Wednesday, June 2, 2021

REVIEW: 'The Handmaid's Tale' - June Makes the Other Former Handmaids Confront the Traumas They Endured in 'Testimony'

Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale - Episode 4.08 "Testimony"

June confronts a painful reminder of her Gilead past. Lawrence presents something helpful to Aunt Lydia.

In 2020, the television industry aired 493 scripted shows across numerous outlets. The way people consume content now is different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, it's less necessary to provide ample coverage of each episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site provides 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.

"Testimony" was written by Kira Snyder and directed by Elisabeth Moss

June gets to confront her abusers in court. That's a luxury that not many former handmaids get to have after being welcomed to Canada. And yet, the Waterfords are imprisoned. They are standing trial for the human rights abuses they committed. The international world is still trying to understand everything that happens within Gilead. The intelligence apparatus has some understanding. But they don't know everything. As such, they depend on firsthand accounts. June is a well of information as well. She was at the forefront of so many conflicts. She saw so many different aspects of Gilead society. She was abused over and over again. The Waterfords weren't the only people who committed heinous crimes on her. So many more must be held accountable as well. Now, does that justify the amount of time still spent in Gilead? Not really. Sure, Lawrence helped June in so many ways. He positioned himself as someone different. He was in a leadership position but he didn't follow the ideological doctrine. He had no use for a handmaid. He argues that June is very good at making people like her. That quality inspires others to follow her into conflicts. She is universally seen as being on the right side of history. Anything she deems as necessary must occur because of all the previous times she has been the champion of justice. That power can be distorted too though. When Lawrence makes this observation, he's mostly just trying to convince Lydia to tone things down in order to keep her leadership position. Their interactions also confirm that Janine did survive the blast in Chicago. As such, yet another character has survived a near-fatal outcome. It's way past being ridiculous at this point. The show must have some reason to believe that Janine returning to Gilead will be engaging for the story. And yet, it's hard to buy into that because nothing happening in Gilead is remotely interesting. All the meaningful drama is occurring in Canada. It's all centered around June confronting the Waterfords in court. That is perceived as a crucial turning point. One that will shape public perception of the core conflict. The audience operates with so much information. We have seen and experienced all the brutal moments. June tries her best to offer a clear and concise message to the court. She has prepared her testimony. It's not as raw and visceral as her confrontation with Serena previously. That moment was built around June needing Serena to suffer. That speaks to the truth of what is currently driving June. She wants to reclaim power. And yet, her understanding of the concept has been distorted. As such, she is trying to lead in the same way that people with power in Gilead chose to do so. That means she is hoping sex can deflect from any serious obstacle that arises between her and Luke. She wants to shield him from the truth without having to engage with it herself. Moreover, she forces Emily to confront Aunt Irene, who is directly responsible for her genital mutilation. This story had the potential to be engaging. And yet, Emily's story has been erratically told. The audience has no real gauge as to how well she is doing. That basically means this story serves as a reflection of June's actions instead of having anything to do with Emily. June taking over the group therapy to dictate rage is the point of all of this. The audience sees the basic notes of that being the understood direction. It's baffling to think that anyone could listen to Fred and feel inspired to fight for his cause. The argument he delivers in court is the same one the audience has heard over and over again. The conditions in Gilead are necessary because they reverse the fertility crisis. That has long been the excuse used to condone these depraved actions. Fred and Serena delighted in that. They see themselves validated and redeemed in this new society as well. They are fighting a righteous cause. That makes no sense whatsoever. Is the world seriously being conditioned into making repeated rape acceptable so long as it produces children? That shouldn't be seen as an afterthought. That's exactly what happens here. It's so incredibly frustrating because it seems like the show is no longer putting in the work to explain the themes of the story it's telling. It's all about dragging this conflict out with no real sense of where it's going or what the purpose of it all is. More time could have been spent on June feeling betrayed by Luke because he confided in Mark about the secrets she divulged about Hannah. These parents are willing to do whatever it takes to reunite with their daughter. June accepts that she must be honest with her husband about her last interaction with her. But that moment also could have been used to emphasize June's own mistrust of the government now because that has only led to more pain and suffering in Gilead. Everyone was pushed past their breaking points a long time ago. It should be fascinating to see these characters reunite and reflect on the past while trying to find a way forward. The show is simply stuck in the misery of it all. It champions June's cause when she has clearly been moving towards antihero territory. That's a complicated balance. One that certainly has merits. One that is understandable. But one that is also a betrayal to the friendships that have previously been propped up as being so crucial to keep her stable across the years. That schism is being painfully forced in service of more agonizing torture - as if that's the only way to divide two characters in this world.