Under the Eye: “Late”

“Late”

We exist in a world where men with machine guns stand on every street corner and watch you. Where women are bound and gagged so they cannot move or speak. June tells us she was asleep when there were “temporary” inconveniences. When the Constitution was “suspended.” When women en masse were denied their jobs and their pay. In a flashback, June and Moira are jogging and getting ugly stares from passersby. Do two women jogging together deserve the incredulous stink-eye? They stop for coffee. June discovers she has no money in her bank account. The barista tells her to come back when she has money. He says, “Fucking sluts, get the fuck out of here,” which is on its face ridiculous and over-the-top in attempting to establish hatred for women. Moira and June? These women do not look like “fucking sluts,” and even if they did, I’m pretty sure the customer service handbook would make a point to advise their employees not to engage people in this manner. The scene is so laughably excessive it doesn’t belong in this show, but if it were true-to-life, someone (let’s say Moira) would be recording this conversation for later posting on Twitter and YouTube. Later, June and her female co-workers are being told they are to be “let go” (a polite word for fired) and to get out. If any of this were recorded and uploaded, I’m sure it would have an effect on the body politic. Creepy Guardians are kind enough to hold doors open for the women and their personal belongings and say, “Under his eye,” as calmly as saying, “Have a nice day.”

“Wanna move ahead but the boss won’t seem to let me, I swear sometimes that man is out to get me”

In the present, people (namely the Martha Rita, and Serena) are being nice to Offred, presumably because they think she might be pregnant. Serena even takes her to see the new baby. This is where I begin to suspect that people never truly change in this world. They can wear masks and pretend to be sheep, but being born a monster makes it difficult to hide that treacherous face. Serena is an object I would never consider for pity, although I do pity her and Commander Fred for their woeful ignorance and maladaption. I don’t pity Serena for her bursts of unwarranted anger and violence against either Offred or Rita. June visits Janine, who teeters on the brink of emotional collapse. She is possessive of her baby, and it is her baby, no matter what any of these ignorant women say. The “pretend” aspect of all of this frustrates me. In another life, Serena could’ve been June’s overbearing boss, and June could tell her to go fuck herself and walk away, but not in this world. This is a world where women are not permitted to read, and they are supposed to pretend that they are unable to read because they are women. June pumps Nick, the driver, for information about Ofglen. Nick is a slug, perhaps well-meaning and distracted, but a slug nonetheless. Another flashback reveals all the money has been moved into men’s accounts; husbands or next-of-kin. This is where we sense Moira’s hostility toward men. She blames Luke for the actions of the terrorists, and in fact, she denies that this is terrorism; that this is what all men want – to control women, to control their lives, and to control their money. As a man, I can tell you that’s bullshit.

“I’m just a girl who can’t say ‘no,’ and I’m in a terrible fix!”

I’ve held back on discussing Aunt Lydia because I view her as nothing more than a lifeless vessel of torture. June is interrogated by an Official while she is poked with a cattle-prod by Lydia. They ask her about Ofglen. They ask if June finds her attractive. If Ofglen ever put the moves on her. If she knew Ofglen was a lesbian. Lydia, out of nothing more than anger, beats June after scripture is quoted back to her, and the only thing that stops the beating is Serena’s intervention, believing Offred to be pregnant. You can imagine the look on her face when she has her period. Now Emily (Ofglen) strikes me as a smart girl. She’s a college professor, for fuck’s sake! Why does she engage in a sexual relationship with a Martha in this climate? Is Emily turned on by housekeepers? Is it an act of defiance? Well, she just got her Martha-girlfriend killed for it, and they make her watch. It is a chilling scene that checks off two strong political talking-points: violence against women, and violence against homosexuals. Emily is then sexually mutilated for her transgression. There is another thoughtless flashback which shows demonstrators in a violent clash with Guardians inappropriately set to the strains of “Heart of Glass.” “Living in the Real World” would’ve been a better choice, but I don’t think the producers listen to much Blondie*. Did the demonstrators think they were making their case against men with machine guns? They are killing people on the streets, unprovoked. What were the protesters hoping to achieve? It’s at this point I start to ask, “Um, why haven’t we left yet? They’re taking our money and curtailing our rights. They opened fire on demonstrators. Is the car gassed up?”

Hang in there, Baby!

Serena arranges to put Offred in a nice bedroom, rather than stay in the “suicide-attic” in which the previous handmaid resided. Offred tells her she’s not pregnant; that she got her period. This infuriates Serena who drags her back to the suicide-attic and throws her on the floor. This is Serena. This is what she is and always will be. In another life, there would be compassion and understanding. Not here. This is a television series that would have to depend considerably upon the concept of “world-building.” That is establishing a world, like a game board, and then putting the players (or pieces) on that board with each new episode accumulating knowledge about that constructed world. The writers ignore the crucial world-building aspect and instead create the players before creating the world, and then expect the audience to play catch-up with their creation. “Late” is the main offender, because the writers believe they are being clever in only letting certain components of that world be revealed at the right time and place, like Lost with it’s frustrating flashback structure that served to mirror current events. We end with a severe close-up of Emily after she is told by Lydia that she won’t want what she cannot have – meaning orgasm from sexual stimulation. She goes from confusion to sadness to anger and finally screaming. Alexis Bledel is truly the unsung hero of this show. Gilmore Girls this is not.

* Where’s Debbie Harry in this world? Good-looking woman, great singer. Is she a Martha in this world? Did she fight the Sons of Jacob? Is she dead? Did she flee to Canada when she saw the troubles? Is she in the Colonies?

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Under the Eye: “Birth Day”

“Birth Day”

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

June distracts herself during the Ceremony by naming off everything she knows about the color blue. We get into a ponderous tradition very quickly with the show about how swiftly the fascism can pierce us so often and with so much aplomb we scarcely realize we’ve been gushing blood until it’s too late. Offred and Ofglen trade stories about their jobs before the “reconstruction.” Offred was an editor, and Ofglen was a college professor. Offred wants to know why Ofglen knows an about an Eye in her house. During this exchange, and as a church is being bulldozed, they witness a minister being brutalized by two Guardians. I forgot to mention the Guardians. They’re the guys with machine guns whom everyone fears. I don’t understand the minister. Why is there a minister walking around like he owns the street? Why are we destroying churches when the property could be put to good use for something else rattling around in the brains of the Sons of Jacob? This is where the efficiency and economy of Gilead escapes me. Driver Nick reveals himself to be the Eye by stupidly telling her to not get too close to Ofglen. He also tells her the Commander wants to see her in his office later that night. The Birthmobile arrives to escort her to pregnant Ofwarren’s (“One-eyed batshit crazy Janine”) delivery.

“Dear God, make me a bird. So I could fly far. Far far away …”

June reflects on her own delivery of her daughter, Hannah. It became such a momentous event that zealots would pray outside hospitals, and lunatics would try to steal babies. The handmaids tell Ofwarren to “breathe,” “hold,” and “exhale” in unison. Given the circumstances of how rare live and healthy birth must be to this world, research and science should have offered choices. They offer choices even now with no such problems existing. Incentives would be offered to those fertile couples to have children. Health insurance would become a device of the past. When no one was looking, a righteous religious fanaticism was building in the people. How this could easily translate into the humiliation, enslavement, and torture of women is anybody’s guess. When you get to talking about the concept of equality to different people, you’re going to get a handful of different philosophies. Some people confuse equality with superiority. Some people confuse equality with convenience and opportunity. Some people will argue that slavery is a state of mind; that if you believe you are enslaved, then you are enslaved. I feel that the people who write and produce the show don’t quite grasp the concepts of freedom, slavery, and equality; that they’re either parroting the current hot topics and trends or they (or some of their more zealous viewers) want to suffer vicariously with the characters they’ve created.

“But I made up my mind, I’m keeping my baby, oh I’m gonna keep my baby…”

This is a bizarre delivery with a Commander’s wife simulating labor pain as Ofwarren experiences it. The mixed message of rape and the joy of childbirth gives the show an uncomfortable distinction. Knowing what we know of the perceived inequality of women, the obvious social messaging at work in the narrative, and the politics at play, The Handmaid’s Tale treads a fine line between leftist and right-wing dogma. All I can imagine is that women have gone mad in a time where their bodies have betrayed them and refused the purchase of a child that would grow inside them. That’s the only explanation I can muster for their advocacy of Gilead. Did they ever intend to enslave themselves in the bargain? This is not the story of men oppressing and brutalizing women for their own sadistic pleasure. This is the story of women willfully and deliberately participating in their own annihilation. These women do not have agency. This second episode is padded to the breaking point before the viewer realizes there were only perhaps two bits and a flashback. June goes down to the Commander’s private office. I realize the show-runners get their jollies off not revealing anything because they want us, the viewers, to be June. I don’t find the Commander frightening or imposing in any way, and I have reason. He plays Scrabble with her and we have to watch the whole game. No wonder the human race is dying off. The next morning, June discovers Ofglen has been arrested as Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” plays. The Breakfast Club this is not.