Wednesday, May 16, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Handmaid's Tale' - A Traumatic New Ceremony Sends Offred Further Into Her Depression in 'Seeds'

Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale - Episode 2.05 "Seeds"

Offred spirals as a Gilead ceremony disrupts her relationship with Nick. Janine tries to adjust to life in the Colonies, jeopardizing her friendship with Emily.

The world of Gilead has always seen the power in visuals. It literally divides people by class and identifies them by the color of clothing they can wear. It's a world that purposefully segregates people in order to ensure that everyone knows their place in this world. Those who disobey will be severely punished. There are exceptions to the rules of course. But it's also extremely powerful and horrifying to watch as the community of Gilead continues to prop up visuals that are so vicious and sickening. The world has come up with so many symbolic ceremonies. Gilead rose up because of the infertility crisis. Everything about this world revolves around the value of family with the specific purpose of having children. It's a very traditional view of the world and the values that must be upheld. A marriage is not legitimate until it produces a child. The handmaids are a creative workaround to ensure that these family units are able to survive in a world where the human race may be going extinct. But now, it's fascinating to see how the creation of new families occurs in Gilead. "Seeds" is essentially about the marriage ceremony in the middle of the episode. That's the show producing yet another cruel new reality of this world. It has such a profound effect on the characters as well. Some are able to enjoy the simple pleasure and beauty of new families being formed. Others are absolutely horrified by the idea of these arranged marriages where strange men will have to force themselves upon young women in the hopes of creating children without the need of handmaids.

The marriage sequence is brutal long before the veils are removed and the women are seen for the first time. It's a ceremony that values the men and the honor and service they have achieved in this world. It's all played as a promotion ceremony. These honorable soldiers have been commended for their value for various reasons. They are being rewarded for their efforts. Their reward just isn't a medal though. Instead, it's a blushing young bride. The women are presented in all white with their faces completely covered. When the minister is performing the ceremony, he gives all of the choices to the men. They are the ones performing all of the actions that will form these unions. The women are silenced behind the veils. For the longest time, they aren't even portrayed as human beings making a lasting commitment for the specific purpose of creating new life. It's very transactional. And yet, the commanders of Gilead see it as such a beautiful ceremony. The wives are swept up in the emotion as well. It's up to the handmaids and housekeepers to be horrified by the prospect of all of these girls being really young. It's such a sickening reveal. It's the show revealing that once again Gilead values young fertility much more so than female independence and choice. A bride has been assigned to Nick. He has no idea who she is until this very moment. He's only concerned about June. But now, he has made a vow and welcomed a new girl into the Waterford home.

Of course, things are very ominous long before the show heads into the wedding ceremony. Yes, that is the focal point of this hour. But it's much more stressful to see what has become of June. She has always had so much life over the course of the series. She was willing to push back and rebel just in order to survive in this world. She wasn't going to be the subservient handmaid that Aunt Lydia and the Waterfords wanted. She wasn't just going to be quiet unless asked a question. She was going to be an independent spirit who explored this world and pushed the boundaries to see how far she could go. And now, her soul is crushed. The world has constantly been treating her as nothing more than a vessel for human life. That's all that she accepts of herself now as well. She has fully become Offred. She is the simple handmaid who goes on walks with the commander's wife and does whatever she is told. The entire house sees this shift in personality from Offred. The audience knows to be deeply troubled by it because we can hear her internal monologue and just how hopeless and lost she currently is. It's concerning to the various characters of the house as well. Serena Joy suddenly misses the interplay the two of them used to share. Now, she believes Offred is compromising the health of her baby by not being fully engaged by the world and giving herself fully into the love of this miracle. Nick is concerned because June is broken and so completely not herself. He looks out for her even though it creates even more suspicion for Serena Joy that something more is going on between her handmaid and her driver.

This is all pertaining to June's mental health as well. Physically, there appears to be nothing wrong with her. When Aunt Lydia stops by for her checkups, she is proud to say that everything is progressing as it should be. She is very hopeful about giving Commander Waterford a son. And yet, the mood in the house is still very depressing. It's a very pointed political statement that shows that the world doesn't really care or listen to women when it comes to issues with their mental health. It's easy to be very concerned about the creation of new life and the preciousness of it all. But there's no compassion for the pregnant woman trying to keep herself healthy. Serena Joy sees no need to bring in another doctor to consult on the case. And yet, it's because no one steps up and demands more of an open and honest dialogue with Offred that it almost costs her this pregnancy. It's because she's so depressed that she doesn't speak up once she notices that she has significantly bleeding. It's just something she is dealing with on her own. She notices it and just collects some toilet paper to serve as more padding in her underwear. Then, it's so creepy and ominous when she is taking a bath and the water has turned a red tint. It makes it clear that not everything is alright with her. She is still completely able to go about her day. She's pale and weakened. But she's still able to witness Nick get married. She is promptly kicked out of the celebration afterwards as well. It's then so traumatizing when she removes her clothes to reveal just how much she has been bleeding. She would rather go silent and fade away then speak up and receive the healthcare that this world currently abides by. That is so traumatic and horrifying.

In the end though, this is nothing but a deeply traumatic scare. It's enough to scare June back to the forefront of her personality. She lost herself as Offred. She was broken by Gilead and needed to abide by their rules. She was willing to be just another statistic of the many women now suffering complications whenever they should get pregnant. She was willing to fade from existence. But that's not healthy for her baby. She basically resigned herself to the fact that she was losing this child. It certainly seemed like that that was happening to her now. As such, it's miraculous that there is still a strong heartbeat inside her. Hearing that on the monitors as she wakes up in the hospital is so hopeful and inspiring. It's enough to spring her back to her rebellious nature. That's such an uplifting note to end on in one of the most depressing episodes of the season so far. It's a joyous moment for Serena Joy as her handmaid wakes up to the news that her baby is perfectly fine. But it's also such a private moment for June. Yes, there are people observing her and monitoring her closely. But she also feels the comfort of just being able to hide under the sheets to have a conversation with her child. It's her channeling that resilience and strength that this baby must have in order to continue to forge ahead in this traumatic new world. It forces June to commit to escaping from Gilead once more. She doesn't know how she'll do it. But she knows that she can't give this baby away to be raised in this life. She fears she has already done that with Hannah. She can't make the same mistakes again. And so, she needs to be passionate and active once again.

Elsewhere, it's emotional to see that the Colonies are actually a freeing beam of hope as well. It's a death sentence to be sent to the Colonies. Emily is trying to get Janine to understand that as she continues to live the way that Aunt Lydia taught her in Gilead. She doesn't understand how Janine could still be faithful to a god that caused both of them so much pain. Janine's eye and baby were taken from her. Emily's identity as a woman who can experience pleasure was stripped from her body. It was such an abusive world to be a part of. And yet, the Colonies allow these women to be their true selves once more. They are condemned to die. All that is required from them is to work the fields. As long as they keep working, the guards don't really care what they do. They aren't trying to force the rules of Gilead onto these women. They were sent here because they refused to conform. And yet, it's so beautiful and freeing to see two women find love at the end of the world. It's heartbreaking because one of them is dying. But it's also so freeing because a rabbi is allowed to practice her faith while two women in love are able to marry one another. That stands in such stark contrast to the ceremony that happens in Gilead. That one was very transactional and sickening. This one is loving and powerful to watch despite the audience having no investment in the characters involved. Emily first sees it as such a risk that could make their lives so much worse. She doesn't see the value in provoking the world anymore. But in the end, she too is inspired to take action and be free. She may not be free for very long because she is experiencing side effects from the radiation. But she is willing to live as her authentic self standing strong with her new friends.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Seeds" was written by Kira Snyder and directed by Mike Barker.
  • It's also clear that for these guards to be promoted to the next rank in this system they need to be married. It's simply a stepping stone for advancement in this society. Nick can only be given the promotion Commander Waterford wants for him if he has a family of his own that he can protect and uphold by the traditional values. Family means everything in Gilead. It just comes at such an extreme personal cost.
  • Commander Waterford is the one who puts Nick up for this promotion. Serena Joy doesn't do it to put an end to the flirtation going on between her baby's parents. Instead, it mostly comes out of the blue because Commander Waterford believes that Nick could thrive in this environment if given more responsibility. He has proven himself to be quite a loyal man for many years now. That just further proves just how effective Nick has been in fooling his employers.
  • Nick's new wife has clearly been training for this position for the majority of her life. This was always the greatest aspiration she could achieve. Once she reached a certain age, she could be married off to some strapping man who has proven himself as a soldier. She may not be ready for the realities of marriage. She has been coached through so much of this new world. But she is still completely in the dark about what marriage actually involves. She doesn't know that sex can be pleasurable to her.
  • Serena Joy is very much envious of the fact that Aunt Lydia is permitted to write even though it's forbidden for women to do so. She was a scholar in her former life. She helped create this system despite the newfound limitations it has on her. That's what has made her so focused on having a baby. But now, she's being confronted by a woman who believes in this world even more than her who still manages to have power and freedom.
  • It's fascinating how Rita has presented herself as a friend and ally to Offred now that she's back in the house. She was so worried about being caught with the contraband letters for so long. Now, June destroys those because she no longer sees a reason to care about someone eventually coming to pick them up. But it's also worth noting that Rita seems to notice that Offred is becoming weaker more so than anyone else.