Wednesday, June 5, 2019

REVIEW: 'The Handmaid's Tale' - Serena Joy Tries to Find Her Passion and Energy Once More in 'Useful'

Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale - Episode 3.03 "Useful"

June navigates a challenging meeting. Serena Joy attempts to recuperate. Lawrence teaches June a hard lesson about the difficult decisions he makes as a Commander.

In 2018, there were 495 scripted shows airing amongst the linear channels and streaming services. The way people are consuming content now is so different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, there is less necessity to provide ample coverage of each specific episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site is making the move to shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the next episode of Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale.

"Useful" was written by Yahlin Chang and directed by Amma Asante

The show has always been interested in exploring themes of power and complicity. Are the people in positions of power within Gilead complicit in everything that this society embodies? Or if people choose to wield a little bit more power within this society does that also make them complicit in the suffering of others? These are powerful questions that the show has always been opaque about. It understands that it's very different for many of these characters. There are some handmaids and resistance fighters who can't sympathize with anyone who has chosen to fall in line with the societal order even if they are helping the overall cause to fight back. And then, there are wives who believe that this is the only way for them to survive. They have to be obedient in order to get the baby they have always wanted. It's all very complicated. It has been an ongoing struggle for June. She has always perceived herself as a smart and capable woman. The show has certainly asked the audience to see her that way as well. And yet, it was very foolish and stupid for her to stay in Gilead at the close of the second season. Lawrence continues to call her out on that as well. He uses that as the prime example of why he treats her differently than Emily. He knows all about their lives before Gilead. He knows what they are capable of contributing to society. He explains that he let Emily escape because she could have a fulfilling and engaging life elsewhere in the world. She shouldn't be condemned to death simply because of the actions she took to survive. With June though, it's an ever-changing dynamic between them. June always pushes back. She sees the humanity in allowing the resistance to flourish in this house. However, Lawrence is so dispassionate about a lot of things. He wields a great deal of power. He has the ability to go anywhere in this society. However, he mostly expects people to come to him and keep him interested. That's what he is most intrigued by in this world. Everyone revers him because they attribute him with the creation of this system. He was the man who outlined Gilead as a potential savior to an existential crisis the world was facing. June views him as having guilt because of the thousands of people who have been killed as a result of his thinking. That's why he helps the people who work for him. And yet, he remains such a difficult person to get a strong understanding of at the moment because his views are constantly shifting. He is mostly just pushing for June to make firm decisions that will give her more power in Gilead while also carrying lethal consequences. He presents her with a choice over which prisoners will survive and become Marthas. She doesn't want to have their blood on her hands at first. She ultimately does make the choice in order to better strengthen the ranks of the resistance within this world. She sees the value in that. It just takes awhile for her to do so. Lawrence is allowing her a great deal of access to his world as a man who makes such crucial decisions. She can use them to her benefit. It's just slow for that to really dawn on her. She can wield that power. She just has to commit to it. The same goes to Serena Joy. She escapes to her mother's following the destruction of her home and family. Her mother doesn't offer comfort or compassion though. Instead, Serena is beaten down once more for failing as a woman who has to support her husband no matter what. She is made to feel guilty for having such a big reaction to the loss of a child who wasn't even hers. Serena only finds compassion and true understanding when she is with June. And yet, that relationship is also very tense. They may understand each other better than anyone else at this moment. However, they have conflicting agendas for this world. Serena doesn't want to lose anything else. She already had a finger removed. June has been punished repeatedly though. She knows how to endure it. She has always survived. That is a freeing thought without completely eliminating the fear. It's just a little too difficult to understand exactly what's going on in Serena's mind. One moment, she is suicidal. She is ready to walk into the ocean to alleviate this pain. But then, she returns. Hopefully, she'll be stronger than before. She shuns Commander Waterford. And yet, it doesn't really feel like the season is really picking up any significant momentum with these explorations of weighty themes.