Review: ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ 408: Testimony
Episode 7’s ending, with June bending down into the face of a kneeling Serena, who is outwardly repentant but silently superior—God loves her best, after all—was just what we needed to see. “Do you understand me?” she asks, a tight lid on the rage that boils always beneath the surface. We want to see violence and bloodshed directed towards anyone from Gilead, but June has other things on her agenda.
Episode 8 begins with a scene which is banal in any other context: woman who is now super serious cuts hair in an attempt to show she is serious. We’ve seen it before, but with June, it’s different. It’s a reminder not to us, but to the character: remember why you’re here. Focus.
The only concern I have with the way the season is going is that Fred, male representative of all that is Gilead, has taken a step back and has been replaced by Serena as the absolute guiltiest and most disgusting character on the show. Why is this happening? Throughout the episode, Fred is emasculated, clearly manipulated by Serena, and presented as a delusional defendant in court. Fred, if not the supreme dum-dum who started Gilead, was at least in the clown car with them. Why do I see hints of him becoming a background character? We want to see our pound of flesh taken out of him, literally.
We may be screaming for blood, but June knows what’s needed. We are reactionary; she is incendiary. And she’s there to wake people up. Group therapy in the library ends with June asking Moira why the others aren’t more angry. “How do you know they’re not?” replies Moira, whose quiet but clear-sighted take on events throughout the series has saved more than one psyche.
June, in an attempt to force her friends to deal with the trauma of being a handmaid, brings one of the former Aunts to the next group session. June encourages Emily to confront the woman who ratted her out to the authorities, resulting in Emily’s mutilation, but she turns on June instead. “We’re not all like you,” she says. So June becomes a stand-in for her friend. As the Aunt asks for forgiveness, June confronts her.
“Why the fuck do you think you deserve forgiveness?”
“We are all God’s children,” she sobs.
“Bullshit,” responds June. “You people hide behind God every time it serves you.”
It’s an echo of her conversation with Serena in prison. Serena insists God brought June to her, but June corrects her. “I brought myself here.” There is no reliance on the supernatural. When you get rid of God, there is no place for these people to hide.
Emily leaves the therapy session without confrontation. At first, it seems June has lost the battle, but she has lit a spark. It turns out Emily went to the woman’s house, but was too late – she had already hanged herself.
When the women meet again, Emily admits she felt happy to see the former Aunt dead. Women start to open up about the violent acts of retribution they would like to deliver to their former captors. Has June commandeered the therapy session to include what she feels is most important? Of course, she has. Moira steps in to remind the women that anger is great, but isn’t everything. June presses her. “Why does healing have to be the only goal? Why can’t we BE as furious as we FEEL? Do we have that right?”
And here the scene bleeds into our present-day experiences, as women have been demanding the world allow truth and rage and justice to have their day. And this is why you can’t just pick up a few episodes of this series before dashing off to a lighthearted romp in the park. It gets into your psyche and reminds you that the battles these women are fighting are not unheard of in our own world, as much as that repulses us. June lights a tiny fire in all of us, every week.
The episode ends with Fred and Serena traveling to the courthouse while we hear a loud crowd outside. Protesters, obviously. They step outside to be greeted by cheers from supporters, those who have gathered to shower the golden couple with blessings. WTF. Fred is smug; of course, they are supporting him, it was only a matter of time before they realized how great and wise he is. Serena, however, is troubled. She’s smarter than Fred, and she knows once you create blind and adoring followers, you can’t always lead them where you want them to go.