The Handmaid’s Tale: Season 2/ Episode 6 “First Blood” – Recap/ Review (with Spoilers)

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As Serena Joy and June continue their complicated relationship, something possibly game-changing happens at the end of the episode.


Network
Hulu
Director(s) Mike Barker
Writer(s) Eric Tuchman
Air Date 5/23/2018

Be Mindful of Eden: Eden, Nick, June, Serena Joy

With Eden being 15, and a bit delicate, life in the Waterford household is a bit awkward. Nick is a bit distant, the tension in the air makes it where you feel the need to be mindful, and clearly Mrs. Waterford and June have beef. Something shown, after the events of the next topic, to have made Serena quite petty. To the point, she talks about pulling rank and dropping a crochet needle for June to pick up. Something she tries to have Eden repeat but then June claims cramps.

But for Nick, his place in this? Well, the distance comes not just because he is in love with June, but Eden is 15. Just as viewers are a bit uncomfortable, so is he. After all, Nick is at least 30 and likely remembers life before Gilead. Back when the idea of someone having sex with someone Eden’s age would not only be social taboo, and illegal, but also only appealing to a pedophile.

Yet, with Eden expressing concerns to June about Nick, even implying he might be a gender traitor (gay), June tells Nick to suck it up. Mostly in the form of not saying she loves him back and telling him to be with his wife. A decision which influences something he says later on.

Commentary

Nick and Eden having sex.

Maybe Eden might not be as noteworthy as she once seemed. Yes, seeing a child bride raised an eyebrow, as well as interest in what their upbringing was like. However, considering how world building is more the priority than character building, I think that is why I find it so hard to get into some aspects of the show. For while, as noted by Benjamin in the comments of episode 5, the novel didn’t venture too far outside of the Gilead we saw in season 1, the ooo and ahhs of seeing outside the suburbs lost luster quick.

Yes, the colonies are desolate and the four horseman nod made it seem even more terrifying. That is, alongside seeing the econopeople and wanting to take note how those not in the upper classes live. However, we aren’t really given a notable guide to keep us hooked. Yes, Emily and Janine are in the colonies, but they aren’t giving the ebb and flow storyline of June to push you to wonder if they may fight back, try to escape, or do more than slowly die as the environment kills them. With the econo-people, Omar was our gateway in and as soon as we met him, within an episode, he was hanging, family disbanded, and that was it.

So, taking note of that, even how Canada has been handled thus far, while it is nice to visit these different locations and get a small taste of the culture, it’s like the difference between taking a vacation and living somewhere. Yes, taking an episode or a few scenes in any of these places is a nice escape, but what reasons are we being given to want more outside of relief from June’s story?

Just When I Thought We Could Be Friends: Serena Joy, Fred, June

As noted before, Serena Joy is lonely. The rest of the wives don’t stimulate her and so, with June having a bit of a fire in her belly, there is some desire to be friends. Perhaps beyond the hope she won’t run away with “her” child. But, the problem is, there is not only jealousy but different principals in play here. After all, lest we forget, there was a time when Serena Joy wasn’t just a housewife.

In a way, she was on the front lines, doing speeches and even touring until she got shot in the abdomen and likely lost the ability to have children. Yet, she pushed forward with helping Fred with his speeches and might have even continued to speak herself. From what it seems, though scared off a stage, she felt empowered when she gave an impromptu speech on the stairs.

Though, in terms of the present? She takes joy in bringing June to heel. For she might not have gotten to do so with the crowd who called her a fascist and nazi, but at least this radical she has power over. So, if she doesn’t want to be friends, wants to continue bringing up the past and even attempt to manipulate Serena, then she’ll be treated as per where she is in the caste system.

Commentary

Serena Joy arguing with protesters.
“embrace your biological destiny!”

Is it wrong to want to feel for Serena Joy? Just as she was perhaps gaining prominence as a speaker she got shot and, if she was once a viable mother, then she lost the ability with a bullet. On top of that, as seen in season 1, there came a point when Fred shut her out despite him constantly looking for her to advise on his speeches. And yeah, I know she is a terrible person to June, but it increasingly is complicated.

For the way I see it is, Serena Joy’s jealousy of June goes beyond being able to get pregnant. June has the guts to try to escape the situation for better. She has the gift of gab to allure or seduce anyone. Heck, when it comes to the Handmaids, she was able to get a large swath of them to rebel. All of who were punished and yet when invited over for a handmaid, seriously low-key, baby shower type of brunch, it was like the punishment June escaped didn’t happen.

Which bring up a thought: How do the rest of the handmaids feel about June? She has tried to escape, protected Janine from a stoning, was omitted from a punishment because she is pregnant, and who knows if there might be rumors about her other actions. Heck, bringing up the idea of what the handmaids say amongst themselves, since we haven’t seen them really do a whole lot of private conversations this season, imagine what the aunts talk about.

Tick, Tick, BOOM: June, Fred, Nick

While it isn’t clear whether or not Serena’s shooters were affiliated with a group or not, what is known is Fred got revenge by killing the shooter’s wife. That and he still has the hots for June. Someone who he gropes and tries to have sex with, but then she stops him because of the baby. Well, and because making things easier for him will make it harder to get what she wants later. Such as more than just being given a picture of Hannah but maybe, physically, getting to see her.

Though, all hopes for that may be gone soon. For one, Nick is looking to be reassigned and implies there is stuff he hasn’t said about Fred which, of course, leads to perked ears. However, the big thing is a terrorist attack during the opening of a new processing center which likely killed quite a few commanders. Leaving the future of Gilead to question.

Commentary

There is a natural desire to question, when will Gilead fall, how will it happen, and who will be the cause of it? Well, while a date isn’t clear, it seems a rebel handmaid might at least answer who. For even if, in that room, that wasn’t all the commanders, at least for that region, maybe a few others, that was a large amount. Which could mean chaos amongst Gilead and possibly a sign of weakness. One which other countries might take advantage of for Gilead has quite a bit of resources.

Not just handmaids, mind you, but food as well and between suffocating them with sanctions, which I believe some countries already are doing, or aiding coups, they could support a full-on rebellion. However, as seen when stuff like that happens in other countries, it pushes you to question what would that mean for the characters who haven’t crossed the border. Gilead has the look of being under martial order and taking note of the early days, when June and Moira were dodging bullets, while random attacks can happen, maybe even succeed, toppling Gilead as they did the former administration may not be an easy task.

However, considering a woman is the bomber and how they seemingly have quite a network, it wouldn’t be smart to bet again the underdog.

Highlights

  1. The intrigue which is presented with the ending. Be it Nick pursuing being reassigned, as well as hinting something isn’t right with Fred and June, alongside the terrorist attack.
  2. Understanding the pain of Serena Joy further by delving into her past. Thus allowing us to see why she is not only miserable but all over the place when it comes to her relationship with June.

On The Fence

  1. Visually getting to see other parts of the world and cultures, but feeling like the characters who inhabit that aren’t given a full-scale

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Perhaps pushing the idea earlier that maybe we may get to see both sides a bit more. This idea that, as terrible as the Gilead regime may have seemed, their faith led them to believe that their solution was to save the world and, arguably, they got the results they wanted and said were possible.

    But I will say, going based off the CBC Alias Grace, which also was on Netflix, I feel this show could have benefited from the unreliable narrative perspective you presented. For some of the best moments of the show, to me, is when we see things from other points of view. Which is why I often find myself wanting to know how people feel about June, outside of one or two lines; getting to see how the aunts live; and while I’m not terribly interested in the Colonies or Canada much, sometimes we really do need a break from June.

    Something that feels increasingly overdue, for the majority of an episode. I thought, after her breakdown, they would do that, but with this terrorist attack, it makes me hope even more we may shift focus away and take note of how the outside world thinks and feels. From their perspective and not through a Gilead filter.

  2. Your statement about “world building versus character building” neatly illustrates my own mixed emotions towards this series… and at this point it might be helpful to bring up another (to my mind, more successful) TV adaptation of an Atwood novel, “Alias Grace”.

    Atwood tends to write stories from the POV of unreliable narrators who may be lying or insane – aspects of the setting are deliberately kept vague or ambiguous, partly in order to build suspense, but also so the reader can emotionally identify with the protagonists’ own limited knowledge…. but such ambiguity is easily achieved with text, less so with a visual medium where some things have to be shown explicitly in order to be understood, and even with the aid of voice over narration, there’s only so much of a character’s inner thoughts that can be depicted onscreen.

    In other words, Atwood is an extreme case of an author who prioritises character development over world building and plot… to the point that every book I’ve read by her feels like it’s 80% internal monologue about the characters’ inner feelings and much of the setting is very sketchily established.

    “Alias Grace” managed to make this work by dramatising ambiguous incidents multiple times in different ways, and because it took place in an established historical period that didn’t need overly elaborate explanations, it could focus exclusively on the main characters’ emotional journey (and the shorter running time meant it didn’t have room to introduce irrelevancies) – that tight focus gave it much of its power.

    The approach of “The Handmaid’s Tale” on the other hand is to give a clear cut explanation for everything, expand upon every aspect of the setting and turn what was originally one woman’s story into a sprawling ensemble piece that spans multiple seasons.

    This episode does show the pros and cons of such an approach. As you said, it can lead to the impression that the characters are devices used to illustrate aspects of society, rather than fully developed personalities – as the show stretches itself thin in an effort to “cover all bases” of this world…but on the other hand, it does mean that certain characters and situations who were caricatures or blank slates in the original are given humanising traits and hidden depths. The insights into Serena’s past and the odd moments where she makes valid points make her a more tragic villain, than when seen as a shallow bitch through June’s narrow perspective… and limited though Eden’s screentime is, it’s better than being a silent extra and goes a long way towards humanising the “true believers” of this world.

    Finally, the scenes of Serena’s deplatforming show how the regime’s left opponents in the old days were capable of stifling liberty too.

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