What a time to be alive!
WORDS BY JULIET LOCHRIN
From a something that initially started off as a politically-motivated social commentary in Season One, we now enter into a critique on contemporary culture in Season Two – the culmination of which took place last night in Episode Eight.
You see, Season One focused on the causative relationship between the political and social spheres as dictated by Atwood’s novel. The radiation after-effects of nuclear bombing left most of society infertile, leading to desperate times where people would turn to any kind of authority in the hopes that they could be saved; the religious autocracy of Gilead not only offered this, but offered it in the form of something familiar (ie. religion and ritual). In turn, the new political regime affected society in ways that we experienced through the eyes of June/Offred in horror.
Season Two, however, deviates from the book (in the sense that there isn’t even a book to base it on in the first place…). This gives the creators much more freedom to incorporate themes explicitly relevant to today’s socio-political climate. We see the relationship between behavioural norms – as instigated by politics – and internalised cultural values, but more poignantly in this episode, we focus on how values of female inferiority shape the identities of the women in Gilead. By placing values entrenched in our own society in an unfamiliar and exaggerated environment, the show highlights our own cultural shortcomings in the context of equality. Notably, as it deals with issues that align with such contemporary debates, it further reinforces the cultural/value changes that have been occurring in the public domain as of late. We are in a time of change, friends, and (WOW!) it is just too exciting to watch how this cultural change manifests in art. Art reflects life, and life reflects art, does it not?
So, we knew from the end of last episode that Serena/Mrs Waterford and June/Offred were involved in illegal collusion to “bend” the law, in order to keep themselves alive while Commander Waterford was in hospital. Unfortunately, they are blessed with his return (and both try to hide their disappointment – Serena almost convincingly so).
But someone else gets an opportunity at self-actualisation, too…
…a woman we don’t know – hooray!
Just kidding. The woman is an unknown Martha, but she was allegedly the best doctor in her field before the Gilead regime took over. Evidently from the Martha’s facial expressions, the experience of being handed work that she so closely related to her identity was overwhelming (I think we sometimes forget how much our behaviour impacts how we think and feel about ourselves). Breaking the law once again, Serena Joy brings in this woman to save a dying baby (which happens to be Charlotte – Janine’s baby), given that all the male doctors are at a loss as to what they should do to help. In a society that can barely procreate, the threat to the baby’s life is the epitome of disaster, and Serena feels compelled to do this... although I think that she secretly found a taste for being in-charge of her own life again and found it opportune that this was something she could have some control over. She even helped (remember to keep this term relative to how much “help” she can/want to give in a place like Gilead) Offred get Janine into the ward – under the supervision of Aunt Lydia – to say her final goodbyes to the baby.
Alas, this had some repercussions.
Commander Waterford isn’t pleased about his wife disobeying him.
So, in view of a Bible that he lays out, and following the most pathetic and insincere “forgive me” I’ve ever heard, he whips his wife with his belt in the name of repentance. And he makes Offred stay and watch.
There was already a sense of solidarity forming between the two female leads of the series – Serena and Offred – after their numerous accounts of illegal activity together, but this (subconsciously) confirmed it, despite the stills pictured above. Offred goes to Mrs Waterford after the display of corporal punishment to offer support, but Serena stifles her weeps to tell the Handmaid to return to her room. Both know that what happened was wrong, but Serena is not yet ready to completely rebel against the regime that she and her husband helped create.
Basically – and this may just be my unfounded hopes talking – Gilead seems to be cracking. And the reason that I say this is particularly because of the last scene (pictured below). To the dismay of everyone earlier in the episode, the Martha was unable to do anything for the dying baby as there didn’t seem to be anything physiologically wrong with her. By the end, though, Charlotte remains alive after being held in her mother’s arms all night.
It is thus inferred that Charlotte must have been ill due to the pain of the mental separation she experienced from her mother. It is now obvious that the system of removing children from their Handmaid mothers cannot work because it biologically doesn’t. And at this point, I don’t see how Gilead will be able to happily maintain its social hierarchy and power dynamics in light of this fact.
Will we see the class system invert itself in the episodes to come?