Wednesday, June 20, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Handmaid's Tale' - June Gets a Painful Reminder of Just How Cruel the Waterfords Can Be in 'The Last Ceremony'

Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale - Episode 2.10 "The Last Ceremony"

A frustrated Serena Joy becomes desperate. The Commander tries to make amends with Offred. Nick pushes Eden farther away. Offred is faced with an unexpected reunion.

Ceremonies have always been so important throughout Gilead. The people need to show the world at large and God that their faith is pure. They need to make sense of these complicated circumstances by proving that they all stand united in their belief and will be rewarded with new and happy babies. Of course, the symbolism has always been so absolutely horrifying as well. Early on, it was brutal to watch the moments where the Commanders would sleep with the handmaids while their wives held them down. It was also so destructive to see all of the motions that go into the time when a baby is about to be born and the wives pretend they are the ones actually giving birth. The show has had to embrace different ceremonies in its second season because June was pregnant. She no longer had to go through those rituals every month in the hopes of being filled with new life. But there was still so many twisted ceremonies that proved that Gilead was destructive in every walk of life. Nick's wedding just showed that women are nothing more than a symbol in this society. They are the bodies with which new life is created and formed. They are the people who care for children while the men go to work and get to change the world. Those are the traditional views of this place. It's been so oppressive. It has been enough to crush nearly everyone's spirit. There have even been times where Serena Joy has questioned her devotion to Gilead and all that she has had to give up for it. The reward would be a healthy baby. Everything would be worth it the moment that the baby comes. She wants to be here for the birth of her child. She feared traveling to Canada because it was so close to the due date. And now, "The Last Ceremony" starts with it seeming like the time has finally arrived for June to give birth. June has decided to fight back and try to protect and keep her baby even though the Waterfords want her out of the house the moment that it is born. But that's more difficult to do when time is running out for her and her immediate place in this world. Time seems to be up in the early going here.

"The Last Ceremony" sets the stage for the audience to be reminded just how brutal the ceremonies of Gilead can be. When Janine returned to this district, she praised her new posting and how her new Commander didn't want any kind of relationship with her beyond the ceremonies. It was a freeing experience that was her reward for doing so much good work in the world. Emily still rightfully saw it as rape. Just because the man is kind and doesn't abuse Janine elsewhere doesn't justify his actions in carrying out the ceremonies of Gilead. Emily has been so depressed ever since she has returned to Gilead. She made her peace with dying in the Colonies. There she could at least do some good to help people survive by showing them kindness and humanity. She was there to protect people who needed it the most and hurt those who actually supported Gilead. Emily doesn't understand anyone who could be an ally to this cruel and vicious society. Things have been more complex than that for June though. She has had to work and help Gilead thrive in order to remain useful in her posting. It allowed her to form a new relationship with Serena Joy. She became more than just the wife of the commander. She was a colleague. She was still an abusive and demanding person who never let herself truly reveal her personal emotions. But there was more of a connection there. As such, the argument could be made that June herself has been complicit in making this society functional. She did so out of self-preservation. And now, she has been rewarded with the information that it is possible to escape. She was broken after her previous attempt to run ended in disaster. But now, she has new hope knowing that Moira managed to make it to Canada. Emily may not know who Moira is. As such, this news may not be comforting to her. But it should serve as reason enough for the handmaids to believe there is the potential of escaping this world and being treated as loving and respected human beings once again.

It's also understandable why it's so difficult to feel that kind of hope right now. Emily is still being continually raped. Her body is shutting down in that moment. She is nothing more than a dead body who isn't even engaging with the process. This is absolutely horrifying and traumatizing. She shows no compassion or sympathy once her Commander seemingly dies from a heart attack after having sex with her. The rumors start spreading throughout Gilead that only further serves to isolate her. Janine and June are really the only friends she has left in this world. And yet, she no longer feels the connection with them that she once did. The only time she ever truly comes alive again is when she gets to stomp on the Commander's privates as soon as he's dead. That's her taking vengeance against the man who has chosen to abuse and violate her. And then, June's talk of hope is short-lived because she quickly goes into labor. It becomes this big deal where everyone rushes into action. The handmaids gather in the room to pray over June to ensure that the baby is delivered safely. The wives gather around Serena Joy to mimic the same actions and prepare for the new arrival. And then, the Commanders are downstairs enjoying cigars and congratulate Waterford on the miracle that is happening elsewhere in the house. It's a joyous occasion for all. One that proves that the Waterfords are a true family that is now validated in the eyes of Gilead. As such, Commander Waterford can receive even more importance moving forward. He has always been a leader. But now, he can be trusted because he abides by all of the rules. That's what makes it so shocking when Aunt Lydia interrupts the wives to tell Serena Joy that it's a false alarm. June has not gone into labor just yet. She was just experiencing practice contractions to get her body ready for the delivery in another week or two.

That's such devastating news for the Waterfords. They were expecting this miracle to be in their homes now. They would finally be able to get rid of June from their lives. They could be a perfect and happy family together. All of their hard work would finally pay off. Instead, their handmaid is apparently torturing them by making them get so wound up only to get nothing in the end. That's their perspective when they plan for how to make the baby come as soon as possible. But that only further showcases the monstrosity of the two of them as a couple. Serena Joy has been willing to compromise herself in so many ways in her pursuit of a child. She is expecting June to deliver. But now, she has gotten more and more desperate. She can no longer stand having June in the house. As such, they are going to force labor into happening by once again carrying out one of the ceremonies. It's such a destructive and traumatizing reveal. When June went into false labor, she was relieved at the idea of never having to be in that room again. And now, she is tricked into going in there and once again being treated as nothing more than a handmaid who must have sex with her commander. It's a part of this life that she thought she had escaped from. She believed she would never have to endure this again with the Waterfords. She didn't believe that Serena Joy could hold her down and watch her experience that pain because of the harm it could have on the child. As such, it's such a visceral reaction watching as June squirms and tries to break free. The Waterfords are teaming up to overpower here and it's so absolutely soul-crushing and heartbreaking. It's a powerful remainder that these two are villainous because they condone this behavior not just to June but to every woman who can get pregnant in Gilead. June just goes absolutely limp afterwards as well. It's more traumatizing than the experience has been in a long time. This is the most painful and destructive ceremony she has ever been a part of. It has the potential to completely change her personality as she is at risk of once again shutting down completely by this betrayal and violation.

As such, there is little reason for June to hope. The Waterfords want this baby and will do anything to June in order to get it. They will continue to abuse her until this child is born. They will give her just enough freedom to believe that she has a good life. Then, they will take it all away from her. Of course, June knows secrets about both of the Waterfords as well. She knows that this baby isn't the Commander's. It's Nick's. Serena Joy was complicit in that conception. She knows the true lineage of this child. She knows that her husband can't perform according to his primal functions. June also knows that the Commander has been unfaithful and has been a frequent guest of Jezebel's. She could use this information to turn the Waterfords against each other. But that would only create more chaos and destruction. That wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. Right now, she has to be willing to try anything. She can appeal to their humanity and sense of human connection. But at the end of the day, they are only motivated by selfish interests. That's what makes it so surprising when the Commander actually grants June's request to see Hannah again. It has been ten episodes since June last saw her daughter. All she got that time was a brief glimpse of her child fully immersed in the world of Gilead not knowing what was happening to her. And now, she believes she will never see her or this new baby ever again. She will simply be shipped away to a new distinct and a new family who won't be as compassionate as the Waterfords were in a few fleeting moments. As such, it's so moving to see June actually interact with Hannah again. There's the heartbreaking moment at the top of that story where it seems like Hannah has completely forgotten her mother and just moved on and accepted her new family. That's Emily's worry as well. She believes there's no way that her son remembers her and wants her as his mother. As such, it feels destructive for June to possibly lose the one connection she has been fighting so passionately for. And yet, Hannah does open up and that connection is able to flow smoothly once more. That's what makes it painful when the two of them have to be ripped away from each other after just a ten minute visit. This is very much inappropriate and forbidden. It's a risk for Nick to take June to this abandon building. It's a risk for Hannah's Martha and Eye to bring her here as well. But it's a risk that has such a moving reward because it's the family getting to see each other and actually acknowledge that that love will always be present no matter what. Even when they are apart, that love will still thrive.

That's what makes it so curious that June finds herself all alone in this world after all of this takes place as well. Hannah is able to get out from this meeting completely unharmed. Her Eye and Martha are keeping a close watch over her and know that it's time to leave. They can't risk getting caught out here. Nick is perhaps too compromised for his feelings for June to know that they should leave as soon as possible as well. All it takes is one van of soldiers to roll up and start asking questions. This doesn't look good. It looks like a member of the Eye is trying to help a handmaid escape. And yet, June is able to successfully hide in this abandoned house. Nick is the one caught outside. Now, Nick isn't a perfect man. In fact, he's quite cruel in this world as well because he's making Eden extremely paranoid and confused about what she's feeling. And yet, June still has feelings for him that she wants to see as genuine. As such, it's still shocking when he is taken from her. She is left behind in this house. Now, this could afford her another chance to run away. She could escape from Gilead just like Moira did. June spent the first part of this season on the run. Even with help from Mayday, she still got caught and was forced back into the Waterford house as the handmaid who would deliver unto them a baby. And now, she has the potential to make an escape by herself. June was able to get so far on foot the first time around. Moira escaped without relying on the assistance of anyone in the resistance. But Moira had some significant advantages as well like a functioning vehicle. Meanwhile, June has the added complication of being nine months pregnant. She is suppose to give birth at any moment now. Instead, she will once again be labeled as the handmaid who has run away. As such, she will be deemed as destructive to this world and sentenced to life in the Colonies. And so, that sets the stage perfectly for the lead-up to the finale where anything can happen as June must make a new path for herself. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Last Ceremony" was written by Yahlin Chang and directed by Jeremy Podeswa.
  • The romance between Eden and Isaac is a sudden and forced dynamic. Isaac was only introduced last week to serve as protection at the house while the Waterfords and Nick traveled to Canada. And yet, the two of them shared their glances. So now, it's a connection that they are continuing to explore. She's just a young girl in love for the first time. It's exciting for her even though it contradicts what she is suppose to be doing as a wife.
  • As such, Eden is furious at Nick for not punishing her for betraying him. She has succumbed to sins of the flesh. She has had thoughts for a man who wasn't her husband. Nick caught her as well. He doesn't care though. She wants him to care about something though. She just sees him as being more interested in June. She accuses him of such and he denies it. And yet, that's going to be one powerful accusation that could doom both of them moving forward.
  • The current set of Commanders was decided based on those who helped lead the movement to create Gilead in the first place. Moving forward though, men will only be promoted to that rank once they have proven themselves loyal and committed to this way of life. As such, the promotion only comes after they get a wife or a handmaid pregnant. All of this is introduced after an officer gets that promotion without the need for a handmaid. His wife has already proven to be fertile.
  • Of course, handmaids appear to be all that the commanders are talking about when they are gathered as well. An older one has such a disgusting moment in talking about how his current one is aging out of the arrangement which means he will soon be given a younger version. Meanwhile, everyone is basically jealous at the new commander for not needing a handmaid like the rest of them do. He was able to do what they couldn't.
  • Even if June is able to successfully escape from Gilead and keep this baby, will she be able to abandon her friends and daughter in this society? That's the decision that Luke and Moira had to make. It's the reality that June thought she had to accept when she made her first attempt this season. But now, she has seen just how more tragic and depressing this world has gotten for Hannah, Emily and Janine. So, she may want to return to try and save them too. Those friendships mean something to her after all.