WORDS BY LLEWELLYN HORGAN
The penultimate episode of The Handmaid’s Tale begins with June’s newborn child being held, bathed in glowing warm light – and for a second we dare to hope that everything has worked out well for June, that the car turning up at the end of the previous episode was that of a friend, a member of the resistance perhaps – but no, it is quickly revealed that Selena is holding the baby instead, and June is instead pumping her breast milk out with some sinister looking machine in a substantially less cheerful looking room.
Having apparently been rescued by some Good Samaritans some moments after she finished the rather arduous task of giving birth alone, June finds herself once again back in the Waterford household. This is a dark episode, which is permeated by foreboding and doomy sounding strings as background music, with no pop hits in sight. It is also quite a slow paced episode, predominantly dealing with the strained household relationships that have come from June successfully giving birth to a child that she is now not allowed to hold or even really look at.
The baby however seems to know what the script requires of it, and loyally cries whenever it is featured in a scene with Serena, which is frequently. This both makes for interesting tension within the Waterford house and is also very narratively convenient. Sometimes you really can have it all. June is not having a good time, but her and Nick still manages some solid furtive conversations around the house about their newborn child and how its name is actually Holly, which is nice.
In other dark news, a much loved or at least universally tolerated character meets an untimely death by drowning, with her demise illustrating the universal lesson that one should never follow their heart when they find themselves living in a misogynistic dystopia. Something we should all keep in mind in these dark times. Also, I’ll never be able to look at a diving board the same way again.
Although this episode has its share of grim moments, there are also quite a few scenes featuring beats of dark humor. There is quite a funny moment when Aunt Lydia offers June a cupcake, for instance. You’ve got to see it yourself to enjoy the true hilarity of it, but it is early in the episode, so if you are only watching to find the cupcake scene, you at least won’t have to watch for long. Likewise, in a similarly darkly comic subplot, Emily finds herself as a new handmaiden to the man who apparently designed the whole Gilead system. Although he is probably quite evil, he is also quite sarcastic. He gives Emily wine and after asking her how it felt running over a Guardian, she drinks it. Is this the start of a beautiful… friendship? I just don’t know.
Things are not great all around, but the episode ends on a hopeful note with Selena apparently admitting defeat and giving June the baby to nurse. I assume this episode would have to make adopted children and their foster parents feel at least a little bit weird. Anyway, another solid but not remarkable episode of The Handmaid’s Tale that seems to at least some of the time resort to narrative convenience or cliché to keep the plot chugging along. Nonetheless I’m looking forward to the finale next week because the plot is chugging along indeed!