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Musings #40: Rage Against June — Season 3 Episode 8 Unfit (#amwriting #handmaidstale))

Here Be Spoilers.

 

I still maintain that the writer’s of the handmaid’s tale are making June easy to hate on purpose. And I’m freakin’ excited about it.

The rage of watchers who are angry that June (a victim of constant, unrelenting systemic emotional abuse that has gone on for at least five years) is reveling in power and taking pleasure in inflicting misery is growing.

The point is, I think, being lost.

The audience is being encouraged to engage in the particicution of June.

The audience is being encouraged to engage in the particicution of June. Why this rage? Because she gets away with too much, because she deserves punishment, because she’s a homewrecker, because she’s selfish, because she’s made decisions that contributed to the deaths of several people, because Janine gets crapped on, because Emily is a better person…etc.

Is the audience feeling itchy to beat June themselves and will they clap with glee if they finally get to see June lose an eye, tongue, clitoris, hand, or just get lashed or burned within an inch of her life? Who do they hate more? Fred, Serena, Lydia, or June?

Whenever that camera pans on June’s face (and I know that pisses people off), I can’t help but think: They are breaking the fourth wall! June is “speaking” directly to the audience!

Oh, I hope it’s true!

June Is Not Behaving as a Likable Person.

No, she isn’t. She is behaving exactly like a person who has been enslaved and tortured.

Even the Blue Brigade is coming undone. That ritual of the mock labor pains and the mock giving birth is insane and does mess with the head. That Wife went mental and then later we find out that they don’t want Ofandy back. This clearly shows that the handmaids are seen as nothing. Their failure is their fault. In the same way Serena abused June after she started her period even knowing her husband was sterile, Ofandy was kicked for something she had no control over. Gillead has created some very volatile people in the wives by taking away everything and promising what they problably might never have.

There is a movie I have recently seen (don’t watch it if you can be triggered, I couldn’t watch it without fast forwarding) about the true-life story of a trafficked prostitute, we’ll call her Jane, who was nearing the end of her “debt repayment” and was put in charge of a new recruit. When the new, very young girl said it was too hard, Jane told her to suck it up. When the recruit couldn’t pay her full weekly requirement, Jane was put on the hook and was pissed. The Madam called all the women “her girls”. When the girl begged the Madam to let her go and do something else, every single woman beholden to the Madam stood by and watched as the Madam ordered her henchmen to rape the girl right there as punishment.

Jane’s rationale:  My debt is almost done and I don’t need any trouble. Why should I help you and get in trouble? No one did for me. I can’t help you.

When she had an opportunity to inform on the Madam via government officials, she asked for protection and compensation for her daughter (whom she was paying to have stay in another home and go to school).  They couldn’t guarantee her anything, not even protection from deportation. She chose to walk away. She got deported and had to sell herself back into the system to return.

Despite the fact that they outnumbered the Madam and her two goons, no one wanted to take a risk for their own reasons. They tried to get on with their lives and reach the next check point. Everyone was out for themselves. There were snitches among them, too. There were favorites. And can we blame them?

They had to survive. Like June and the other handmaids are surviving. Everyone of them is coping in some way.

No abuse senario in The Handmaid’s Tale hasn’t happened somewhere.

 

How Can June Be Happy and Smug About Death?

In Gilead, death is always there right in front of you. Viewers see the handmaid’s pain once a week.  The handmaid’s deal with fresh abuses every single day of their lives without very little reprieve. They are beginning to cling to ritual because in those moments they get a breather.

A death can bring a sense of relief:  It wasn’t me. They were better off. They deserved it.

The people of Gilead are numb to death and dead bodies. Every day there is either a shooting, a disappearance, or a hanging. There is so much you can take of that before the shock begins to not have the same effect, especially when you have nothing to lose.  Hannah was the only leverage against June and the only hope driving her. Without that there is only pain.

A June who loves and cares about people can be easily manipulated and emotionally gutted. Aunt Lydia, Fred, and Serena have all exploited this before.

1. Serena takes June to see her daughter for the first time and threatens her.
2. Fred allows June to meet with Hannah as an “after rape gift” (this prompts June to renew her promise to Hannah that she will try to save her and this is why she stays in Gilead).
3. Fred dangles Hannah as bait when he propositions June to try for a boy.
4. Aunt Lydia uses Hannah to try and guilt June in the shaming circle in this episode
5. Serena punishes June for having the audacity to ask to see her daughter

All of this, on top of all the horrible things that have been done to June even when she was trying her damnedest to play nice and to become Offred at Aunt Lydia’s urging after showing June what happens to nice people (the couple that helped her try to escape) and how it is all her fault. June ends up crumbling and telling herself “my fault my fault my fault”.

She pulls herself out of that and fails time and again.

How many fucks is June supposed to give at this point of Season 3?

 

June Hasn’t Been Punished Enough: Plot Armor!

Let’s ignore the sadistic, vindictive nature of that Gileadean statement for the moment.

The narrators of a story tend to have a certain amount of protections because they are telling the story. Literally, they survived to tell the tale. Often survivors of true-life tales tend to have a fair amount of luck or fortunate circumstances work in their favor. They aren’t special in the general sense.

I will say again, that for the purposes of the handmaid’s story, I believe the writers are giving June more leeway to make the audience pissed off at the unfairness of it all.

And it’s working!

The argument is that June isn’t punished enough compared to other Handmaids. Janine lost an eye, Emily lost her genitals, Ofglen#2 lost her tongue. We’ve seen fingers and hands missing. Burns and mutilations. Rape isn’t enough since they are all subject to that, and so to: beatings, shaming, emotional torture, psychological torture, child separation, forced pregnancy, and forced participation in murder. Why is June getting off so easy?

Why indeed.

As Aunt Lydia says in this episode, “Why the lord sees fit to bless someone like Ofjoseph (June) with two healthy babies and not someone so sweet like Ofandy, I don’t understand.”

It doesn’t make any sense. There is no reason why June is favored, but it sure does pull on those inner judgment strings. Giladean logic is that the pious get rewarded by God and sinners are punished. Yet, we’ve seen that it doesn’t work that way.

So, get into that shaming circle, audience, and make sure June knows how lucky and undeserving she is just like a true Giladean recruit.

June Didn’t Look Guilty Enough in the Shaming Circle

June is already carrying around a lot of guilt for things. Decisions she didn’t make, not taking action soon enough, for her mother, for losing Hannah more than once, for trusting Serena, for the Martha she couldn’t help, for the family that helped her, for loving Nick, for loving Luke, for giving up, for not giving up…

June’s self-imposed list is longer than anyone else’s. Why does she continuously need to show that emotion, especially in a place that will use it against you?  If June wields that power and owns it, Aunt Lydia will have a hard time playing manipulation games with her brainwashing rituals.

If a person is not afraid to die, then death has no power over them.
If a person is emotionally numb, then emotional manipulation cannot take a grip.
If a person has no care for their own well being, threats of amputation and mutilation fail.
If a person has nothing left to live for, what power can be held over them?

Remember, Ofwyatt? She was the pregnant handmaid who failed to successfully kill herself and was chained to a bed for her continued defiance. She’s probably dead, if she wasn’t broken beyond all repair. Though, with the gutteral way she growled, she likely opted to die. Was she supposed to  feel guilt for wanting to kill herself?

So June sitting with her smarmy posture in the shaming circle is reminiscent of how Janine used to behave, only June pulled it back. Aunt Lydia did push on a bruise with her use of Hannah to guilt trip, and June let it pang a little bit. In the scene, June pulls it back and recovers so quickly that you know she was playing at being more hurt than she was. She let Aunt Lydia win. She’s testing what she knows about Aunt Lydia and using that power to deflect it to Ofmatthew.

Was that a shitty move? Yes.
Was it a necessary power play? Yes!

True that June is letting her anger get away from her. Considering all she’s been through and the level of betrayal Ofmatthew engaged in and the influx of pleasure she’s getting from hurting those who have hurt her — it is necessary to hit the bottom of the sewer.

Was that attitude toward Aunt Lydia at the birthing pushing it? Yes.
Why did she do it? Because she knows she’s in a position of privilege at the moment and in the words of Emily: Fuck Aunt Lydia

June is emotionally numb to anything but anger. With good reason.

She cannot know how hard to be in order to enact change through the use of that anger if she doesn’t know the limit. She needs to know that she is capable of making the hard, shitty choices but has to learn to not let the anger cloud her judgement. She cannot lead anyone if she’s going to let guilt strangle her or allow a soft-heart to influence her moves.

June cannot be like Janine.

June has to be like Emily and have no qualms about killing to survive. She has to be like Ofglen#2 and be willing to sacrifice anything to bring the bastards down. But she also has to be like Commander Lawrence and consider all the pieces on the board.

What June needs right now is for Janine to pull her back and make her see that she shouldn’t burn all her bridges.

The audience hating this episode because it’s all her fault her fault her fault might as well plunk themselves down at the lazy susan with the Aunts.

Why Is Commander Lawrence Letting June Get Away With So Much?

I bet a lot of people wondered why he didn’t rip June a new one, and I said last episode that its because she could do with his wife that he failed to do: get her lucid and out of the house. He is a man of thought he cares deeply for only one person.

He hardened June on purpose, too. He made her bury that Martha and pick five women to save.  he gave her files to READ.  He told her she was too soft and that she didn’t understand what it took to save people.

When she threw that barb at him that he could get his wife out with one call, it stung him but he said “I bet that felt good”.  He admired that. He knows that that is the fire that she needs to do what is necessary. She cannot wallow in pain, guilt, or self-pity. She has to take that anger and channel it.

Lawrence said he had helped Emily because he liked her. He doesn’t like June, he said. However, he has her file and knows her story. He chose her. He didn’t have to request her at all. He is giving her enough rope to see what she does with it.

He’s an architect and she is a tool.

That Aunt Lydia Back Story Had Nothing New

Well, I agree that I could have done with more info rather than the karaoke, but there was a lot in the subtext.

Aunt Lydia at first genuinely wanted to help Noelle, although she was judging her. Her evangelical leanings were leading her to influence Noelle to better herself according to what Lydia thought was better. She wanted to guide Noelle to a new job and “good” behavior.  Noelle did quit the job she hated at the bar and started working at a makeup counter, she was making better money, and dressing the part.

Aunt Lydia was already indoctrinated.  She also had self-loathing, severe loneliness, and detachment from the emotional things she believed were sinful. Her failed marriage must have had a huge impact on her. Possibly, her husband cheated on her with a woman like Noelle.  When her advances to her date were rebuffed, she felt embarrassed and infected by Noelle’s influence. That was the catalyst to what she already had inside of her.

Gillead teachings are insidious; it detaches you from conscience.

The flashback showed that the laws were already changing. Lydia says she was obligated to report moral problems. She mentions Noelle’s affair and her problems with men and money. The laws were already designed to punish anyone who didn’t toe the line and to kidnap children under the guise of giving them a “deserving” home.

The audience can see that Noelle was struggling and her “neglect” of her son, Ryan, was her not having the resources as a single mother. She probably packed him chips for lunch because that was all they had. All of Aunt Lydia’s complaints about Ryan’s care were petty.

Lydia had the drive but only needed power.

But she hasn’t forgotten what she lost when she took that path. Emily also put a very big chink in Aunt Lydia’s Gilead blinders. She is fraying because things are not working out the way she built them up in her head.

Aunt Lydia’s power lies in her ability to manipulate women with what she knows about them, and not just through violence alone. She truly wants to mold these women into her vision of the perfect, deserving epitomy of womanhood by forcing them to atone for the sins Gilead says they have committed. The ends justify the means.

How Could They Show Ofmatthew Being Dragged Out Like Nothing and June Happy?

In Gillead, Ofmatthew is no one and nothing. She is a sinner and an incubator. She must have broken some rule because she’s wearing red. She is worthy of scorn in Gillead. And her betrayal of her sisters (and we all know this was not Ofmatthews first informant rodeo) made her worth of their ire.

Maybe the Martha and June would have been killed anyway, though we don’t know that. Commander Parker and the Martha may have formed a plan on their own. They were not new to rebellion, that’s for certain. Commander Parker may have smuggled out a child before. We’ll never know.

That scene with Ofmatthew in the store, the excitement we see in June wasn’t just for the death (that happens all the time), but for the chaos in the perfect facade. The system is clearly not stable.

That’s how you take it down — light the powder keg. Emily knew that and so did Ofglen#2. Those women had nothing to lose and were willing to take others with them in the process. In Gilead, your only weapon is other people.

But a lot of viewers are mad at June for contributing to Ofmatthews mental breakdown (which by the way was happening well before the creepy Christening).

Fact: Though she is deserving of pity, Ofmatthew was also a dangerous informant. How many handmaids had she already turned in and gotten maimed or hung? She certainly was very pleased that a martha, two handmaids, and a guardian were hung at the same time. Justified it. Reveled in it. How many handmaids might be saved from punishment now that Ofmatthew can’t whisper in Aunt Lydia’s ear. Think about that.

Fact: Ofglen#2 killed not only commanders and guardians, but also many handmaids. Far more than any of June’s ill-fated decisions.

Fact: Emily killed two guardians with a car with no regard if she were to hurt innocent people, she stabbed Lydia in the back with no regard for the household she was in, and she poisoned a Wife with no regrets.

Fact: Moira killed someone with a shiv.

All of them were happy to do it.

Moira and Emily were talking about what Gilead turns you into in a previous episode and what Gillead makes you do but that it is not who you are.

June standing there with a pleased expression on her face is about how all the dominoes fall and it was the first time in a long time that June felt power, agency, and hope that Gillead could be messed with from the inside.

I think, her smile broke the 4th wall and was for everyone watching:

Fuck you and your judgments.

 

 

 

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