This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
This review contains spoilers.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2, Episode 5
In season one, the chief modes of The Handmaid’s Tale chief were shock and dread. Each new Gilead ritual we witnessed—rape, murder, torture—was scandalous in its brutality and made us anticipate the horror to come. It was hard going as a viewer, but also impossible to look away.
The chief mode of season two, this episode in particular, seems to be misery. “Seeds” turned us all into Artax the horse in The NeverEnding Story, sinking without struggle into the Swamp of Sadness and letting its waters rise up and over our heads. June had checked out, Emily and Janine were in hell, Serena was dying of loneliness (good). It was bleak without pause.
The effect of being mired in such mournfulness was that, by the time June returned to herself and vowed once again to fight Gilead for the sake of her child, her words felt hopeless rather than rousing. Until that heartbeat monitor was heard at the end, there was nothing to suggest we weren’t watching a woman suffer the protracted distress of a miscarriage, in silence and alone. Between that and the events in the Colonies, it was hard to hear yet another promise by June to escape as any less idealistic or naïve than Janine’s faith in her divine protection.
By this point, when you sit down to watch an episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, you do so knowing that it’s a horror movie (or, you know, depending on who you are and where you’re from, a documentary). Distress is a term of the contract accepted in exchange for this drama’s shrewd, visionary perspective.
We need something else into the bargain though. Showrunner Bruce Miller has long promised that this will ultimately be a story about resilience and survivorhood. Thinking positive, an episode like this one was perhaps the nadir on the way towards a more hopeful ending.
It’s hard though, to see how brighter days might come. Gilead’s roots are bedding in now. This week’s mass wedding and its parade of teenage brides (of course the sleazy Sons of Jacob would scour the country to find teens ready to ripen) showed that resistance to the regime is only going to get more difficult. Young women like Eden (Sydney Sweeney) have come of age within Gilead. Give it a few years and the brides to follow her won’t even have the power to read. With dissidence so mercilessly crushed, what hope can there be?
A short scene in Seeds might suggest an answer. All season there have been mutterings about military preparations around the northern border, and a ministerial trip to Canada. At Commander Waterford’s place of work, we heard arrangements being made for receiving emissaries from outside Gilead, more punters to hear the pitch and buy what they’re selling. At the Commander’s suggestion, visitors are to stay in Gilead homes. If Mayday has given up on helping Handmaids after June’s failed escape, could it be working on a new angle?
Anticipating the brightness we’re surely due soon is up to us for now. This episode wasn’t about to provide any of its own hints. There were no flashbacks to freer times, even the uncomfortable but arresting presence of Aunt Lydia was minimised to a few scenes early on. The power tussles in the Waterford household continue, as Lydia and Serena pushed each other underneath the thin mantle of politeness and piety.
Most notable by its absence though, was June’s wry commentary on the goings-on around her. Even if we’re now familiar enough with Elisabeth Moss’ character’s sardonic inner monologue to fill in the gaps ourselves—what she might have made of Mrs Putnam’s difficulties with baby Angela, or Ofzachary’s nose, or the Mooney-style mass wedding to which Nick was subjected—her voice was sorely missed. What June would have had to say about Nick’s child bride and the Prayvaganza will have to wait.
Nick’s wasn’t the only wedding in the episode of course, the Colonies had their own, closely followed by what counts for a funeral there. From the newlyweds’ devotion and grief to Janine’s sunny faith, to Emily’s righteous anger, all with a backdrop of the kind of slavery that not so many decades ago was a reality for a great many people, this episode was suffocating in its sadness.