Do you ever stop for a second and think about the fact that Hulu’s Handmaid’s Tale is doing a pretty startling job reflecting our current reality in the United States of America? Like, it’s a fictional show based around a fictional dystopian world where the men have taken over and forced the women into a life of servitude — where the service is bearing children against their will. While that part hasn’t happened (…yet), there are many, many moments from Season 2 that have hit a little too close to home.
Sure, it can be funny to point at the show and go, “Wow, look at how it’s just like real life.” Sure, it’s an exaggerated version of life, but there’s a lot of truth in it.
Mothers being ripped away from their children and separated, not sure if they’re ever going to be seen again? The government trying to silence free speech, freedom of the press, and a woman’s freedom to choose what to do with her body? A woman being reprimanded for using her voice to speak up? It’d be a crazy coincidence if one of these things happened in the show, just like it’s recently happened in real life. But for all of them to have happened is harder to swallow.
And now, that brings us to the season finale, where everything comes to a head, and not in a good way. In the final moments of the episode it’s revealed that [spoiler] Emily and Baby
Holly Nicole Holly Nicole are on their way to freedom, and while that’s certainly something to celebrate, everything about the rest of the episode is heart-wrenching. More so, because it appears that our three main ladies — June (Elisabeth Moss), Emily (Alexis Bledel), and Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) — finally reclaim a part of themselves that the Men™ have taken away, only to find themselves in dire consequences because of it.
Maybe the most tragic story of all belongs to Serena, who is a woman of importance in Gilead. She’s just had a baby girl, and now this baby girl is going to grow up in Gilead, and since no one can predict the future, how is Serena to know that one day her darling
Holly Nicole won’t be forced to become a Handmaid herself? Conspiring with the other important wives in Gilead, Serena goes before the council of MEN and proposes a pretty simple request: Let’s teach our baby children to read, specifically the Bible. Serena then pulls out a Bible (Eden’s contraband Bible with notes written in it) and reads from it. The other wives in the group did not realize this was going to happen, and some storm out of the chamber as Serena reads. While she thinks she’s gotten her point across and is near ready to pat herself on the back, she’s wrong.
For reading a passage from the Bible to working men, the commanders make the decision to punish Serena and cut off her pinkie finger. It’s a moment that was eerily foreshadowed in the penultimate episode, when Emily reads a passage from her new commander’s papers — he says that the punishment for reading is cutting off a finger, but it used to be a whole hand.
Speaking of Emily, she speaks up not with her words but with her actions. And she does so by seemingly killing (!) Aunt Lydia in a fit of rage. Did she always plan to stab Aunt Lydia? Probably not. Did she really mean to kill her new commander, Lawrence? Probably. But after he passes on doing The Ceremony (aka sex), Emily chills out a bit. That is, until Lydia shows up in her bedroom talking about how Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) thought the ceremony went great, which is obviously a lie. Lydia then makes a snide remark about which part of Emily she had removed (she suggests that it was her voice, and not the genital mutilation that actually took place). Emily then stabs Lydia with the knife she had been hiding and pushes her down the stairs. It’s very much a “you go, girl” moment, but no sooner has Emily done this then she immediately regrets it.
She regrets it even more when Commander Lawrence grabs her and forces her into the car — going where? Who knows, because Emily sure doesn’t. It very much appears that she’s going someplace bad, maybe back to the colonies, and this realization slowly sinks in as Emily breaks down in the backseat. This is what happens when you take charge.
However, Commander Lawrence instead frees her, and yes, we’re all just as confused as Emily. If all she needed to do was kill Aunt Lydia to get to Canada, Emily would have done that like 15 episodes ago. Commander Lawrence’s motives and character are still painfully ambiguous: his wife thinks him a monster for creating the colonies, but he just did the ultimate good by letting Emily escape.
Meanwhile, June is still June, and she’s always going to be the outspoken and stubborn June. She voices her displeasure to Commander Waterford, and in return she gets slapped. June then slaps her commander back, and that is a big no-no. She is 100% going to be punished herself — if she wasn’t whisked away in the night by a bunch of Marthas with baby
Holly Nicole in her arms.
So now, think about the fact that all three of these women spoke up in their own way to try and better their lives (and the lives of their children). All three of them are consequently punished, some more severely than others. But this is a show, and a work of fiction, and something like this with these consequences would never happen in real life.
Except it already has. It’s still happening. Think about every woman who has spoken up during the #MeToo and Time’s Up reckoning, and the backlash they’ve faced for trying to speak the truth. Think about all the women who have fought for gender equality, both in and out of the workplace, and how actions like that have marked them as “difficult,” causing them even more trouble just trying to do their job. Think about the fact that there’s constantly a story in the news about how a girl rejects a guy’s romantic advances, so he turns around and hurts her — and in some cases, even kills her.
The Handmaid’s Tale is supposed to be an extreme exaggeration. But we can look around and see things far worse than what happened to Serena Joy for reading the Bible happening here and now in 2018. We joke that the show is imitating real life, but honestly in some regards, life right now for women is pretty bad, and could still get much worse. By the time Season 3 of Handmaid’s Tale rolls around, will we even be able to watch it?