Season 1, Episode 10: Night
Well, this is it, the finale. After a flipping roller coaster of a season, the producers leave us with a jam packed episode to tide us over until next season - whenever that may be. Much to discuss, per usual, so let’s dive in.
KD: I mean, just wow. So many themes that I’m not even sure where to start.
Several quick things: first, the song the children’s choir was singing during the Red Center flashback is Aaron Copeland’s “Tis a Gift To Be Simple”, which is a piece from his “Appalachian Spring” masterwork. The lyrics talk about a life without materiality and how simplicity is the true calling of life. Another concept that Gilead perverted to suit its own gains; simplicity in that world is anti-technology, anti-literacy, anti-freedom, but is “the good old days”.
The way Aunt Lydia describes the physicality of the ceremony as “humbling thyself in the sight of the Lord” actually made me scream out loud. I really don’t want to speak for God, but I feel pretty confident in saying that’s a really incorrect interpretation of God’s intentions with humility.
I would like to spend a little time on the conversation between Serena Joy and the Commander. His rant that she brought his trips to Jezebel’s upon herself made me laugh, to be honest, with how pathetic it was. He tells her that she brought lust back into the house and that’s why he went to Jezebels. LOL, Commander. LOL. Lust was never out of your house, because let’s be real, and even if it was, your wife did not force you to surpass fourteen checkpoints and dress June up so it felt less like rape to you. What a load of garbage, and yet completely typical. In Gilead, nothing is man’s fault as he is the arbiter of God’s will on Earth. Everything, therefore, is the woman’s fault. It’s charming.
EH: Haha, charming is a word for it. The layers of justification the men have created to explain and excuse their behavior is really something. And when you build a society on the premise that the greatest gift is to reproduce, you can always blame the women for their failings (either as barren or a failure to conceive). So he’s got all the twisted ammunition he needs to blame his wife or his handmaid for whatever he deems necessary. *Grumbles into morning tea*
As you can imagine what made me most happy in this episode is when June says, “They shouldn’t have given us uniforms if they didn’t want us to be an army.” I think I probably physically got off the couch and pumped my fist with that one. One of the lessons people fail to realize about the process of collectivization, especially when combined with forced incarceration, is that people can join together and bond over their common experiences. Though I doubt we will see the uprising by the end of this episode, the seeds of Gilead’s destruction are (hopefully) being sown every time a handmaid joins the resistance.
That being said, another method to keep confined people under control is through fear and intimidation. And we already know that the one thing June would give her life for is the protection of her child. So when Serena takes her to see Hannah, my stomach dropped a little. But in the same way that Offred’s continued security is dependent on her ability to carry this child, Serena’s continued security is dependent on her handmaid’s ability to carry this child, their survival is dependent on this pregnancy and their ability to perform their gender roles appropriately. How did you feel watching that scene? I actually do feel sympathetic toward Serena, even though this was a bed of her own making.
KD: There’s being in a bed of your own making and then wallowing around in it. The power play of making June watch as she bonded with Hannah was just… Gilead to its core. She’s willing to break the rules when it works for her (shoving June off on Nick, for example), but can’t allow herself to see June as a human. That is a choice she is making consistently and one I have a really hard time stomaching.
One final theological thing - Aunt Lydia makes the comment that the price of God’s love is high and it must be paid. I had to pause the episode to take a walk after that one; it’s so perverse. Any conversation of a price paid in the Bible is paid for by Jesus (and even that is just about salvation and eternity and nothing about love). We acknowledge payment made on our behalf by living a life of kindness, service, and love to others. If I had to boil all of Gilead’s disgusting theology down to one moment, it would be that one. UGH, I JUST CANNOT WITH THIS. CANNOT.
You know what I can with? The power of women’s voices. The look on June’s face when she opens that packet and surrounds herself with the stories of her sisters had tears down my face. We are communal creatures who draw strength from the stories and truths of others. It was like watching someone recharge, drinking in the hope that she is one of many, instead of one.
EH: And this is why you’re the religious scholar! It’s so interesting to me how we’ve both watched the same show and come away with completely different takeaways. So glad we’re joining forces to tackle this malarkey!
I’ve become a bit more sympathetic to Serena than I was at the start. And no, she cannot see June as a human, she cannot see any of the handmaid’s as equal to her, or the system crumbles. It’s so hard to imagine believing in something so damaging, that you believe you are following your beliefs to hurt another human, but as you have said many times, we have religious and political systems from time immemorial which say otherwise.
We did end the episode on some really powerful notes of resistance from the handmaid’s. I think June realizing what was in that package, and drawing strength from all of those other voices, reminding her that she is not alone, and not everyone will end up like Ofglen 1 or Jeanine, gave her the power to act against Aunt Lydia when they are called to the Death Knell ceremony. You want to talk about the power of the collective, it was such a reminder that we are stronger together (as an army of handmaid’s) than on our own. Taking that authority away from Aunt Lydia, even for a moment, was a rebellion and a show of force.
We quickly learn that there will be consequences for June, obviously, but the sight of her leading all those women down the street knowing that for once they refused to be broken by the system, it was inspiring. Combined with June’s narrative where she stated, “We said no, we refused to do our duty, to kill Jeanine, and for that we will be punished, I have no doubt.” In authoritarian systems of control, refusing to do your duty (as it is defined by the state) is perhaps the largest act of resistance, and I’m so glad we got to see that represented onscreen.
KD: Absolutely. We end the season on a cliffhanger - with Nick imploring June to trust him, and June throwing a knowing smirk at the camera. For those unaware, this is about where the book ends as well. Season 2, therefore, will be completely unknown territory and I, for one, cannot wait to see the stories that get told. I’m rooting for the destruction of Gilead, obviously, but I’m anxious for whatever they’ll give us.
That’s a wrap from us here at Abbey Research, folks, on The Handmaid’s Tale, season one. When Hulu gifts us with season two, make sure to meet us back here for discussions and analysis of all the crazy.