Wednesday, May 30, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Handmaid's Tale' - June and Serena Joy Use The Power of Their Names to Make a Difference in 'After'

Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale - Episode 2.07 "After"

An attack sends shockwaves through both Gilead and Little America. Serena Joy makes a dangerous choice in order to protect her family. Moira searches for someone from her past.

There is power in a name. The system of Gilead places so much importance on its visuals. They are constant symbols that show off their devotion and faith. The citizens wear specific colors in order to identify their rank in this new world. But it has always been such a significant and devastating symbol that the handmaids lose their names to simply show off who they must stay devoted to. Instead of June, she is Offred. It's the stripping of the name that dehumanizes this entire practice. It makes the handmaids nothing more than servants to their commanders in order to create new life. That's their only role in this society. If they cannot get pregnant, then they have failed. They are intended to keep going from house to house producing babies in order to repopulate the planet. Earth was struck with an infertility crisis. This was the solution as presented by the Bible. Of course, it was the leaders of Gilead's twisted interpretation of the holy book. And now, it's so destructive to see the inhumanity still on display despite the recent loss of life. Ofglen became a suicide bomber during the unveiling of the new Red Center. It was unclear what her intention was. It was clear that she was standing up as her own individual to fight back against this oppressive world. She probably intended to kill as many of the commanders in that room as possible. They all gathered for this momentous occasion. She showed off the trigger to her fellow handmaids before running towards Commander Waterford at the podium. There was a wall between her and the handmaids. And yet, it's important to note that more handmaids were killed than commanders. That's still a devastating blow to Gilead. It means they have to be very resourceful and forgiving in order to replenish those ranks to keep the society functioning as normally as possible. But it's not what Ofglen wanted at all. She wanted freedom from these chains. She wanted to leave as her true self once again. That's what makes it so haunting when none of the handmaids actually knew her real name.

It's so depressing to watch the funeral service that Aunt Lydia has orchestrated as well. It's once again a ceremony built around some powerful symbolism. The handmaids always wear red. It helps them stand out in a crowd to highlight their importance in Gilead. And now, they are dressed in black with their faces covered in red veils. It's a mournful time. But it also strips them of even more humanity. They are not a crowd of people mourning the dead in their own specific way. They are one group that serves as a symbol to the world around them that this is a terrible tragedy. June and her friends aren't able to mourn in their own way until the bus ride back to their individual homes. That's when they come to the realization that no one knew Ofglen's true name. It's such a devastating time because Ofglen doesn't wish to be remembered by that name. She no longer wanted to be a handmaid. And now, she's getting a handmaid's funeral with Aunt Lydia leading the charge. She is the one who is allowed to speak and try to find peace with this senseless violence. She is simply asking the handmaids to go around touching the caskets as she reads their names. And yet, it's not the names they wish to be called. Instead, it's their handmaid names. Even in death, they are being remembered by the service they provided in this world. Aunt Lydia knows the true names of the girls who serve her. And yet, she has always operated under the belief that June was a sinner but Offred is a pious and pure heart. These girls found salvation through their service in Gilead. And thus, that's the life they should aspire to be remembered through. It's so chilling to watch though because it's clear that the handmaids are still oppressed and fearful even in the moments where they are truly alone with their thoughts.

And then, vans pull up to the Colonies and take any woman who can still be a handmaid. It's clear that that is what's happening immediately. The workers have no idea what's going on. They get no news about what has happened in Gilead. They don't know the trauma and devastation occurring in their former home. They don't care either. They have been sent to the Colonies to die. They are going to be working until they just drop dead. That's the sentence that has been delivered onto them. The show has spent time with Emily and Janine here. They have adapted to this way of life even though it's so despicable and depressing. They had to make peace with death while still finding a way to let their individuality shine through. And now, they are given the chance to keep on living. That could be such a huge mistake for Aunt Lydia and Gilead to make. Emily and Janine were sent to the Colonies because they were noncompliant and jeopardized the way of life in this world. And now, they have been returned to do the service they were originally designed to do. It could present as salvation. Janine sees it as God looking at their work and rewarding them as such. She is eager to see what's next in his plan. But Emily is horrified to return to this place that took so much away from her. She is crippled with pain and trauma. That is only alleviated once she reunites with June. It's in that moment that she sees a ray of hope. It's so powerful and special. It's June telling Emily that she sees her and loves her. She is grateful that she is back and will do anything to ensure that the handmaids' identities aren't taken from them any longer. It could be a risk for June to go around telling people her real name. And yet, that's how she would want to be remembered. She wants to be so much more than just Offred. She thought that she had to slip into the subservient role completely in order to survive through this pregnancy. Instead, that almost killed her. So now, she has found the courage of her own voice and name again. She once thought she had an army of companions she could count on to survive anything in this world. And now, she's only starting to realize just how unified they can still be while having to still act in secrecy.

Meanwhile, Serena Joy is able to use her powerful association to a significant name to make a difference in this world as well. She helped create Gilead. And yet, she was quickly cast aside as nothing more than a wife as soon as the society was born. She was fighting for the protection of traditional values. She wanted to be a wife and mother. She saw it as her duty to save the planet and humanity. And now, she needs to use her cunning resources in order to protect her family - even though she doesn't trust the servants in her house. She just wants to be by Commander Waterford's side as he is healing from his injuries. He is still in the hospital. He's in and out of consciousness. There is every expectation that he will make a full recovery. Elsewhere, Commander Pryce was killed and Commander Putnam lost his left arm. There are consequences to the bomb. Nick's request to be moved from the Waterford household in exchange for sharing some troubling secrets is completely gone because he no longer has Pryce to report to. Instead, Commander Cushing has taken over control of Gilead with the intention of cutting out any suspicion of terrorism. He believes that the entire household where Ofglen was living deserve to die. He executes them because they allowed these thoughts to fester and did nothing. It's so terrifying to see how many bodies are hanging outside of their homes. Cushing is really pushing this mentality and it has become quite lethal throughout the community. It makes it seem like the world will never be what it once was. Of course, Gilead under Commander Waterford's leadership wasn't any better. But it also had the freedom to allow people to go about their very specific days and uphold their roles in this society. Under Cushing's leadership, he has made everyone afraid for their lives. Serena Joy's family is targeted because Cushing doesn't believe that Offred was taken against her will. As such, Serena Joy forges her husband's signature to make a powerful accusation against Cushing to get him sentenced to death for his treasonous ways. It's a position she aims to continue as well. She may have missed being in charge of this world. And now, she has that power again because Commander Waterford is in the hospital and the world needs to be restored to order.

News of the attack also ripples across Little America. So many people are scared to think that their loved ones have been killed. They don't know if they'll ever get answers as to what happened to them either. Little America has spies within Gilead that are able to provide information. As such, it's through their compassionate response that Ofglen is finally honored by her name. They are the people who recognize that Lillie died and was responsible for this attack. It takes awhile for them to get this information. But they are still able to provide answers to the people in this world who desperately want to know what has happened. That's not a luxury afforded to the citizens of Gilead. They are cut off from all communication with the outside world. They are their own separate country now. Information has to be sneaked in and out of this place. For so long, Luke lived without knowing what happened to June and Hannah. Then, Moira appeared and was able to give him some clarity even though his family is still trapped in Gilead. Elsewhere, Emily has no idea what happened to her wife and son. She may never know what happened to them unless she escapes this brutal world. And now, Moira is finally ready to face the truth that her family may have been killed in Gilead as well. The flashbacks this week show that she was once a surrogate for an English couple eager to have a baby. She did so in order to get the money and have a more meaningful life for herself. She still dealt with the realities of pregnancy. That reveal explains why she was a handmaid as well. Handmaids were designated based on women who already carried a successful pregnancy. It's through that pregnancy that Moira met the woman who would become her fiancé. Odette was her doctor. After Moira gave her baby away to the couple, she met Odette while buying wine for Luke and June. They reconnected and it blossomed into a relationship. It's so meaningful and yet so tragic because Moira does get confirmation that Odette was killed. It's so devastating. It's such an effective moment even though this relationship was just seen onscreen for the first time here. That's the power of Samira Wiley's performance.

Some more thoughts:
  • "After" was written by Lynn Renee Maxcy and directed by Kari Skogland.
  • There is so much that June will have to update Emily about on what her life has become since she left. She fell in love with Nick and is now pregnant with his baby. She refused to stone Janine which led to all of the handmaids getting severely punished. She escaped Gilead and was in hiding for months. She was then found and almost lost the baby. And now, she's finding a new way to have her independence once more. That's a lot but Emily has been through a lot too.
  • Moreover, will Emily and Janine experience any ongoing consequences to being in the Colonies for as long as they were? It's a death sentence because of how radioactive the waste is. The audience already saw that Emily was losing teeth because of it. Janine wasn't there as long. She is able to quickly come back to Gilead. But it should be fascinating to see if this has any more consequences for them - especially when it comes to reproducing.
  • Serena Joy may not like having June and Nick in her house. And yet, she sees them as valuable resources when the time comes as well. Nick has the knowledge of how to file these important documents for the commander. Meanwhile, June's time as an editor will prove beneficial to ensure these documents look like they came from the commander and not Serena Joy. This is such a huge risk that could ultimately come back to hurt them if it's revealed. But they are willing to do it as well.
  • Moreover, will Commander Waterford be able to make a full recovery? The extent of his injuries really isn't described in this hour. His body seems intact unlike his fellow commanders. He's bruised and in and out of consciousness. But will he have any side effects to deal with as well? It could be fascinating to see him crippled a little bit. Or that could just make him an even more ruthless commander ready to attack the terrorists who did this.
  • Rebecca Rittenhouse and Samira Wiley have so much chemistry that it helps the audience buy into the immediacy of this couple and its personal impact on present-day Moira. If the viewer recognized Rittenhouse, then they probably could tell she would be playing more than just the doctor in these sequences. But it's such a rewarding story as well that still builds to such tragic devastation.