A Final Goodbye?
WORDS BY THOMASIN MCCUAIG
Throughout Season 2, each episode has explored power: the tyranny of those who have it, the disempowerment of all women and the feeling of hope and hopelessness intertwined. Episode 10 stands out amongst the others as the most horrific episode to date. Gilead is depicted as its most brutal through a number of gut-wrenching scenes that leave the viewer feeling depleted. The episode is so disturbing and ominous that it is hard to watch in one sitting as all aspects of the world of Gilead are heightened, bringing tension to its peak. There are two main features that are explored: the upending of rituals and final goodbyes.
The episode begins with Emily enduring her Commander’s monthly routine, accompanied by June’s voice as she measuredly lists ways to deal with the ritual rape, stating that one must detach themselves and “treat it like a job” in order to cope. For the Handmaids, this is commonplace. For the viewer, it still feels impossible to see the normality in it. By witnessing the Handmaids succumb and accept this routine, the viewer voyeuristically observes the cruelty and immorality on another level. The beginning scene is incredibly hard to watch. However, the mood shifts when the Commander begins to have a heart attack. YES! This scene is important, as it breaks down the ritual as commonplace when Emily upends the rules. The Wife asks Emily to call an ambulance, yet Emily replies, “Chances are better if I lay on my back afterwards” using the ritual against her oppressor.
The upending of rituals is further evident in the birth ceremony sequence. We see a flood of Handmaids entering and placing pillows on the bed, the Marthas are arranging flowers around the house, Serena and the wives are gathered in a separate room together breathing ridiculously with a harp playing in the background, whilst the men stand in Waterford’s office downing whiskey and smoking cigars. Everyone knows their place. Though the ritual is quickly overturned when we realise that it is a false labour. Serena storms in and stares down June, who is sitting on the bed with a smug smile. Did June fake the labour herself? We may never know.
If there was any hope that June and Serena would be able to form a civil relationship – as civil as can be under these circumstances – this episode demolishes it. Often we feel sympathy for Serena yet hate her all over again. Serena insists that June should be induced, and this leads us to the most horrific scene yet. There is a lot of non-consensual sex in The Handmaid’s Tale, however, the performative nature of the ritual and the Handmaids’ behaviour causes us to view each rape scene a little bit differently to other scenes television offers us. The ritual is upended in this case as Serena and the Commander violently rape June in order to help the baby to be born naturally. June’s monologue comes back into play as we gradually see her detach herself, stating in the end, “I’m not here”. June is virtually out of her body; expressionless. One of the most horrifying elements of this scene is the fact that June personally pleas to Serena during the ordeal. Yet, Serena’s merciless and callous response is an unbelievable betrayal.
You cannot help but think that this is the last time we will see June in this house. The episodes title, “The Last Ceremony”, may encompass all aspects of her life in Gilead as there are many instances where it may feel like the last time: the last birth ceremony, the last time the Commander rapes her, the last time she sees her daughter and possibly a final goodbye to Nick. The reunion and goodbye scene between June and her daughter Hannah has got to be the most heart-breaking of the entire series. There is a rawness and realness in this encounter that is so difficult to achieve and palate. Moss’ acting is at its most superb. At first Hannah is hesitant, however, as the conversation ensues, they find their way back to each other. Hannah asks, “Am I ever going to see you again?”, and June responds with a smile stating, “I’m gonna try”. Yes, tears were in the works in this scene.
The Last Ceremony leaves a number of questions unanswered. In the last few minutes, we see guards approaching the house, Nick thrown into a van and a birds-eye view shot of June walking alone in the forest. These events occur in such rapid succession that it is hard to discern what is happening. Is there a bitter-sweet sense of hope in the ending? Did the Commander set Nick and June up by sending the guards to the home? Would the Commander intentionally abandon June considering that he knows it is not his baby? I guess we will have to wait and find out next week.
Favourite quote: “I shouldn’t have expected you to understand. You have no idea what it is like to have a child of your own flesh and blood… and you never will.”