, Janine is a meek, timid and non-threatening presence.
The Janine of the TV series is barely recognisable as the same character. TV-Janine is insubordinate during the re-education process and has hey eye plucked out as punishment… TV-Janine develops an unorthodox attachment to both her assigned Commander and his wife… TV-Janine kills herself rather than continue living as a slave to fascists.
The chilling thing about the characterisation of Janine in the novel is how it shows the way that a good-intentioned but weak-willed individual can be twisted to an evil purpose by a master-manipulator…. in the novel, Janine is a “success story” for Aunt Lydia…. and I feel the TV characterisation of Janine actually weakens Aunt Lydia in a way…..
In the TV series, there is not a single Handmaid with a large speaking role that serves as an example that Lydia’s brainwashing methods actually work… in this version June, Moira, Emily and Janine are all depicted as being more defiant, and ultimately less affected by Lydia’s teachings. In trying to humanise the character of Lydia, the TV series has made her into something of an ineffectual antagonist.
In reading your summary of this episode, I am once again reminded that the critically-panned 1990 movie version of “The Handmaid’s Tale” was actually more loyal to the characterisation and themes of Atwood’s novel than the critically acclaimed TV series has been… Victoria Tennant depicted Aunt Lydia as casually sadistic and completely lacking in mercy, but the brisk efficiency of her portrayal made her a more threatening presence and more importantly she GOT RESULTS… Traci Lind didn’t get a lot of screen time as Janine, but adequately conveyed the character’s shy and timid vulnerability, as well as her conversion to true-believer.
Moira is broken by the end of the novel too, though in her case it’s presented as more of a pragmatic rationalisation… she still thinks the regime is morally bankrupt but has lost the will to fight. The kind of sassy grandstanding she’s given here is a complete 180 turn from where the character ends up in the book… and again, I can’t help but think how the movie, despite its many flaws, was still more loyal to Atwood’s characters… Elizabeth McGovern played Moira with a dry sarcasm, many of her remarks about the injustices of the regime were delivered with droll understatement and were all the more subversive because of it. Generally she is more sneaky in bucking the system, and her eventual capitulation is likewise more subtle. But “subtlety” really isn’t a thing with the Hulu adaptation.
I fear I may be hyping up the movie too much. It has issues with pacing and narrative structure. It really only skims the surface of a complex book. But the film was a much bolder and less compromised work than the Hulu series… also, from a purely aesthetic point of view, it was more colourful…. in viewing clips from the Hulu series I’m reminded constantly of the washed out colour schemes of Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” movies… the movie I think made better use of contrasting colours and had more nuanced lighting.
I once read an interview with Margaret Atwood where she said that people read about totalitarian governments and too easily assume that they would be the one to become a heroic resistance fighter and “blast away at the bad guys”. She bemoaned that there wasn’t a lot of attention paid to the ordinary people swept up in the raging flood of history, struggling just to get by from one day to the next… she said that is why she made the characters in “The Handmaid’s Tale” an example of “ordinary people in an extraordinary situation”… June is not a hero in the book, she doesn’t affect any significant social change, she’s mostly passive, her thought processes are often quite selfish…. Atwood likened June to someone like Anne Frank – a person who affected no great social change and whose perspective was limited, but who nonetheless was valuable to history as a “witness”… June’s tale, in the novel, is like Frank’s diary, the testimony of an ordinary person, a powerless observer struggling to find the inner strength to survive.
The Hulu series has turned June into a stronger role model for women, and a more conventional heroine in the process. Pretty much every sympathetic character in the book has been made less ordinary and more heroic in this series…. June is made into a more active participant in the resistance… Moira is only briefly despondent, her time in Jezebels just a brief setback before she emerges stronger than ever… Emily still dies in this version, but she gets to go down in a blaze of glory, taking down a few of the evil fascists with her… Janine is characterised as more rebellious from the outset and chooses to die rather than accept life as a Handmaid, as she does in the book… Luke is still alive, he hasn’t forgotten June and is working hard to fight back… Nick is characterised as a wayward youth who is basically good at heart, pretty much all the ambiguity of his character has been stripped away.
Hell, even the villains have been softened. Lydia, Fred & Serena all get moments where they are shown to be kind that aren’t in the novel…. The racist beliefs and ethnic cleansing of the regime have been removed…. much of the time this has the effect of making the antagonists look incompetent.
Apologies for the length of this response, but this really got me worked up…
This may well be the last time I respond to one of your blog posts with comparisons to the novel and the movie… Hulu are fast running out of stuff from the book to adapt…. there are a few brief flashbacks to June’s childhood days, where she thinks about the uneasy relationship she had with her mother, and then there is the ending to the book, where a mysterious black van pulls up to Fred’s house and June is taken away (maybe by the police or maybe by resistance agents disguised as police). But that’s it. So with Season 2, the storylines will have to be original.
The idea of a second season boggles my mind. That means this version of “The Handmaid’s Tale” will clock in at 20 hours long… that’s longer than any screen adaptation of “Gone With The Wind”, “Lord Of The Rings”, “Les Miserables”, “War & Peace”, “The Count Of Monte Cristo” or “Doctor Zhivago” – and “The Handmaid’s Tale” is a shorter book than all of those….
I feel like what they’ve done here is akin to taking “The Great Gatsby”… turning it into a 10 hour series by having elaborate flashbacks to the back stories of minor characters (in one episode we get to see how Gatsby’s butler came to work for him… in another episode we get a flashback to the childhood of Jordan Baker and find out she’s only a bitch because she came from a broken home and her parents were mean)… and Nick Carraway is made into a more outspoken personality who openly calls out the other characters on their jerkassery… and then we get another season, 10 hours chronicling the adventures of Carraway after the events of the novel when he moves out of New York… given the way they’ve approached adapting “The Handmaid’s Tale” for TV, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone at Hulu thought this approach to “Gatsby” would be a great idea.
Hi, I’ve been enjoying your commentary on the show. Unlike most people I’ve read online about Episode 9 today, I actually found it less depressing than most of the other episodes because June and Moira both have opportunities to rebel/help others and they follow through.
This isn’t to deny the heartbreaking nature of Janine’s story among other plot elements, but June, Moira and even Janine assert their agency in ways that are very rare for this show (for perfectly valid thematic reasons).
The scenes with Serena Joy and the other Commander’s wife show that Fred is not as smart as he thinks and that none of these guys are untouchable. In fact, the system seems pretty unstable at this point.
And all things considered (getting instructions to infiltrate Jezebels and obtain a package RIGHT NOW), June did a good job with her spy mission given how difficult it was and where she failed, Moira and unnamed others helped out. And Moira escaped! Yay!
Thanks for reading!
You’re right, there was much to be optimistic about and everyone, I believe, is owed a victory. Also, I think Fred is someone who was just associated with the right people at the right time more than anything.
But, as for Gilead falling, notice they don’t talk about that much. I think they are holding off the fall of the Empire until season 2 or beyond.
In a previous episode, Fred spoke of feeling vulnerable, that he/they might be overthrown/taken down. It never went further than that about who – within Gilead or outside or why – but it stuck out to me.
Hi, Jane. I think he was talking about purges within Gilead in that scene where he said he felt vulnerable.
This happens a lot in governments founded after a violent uprising. It can be the very top leaders eliminating their ambitious subordinates or lower level people trying to rise.
It’s interesting that Fred is more worried more about this than being assassinated by rebels, whom he never mentions. But apparently there’s quite a resistance network active in the area. Even the neighborhood butcher was involved. I want to see more of this group.