A strong episode with a brutal climax
When we look back at The Handmaid’s Tale after it’s finished one day, I imagine we’ll view it as an exploration of resolve. June has faced setback after setback after setback in her mission to emancipate her daughter, but never once given up.
June has entered a new era of resistance this season; she’s hardened and more ruthless. This was particularly clear in the opening scene of season 3 episode 7, in which she carried out the handmaid’s role of public executioner with no emotion, simply yanking the rope and walking away. It seems she getting better at compartmentalising the horrors of Gilead, and focusing instead on getting out of it.
That said, her exploitation of Mrs McKenzie’s poor mental health this week was more impulsive than it was considered. It was ultimately abortive too, June not even getting to see Hannah, the only bittersweet joy being the sound of children playing behind the prison-like school wall. I was surprised she didn’t come in for more shit for this stunt from Commander Lawrence than she did.
Lawrence remains a perplexing character. Is he a Machiavellian genius with grand and secret plans, or a doddering fool prone to occasional, opportunistic altruism when guilt wracks him? I suspect we’ll find out before the season’s out, but right now he continues to take more of a backseat in the new episodes than expected.
Emily also went through an emotional transition this week, her post-traumatic shock finally turning into anger as she and Moira protested the Canadian government’s circumspect approach to diplomacy with Gilead. Given both her Harvard background and victim status, I could easily see Emily emerging as an anti-Gilead thought leader in Canada, maybe even a politician. The stage is certainly set for an uprising, as Moira put it: “Canada needs to grow a pair and tell Gilead to go to hell.”
Episode 7 also saw the reunion of disgustingly attractive couple Fred and Serena, at a disgustingly well-lit ball replete with the disgustingly sumptuous production design we’ve come to expect from the show. Their swan-like dance seems to have cemented her position as the hot new couple in D.C., and Fred’s work on getting Nichole returned seems to have put him back in Serena’s good graces. Not for long, however, as Serena will surely learn that her husband’s allowing Nichole’s extradition to stall for political gain. Will this prove the last straw for Serena, who flirts with rebellion but never quite manages to stick with it?
This was a much stronger Handmaid’s Tale episode than last week, benefiting from a return to cutting between sub-plots rather than just sticking in one place for the duration. The climax was brutal as June was forced to carry out the execution of the Martha that had helped her locate Hannah, a look of pure rage on her face. I wanted more from the subsequent confrontation with the handmaid who ratted her out, though. As June dramatically removed her wings I thought we might be in for a thorough beatdown, so June just sort of holding her by the cloak and yelling “what did you do?” felt a little weak.
Getting Martha killed and psychologically injuring Mrs McKenzie is going to weigh heavily on June’s conscience from here on out, and will surely signal a change in approach to her eternal battle with Gilead.