Wednesday, June 13, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Handmaid's Tale' - The Waterfords are Confronted by Hard Truths While Visiting Canada in 'Smart Power'

Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale - Episode 2.09 "Smart Power"

The Waterfords embark on a diplomatic trip abroad. Serena Joy faces the temptation of life outside Gilead. Luke and Moira grapple with survivor's guilt. Offred seeks support from allies.

This season of The Handmaid's Tale started with all of the characters spread out in many different locations. Yes, the focus was still primarily on Gilead. But the start of the season also had June running off in the hopes of finally becoming free once more, Emily and Janine in the Colonies, and Luke and Moira up in Little America. Over time, the world has started to contract once more. June was eventually discovered and forced back into service in the Waterford house. She almost died because of it too. And now, she has had to find a way to accept what this life is once more. Meanwhile, Emily and Janine were brought back to Gilead to serve as handmaids again after the bombing at the new Red Center. However, Luke and Moira have remained safe up in Little America. Their story has been seen less than the other characters. And yet, it's still just as powerful and significant as everything else that is going on. It presents a world that is so radically different from Gilead in that it is actually normal, free and loving. It's a place that the Canadian government has handed over almost completely to the American refugees fleeing from such an atrocity in their country. It's important to remember that as well. The citizens of Little America are still just guests of the Canadians. They've been allowed to form their own kind of government that reacts to everything happening in the world with the right amount of compassion and love. But it's also been difficult because they can't always provide answers as to what is happening in Gilead. That's what makes it so exciting when Commander Waterford and Serena Joy make a diplomatic trip to Little America. That location is chosen as the meeting place between the leaders of Gilead and Canada. As such, it allows these characters to come together for the first time. It's a bold move that is equally surprising as well.

The hatred for Gilead is so immense throughout the world. Some societies are able to see the benefits of the new life that is being created in Gilead. They can see the hope that this little corner of the world will survive because the leaders in charge actually decided to do something about the infertility crisis. Their response has been horrific in many ways. But some leaders have been able to justify it. The Canadians haven't because Gilead is so oppressive to so many people. They see all of the women as being enslaved in this society. It's more than just the handmaids as well. Their story is the most traumatic and invasive. But the Marthas and wives are just as oppressed as well because they are forced into their own forms of servitude and are punished if they ever speak out of turn. The show just reminded the audience of that last week with Commander Waterford feeling the need to punish Serena Joy for acting outside of her role in the family. He felt the need to do that beating in order to cleanse this family's sins in the eyes of God. And yet, that's such a horrific explanation for such vile behavior. It's clear that Commander Waterford is even more disgusting and horrific since the bombing. He survived. He is only walking with a cane. But that near death experience hasn't gotten him to change his perspective at all. In fact, he is even more forceful now. He sees a world that needs to be controlled because there are so many terrorists out there that want to destroy the utopia that is Gilead. He sees his country as the idyllic symbol for all that is good in the world. He is a pious man listening to God's teachings. That has always been present. And now, it feels more exemplified than ever before. The women of Gilead are terrified of him and what he is capable of doing. He is so sinister and so casual about it as well.

When Commander Waterford arrives in Little America, he shows no interest in looking out the window to see the world that once was. It's essentially like they are stepping back in time to once again be a part of the society they helped destroy. To the Waterfords though, this is the type of freedom that led to the near destruction of the human race. As such, Commander Waterford can't just witness it and yearn for what it was like once more. He doesn't have to do that either because he already has so much freedom in Gilead while being able to indulge in his secret vices too. He has that and Serena Joy doesn't. She has given up so much in order to have a child in this world. She has built her entire life around Commander Waterford. She has made this family with someone who is delusional enough to believe that tourism to Gilead could one day become a boom to its economy. He sees all of the vitriol for the country as nothing more than fake news run amok. He doesn't believe that people have a full understanding of what Gilead is actually about. He sees all of the handmaids as being loyal servants of God instead of those enslaved to bear children. He is completely oblivious to the horrors of the world he has created. Serena Joy is more aware of that. She has yearned for her freedom once more this season. She has always been such a conflicted character. But these recent episodes are really unraveling what she truly wants and if she would ever want to escape from Gilead. She can only become so sympathetic because she has done so much to ensure that this society exists and continues to function. She still ultimately abides by everything that is being said and done in Gilead. She is still loyal to her husband and the family that they are creating together. But there's been more of a pull from the outside world begging to reconnect with her. That has been such a fascinating story. She doesn't buy into the temptation. She is willing to sacrifice her freedom to have a child. But all of that could essentially break her if June is successful in being able to keep her child.

Commander Waterford and Serena Joy are confronted by the hard truth about what's happening in their own household as well. Traveling to Little America means coming face-to-face with Luke and Moira. Those two have such a personal connection to June and want to save her from the horrors of being raped in this society. It's not her choice to be a handmaid. She was forced into that servitude because she could bear a child. And now, Luke feels the need to personally call out this representative from Gilead as being the man actually raping his wife. It's a powerful accusation. One that is absolutely true. Luke can confront the Waterfords with the happy images of what his life and family was like before Gilead came along. He was happy with June and Hannah. Gilead took that from them. He wants to remain seen and heard so that they can't return to their home under the guise of peaceful ignorance. And yet, his outburst doesn't really do much. It doesn't sway the Waterfords from doing anything differently. It just inspires a connection between Nick and Luke. Nick seeks Luke out and hands him the letters from Mayday. He has finally gotten those letters out of Gilead and hopefully to the people who most need to hear those stories. Nick can also give Luke an update on what's going on with June. Sure, he lies and says that he is just a friend to her and her new baby is Commander Waterford's. But it's the story Luke needs to hear right now in order to get some peace and understanding about what's happening in Gilead. The letters also fuel him to take further action. He has a bomb in the form of information. He can expose Gilead's lies about women being grateful for their lack of freedom in this new society. He can share the truth for everyone to see. That's enough for the Canadian government to call off these negotiations completely. But it's not enough to change anything within Commander Waterford. He still sees a despicable country that has no control over its people. And yet, the right to protest is so powerful because it shows just how passionate all of these people are against what Gilead is doing to the world.

It's a freeing moment when Moira is able to say that the Waterfords are officially out of the country. But it's a terrifying moment as well because it means they are right back to traumatizing June. She is still in Gilead with no way out. Right now, she is preparing for a life where she is taken from her baby and given a new assignment. Serena Joy has told her that she will be forced to leave the moment the baby is born. The family has already spent too much time together. It has been very difficult and tense for all involved as well. Serena Joy just wants to focus on the miracle that was produced for her. She doesn't want to worry about whatever the handmaid is doing. June sees no way of escape either. She has tried that multiple times already. She tried to run and was caught. She tried to die and was saved. And now, she's preparing to be absent from another child's life. She has been gone from Hannah for so long now. This new child won't even know her at all. As such, she has to make the preparations to ensure that her child is surrounded by love and kindness. She knows just how cruel and brutal the Waterfords can be. They are both despicable people with twisted views on love and obedience. It was difficult for June to watch as the commander beat his wife for her betrayal. She is able to use that information in order to voice her worries to Aunt Lydia. She has always been condemned whenever she tried to speak her mind to the woman who trained her for this service to begin with. Aunt Lydia has been so destructive for as long as June has known her. And yet, she must confide in her about her worries in the hopes that Aunt Lydia's love for a child will determine her actions no matter what. Children should only belong with the parents who deserve them. That's the mentality this society has always lived by. Just because a handmaid gives birth doesn't mean that child should go to the family she served. That family may be completely abusive. Commander Waterford believes he was in the right to punish Serena Joy. But June sees it in such a horrifying way that only spells further abuse and torture for her child. She is fighting to protect it and ensure that someone is always putting his or her needs above all else. And then, she gets the message about Luke and Moira living together in Little America. That's enough to give her a renewed sense of hope that escape is possible. Her family survived Gilead. She thought they were dead and they returned to her. As such, there is the chance of her being able to flee and have her family again. She just has to take action to make it become a reality.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Smart Power" was written by Dorothy Fortenberry and directed by Jeremy Podeswa.
  • Janine's daughter only survived her mysterious illness because of body contact with her mother. It was a miracle that Gilead was able to celebrate. But now, it has only created a deeper connection between Janine and her daughter. She believes she will continue to be a part of Charlotte's life. And yet, the Putnams have offered no promises that Janine will ever get to see her again. It's just a reality she has created in her head that may become tragic if she's ever confronted with the truth.
  • It's so heartbreaking to watch as Janine is beaten the moment she speaks out of turn when out for her walk with June. The handmaids have gotten a new sense of freedom as of late because they are more open and honest with one another. Those connections have been formed. And yet, they still need to keep up appearances. All it takes is one breakdown from Janine for a tragedy to occur. June wants to comfort her friend and is instead blamed for acting out against the way of the world.
  • June is essentially looking for a godparent for her child. She wants to designate someone as being responsible for the well-being of the child even after she is gone. Of course, it also sees her explaining the concept to multiple people even though Rita and Aunt Lydia know what it is. But it is also able to foster new connections with them. It's real with Rita who understands what June is asking. With Aunt Lydia though, it needs to be a more subtle manipulation.
  • So little is still known about Aunt Lydia's life before Gilead's creation. Perhaps that's for the best because she embodies so much of what Gilead stands for. And yet, all of the other characters have had their lives from before fleshed out. It could be very interesting to see what her life was like. It's clear that she was an extremely pious woman then. But she has experienced heartbreak as well with the death of her niece after just four days alive.
  • A contact from the American government approaches Serena Joy at the bar during her time in Little America. He is able to offer her evidence that proves that the former understanding of the world and the infertility crisis may be completely wrong. He even suggests that scientists are now working on the theory that men are to blame for all of the problems. And yet, that still doesn't change Serena Joy's mind. She is so close to having a child and just needs to push through to the end.