Wednesday, July 17, 2019

REVIEW: 'The Handmaid's Tale' - June Receives Clarity After Another Brutal Round of Suffering in 'Heroic'

Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale - Episode 3.09 "Heroic"

Confined in a hospital, June's sanity begins to fray. An encounter with Serena Joy forces June to reassess her recent actions.

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.

"Heroic" was written by Lynn Renee Maxcy and directed by Daina Reid

Even in its weakest storytelling moments, this show has always been able to rely on a stellar cast to deliver performances that allow the audience to continue being engaged in the action. At times, that has been a crutch for this show. Whenever it hasn't known what to do, it has simply created a situation in which Elisabeth Moss, Alexis Bledel, Yvonne Strahovski or someone else could simply act to the greatest of their abilities. And yet, this season has emerged as incredibly problematic and erratic because it has truly unraveled just how loose and unfocused the overall narrative has actually become. It's struggled to present a reason for why the audience should still be invested in June's journey. Many viewers were turned off by her decision to stay in Gilead at the conclusion of the second season. And then, the emotional through-line of her character arc this season has been so incredibly murky and hard to follow. She started the year committed to the resistance and wanting to help exploit the underground connections of Gilead. Then, she was consumed with the Waterfords' war of public opinion to have Nichole brought home to them. And then, she was caught in a conflict with Natalie as they tried to exert their beliefs in this heinous and destructive world at each other's peril. It's hard to make much sense out of that character trajectory. June is the beating heart of the show though. Everyone else has moments that start and stop because the supporting ensemble isn't seen in every episode. The show picks and chooses when certain elements are relevant to the proceedings. June has always been the way into this world for the audience. At this point though, it remains difficult for the show to actually shock us with some new facet of life in Gilead. All of this has made for a season that has seen the show straining to prove that it can work on an ongoing basis with this specific premise. June should have gotten out and continued to fight against Gilead. Now, she has mostly just been wandering around cut off from the rest of the world that doesn't share her same desires. It's earnest and understandable why she wants to get to Hannah and set her free at any given moment. She wants a better life for her daughter than this brutal landscape. She sees the future that is just on the horizon with Hannah's transition into puberty. And yet, it takes her awhile to remember the importance of visuals in Gilead. Everyone walks around with a bold declaration of their status in this society. Those colors symbolize something important. The various ceremonies all create a story that makes all of this seem justified in the minds of its tormented and twisted creators. But it also shows the power of the collective. June fights for her independence. Several people have escaped this world and continued to fight for justice for their friends left behind. However, the suffering of everyone in this country has to be recognized as well. It can't just be the fight for one specific person. June has seen it in those terms for such a long time. It has destroyed so much for her. And now, she pledges to do better.

That realization comes after yet another exhaustive torture session for her. It's unlike anything she has experienced previously though. That's what makes this episode stand out in a season that has struggled to make an impression. Aunt Lydia can physically hurt the girls who are disobedient. But that remains just a momentary reaction of pain and disgust. The consequences linger for much longer. And yet, it's also so powerful and unfortunate to see how a body can break down over a long period of time. June was on a path where she too was perfectly fine with subjecting tortured on those she believed deserved it. She wanted Natalie to suffer in the same way that she had. She wanted Serena to be distraught over losing her child. She wants people to feel pain. It's her quest for vengeance. She sees it as a blessing to end Natalie's life when the doctors of Gilead refuse to do so. Natalie's breakdown may have been rushed. But this hour is very effective when it comes to treating her as a woman subjugated to the worst imaginable and who found nothing but vitriol from those who should have supported and loved her no matter what. That shows just how toxic positions of power and perception can become. June saw a woman who was boastful of the success she has had in this world. The greatest commodity was continuously delivered in her favor. She was blessed with several children. She just wasn't treated with compassion when the latest pregnancy had more side effects for her to handle. She was isolated to the point of attacking people and wishing harm on them as well. June was proud to see Natalie become just as angry and spiteful as she was. But that ended in tragedy. And now, it's a prolonged sense of suffering. June presents as the only one who cares about Natalie. She gives her the peace that she deserves in this situation. Everyone else is more concerned about the baby and praying for his safe delivery. June goes insane by spending so much time isolated in this hospital room. She has physical pain that highlights her suffering. The bruises on her knees are extensive. And yet, it's the psychological pain that does the most harm. It makes her feel perfectly rational when it comes to killing several people. She puts her own health at risk just to get a weapon to use for such a moment. In the end though, she is the one with the deepest wound. She fights against this society in a way where she is clinging to whatever may be available to her in the moment. It's monstrous and devastating. She is unable to exert her will onto anyone. It doesn't even matter that she forms a connection with the doctor because of a shared history with her mother. That doesn't mean anything in the long run. She can't get people to change their minds. Instead, her mind changes. She sees this entire experience as Natalie dying in order to give June a new sense of life. She is broken down but she can't give up. She deserves to honor Natalie's memory in this way. She owes it to her to do better and be protective of the innocent people whose lives have been ruined by Gilead. There are so many. She doesn't have a plan of attack. But that declaration gives the show the hook that it has been struggling to find for a long time. Of course, the show has to deliver on it as well. It needs to state immediately how June plans on making Gilead suffer by freeing even more children from this world. An idea isn't enough to make people trust the show and its convictions once more. It needs to actually amount to something significant.