The Handmaid’s Tale: Season 3, Episode 8 “Unfit” – Recap, Review (with Spoilers)

June smiling, subtly.
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We finally get to learn about Aunt Lydia’s life before Gilead took over, but that may become an afterthought considering how the episode ends.


Network
Hulu
Director(s) Mike Barker
Writer(s) Kira Snyder
Air Date 7/10/2019
Introduced This Episode
Noelle Emily Althaus
Jim John Ortiz
Ryan Ian Ho

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Recap

Petty Like Highschool: Aunt Lydia, June, Janine, OfMatthew

With OfMatthew making it so not only someone was killed, but now June has no idea where her daughter is, it seems everyone who knows her bullies OfMatthew. Well, except Janine who tries to be kind, and pays for that later. But, to rebuke June, Aunt Lydia reminds her that it is her, June’s, fault, someone died. However, June decides to flip the script and mention OfMatthew doesn’t want her child. Which, like a fool, she admits so she gets questioned and embarrassed to tears. Leading to June having a sick smile on her face since it seems she is intoxicated by this sense of power she believes she has.

The Way Things Were: Aunt Lydia, Jim, Noelle, Ryan

We go into the past, though how far isn’t mentioned, and we learn Lydia was a family lawyer turned teacher. Making her an excellent candidate for an aunt due to her dedication to children. One child, in particular, they focus on is a child named Ryan. He is a young boy, elementary school aged, whose mother Noelle grew close to Lydia. Perhaps was one of her few friends and got her to open up a little.

However, in getting her to open up, she gets a bit too comfortable with the school principal, Jim, and his rejection embarrasses her. Leading to Lydia, perhaps to get back at Noelle, reporting all Noelle has told her in confidence. Be it her difficulties of being a single parent, dating a married man, and this leads Ryan to end up in foster care. To which Noelle seems ready to fight Lydia over but she is held back.

Driven To Madness: Aunt Lydia, June, Janine, OfMatthew, Lawrence

While we barely know a thing about OfMatthew, it seems the isolation and hatred which comes from June’s doing has driven her mad. She even assaults Janine, kills an Eye, and almost shoots Aunt Lydia – something June watches and nods in approval over. Yet, June, as she stands there, the master of chaos, doesn’t get her wish as OfMatthew is shot but not killed.

And it seems the chaos which is happening, be it June’s changing personality, or this OfMatthew incident, only pushes Aunt Lydia further to reconsider June being with Commander Lawrence. Someone who is trying to warm up to June, but she makes it so difficult to be friends. Especially since she wants to paint Lawrence as a bad husband and make it sound like he is trapping and slowly killing his wife. Which he writes off as a cathartic release, but that doesn’t mean her audacity isn’t noted.

Review

Highlights

Finally Getting Backstories Again

I’m not exactly sure how many episodes it has been since we ventured into the past, but considering the gap since we’ve learned about Fred and Serena’s life before Gilead, it seems long overdue. And while Janine’s would have been more interesting, and fitting considering how downgraded the character has become, Aunt Lydia’s wasn’t so bad. Granted, it seems disconnected from the rest of the show and could have been scenes from one of Ann Dowd’s other movies spliced in. Yet, it does give you some sense that the reason Aunt Lydia molds so well with the way things are is because her faith didn’t differ too much from Gilead’s belief. Plus, it seems between her family law background and career in education, having her be a mentor and authority figure over the Handmaids just makes sense.

Seeing How Aunts Operate Behind Closed Doors

But, to be honest, seeing the Aunts decide which Handmaid goes to which commander was of more interest than Aunt Lydia’s backstory. For while the aunts are a powerful force, like Marthas, they often operate behind the scenes and while we got to see them operate more earlier in the series, Aunt Lydia has been one of the few, if only, representatives we’ve seen. So here is hoping this isn’t the only time we get to peer behind the curtain. Though I do wish after Aunt Lydia’s behavior earlier, especially when she was beating Handmaids, as well as injured, we got to see how she was reprimanded.

On The Fence

June Is Really Getting Away With Far Too Much

June at the end of the episode, after OfMatthew was shot.

Between gaining too much power amongst the Handmaids, talking back to Commander Lawrence, and possibly driving one Handmaid to commit murder, what are the aunts waiting for? Clearly, she is a common denominator between the fall of the Waterfords, Emily, and the events of this episode. Aunt Lydia even talks about bad apples and terrible environments, and yet she can’t see June is the issue? Heck, June, like she did when she was pregnant, pushes an immunity angle by noting she might be needed on TV again. In my mind, even if fertile, her being allowed to hold what is damn near an exalted position makes no sense in Gilead’s world.

When Did June Become So Beloved?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but when did June become any sort of leader or beloved figure amongst the Handmaids? It doesn’t feel too long ago they were suffering because June was pregnant and she couldn’t be punished. Much less, isn’t the main handmaid who talks to June maimed because of June? Are you seriously telling me the handful of times she protected Janine has led to not only all being forgiven but her now being treated as the It girl? Much less, was helping Emily escape enough? Or is it that people think June has real power and between making things easier, or harder, maybe helping them escape, this is why she was able to bully OfMatthew without giving a directive to do so?

How Is Aunt Lydia Walking Without A Cane Now?

Minor thing: How did Aunt Lydia go from using a wheelchair, or using a cane, to now not needing either one? She was stabbed and fell down a flight of stairs. On top of that, Aunt Lydia isn’t a spring chicken. So does Gilead have some type of medicine beyond anything we’ve ever seen? For, in my mind, she should, at least, be forced to use a cane for the rest of her life.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. I will, mostly due to it being a once a week series. With that, as much as this is far from my favorite show, I do admit I still hope for better.

    As for the changes, I don’t recall saying the concept of the outside is boring but, if I did, I’m definitely mistaken now. At this point, the show needs a major shake up beyond a domestic terrorist attack. Many of your ideas would be welcome, swooping, changes that could maybe give this show one or two more seasons.

    Though, I do wonder, with Atwood making a new book, will any of it be used for the show or will they remain separate? Especially if the new book speaks on the downfall of Gilead.

    • Little has been revealed about Atwood’s literary sequel except that it will be set 15 years after the events of the first novel, and that it will have three different narrators. Early press releases state that it will be entirely separate from the Hulu series… but I’ve no idea if the series plans on incorporating anything from that book into subsequent seasons. If they did, then they’d probably have to pay for that extra intellectual property. I think it’s unlikely anything she came up with would actually be compatible with future seasons anyway, given how far this series has diverged from the source in terms of world building and characterisation,

  2. I wonder… how much of June’s mood-swings and erratic behaviour can be chalked up to being the products of an unhinged mind reeling from trauma, and how much is the result of a writers-room that doesn’t have a unified vision and aren’t really thinking through the logical consequences of certain behaviour?

    Also, how many plot developments came about because the writers wanted to explore an aspect of totalitarian social-constructs and how many are just thrown in for shock-value (“baiting for ratings”)?

    Here in Australia, this show is broadcast on free-to-air public television straight after reruns of “The X Files”, and watching them back to back has proved instructive… in its early years, “The X Files” was a TV sensation, with head writer Chris Carter creating some gripping yarns of political conspiracy that dropped hints of an awesome “master-plan” that would tie everything together… but after only a few years it soon became clear that for all his teasing, Carter had no master plan and was just making stuff up as he went along, and he’d hold off from providing any closure until the ratings gravy train came to a halt – which turned out to be nearly a decade, so compelling were the performances of the leads that the actors effectively kept the show’s audience loyal much longer than the writing alone would’ve… looking back, probably the best episodes of “The X Files” were the ones that ignored the overarching political conspiracy, and focused on one-off investigations into supernatural phenomena. These episodes told self-contained stories and tended to be paced like thrillers, often with some gentle humour thrown in. Also, these episodes didn’t require our heroes to spectacularly fail in their goals just to perpetuate a “never ending plot”. Commonly dismissed as “filler” at the time, these apolitical episodes also contained some of the most telling insights into the background of the regular characters, and greater nuances emerge that aren’t present in the “arc” episodes.

    It’s become clear “The Handmaid’s Tale” has similar issues. It’s obvious that from the beginning they wanted to expand Margaret Atwood’s small-scale, cerebral character-study into a sprawling, large-scale ensemble piece… but it’s clear that they didn’t plan out the parameters of the world-building from the beginning, hence the implausibilities and inconsistencies in terms of social structure, security infrastructure and behavioural norms…. also, it’s clear that cutting Margaret Atwood a cheque for “consultation” was more a PR-move than anything else, since most of the series flat out contradicts the basic ground rules laid out in her writing, and all of the characters she’s killed-off or written-out remain in the series.

    I’ve found the best episodes of this series tend to be the flashback centred ones. At least these have a relatively self-contained drama at the core and are paced better – rather like how the more modest, standalone “X Files” were often more engaging than the self-consciously grandiose myth-arc instalments… Lydia’s flashbacks came as a welcome relief in this episode for a reason.

    Chris Carter managed to string “X Files” viewers along for nine years, get financing for two movies and two reunion mini-series as well… surely Bruce Miller can’t pull a similar trick with “The Handmaid’s Tale”? How much longer can he milk this cash cow? It’s quite amazing he’s got this far, given how bleak and violent the basic concept is (and this show is much more explicitly violent than the book ever was)

    Whatever, I’m officially calling it… “The Handmaid’s Tale” has jumped the shark. I don’t really think it’s possible for the show to fully recover from all the absurdity it’s introduced this season.

    • Generally speaking, I think series need to follow the same three-act structure of movies. Season 1 being setup, season 2 confrontation, and season 3 being the resolution. Rarely has any show been consistently good when it has gone past season 3 and seemingly sought out quick resolutions or, in The Handmaid’s Tales’ case, stretched out the confrontation for so long they have to rely on escalation to keep things interesting. In which escalation is oftentimes more so violence and bigger villains than anything which adds depth to the story. Which, unlike your example of the X-Files, I’d submit even these backstories don’t make for much of a episodic reprieve since they are less treats and more so feel overdue.

      • So are you going to keep blogging about this show? I’m starting to wonder what’s the point of tuning in, and how I got this far.

        I suppose that with Season 1, for all my whining about how it’s not like the book, it still had an internal consistency of its own and each character seemed a functional component of the story. The stellar cast and striking visuals also made it compelling. A powerful dystopian drama in its own right, and enough of Atwood’s core themes remained that it felt like it had some of the same spirit to it.

        The first half of Season 2, with June escaping to Canada intercut with life in The Colonies hinted that the show would go off into a bold new direction, expanding Atwood’s universe and telling stories with a radically different structure to the original. I was optimistic the show would go somewhere really awesome… but then June, Emily and Janine were dragged back into Gilead, and the show seemed to get stuck in a very familiar groove from then on. To the point where, as you say, it’s relying on shock tactics to drag out the conflict beyond its natural end point.

        For this series to redeem itself, some things need to happen in the next couple of episodes:
        – Lydia should be fired. She’s proven spectacularly ineffectual at winning hearts and minds for the regime. It makes no sense to keep her employed. It would be perfect Karmic justice if she was punished by the very regime she helped prop up, because they found her inadequate.
        – June has very publicly outed herself as a volatile subversive, and thus has outlived her usefulness to the regime. Her fertility is no compensation for all the trouble she’s caused, and there’s no need to keep her around for propaganda purposes. She should be arrested and face the prospect of execution or shipment to The Colonies. Any more lenient form of punishment seems absurd given what has been done to others for lesser offences.
        – The extradition subplot should be resolved and fast. The Swiss know that Fred is not the biological father of Nicole, and can ask for a paternity test (any refusal on his part will look suspicious) which will prove The Waterfords don’t have much of a case under international law… this in turn would lead to an investigation by Gilead officials of the circumstances leading to Nicole’s conception… exposing Fred as a philanderer and Serena as someone who enabled adultery. Since previous episodes have established that the ruling class are still subject to some form of legal punishment, then Fred and Serena should be punished too… of course, this logically would have happened a lot earlier, given neither were very meticulous about covering their tracks.
        – The mystery of Joseph’s true agenda and morality has been teased long enough. If the writers have any clear idea of what he’s up to and why, then they should make it evident to the audience… because at the moment his weird behaviour could just be read as the writers tossing in a random element to enliven otherwise dreary scripts, and indulge the hammy inclinations of Bradley Whitford. The writers need to show that there’s some method to the man’s madness, if only to demonstrate they are capable of playing fair with audience expectations.

        If the series doesn’t do all of the above in the next couple of episodes, then I think I’ll finally give up.

        If it does do these things, it has to do the following to completely redeem itself afterwards:
        – Either do something substantial with Nick and Janine or write them out completely. Keeping them around for glorified cameos is pointless and distracting.
        – Start in motion the fall of the Gilead regime. There has been enough incompetent leadership and faction rivalry in the halls of power already that this should start happening.
        – Better flesh out what this future world is like beyond the borders of Gilead. There is more to the world than just America, and the social rituals of Gilead are pretty much played out at this point.

        I said before, what I wanted for Seasons 2 & 3 was for June to successfully escape to Canada and then for most of the rest of the series to take place outside the former-US… I think you said at the time that sounded boring… but I don’t think it’d have to be. If Canada, The Colonies and other societies were fleshed out in sufficient depth and the characters’ psychological journeys were well written enough, it could still be engaging… and I don’t really see how the show can plausibly keep June as the protagonist except to have her somehow escape Gilead for real this time and pursue anti-Gilead activism in a different country…. the most plausible scenario I can see is that June is traded as part of a “prisoner exchange” deal, or abducted by agents of a foreign power that want to make a move against Gilead.. the novel hints that June might’ve ended up in England. We never find out what nationality June’s often-absent father was. If he was British then that might technically make June a dual-citizen. If the UK is at war with Gilead, and June’s father is in any way connected to British authorities, then them intervening on June’s behalf somehow might be a reasonable development
        (because surely June has used up most of her goodwill with the local resistance movement by now, what with her bungling and backtracking

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