The first episode of The Handmaid’s Tale debuted on Hulu in the spring of 2017, during the early stages of the administration that would later appoint three of the five Supreme Court justices who would ultimately vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. At the time, its the story of a woman who had been kidnapped and separated from her daughter and her husband and held captive by a couple who raped her repeatedly in the hopes that she would produce a baby — one they would also take from her — got attention for being a frightening and foreboding vision of what the worst-case scenarios for the loss of liberty might look like. In the story, the woman had been kidnapped and separated from her daughter and her husband and held
However, it was also criticized for having some shortcomings, which received more and more attention over the course of the subsequent years. The most evident fact is that its main heroine, June, played by Elisabeth Moss, is a white woman. It also seemed that the majority of the other women being confined in Gilead as handmaids were also white. Those who knew that enslaved women and indigenous women, among others, in the United States and elsewhere have long known about captivity, the forced separation from their children, the loss of autonomy, and the violence of rape in the context of purported “ownership” of or state-sanctioned dominion over other human beings, considered the warning “This could happen here” to be foolish. The show’s failure to take into account race when discussing the subjugation of women and especially the coercive control of their fertility rang profoundly false. Furthermore, referring to the show when bemoaning the loss of bodily autonomy came to stand, at times, for a limited view of what that meant.
In the same way, from the point of view of the plot, the program had some difficulties with being stagnant. For more than three seasons, it centered on June’s three principal goals: to escape, to exact vengeance on her captives, the Waterfords, and to find Hannah, the daughter whom Gilead had taken from June and her husband and put with “parents” who were, in reality, kidnappers. And for a considerable amount of time, it seemed as if June would ceaselessly get close to making progress on those fronts, but then either be prevented from doing so or alter her mind, to the point that it became tedious.
When June decided to leave Gilead at the end of the fourth season, the show underwent what was perhaps the most significant change in viewpoint yet. She made her way to Chicago, and from there she was able to enter Canada legally as a refugee. She was reunited with her husband Luke, her friend Moira (played by Samara Wiley), and her daughter Nicole (the child she had while she was incarcerated and who she had successfully smuggled out earlier in the plot). June provided evidence at the trial of the Waterfords, who had been captured and accused in Canada. This particular scene was both one of the finest and one of the simplest in the series. One of June’s goals was accomplished when she was finally able to regain her independence.
Then, towards the close of the fourth season, she pulled off an even more surprising about-face. She grabbed Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes), who was unprotected and alone in the woods at night, where she and a bunch of other former handmaids beat him to loss. This was accomplished by a combination of her ferocious drive and her knowledge of the appropriate individuals. At least with respect to Fred, vengeance had been served, but Yvonne Strahovski’s character, Serena, remained incarcerated in Canada the whole time.
We get off for the fifth season just after June and her crew had finished off Fred. She has taunted Serena by sending her his finger, but she has also offered evidence of her accusation by doing so. The subsequent issue that arises is a natural one: what kind of consequence will June get for her action? The solution to that issue, which is presented early in the new season, does not provide a level of satisfaction that is totally satisfactory; but, it does enable June’s goals to be narrowed down to a single one that remains: rescuing Hannah from Gilead. Aside from that, she is quite ready to give up and withdraw from the greater conflict in which she is involved.
The trouble with that, as it turns out, is that June is seen by certain women in Gilead, both in the past and in the present, as a leader of a vitally important resistance movement. And despite the fact that she has regained her freedom and exacted her vengeance, other women start to look up to her and question whether or not her struggle has anything in it for anybody else. Because it is only natural for the other ladies to seek vengeance just as much as she did, and they assisted her in achieving her goal. Now, they anticipate that she will act in the same manner, and they are disappointed to find that she is not very interested in doing so. Another lady, a Black woman called Danielle (Natasha Mumba), who took part in Fred’s murder is heard saying, “He was your monster.” Danielle was one of the people who killed Fred. “And we dismantled him in order to serve you. It is now my time to speak.” Can you call yourself a leader if you don’t help others once you’ve achieved your own personal freedom? Do you inspire? What responsibilities does a lady who has been afforded the good fortune to succeed in her own endeavors have for the people who shared her homeland? “She was here for you,” Vicki (Amanda Zhou), who is playing the role of the antagonist, says to June while taking out a revolver and pointing it at her. “Are you here for the purpose of her? Are you here to assist any of us in any way?” In this sequence, June is transitioned from a character who is viewed entirely in her role as a wounded person to a figure who is also seen through the glasses of what she owes to others and whether or not she has ever been genuinely engaged in resisting at all.
In the meanwhile, the show starts to investigate not just Serena’s passive involvement but also her active engagement in the exploitative Gilead system. This season, Strahovski does an excellent job portraying her character, a lady who is always attempting to place herself in an advantageous position for the sake of her own convenience and safety. The show has always acknowledged but is now confronting more fully, the fact that one of the primary dangers that vulnerable women face in any society that oppresses them is, in fact, less vulnerable women who calculate that participation in injustice will work out better for them than resistance. This is something that the show has always acknowledged, but is now confronting more fully. According to this line of reasoning, patriarchy wouldn’t be where it is now without the support of women who see its value.
In several earlier episodes, Serena has played the role of a different sort of victim, one who is in a far better position than June but who is nevertheless a victim of physical assault (like the chopping off of her finger for the sin of questioning authority). But at this point, she is virtually exclusively a figure of danger. Serena has taken Fred’s position as the most prominent symbol of the atrocities inflicted by the Gilead regime. In addition to this, Serena is adamant that June be put to loss, in fact, she is so certain about this that she wants Canada to alter its whole legislative framework on the application of the loss penalty, particularly for this reason. As a result, Serena feels the same way that June does regarding the need to eliminate her adversaries; however, she harbors the secret ambition that she can persuade the state to carry out this mission on her behalf, despite the fact that she is a well-mannered pregnant woman who practices yoga and considers herself to be a person of exceptional significance. Specifically, she would prefer this to the alternative of going on a hunt for her adversary in the woods in order to give them a
In addition, the fifth season continues the investigation of June’s fury, namely her total and utter lack of interest in forgiving, making amends, or getting better. Even though her husband and her closest friend both encourage her to move on, June is overwhelmed not just by the desire to have Hannah back, but also by the anger that Hannah has rightfully earned. The rage that June felt throughout the seasons in which she was held captive served as The Handmaid’s Tale’s protagonist’s fuel, the thing that kept her able to function, and in fact, the thing that stopped her from falling into hopelessness. She etched “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum” into the wood of her chamber when she first arrived at the Waterfords’ home. Although it is not Latin, it conveys the meaning well.) This rage served as a driving force and a means to an end.
However, June’s rage has not subsided despite the fact that she is no longer in Gilead. It seems that it has expanded much farther. She had to be forced by Aunt Lydia to take part in the ceremonial loss of a man with the approval of the state as a penalty for breaching the law; yet, when it came time to murder Fred, she did it with joy and she reveled in the act. It is not so much that she is unable to heal as it is that she believes she is beyond the concept. She finds that those who think that recovery is possible to test her patience, and she takes offense at those who consider it her responsibility to help them. At other times, she thumps with an actual need for blood.
Stories about people who have survived traumatic experiences often center on a depiction of the survivors as sobbing, forlorn, and looking for only calm. At this point, the most audacious thing about The Handmaid’s Tale may be its willingness to explore trauma as a driver of rage that demands retribution and can lead to tunnel vision and the loss of all other purposes in life, rather than a wound that responds reliably to love or that leads inexorably to development.
None of this changes the fact that people have been complaining about the program for some years now. More than anything else, the program is primarily focused on June and Serena’s relationship with each other. It is impossible to transform it into something that it is not. However, its investigation of these two women now includes a more complex dynamic than it did when it first did so. It has evolved into a more in-depth investigation of complicity, focusing not just on the degree to which Serena engages in actual violence and participation but also on the degree to which June engages in resistance that is individual rather than social. Even if the immediate threat is no longer there, the trauma survivor’s eyes still darken with the exact same coiled rage, making their narrative an uncommon one for television.
In addition to this, there is also something more. It seems as if Serena has been cut off from her network of support in Canada, even as the Canadian authorities tighten their grip on her. This is occurring at the same time as they are securing their hold on her. However, at that point, she goes on a supervised visit outside of the prison, and despite the fact that she is still being held in captivity, she learns something. People right there in Canada who are attracted to the Gilead way of life, who are eager to support it and extend it to places where it has not yet taken hold, are lined up down the sidewalk wishing each other well and wishing for it to take root. After all, a repressive system is never as straightforward as the individuals it presents as its primary antagonists. Tentacles and a propensity for expansion are what make it such a terrifying creature.