The Handmaid’s Tale: Season 2/ Episode 13 “The Word” [Season Finale] – Recap/ Review (with Spoilers)

Do not let the bastards grind you down
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For those, like me, who thought The Handmaid’s Tale was in a perpetual cycle, many things happen which break the wheel and lead us to believe Season 3 will be the fall of Gilead.


Network
Hulu
Director(s) Mike Barker
Writer(s) Bruce Miller
Air Date 7/11/2018

Ain’t No Girl Safe Raised in Gilead: June, Serena Joy, Fred

After the death of Eden, June becomes really concerned about Nicohle’s future. Especially as she goes through her things and finds a bible. And if you recall from the last episode, reading isn’t something necessarily allowed, even bibles apparently, and part of the reason is, as seen in Eden’s book, it leads to questions. Which, for a government ran completely by men, with little diversity, who want to maintain power, the less questions asked the easier to rule.

However, with June posing questions to Serena Joy about the safety of her baby in a world like Gilead. One which would kill a 15-year-old for having feelings. A world where a father would rather turn in his daughter than risk his life or comfort, what does that say for Nicohle’s future? Both Serena Joy and June are strong-minded women so nature and nurture both have her screwed.

So, being that June has once more found herself planting seeds and pushing Serena Joy to be who she once saw herself becoming, she gathers the mothers to meet with government officials. Why? Well, to simply make an amendment to have the Bible taught in schools. However, Serena Joy takes things a bit far when she feels brushed off by taking out Eden’s bible and reading from it. For that, she loses half of her pinky and once again realizes she lives in a world, of her own making, which has rejected her.

Commentary

Serena Joy shows June her cut off pinky.

Hold up, so if they don’t teach the bible at school, what are they teaching from? Also, are people, well who aren’t commanders, or run households like Commander Lawrence, just in general aren’t allowed to read? Is there a fear that, like we see with Eden’s bible, messages may be passed through them?

Then there is the government council. Being that how the government works in Gilead is probably something gone into within the books but not heavily in the series, color me confused. It being all male makes sense since a woman’s role, in many a commander’s mind, is either an accessory, a maid, or for the sake of continuing the human race. However, that whole scene with Serena Joy and the mothers staging what kind of felt a bit like a protest seemed odd.

For one, it leads you to question who can and can’t get an audience with the council? Also, do you have to be high up to propose amendments or can any able-bodied man with some status can? Because Gilead is under military rule and clearly elections aren’t a thing and probably never will be. So just Serena Joy getting a forum seemed so weird considering what we have seen thus far.

Though not as weird as Fred letting her pinky get cut off. I get she publicly embarrassed him and many may have thought she needed to be taught a lesson. However, considering all June gets away with, including smacking the MESS out of Fred, you really are going to let people do this to your wife? You’ll offer June the chance to stay, against the rules, arrange more visits with Hannah, bring more attention to your rule breaking, but won’t figure out a way to keep your wife from being maimed? Unlike June, any time Serena Joy steps out from the role of a wife it is for Gilead’s benefit. What the hell dude?

All Villains Eventually Fall: Emily, Aunt Lydia, Joseph

From what it seems, the night of the “Ceremony” is not decided by commanders as it is another party. However, when it comes to Joseph, while he enjoys Emily’s company he has no intention to have sex with her. Not even in some kind of, “Let’s get to know each other first” type of way. He just isn’t interested. Which is a bit shocking but nice for Emily.

However, the issue remains she is tired of Gilead and so she takes a knife. One which you couldn’t be too sure of the purpose at first. Was it to stab Joseph if he tried to rape her or kill herself? Well, with Joseph not making a move, neither option seems necessary. But, when Aunt Lydia comes by the next morning and decides to do as she usually does, and be passive aggressive, Emily stabs her. She stabs her, Aunt Lydia goes over a banister and last we see of her she is bleeding out but maybe not dead.

Commentary

Aunt Lydia dying after Emily stabbed her.

DID THEY REALLY JUST KILL OFF AUNT LYDIA? Damn Serena Joy, Aunt Lydia was the most compelling villain on this show and she got killed by Emily? Was allowed to die and her death covered up by a character we just met? This is some 100% Grade A bull****. Yet, as increasingly shown as the episode goes on, every character can’t keep living like they are. The cycle which keeps repeating itself for Emily and June isn’t sustainable. Have both been broken? Yes. However, their spirits refuse to die and upon the slightest bit of hope given, they are back to their old selves.

In the case of Emily, this home that Commander Lawrence provided, it gave her hope. Which makes her killing Aunt Lydia an even more perplexing decision. She found a place where she wouldn’t be raped, maybe could have the chance to have the only kind of normalcy Gilead had to offer her, and live what could be considered a privileged life. Yet, over Aunt Lydia’s usual rude comments she not only ruins the good thing she has going but also puts Commander Lawrence in a rather messed up situation? He is the reason she probably didn’t end up back in the colonies! He read your entire file and accepted you and you do this dumb mess? Who does she think she is? June?

No One Gets Left Behind or Forgotten: Emily, June, Joseph, Serena Joy, Rita, Nick, Fred

Well, the answer is yes. Because Commander Lawrence, for some reason, rather than turn Emily in and maintain his privacy and peace, alongside half a dozen Marthas, including Rita, it is arranged for both June and Emily to get out of Gilead. This includes June’s daughter. How? Well, a series of fires. Which, because arson and things like that aren’t common, calls nearly every guardian’s attention and makes the escape for June fairly easy.

That is, until Serena Joy catches her and while she may not care about June leaving, taking “her” baby too? Major issue. Well, until June convinces her of how horrible it would be for “her” baby, to grow up in Gilead considering all that has recently happened. So, she lets the baby go. All the while, Fred catches on to what is going on outside, takes note of Rita acting strange and discovers what has happened to June and the baby. But, before he can make a fuss, Nick stops him. Even puts his hand to his gun as a warning.

Leaving you to believe June, Emily, and the baby would be off scott free. But one problem remains. The issue which keeps June from being completely serious about leaving: Hannah. No matter how good the opportunity is, Nicohle can’t be Hannah’s replacement. She can’t raise this kid knowing her first born is still stuck in Gilead. So she hands the baby to Emily, who gets in a guardian’s truck, and she walks away – looking fiercely determined.

Commentary

June deciding to stick to and return to Gilead to get her daughter.

First and foremost, it is messed up we didn’t learn if Aunt Lydia is dead or just in the hospital. Following that, I’m trying to imagine the aftermath of all this. There were multiple fires in Gilead in what looked like a rather coordinated effort. Rita clearly knew something was going on and Nick helped cover for both Rita and June. Not to forget, Nick threatened a commander! If things seemed bad now, imagine how they will be after what happened? Add in Serena Joy and the wives grandstanding? A serious crackdown is bound for Gilead.

But, the problem with that happening is Emily is out now. A woman who not only experienced the life of a handmaid but also that of working in the colonies. She gives a voice and face to all those letters Nick handed over to Luke. Add in the genital mutilation, and you got yourself a face of the movement. Also a wanted criminal. For her killing a person before she left makes it where she is a part of whatever future negotiation Gilead has with Canada.

Leading to the need to question why Lawrence stuck his neck out for her. She calls him professor so does that mean he was in academia too? I don’t believe they were at the same college, so it isn’t likely they were peers and he wanted to help out an acquaintance. So why would a man who values his privacy so much call in favors, if not ask for them, which could put him under a microscope? Just based on how Aunt Lydia acted when she walked in, clearly, despite her seemingly being the Aunt for the area, she hasn’t been in that house often or before. So what pushed him to cover up a murder and get this Handmaid he just met out of the country?

The only real answer is that he is some form of a rebel. Not a rebel in him simply not following the rules and doing as Fred does. More so a full-fledged, he makes it where certain people can get out, get in, and things can happen, sort of rebel. Like, as much as I would love to credit the Marthas for the fires and the great escape, you know Commander Lawrence had to have some part in that. Leading also to the question of when do the Marthas meet to plan stuff like this?

Lastly, what exactly is June going to do in season 3? She sure as hell can’t return to the Waterford household. Bad enough losing a handmaid but a baby? Then, to make her decision even more questionable, it isn’t like she even knows where Hannah is to try to snatch her up and run. For we saw how hard it was to get free on her own, imagine a woman with a child? Especially considering, outside of a few glimpses in season 1, we have not seen multiple children at once this whole season. So as for the idea of maybe becoming a Martha and kidnapping Hannah, pretending to be one of the Econopeople, who wouldn’t be anywhere near the area Hannah lives, or another option, it is hard to fathom what’s the move here?

Question(s) Left Unanswered

A color coded map of Gilead.

  1. Please, can someone decipher this photo above? What are these territories?

Collected Quote(s) & .Gifs

In tragedy lies opportunity. – Fred

Highlights

  1. The finale is a game changer and means huge implications that have to be worked out in season 3.

Low Points

  1. We don’t know the fate of Aunt Lydia.

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About Amari Sali 3099 Articles
New Jersey native Amari Sali takes the approach of more so being a media advisor than a critic to sort of fill in the gap left between casual fans of media and those who review productions for a living. Thus being open about bias while still giving enough insight, often with spoilers, to present whether something is worth seeing, buying, renting, streaming, or checking out at all.

6 Comments

  1. It’s rather subjective my opinion. When it came to your take, I do feel it wasn’t so much cynicism but taking in, as a whole, not just the books but history at large. I’m looking at what is entertaining but rooted in realism – if not that is what I enjoy so that is why I was kind of iffy on your version of events.

    With Nick, I feel a third option may need to be introduced: The tone. This show tries to make things very hush and in whispers. Makes things feel, for a lack of a better term, understated in a way. With that, some flourish and others feel almost muted in a way, like Nick. So the charm and roguish personality gets snuffed out because it doesn’t fit the way the universe is crafted. For even in terms of humor, nothing is really able to be funny. Like we saw in Luke’s apartment, jokes are something used to laugh to keep from crying or as a sign mentally you are still there but just a little bit cracked.

    In terms of him being less competent at his job, I look directly at the writing for that. If anyone was truly competent, on a Aunt Lydia level, in this show, it wouldn’t make sense for it to be more than 2 seasons. Nick being good at what he does and reporting Fred and all that, the fall of Gilead would have begun or be finished by now.

    You make an excellent point about the colonies! How are you going to be there for months and not be affected? They were drinking toxic water, bathing in it, and at most maybe Emily’s skin got a bit affected? Though it could just be how makeup does the actress.

    But, as I think we said in previous correspondence, one of the issues with this show is it never gets too deep into either world building or character building. It presents locations, but doesn’t go in depth. We are introduced to characters, but until they say or do something major, most of them are just going through the motions of life.

    Hence why it is both frustrating for someone like me with no previous knowledge and someone like you who read the book and saw the movie. While this adaptation has its merits, it is simplified and relies on the media machine to make things seem more important and deeper vs. just bringing that complexity from the start.

  2. Fair enough. Perhaps I should stop complaining about repetition of tired plot devices and missed opportunities if I can’t come up with a more compelling substitute for them?

    Perhaps my take on revolutions is too cynical, informed by my reading of so many historical cases (as in The Russian Revolution, The French Revolution and Cuba) which were conducted in ways that caused unnecessary loss of innocent life… but you’re correct in thinking that despite these historical precedents, a better way is possible and perhaps it’s well the show reflects that, in that it can show what it’s FOR and not just what it’s AGAINST. Still, I was disappointed that it introduced a suicide bombing that entailed the loss of civilian life (the whole reason Emily and Janine were recalled to duty is because a significant quantity of Handmaids were killed in the bombing) and didn’t explore the ethics of collateral damage in any meaningful way.

    Why do you think certain elements that should’ve been compelling wound up disappointing? I’m racking my brains trying to figure out why Nick isn’t as compelling a character as he should be. Is it the writing or the acting? Him getting a larger role in my scenario was largely based upon my impression of the character in the novel, where he came across as a charismatic figure with a roguish charm and sharp wit. But that version of the character was also somewhat older and more worldly-wise. I can understand the demographic appeal of making him younger, but what was the point of removing the sense of humour that made the original character so likeable? Also, why depict him as less competent at his job than he is in the novel? I mean, can you imagine how different much of the show would feel if Nick was a character you could like?

    (also, I can’t believe I didn’t mention this before, but given Minghella’s mixed Chinese and Jewish ancestry, good for diversity though it may be to cast a person of colour as Nick, it makes the plot of passing off Nick’s child as Fred’s less plausible)

    The Colonies should’ve been fascinating. But they weren’t. Why? Because there’s so much we weren’t told. How did the environment get this bad? What was it like before? What is the plan for this land once it’s cleared up? But most of all… how does being a prisoner or being a guard/warden here affect people psychologically. I think the colonies could’ve been an interesting subplot if all of the above were explored. But we never got to meet the staff or even know the inmates that well. Emily and Janine don’t change all that much as a result of their experiences, either emotionally or physically (their lack of health problems as a result of their imprisonment being one of the most implausible aspects of Season 2) and we never get to see how Holly coped with being sent there.

    “One step forward, two steps back” seems to be the MO for this series. For every great idea there’s a missed opportunity

  3. Kind of no? I enjoy the idea of June becoming a commodity between two different anti-Gilead factions and how that would make Luke and Moira seem more important than they did this season. Yet, it doesn’t really address Hannah and it would mean cutting out that one moment Aunt Lydia opened up, Serena Joy getting to take command and seem far more complicated of a figure than we’ve seen, and making it where the only one in suburban Gilead who would benefit being Nick. Someone who neither of us are strongly fond of. So imagine him becoming even more of a focal point.

    Yes, in your world it would also mean Eden wouldn’t be around, taking away one frustrating thing about him, but it would add us having to be invested in his safety as a double agent. Plus, one of the things which made Commander Lawrence interesting was his short relationship with Emily and being the economic architect of Gilead yet caring very little for its rules. And while him being a resistance leader, informant, or tool would be quite interesting, there is the need to question if he even goes to meetings and things like that. Was he at the council meeting Serena Joy went to? I’m sure they would have focused on his reaction if he was.

    As for Emily and Janine? I think more would be needed to make the colonies an interesting place to revisit. Be it keeping Emily’s backstory being gone into, or adding Janine’s in there.

    Overall, I do see the value and how it come be entertaining, but it’s one of those things which I’d need to visually see to get the full value of it. For comparing it to what we spent weeks with to something I read in a few minutes, my frustration with this season is there but there is hope. With your take, it seems like a fight against the powers that be in Gilead is far more futile.

  4. I first read the novel 20 years ago, so I’ve had plenty of time to speculate on the eventual fate of these characters. Here’s what I imagined the storyline would be for Season 2. Tell me if you think it’s any better than what we got…

    June successfully escapes to Canada, where she gives birth and then reunites with Luke. The two endeavour to rebuild their relationship, but this proves harder than either anticipated because June is suffering from PTSD as a result of her experiences and though Luke tries hard to be a good father figure to baby-Holly, the child’s presence in their lives serves as a reminder to him of painful memories he has tried to repress. The couple see a therapist, who urges June to write down her experiences. Moira offers to publish this testimony as part of a wider campaign of activism against Gilead. June finds herself torn between different factions of the activist community… some believe that the best way to bring down Gilead is through a combination of media exposure and economic pressure… whereas other activists are calling for military intervention and arming anti-Gilead terrorist cells. Both groups see June as a commodity they can use for propaganda purposes and she’s not sure whom she should support.

    Meanwhile, back in Gilead… Nick, in order to save his own hide, rats out Fred to Commander Pryce. By this time, the letters from Jezebels have gone viral, and the Gilead leadership need a scapegoat for the corruption at the top. So, following a public show-trial, Fred is executed. Because Serena knew about Fred’s activities and didn’t report him, she is condemned as an accomplice.

    Commander Pryce reassigns Nick to spy on another suspected subversive, the reclusive Commander Lawrence… Nick discovers that Lawrence has been feeding information to the resistance and foreign powers. But what Nick can’t figure out is wether this is because Lawrence is madly lashing out at a society that failed to live up to his expectations, or if its a calculated scheme to use the government’s enemies as pawns to take down his political opponents so he can seize power… of course, it has already been established that Nick is a double-agent, spying for Pryce but also spying for the resistance… the resistance (with Lawrence’s help in providing info on security) orchestrate a suicide-bombing at the opening of a Handmaid Centre, which resulted in civilian deaths. It becomes clear to Nick that his resistance friends have no qualms about collateral damage, and he is forced to finally decide if the ends justify the means.

    Emily & Janine live out the rest of their days in the colonies. Over time, the prisoners develop a community spirit despite the miserable hardship of their existence and the two women overcome their initial antagonism and learn to love each other.

  5. Don’t get me wrong, I like this series. It is just frustrating because you know a lot of things that happen, especially in regards to how you describe the book and movie, just make this seem watered down. As if, to not be too graphic or too dystopian, they don’t wish to add in the racism, have June really be punished or maintain a lot of the status quo the book has.

    Plus, as discussed, they are really stretching things out. Like, in my mind, I fully see season 3 being about June either joining the resistance, somehow, or else just being focused on getting Hannah. Yet, considering how limited women are, there comes the question of how? There are guardians everywhere, homeless people don’t exist, and only econopeople women move freely and I doubt they are just going to take her in and let her be one of them. The woman just stole a baby and is a fertile handmaid. The level of wanted she is makes it so there will be no kind of peace. Add in she left during perhaps one of the most chaotic nights in Gilead? At least the Gilead we know of? If season 3 doesn’t set up an end game for season 4, this show is going to jump the shark.

    And I thank you for commenting. In another post someone noted how it was like watching the show with a friend and your commentary has really been what has kept me going just to hear your thoughts and have a bit of back and forth.

  6. I’ll try and answer your questions… but first, thankyou for taking the time to blog about this often infuriating series. Given your generally negative reaction to Season 1, I was surprised you bothered watching Season 2 at all. But your commentary has been thought provoking and entertaining.

    In the book it is established that women are not allowed to read, except enough to understand basic things like street signs and the labels on food cans and such. But men are allowed to read any book that is approved by the government. Certain books are blacklisted, so even men caught reading them are punished and the physical copy destroyed. But yes, girls are taught about the Bible (or rather the government approved interpretation of it) by male teachers and male priests. All men are allowed to read the Bible.

    In the book, Aunts are allowed to read. It is one of many privileges their class enjoys which other women do not. It is implied that women who demonstrate a high level of intellectual acumen are eligible for Aunt positions and recruited by the regime to keep the lower orders in check.

    In the book, the government is not open to supplications from any member of the public, and certainly not women. Like most totalitarian societies, it is a closed circle in which the elite ruling class make decisions without any outside influence… nothing like what Serena does in this episode (call it a “petition”, call it a “protest”, whatever) happens in the book, because the government simply wouldn’t tolerate that kinda behaviour. She never would’ve got a foot in the door, let alone be allowed to talk in such a blatantly defiant manner.

    Which brings me to my main problem with this series as it stands now. As you said, the writers have the characters fall into repetitive patterns of behaviour, that are predictable, as well as transparently manipulative. But on the few occasions they break from these patterns, they do so by having the characters do things that seem utterly foolhardy, or inconsistent with their established personality. Or else they’ll throw in random events that shake the coherence of the series universe… this episode is full of characters doing dumb things, when I thought they should know better, seemingly just for shock value. Surely Serena should’ve had enough smarts to plead her case with more subtlety? Surely Emily would’ve had the smarts to be less sloppy in killing someone? The only one NOT behaving irrationally in this episode is JANINE, the supposedly crazy character you’d expect to pull this shit.

    As for the ending – it looked like June flipped her lid and suddenly decided to go back to fight (presumably she hopes to somehow hook up with the resistance and help them blow things up)… but given the number of people who’ve risked their lives or died in trying to help her escape this season, I actually felt angry she turned back. Probably not the reaction the writers intended.

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