I have to be honest, I have been avoiding this review.
The parallels between the real world and the dystopian nightmare on The Handmaid’s Tale are often uncanny. But, on The Handmaid’s Tale 2×10 “The Last Ceremony,” the content with Hannah and June is so similar to the forced separation happening for families on the southern U.S. border that it is nearly unwatchable.
And yet, it is times like these when art can capture and put on screen the anguish and emotional complexity of a large system. The Handmaid’s Tale is art that articulates the madness.
The madness articulated becomes more clear. It takes shape. The madness becomes no less easy to bear but much easier to kill.
Of all the beyond disturbing rituals Gilead forces on its captives, I find the Labor Ceremony to be the most unsettling.
Yvonne Strahovski stuns as Serena, managing to express a rainbow spectrum of emotions.
She goes into faux labor, making the noises and getting to the positions of actual labor. As a person who has gone through two labors, one without medication, the entire “faking it” situation makes my stomach churn.
You can’t mimic labor. As June’s false labor showcases on the episode, even when you are actually pregnant it is not clear when the labor is “real.”
The great hubris and entitlement required to think that the wives can, through ritual, experience any piece of what childbirth is like for the handmaids is just gross.
The separation of children from their families begins at conception via rape for the families in Gilead.
Punishment and Punishment
June and all of the handmaids are stuck in a vicious vortex of control. I think that there are parallels between handmaids and the families seeking asylum in at the U.S. border that are worth drawing.
Families arrive at the border because they are running away from violence. They enter the U.S. in a state of emergency, without papers, visas or other documents. This is legal but becomes illegal under an oppressive regime where the small misdemeanor act of physically crossing the border becomes a felony worthy of capital punishment. And, here’s the real trick: the regime that is punishing the families for seeking asylum helped to create and foster the violent context that the families are escaping.
June is punished for the small rebellion, the Gilead version of a misdemeanor border crossing, she shows when she is smug about going into false labor and implies Fred’s not the real father. Her less than completely compliant and complicit in the taking of her body and child earns her the righteous wrath of the Waterfords.
Just like the families who have their infant children ripped from their arms for daring to try and survive, June’s punishment is wildly disproportionate to her supposed crime. Fred and Serena hold June down and rape her, unified in their violent subjugation. They destroy June’s bodily integrity and dismiss her humanity all because they are frustrated at the failings of their own bodies to give them exactly what they want.
It is vicious, irrational, and inhumane. It’s real and it’s fiction.
What to Expect When You’re Expecting
Nick is taking really big risks on “The Last Ceremony,” and it is giving me serious heartburn. At the same time, I get it. Ever since June made it clear to Nick in Season 1 that some risks are worth taking because they mean that she’ll be known and remembered, I have come to see the blips of unmasked behavior from Nick as signs of life.
When Nick helps June out of the van and ushers her to
It is almost as if for the briefest of seconds they can imagine themselves as a couple about to have their first baby together. They can imagine themselves as the expectant parents, brimming with joyful expectation at meeting their baby girl.
It gives me a gasp of joy for these two, but that also makes the reality sink that much deeper. It hurts, even more, knowing that the fantasy is so unreachable.
Even Eden’s infidelity with the Creepy Guard doesn’t help much, even though it provides a possibility that the two people floating in the pool in the Season trailer are not Nick and Eden, but Creepy Guard and Eden. It gives me hope, but that’s a risk too, isn’t it.
After viciously raping her, the Commander further asserts his twisted control by gifting June a visit with her daughter but then setting her up watch Nick be shot and/or kidnapped.
The visit is brutal and so achingly accurate. There is no blissful reunion. It is heart-wrenching the whole time.
“The Last Ceremony” makes really clear that Elisabeth Moss is not the only preeminently talented actress on The Handmaid’s Tale. June is too.
Seeing Hannah shy away from her in fear must feel like a stab wound to the chest. Giving her daughter advice and encouraging her to not rebel tears June apart, but she has to silence those fears on her face lest Hannah not get the message.
She gets such a short amount of time with her sweet baby and then has to watch her be taken away again, likely seeing her for the last time. Even here, in her darkest pit of despair, June puts on a brave face, insisting:
I love you. Now, go.
June is so strong. She is a fighter and even though she has told her not to, I hope Hannah is a fighter like her mom.
It is a touch too emotional and real for me to write too much more about it. I will say, the resiliency of the human spirit is a remarkable thing.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 has featured more Rita. We see her interact with the naive and over-eager Eden and it highlight’s Rita’s connection with June and Nick.
On “The Last Ceremony,” Rita has very little dialogue or time on screen. But, the few seconds she has really make an impact. She knows the brutality of the household and Gilead. She has literally taken a punch for June.
Yet, she also commits to helping June in the very way she longs to be helped: to be remembered. Rita is not quite a rebel and she is definitely not a believer. She is surviving with a lot of patience and a little bit of wit.
“The Last Ceremony,” shows us that we need overt rebellion, but we need Rita too. We need people to crack open their walls, listen to the cries, and quietly support the most marginalized if any of us is going to make it.
What did you think of The Handmaid’s Tale 2×10, “The Last Ceremony”? Let us know in the comments.
The Handmaid’s Tale streams Wednesdays on Hulu.