Wednesday, June 6, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Handmaid's Tale' - Serena Joy Tests the Boundaries of Gilead to Help a Baby in 'Women's Work'

Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale - Episode 2.08 "Women's Work"

A sick baby tests Offred and Serena Joy. Janine finally faces Naomi. The Commander struggles to recover from a terrifying ordeal.

Gilead was born out of necessity. A group of people believed it was needed in order to save humanity. They needed to focus on the creation and safety of new life in order to ensure that this world would be around for many more generations. They see a world that has gotten too estranged from God. As such, they need to bring his presence back into their lives. Only then will they be able to emerge from this crisis as a better people. It's important to note though that infertility wasn't the only problem that was plaguing the world. Of the women who actually got pregnant, many experienced complications that eventually caused miscarriages and stillbirths. Of the babies born, many died in the first few months. It's gotten more and more difficult to raise a child in this world. There are no grand reasons for why this plague has spread throughout the world. It's making a difference everywhere. Gilead is just the solution that came up in America with its benefits possibly being spread elsewhere. As such, there is so much value on the creation of the family and the need to protect babies at all costs. Everyone has been looking over June very carefully throughout her pregnancy. They need to ensure that she is doing everything just right in order to deliver a happy and healthy baby to the Waterfords. That needs to be everyone's top priority. This family was rewarded for their faith. And now, even the slightest transgression could be enough to take it away from them. As such, it's a huge risk for June and Serena Joy to constantly be breaking the rules of this new society. But it's them simply doing what they believe is right in order to save a life and keep everything functioning as well as it is suppose to. That may make June complicit in the order and trauma of Gilead. But it's also wrapped up in such a complicated way because of her evolving feelings for and relationship with Serena Joy.

June and Serena Joy decided to break the rules at the end of last week's episode. Serena Joy felt the need to step up and be Fred's voice for awhile so that Gilead didn't fall apart during his recovery. She knew that he would heal and be able to take control of this society once more. She felt comfortable doing this because she has written for him in the past. She is able to forge his signature and decide what he would do in any given situation. She is able to do this job for him. It forces June to genuinely ask if Serena Joy misses working. It's clear that she does. She doesn't get the same joy from knitting. And yet, she also sees it as the necessary sacrifice to make in order to be rewarded with a child. Once she has that baby, she will be able to devote her entire life to it. That's what she wants more than anything else in the world. She may just be doing all of this in order to keep her family happy and functional. It's something that just needs to occur for a short period of time. Serena Joy writes up Commander Waterford's orders while June proofreads and provides notes. They make an effective team. June wonders if they could have been colleagues in another life. It's doubtful because of their beliefs. But it also brings them closer together here. It once again allows June to be welcomed more fully into Serena Joy's life. Serena Joy feels the need to show her appreciation and gratitude for June helping her through this difficult time. It's something June is happy to do because she has missed working as well. And yet, order is quickly restored throughout the house with June, Rita and Eden needing to line up by the front door to welcome Commander Waterford back to the house. He returns with a limp and a cane but no serious injuries. So, he's ready to get back to work just like before. This was just a momentary change for June and Serena Joy. Then, they quickly go back to their former relationship.

However, it's impossible for June and Serena Joy to do so. This honesty in their relationship makes June well-informed when news spreads that baby Angela has gotten sick. The Putnams have never been great parents while Janine has been so obsessed with her daughter who she believes is named Charlotte. The child is sick and no one can figure out why. June is eager to break the rules in order to bring as much peace and help as possible to the situation. She believes that this world should be willing to do absolutely everything in order to save a child. They can't just let it be up to their faith to decide the outcome when there is medicine and doctors in this community that could help her. That doesn't seem fair. It means Serena Joy has to continue breaking the rules. She forges Commander Waterford's signature even when he is back at home and working behind his desk. She has gotten quite skilled at doing so. She is able to do whatever she wants even without his support. He doesn't see the value in signing a temporary release for one of the Marthas to return to her old job as a top child specialist. The doctors at the hospital know who she is and respect the work she did in their field. She can think of tests to run that no one else did. She simply knows more about what might be plaguing Angela right now. Serena Joy goes to June for help deciding how to handle this situation. She chooses to break the law because it's the right thing to do. Yes, it means a woman working. But that's what needs to be done to save a child's life. And Gilead has no problem with Aunt Lydia working and being able to read and write. So why can't this woman use her expertise to save children? Of course, it ultimately proves futile. The tests all come back inconclusive with it seeming likely that Angela will die during the night. No one understands what's happening to her. As such, they need to ready themselves for the tragic ending of her life.

All of this is so traumatic for Janine. She only just returned to Gilead. She believes her life has gotten significantly better. She has escaped the Colonies and landed in a position where the commander isn't so bad. He just wants her for the ceremonies. He doesn't wish to have any other relationship with her. Of course, Emily still rightfully calls it rape. There is nothing about this world that can ever be perceived as good or just. It's warping minds and ruining lives. That forces June to question if she has been doing more harm than good by helping Serena Joy restore order to this place. She saw the value in stopping the senseless murders of so many people. But the job also required a friendship to form. A friendship between two people who have never gotten along before. Emily could easily call June a co-conspirator of this life as well. June is simply doing whatever it takes to survive. She's hoping to get as much freedom from this world as she can. Working gave that to her. Now, it's gone because Commander Waterford is back. And yet, she must rely on these same feelings and connections in order to help Angela through this difficult time. Serena Joy relies on her counsel while June sees the value in having Janine at the hospital. It's a situation that could go wrong any number of ways. Janine could break at any moment. She did try to kill Angela after all. They both managed to survive that though. Janine just wants to love her daughter. The world needs to be open to having her be present as well. This baby needs as much love as it can get right now. It's important that the loving embrace from Janine is the only thing that saves Angela. It's such a miracle. Aunt Lydia praises Janine for helping this baby for the Putnams. Janine sees it as an honest and pure connection with her daughter. She hopes it will lead to more contact. It could be beneficial for the baby after all. But June risked so much to make this happen. Janine is still far away from being in the good graces of this society. This is a nice start especially from someone who wants to be living a pious and faithful life.

And yet, all of this quickly becomes corrupted and abusive. Commander Waterford isn't completely in the dark about what his wife and handmaid have done. He needs them to come to his office so that he can punish them for their actions. For much of the series, Serena Joy has always been presented as the stronger person in this marriage. She's the one with less power in the traditional sense. She helped establish this world and family. But she was the one holding true to the values and understanding the importance of family. Commander Waterford was susceptible to so many sins of the flesh. He seduced the previous Offred to the point that she killed herself. He corrupted June in so many ways as well because he just wanted to be with her. And now, he's exerting his control as the man of the house whose word is final. He doesn't appreciate his wife and handmaid speaking on his behalf. He sees it as such a profound sin for Serena Joy to forge his signature just to get whatever she wanted. He said no to the Martha going to help this baby. He believed Angela's future would be decided by God. He needs to believe in the traditions of this world. He knows that it's going to be an arduous journey for quite some time. But the faithful will be rewarded in the end for their determination and strength. Of course, he only discovers that something is wrong and amiss because Offred isn't in her room. He sees all of the new luxuries his wife has given her. He sees a house that has changed in the time he was away. He's back and needs everyone to know that he's in charge. He punishes Serena Joy by whipping her with his belt. It's such a traumatic scene because it's him trying to get her in line. She doesn't believe she did anything wrong even though she recognizes she broke the law. The violence works on her too. She is immediately back to being the faithful wife to a commander who is cold and distant to June. Commander Waterford shares those same feelings to June when she shows up to apologize as well. But it's important for the show to stay in the moment with Serena Joy to recognize that she is hurting and has such conflicted feelings about all of this. She is willing to sacrifice so much in her pursuit of a baby. That's still all that she wants in this world even though her marriage is far from what it once was.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Women's Work" was written by Nina Fiore & John Herrera and directed by Kari Skogland.
  • Nick has a pretty dark moment as well. He lashes out at Eden the moment that he discovers she has found the secret letters from Mayday he's been holding for June. He's been waiting to send those letters when the time is right. And now, he's worried that something horrible is about to happen to him because Eden believes in the world of Gilead so fiercely. She was raised with these beliefs. But it's still traumatizing to see one of the romantic leads for June be so cruel in this moment with Eden.
  • Eden just wants to create a more loving home for her family. She believes that Nick will have more time to be around her now that Commander Waterford is home from the hospital. He counters in saying that he'll be busier than before because of the commander picking up his regular schedule again. But Eden tries making some cosmetic changes to this apartment above the garage. She wants to make things work even though Nick doesn't wish to be married or going through these motions with her at all.
  • There is also the mystery of whether or not Eden read any of the letters she found in Nick's drawer. He tells her never to go through his things again out of fear that she'll read these letters and report him. Her world would be completely destroyed if she knew the content of these letters. It's hard to get a good read on her right now because she may be willing to make this marriage work while also hiding his secrets without fully understanding them. Or maybe she just didn't read them because it's against the law for women to read and write.
  • June promised both Serena Joy and Aunt Lydia that she would be there for Janine throughout this entire ordeal to help keep her sane and focused. She was risking her life as well to do this for her friend. That's what makes it so interesting that June is completely absent from the moment the next morning where Janine's love has saved her daughter. Instead, she was being yelled at by Commander Waterford.
  • The handmaids seem like they have much more freedom now in their communications with each other. Emily feels perfectly fine just openly calling the ceremonies rape while the handmaids are shopping at the store. Meanwhile, Janine is dropping Star Wars and Alien references while on her walk home with June - who is agonizing over the news regarding Angela.