WARNING: Significant spoilers ahead for season 3 of The Handmaid’s Tale and the ending of Game of Thrones. If this matters to you, come back after you’ve caught up.
Ofmatthew deserved better.
There was a definitive moment this past Wednesday when I was staring at my screen with numb fury and thinking, Fuck June. If you watched the episode too, you might have experienced the same almost-but-not-quite-disloyalty I felt when Ofmatthew, who from here on out will be referred to as Natalie, murdered a Guardian and aimed his gun at June. I say “not quite” because this is a June I do not recognize. In the lead-up to season 3, one of the crew – possibly Bruce Miller – stated that June would be radicalized over the course of the season, and that it was necessary to harden her into the person she would need to be to lead the revolution. That person, apparently, is selfish, pigheaded, and cruel.
Don’t get me wrong: a little revolution now and then is a healthy thing, especially in Gilead. If we see nothing else in the ten seasons Bruce Miller has been threatening to inflict on us, I want to see Gilead fall. I want this regime to burn, even if we’re left with nothing but ash. The first two seasons were promising: season 1 primarily focused on adapting the book, which it did excellently, and season 2 was fascinating as well. Season 2 succeeded because even though it was off book, the writers continued to incorporate elements from the book that didn’t make it into season 1, most notably June’s mother and Luke’s first wife. Season 3 on the other hand has gone completely off the rails, to the point that it feels more like Game of Thrones started to feel when it ran out of book material and started to sacrifice story for spectacle. As with Game of Thrones, nothing makes sense. We’re meeting new characters and going through new story arcs, but all the rules from the first two seasons have gone out the window, and a lot of the things I thought I knew – both as a hardcore book fan and a more cautious TV fan – have been turned on their heads. (Why, for instance, has June suddenly become untouchable? Is it because of that weak-ass Nichole video excuse, or is it just because she’s the main character?) I have now officially become one of those people who claw through cast/crew interviews and “Inside the Episode” videos to try to understand the intentions of the writers. This approach sort of worked with the first half of season 3 but it’s apparently not foolproof, because I don’t understand “Unfit.” I don’t really want to watch the episode again, so here’s the general gist of it while I still remember:
June and the other Handmaids, excepting Janine, embark on a joint campaign to destroy Natalie. They are wildly successful. Everyone is somehow surprised when Natalie snaps and tries to shoot up the grocery store. Flashbacks inform us that in the time before, Aunt Lydia was a devout Christian teacher who had an amazing first date with an embarrassing aftermath, which made her angry and bitter. Okay, if you say so.
It would be easy to blame this lack of sense on the absence of book material, but season 2 didn’t suffer from the same problems. If I didn’t know better I’d think season 3 had been taken over by a completely different team who didn’t know the story, because June isn’t fucking learning anything. Her mistakes in the first seasons were forgivable because we were all learning together, but we’re kinda past that now. If she’s going to spearhead this revolution we’ve been promised, she needs to start making smarter decisions, which is something at which she historically has not excelled. In more practical terms, this means she needs to try to get Commander Lawrence on her side instead of sucking up to Fred, who will never help her get out of Gilead. It means she needs to stop dragging other people into trouble on an impulse, without ever once thinking of the potential consequences. It means she needed to try to cultivate a relationship with Natalie.
One of the most frustrating aspects of June’s character is her longstanding habit of shunning women she doesn’t like, then learning too late that they’re actually people too. I was hoping she’d learn something from her experience with Lillie/Ofglen 2, but then she met Natalie and she started doing the same damn thing that she did with Lillie, rebuffing Natalie and abandoning her for secret conversations with Alma. Natalie wasn’t completely hardened: I can’t say I liked her, but she did show signs of a softer side from time to time, especially when she told June she was glad Nichole and Luke were safe in Canada. June could’ve taken this as an opportunity to try to befriend her, but she didn’t. To be completely fair, I have no idea if she would’ve succeeded. I have no idea if a real friendship would’ve changed the decisions Natalie made, or if she still would have acted the same way. We’ll never know now, because the new radicalized June seems utterly intent on burning all her bridges.
STANDARD DISCLAIMER, BECAUSE WE ARE ON THE INTERNET: I know June has good reason to be angry with Natalie. I realize Natalie’s actions led to the execution of Frances, who also deserved far better. June’s bullying cabal does not excuse Natalie’s decisions. I know all that and I still say Natalie deserved better, because The Handmaid’s Tale has done to her what Game of Thrones did to Daenerys Targaryen.
Natalie vs. June
June is angry with Natalie in the wake of Frances’s execution and Hannah’s relocation (episode 7, “Under His Eye”) and sets out to make her life miserable, completely ignoring her own role in this mess. Most of the other handmaids rally around her and gang up on Natalie, relentlessly bullying and isolating her. Though June acknowledges that she pressured Frances into helping her and that she is in fact an indirect factor in Frances’s execution, she doesn’t express anything approaching real remorse until Aunt Lydia points out that June’s actions have harmed Hannah, (1) because her family relocated and (2) because she loved Frances. In a grand twist of irony or hypocrisy or both, part of the reason she’s mad at Natalie is that Natalie has not expressed remorse either. After her testimony, June decides it’s time for revenge and throws Natalie under the bus.
Wow, that was bitchy. Is this what the Handmaids social media team means when they say “Blessed be the fight”? Is this the fight? Are we expected to cheer for June as she sticks it to her fellow Handmaids, who have suffered the same things she has? Is this supposed to be revenge for the death of Frances, inflicted on someone who didn’t actually order Frances’s execution? Somebody please explain this to me, because my numbers aren’t adding up.
After June outs her, Natalie is forced into the center of the circle, and is quickly driven to tears by Aunt Lydia and the other Handmaids. The only one who feels bad for her is Janine, who has a much stronger moral compass than the others. The rest of the episode is a study in the development of mass shooters, interspersed with flashbacks from Aunt Lydia’s past, all of which culminates in Natalie’s attempt to shoot everyone in the aforementioned grocery store before she gets shot herself. I THOUGHT HANDMAIDS WERE SUPPOSED TO BE SACRED AND PROTECTED WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCKING FUCK.
This was about the point where I started thinking Fuck June, because this smile did not amuse me. In the “Inside the Episode” video, Elisabeth Moss says “Unfit” is a real sign of what the Gilead regime can turn someone into, and that’s fair enough, but then Bruce Miller went and said that while it was creepy to watch the main character enjoy so much death and violence, we’re just as satisfied as she is. Uh, no, Bruce. I enjoy watching women taking power for themselves. I do not enjoy watching women getting unceremoniously gaslit and then murdered by shows that should know better. I do not enjoy watching June standing by with that fucking smug little smile while Janine gets beaten in a grocery store. I was so proud of her when she threw herself over Janine to protect her from Aunt Lydia’s completely irrational attack (episode 4, “God Bless the Child”), but apparently she’s decided that Janine doesn’t deserve to be protected anymore. Equally upsetting is the fact that while June somehow found a way to show compassion towards fucking Serena, of all people, she made no such effort with Natalie. You could argue that Serena was potentially useful, being highly placed, or just capable of sending June to either the gallows or the colonies, but you would also have to remember the multiple occasions that June talked back to Serena, cursed her out, or defied her in some other way; and, given the thoughtlessness of many of June’s other actions, long-term strategizing doesn’t seem too likely.
Aunt Lydia vs. The World
This week we were treated to a bit of Aunt Lydia’s backstory, which I never knew we needed and am still not sold on because I honestly don’t give a fuck where she came from. Apparently she started as a family law attorney, then divorced her husband and became a teacher. She then befriended a young mother, Noelle, who was struggling to raise her son, and enjoyed a happy relationship with them until Noelle pushed her into dating again. She went on a date with a coworker and had a great time, then invited him to her house, where he told her that he didn’t want to go too fast because he wasn’t ready to move on from his wife’s death, but he still wanted to see her again. This somehow turned her bitter overnight because, I don’t know, maybe she was embarrassed at how close she got to extramarital sex? In any case, she decided to get revenge by reporting Noelle to child protective services – or maybe she just felt Noelle’s sinfulness had rubbed off on her and was punishing her instead of punishing herself. It’s all ridiculously unclear. The whole backstory makes about as much sense as Hermione turning evil and bitter in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child after Ron fails to fall in love with her. I don’t know which one is more disturbing, Lydia’s decision or the clear parallel between the petty, bitchy revenges exacted by both her and June.
I hope Janine can talk some sense into June next episode, because if I have to watch seven more seasons of June throwing other women under buses and burning whatever bridges she has left I’m going to scream. Actually, I really just need June to stop making stupid-ass decisions. Seriously, what the fuck did she think she would accomplish by dragging Mrs. Lawrence to Hannah’s school? Did she have a plan at all? Was she hoping Commander Lawrence would turn up in his big black car and spirit them all away? THIS IS SO FRUSTRATING.