Wednesday, June 19, 2019

REVIEW: 'The Handmaid's Tale' - June and Serena Hope Their Newfound Power and Agency Actually Lasts in 'Unknown Caller'

Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale - Episode 3.05 "Unknown Caller"

June and Serena grapple with a new revelation about Nichole, leading to an incident that will have far-reaching ramifications.

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.

"Unknown Caller" was written by Marissa Jo Cerar and directed by Colin Watkinson

June and Serena continue to believe they wield power and agency in Gilead. It's a strong coping mechanism for them. Otherwise, they would have to face the bleak realities of all the traumas they endure over and over again in this society. They have to hold onto the appearance that they have some say in what happens in their lives. It's a storytelling device the show has used a number of times as well. It makes the audience also believe that June and Serena have the power and agency to actually dictate their actions in this world. And then, there is the inevitable crushing moment in which the men of Gilead really don't care about how they are feeling in any given moment. That too has become quite a familiar pattern for the show. In this hour, the conflict presents itself because June and Serena have a specific understanding of the fate they want for Nichole. Meanwhile, the leaders of Gilead have a drastically different view. Serena just wants to say goodbye to the daughter she gave away. She doesn't have the strength or conviction to actually leave Gilead herself. But she also understands that Nichole being raised in Canada by Luke is probably better for her. It's a very painful decision she had to make. She wants the opportunity to have a proper goodbye. She gets that as well. She once again travels to Canada. That's a trip filled with temptation. The offer she gets to escape Gilead for good has to be more tempting this time around. And yet, she still returns because Gilead is her home. She can't abandon it. She is ready to say goodbye to Nichole for good and embrace whatever future she may have with Fred. That's where she wants to focus her efforts. She is intrigued by the notion that she could have power behind the scenes. When the leaders of Gilead are meeting to discuss Nichole, Fred actually brings Serena into the room. She is the one who asks questions about Luke and the beliefs he holds. She reaches out with nothing but love. That's what she tries to project. It takes a long time for Luke to see her as a mother who made this huge sacrifice. He doesn't want to view her as someone deserving of his sympathy or compassion. He sees her as the woman torturing his wife because she abides by this brutal system that props up the idea of continually raping women in order to create more babies. Serena sees herself as June's protector. That's not entirely true either. There is a strong bond between June and Serena because they are both grieving the loss of their daughter. June doesn't travel to Canada. She just helps Serena knowing that she'll get something in return. That promise already comes to fruition with her getting to send a message to Luke detailing what she has had to do to survive in Gilead. In that moment, she is essentially saying goodbye to him as well. She is ready to accept a life where she may never leave this tragic world. She wants Luke to know that he shouldn't apologize for anything that happened. She will continue fighting to save Hannah. But he shouldn't keep his life on pause waiting for them either. It's devastating. And then, the show throws the final punch with the reveal that Fred and the other commanders are mounting an official negotiation to get Nichole back. Gilead may not have an extradition treaty with Canada. However, they feel the power of media can actually sway public opinion into doing the right thing. That should create a precarious future for Luke, Moira and Emily as they try to defend their actions and protect Nichole. But it also showcases that June and Serena are still just expected to play their roles in this society and have no opinions on anything whatsoever. That's a message the show has delivered many times before. It just has new diplomatic consequences in this particular story. Plus, the final twist also works to unravel so much of what happened in the hour that preceded it. So, it may not be a natural or fitting conclusion. It just may be what the show thinks it has to do to shock the audience. Getting to that point doesn't really track with the independence that June and Serena were shown earlier. So, that could take the audience out of the proceedings very quickly.