The Handmaids Tale: Season Two

<<SPOILERS AHEAD>>

I finished watching season two of “The Handmaid’s Tale” last weekend.  For the most part I enjoyed it but it was a bit slow moving in parts.  In other parts it felt like the writers were writing and adding things to the story line in order to fill up time that was already allotted per episode.  And a lot went on in season two.

I read the book and watched seasons one and two so the trials of the handmaids is turning into a blur to me now.  It took me a while to get through season two and I had to check it out from the library twice.  Binge watching shows is a lot of work but I’ve also been very preoccupied with the NBA Playoffs and Finals.  But this is what I recall happening in “The Handmaids Tale:  Season Two”, not necessarily in this order.    SPOILERS AHEAD!

June is captured, imprisoned and brainwashed after being a fugitive while pregnant.  Emily is sent to The Colonies.  Janine is sent to The Colonies.  Moira works as a surrogant mother while in exile in Canada.  A handmaid that had her tongue cut out goes on a suicide bombing mission.  She’s successful.  Nick gets married in a state sanctioned arranged wedding.  Due to the suicide mission there is a shortage of handmaids so Janine and Emily are taken from The Colonies back to the lives of handmaids.  Janine is happy to be back.

colonies

(The writers did a great job transitioning Janine from the novel to the screen.  There wasn’t much to her in the book but she’s a likeable character on the show and she’s tough as nails with a good heart and manages to find the bright side despite her bleak circumstances.  The actress does a wonderful job of playing a long suffering woman who has lost her mind but continues to function in her daily life.)

Janine

Nick’s marriage is a disaster.  His wife Edend finds a new man and the two of them defect from Gilead in the name of love.  They get executed.  June/Offred goes into false labor.  Nick drives Offred/June to an empty house where she is reunited with her daughter and the daughter’s new mother.  The visit was arranged by Commander Waterford without Serena’s knowledge.  June had several flashbacks of her first pregnancy and the birth of Hannah.  Nick gets attacked by guardians and June/Offred is left in the house alone where she gives birth to a girl.

false labor             hannah

Commander Waterford and Serena Joy look for June in the empty house where she saw Hannah.  The couple argues while June listens.  Meanwhile June finds a gun in the house and puts the pair in her cross hairs.  She doesn’t pull the trigger.  The Waterfords leave in frustration because they didn’t find June.  The didn’t really look.  All they did was scream out her name as they stood in the center of an empty mansion.  Nick returns to the house to get June.  His attack was a misunderstanding.  June could have driven off in a car that looked like a Hot Wheels and headed north to freedom but she couldn’t open the garage door.

June finds Eden’s Bible in the house.  Gilead is obsessed with religion but owning a Bible is contraband and reading it is illegal.  Serena leads the wives in a petition to their husbands to make Bible available to citizens.  She is punished by her husband and has two fingers amputated.

Serena is a founding mother of Gilead but begins to lose faith in the nation only after being mutilated by guardians under her husband’s orders.  Oh, and she had the opportunity to escape earlier on in the season but decided to remain loyal to her husband and country.  She met an American politician while on a diplomatic trip to Canada that was willing to help her leave Gilead behind.  While she was in Canada she was stared at and treated with coldness and disdain by Canadians.

June makes another run for it with her baby in her arms with the aid of Martha’s.  They have an Underground Railroad system that guided June through a series of backyards in the neighborhood where she was met by a car that waited for her by the side of a conveniently empty, untraveled city street.  She took way too long to get in the car.  Emily was in the car too.  The escape was planned by Emily’s new commander who is a tough one to figure out.  He’s a compelling character that creates some interest in Season Three.

BIG TIME SPOILER ALERT:

Oh yeah, Emily killed Aunt Lydia!  It was fast and brutal.  That took me all the way out.  I was a bit sad.  Aunt Lydia is a villain but I felt a bit bad for her when she died and I kind of miss her.

June handed her baby off to Emily who misses her son who is in Canada with his other mother and shuts the door.  She’s going back to liberate the handmaids a la Harriet Tubman.  And that’s how the season ends.  (I enjoy dystopian novels.  I’ve noticed everything that happens in all of them has already happened to Black people in America.)

While all of this is going on I’m thinking of more reasons why Gilead would never work and why the plot of this story isn’t feasible.  First of all there are way too many men standing around.  There are a bunch of men standing around all day and they don’t do anything other than watch women.  There is no way that relationships like that of Eden and Isaac wouldn’t be common.  Eden and Isaac seemed to have sweet young love so perhaps that would be rare.  But there would at least be a lot of hanky panky and drama going on.  And the men would literally kill each other or stage their own revolution.  That’s usually what happens when men a bunch of men are bored.

The amount of idle people are problematic in this story in other ways.  What is the GNP of Gilead?  All of their human resources are tied up in enslaving women and there is no money in having babies.  A bunch of men are standing around with guns outside.  A few men drive people around.  A bunch of women are imprisoned in homes and are only let out to go to the store.  Who’s making the money?  What fuels their economy?  Is there a stock market?  I’m not sure the currency of Gilead was ever mentioned.  I think the only currency is the food stamps the marthas and handmaids use at the store.

The United States military is the most well funded in the history of mankind.  This story wants us to believe that a bunch of uptight religious fanatics that dress like Pilgrims overthrew the US government and defeated the American military within three years tops.   And if the Gilead army is so powerful why would these men tolerate a government that regulated sex in such a way? It wouldn’t happen.   I say three years tops because the young actress that plays Hannah looks the same in “The Before” and the scene where she is reunited with her birthmother and children grow and change fast.

What was stopping all those women in The Colonies from rebelling against the overseers and making a run for it?  They had absolutely nothing to lose and the authority figures were far outnumbered.

The most interesting character in season two is young Eden.  Eden is a patriotic daughter of Gilead and she is young enough to not remember “From Before”.  She believes in the values of Gilead and wants to honor God as a dutiful wife and mother.

The problem here is that her state issued husband is in love with the handmaiden that is pregnant with his baby.  Actually that’s not the problem.  Even if there was no June/Offred or baby the marriage would still be a mess because Nick isn’t attracted to Eden in the least.  It’s as if someone sent a kid to come live in his house without talking to him about it first.

eden

Eden followed her heart to the very end.  She never turned away from God or Isaac.  She could have lied and spared her life.  She could have tried to conceive a child with Nick which would have spared her just as pregnancy spared June.  But she remained true to herself to her watery death.

Eden’s death was an honor killing of sorts.  Her father snitched on her.  Side note, Isaac is a jerk.  He had a soft spot for Eden but her life may have had a similar ending regardless.  Isaac was brutal.

eden and isaac

Season Two was OK.  I enjoyed Season One much more because it was more focused.  Season Two was doing too much.  I’m guessing Season Three will be about June liberating the handmaidens and bringing about the downfall of Gilead.  Then the series will end.  It kind of needs to end.

ending

 

The Handmaid’s Tale

Ever since I read “1984” and “Brave New World” in high school I’ve been a fan of dystopian novels.  I love recent effort like “The Hunger Games” and I found the movie “Divergent” to be enjoyable even though the novels weren’t very original.  So the buzz around the Hulu series “The Handmaid’s Tale” caught my interest.

I borrowed the book from the library and I thought it was pretty interesting.  It was a suspenseful story and it inspired a lot of imagination.  The author Margaret Atwood left a lot of loose ends in her book.  She wrote the novel as if we were familiar with the country of Gilead and details did not need to be explained.

I enjoyed the book enough to watch the TV series because I was hoping it would fill in some blanks for me.  In some ways it did.  Since the book leaves a lot to the imagination the writers of the TV series were given a lot of artistic license.  There are several story lines in the show that weren’t in the novel and there were some aspects of the book that were completely left out of the TV show.  But I’m still left with questions about Gilead and the way society is structured.

While reading the book and watching the TV series I wondered what happened to the handmaids once their child bearing years are over.  Are they sent to the colonies?  If so why not stage an uprising?  There isn’t much to loose if you know you will be exiled and sentenced to a work camp or hanged in your mid forties.

In the TV show there were women that worked as domestic workers.  They looked to be in their late 30s or perhaps 40s and were attractive.  It is unclear if that was the next step after being a handmaid.  The book mentioned a social class of women called econowives which may have been the lot in life of these women.  But I thought the econowives were government issued women to low status men.  It was never made clear.

I also didn’t understand who benefited from the social structure of Gilead.  Everyone was miserable and oppressed.  Even the upper class of society suffered under the rules of the theocracy.  Why did they put up with it?  They were all slaves to the system and I saw no beneficiaries.  No one was above corporal punishment or the wall in Gilead.

The social structure that enslaved women of child bearing age didn’t seem to be very fruitful.  Despite all of the child bearing women being in bondage and having intercourse monthly on their fertile days pregnancies were still rare.  The entire exercise seems futile to me because it wasn’t very productive despite the systematic efforts.  It probably would have been better to harvest the eggs of child women and implant them with embryos.

There was no reward for delivering a healthy child.  Once a woman weened the baby that she birthed she just went on to the next post.  Women that delivered babies weren’t even given high status.  You would think that Gilead would offer some sort of motivation such as a respectable husband or her own income and residence at some point.

The book touched on this more than the show did but a lot of men were celibate in Gilead.  Men were issued women by the government based on status.  Low status men were not issued women at all.  It was hard to tell the status levels of the men in the stories.  The driver in the story was low status and the Commander was high.

I don’t know how men ranked in between and at what point they earned a woman.  There is no way all of those grown celibate men wouldn’t cause some sort of social instability.  The social structure of Gilead really wasn’t sustainable.

In the novel Serena Joy Waterford was a lot older than her handmaid Offred.  I got the impression that all of the wives and commanders were older and past prime child bearing years which was their problem.  In the TV show the actresses that play the wives and handmaids are around the same age.  So I don’t really know what was wrong with all the wives?  You would think one of them would have an unplanned pregnancy at some point.  And how did the government of Gilead know they were infertile?

Some of the wives in the movie were quite young and looked to be healthy.  You don’t really know that you can’t have children until you start having unprotected sex.  It was also unclear to me if the wives and husbands had sex with each other or was sexuality taboo outside of “The Ceremony”.  The Waterfords had a very distant and cold relationship.

There was a baby girl born in the story.  Her handmaid mother called her Angela and her adopted mother and father called her Charlotte (or perhaps vice versa).  I’m sympathetic to the handmaid so I will refer to her as Angela.  What did Gilead do with the baby girls that were born and raised in affluent families that had handmaids.  Would these families really turn their daughter over to the government if she was thought to be fertile?  How would they reconcile that with their conscious?

There are just so many questions left.  There are more seasons of the show and Margaret Atwood is working on a sequel to her novel that was published in 1985.  Perhaps my questions will be answered.  But based on the book and the TV program I don’t think Gilead could survive for more than one generation.  There would be a lot of instability and social strife that would cause upheaval.