Wednesday, July 10, 2019

REVIEW: 'The Handmaid's Tale' - Aunt Lydia Reflects on the Decisions That Led to Her Powerful Position in 'Unfit'

Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale - Episode 3.08 "Unfit"

June and the rest of the Handmaids shun Ofmatthew, and both are pushed to their limit at the hands of Aunt Lydia. Aunt Lydia reflects on her life and relationships before the rise of Gilead.

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.

"Unfit" was written by Kira Snyder and directed by Mike Barker

Aunt Lydia has always presented as one of the most complex characters in this world. She lords over the handmaids. She commands them to do whatever she wants in order to keep the balance in this precarious society. She ascribes to such a brutal depiction of the Bible and its teachings. It has always created questions about who she was before the creation of this world. The show has withheld those answers from the audience for a long time. She was one of a few characters who have never been seen before Gilead came to be. It allowed the audience to fill in the gaps in our own minds. It also kept us very much in the present as she was abusing the girls in order to keep them in line. She sees the problems that are created when the handmaids try to exert their own power or independence. She understands being a handmaid as the most important job in Gilead. However, she's also subservient to the demands of the commanders and their wives. She is essentially trying to keep everything about this system moving smoothly. And yet, it's been such a destructive transition. Emily killed people. A red center was the target of a bombing. Lydia was then stabbed. And now, she continues to publicly shame the handmaids who are plagued by doubts and fears about the beauty of this new world. She is a woman long exhausted but who continues to see the value of her work. This hour also delves into her backstory for the first time. Lydia has long revered children. She practiced family law before becoming a teacher. She always strived to look out for the best interests of children. It's easy to see the transition to being an aunt. It's even insidious when she gets that title long before Gilead takes possession over it. She believes she has the influence to impact the lives of children. She taught and inspired kids to ask big, important questions. But she was also a woman of deep faith who felt so much guilt and shame for giving into her lustful impulses. She formed a makeshift family with one of her students. She was encouraged to go out with the principal of her school. And yet, all it takes is one misstep for her to become a total monster. The night ended with a kiss and she pushed for a little more. She was ashamed of that and immediately took out her anger on whatever was in her way. That immediately changed the perception about her. She was no longer the loving and caring aunt who helped give her student the care he needed while keeping his family intact. Instead, she tore it apart because his single mother was deemed not worthy under the new laws. That's absolutely horrifying and shows how impersonal all of this can be to Lydia. She was making these kinds of decisions that ripped apart families long before she was given the job to do just that. The creation of Gilead wasn't even the start of these ideas in our society. It's already happening with people using their beliefs to justify horrendous behavior. That was always the case with Lydia. And now, she continues to believe that she knows best in any situation. All of this plays as this hour potentially being her final episode. It's a familiar plot device to introduce a tragic or complicated backstory for a character at the precise moment they are being killed off. There is an intense moment at the hour's end with Ofmatthew pointing a gun at Lydia after she officially breaks. And yet, Ofmatthew is the one who dies not Lydia. That's a little disappointing. It is a significant loss of life. It means there is one less baby in this world. That's the commodity that has always meant so much to Aunt Lydia and Gilead. But it also continues to prove how the show has such reluctance to actually kill off any of its main characters. It plays with these life-or-death stakes but the characters are increasingly seeming immune to all of that. That's a significant problem. One that has sucked the tension out of the entire proceedings. Plus, the effectiveness of the twist here may depend on the audience's understanding of what fuels Ofmatthew into breaking. It shows that June has power as well and enjoys wielding it. The hour points out the parallels between her and Lydia. That too is very dangerous. It ends a life and June enjoys it. That may mean she'll never be able to escape Gilead even if she makes it to Canada or some other country with her family. But the focus and reasoning for why anyone in the audience should be compelled by this story remains all too vague and lifeless.