The Handmaid’s Tale, Season 2: June Is a Badass

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS 

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Okay, now that you have had your chance to avoid any spoilers, let’s talk about June (Elizabeth Moss) not getting in the truck. I have read a number of folks who say that June SHOULD have gotten in the truck, that she should have taken that route to safety and that her job was to protect that tiny baby, that Hannah (Jordana Blake) was in a place where she was cared for and that June should have accepted her own chance for safety, then worried about Hannah later.

To that, I say, no fucking way.

You may think my response is a bit harsh, but I feel pretty harsh about it. Gilead is an evil awful place, and we have no idea how warped Hannah’s mind is ALREADY from her time there. The whole time that June was straightening her pink dress when she and Hannah had the arranged visit earlier in the season,  I was about to crawl out of my skin.  The pink dress may not necessarily mean that Hannah has been consigned to a life as a handmaid already, but there is that possibility. And June knows that.

See, I think that part of what the novel and the show has asked us over and over again to do is to think about the difference between making decisions that seem “right” versus making the decision that is actually good.

June’s mother (Cherry Jones) knows the difference and has always known the difference. Good decisions are hard, and they sometimes require sacrifice and make us uncomfortable and might even make people mad. A decision that seems “right” is one that looks good — it’s the one you can pick out of the list, easily. Good decisions are harder. But they are the ones that lead to the better long -term consequences in the end. They’re the ones you can live with later in your life.

I hear you, folks who are mad, June getting into the truck with the baby and Emily seems like the “right” decision. She could go to Canada with Holly and Emily,  then find Luke (O-T Fagbenle) and Moira (Samira Wiley). From there, they could plot and scheme and try to overthrow Gilead. Maybe they would succeed. MAYBE. Or maybe they wouldn’t, and Hannah would have been abandoned by her mother and her father and left in a evil place. You think abandoned is a harsh word, maybe? How else would Hannah see it?

June made the GOOD decision. She put Nichole (Holly) into the truck with Emily (Alexis Bledel) and trusts that she has saved one child. Then, she puts herself, her potential happiness with Luke and Moira on the line to go back into Gilead in order to save Hannah. No, it’s not going to be easy. Yes, she might die. Sure. she might have had an easier time accomplishing this from Canada. But, I can’t imagine what life would have been like for June, waking up every morning, with Luke and with Holly and with Moira, but WITHOUT Hannah. She can’t either. How can she choose one child over the other? She doesn’t choose Hannah over Holly. She saves Holly… then she sets out to save Hanneh next. So, she walks away from apparent safety and heads back into madness in order to save her daughter. Luke and Moira are already in Canada. They can keep working from a place of safety. June puts herself in the line of fire to save her daughter. What a good decision I think this will turn out to be.

The whole season 2 has been setting this up. June has been consistently making decisions that we, as viewers, may have felt uncomfortable with, that if we had been given time to ponder beforehand, we might have advised her against. For example, what to do we think of June telling Eden (Sydney Sweeney) to grab love wherever she could find it? What about showing Eden’s book to Serena (Yvonne Strahovski)? Would we really have thought it was the best idea for June to slap Fred (Joseph Fiennes) if we’d given that moment a lot of thought?

My proposition is this: Season 2 is about all of us having to see how we to make hard, but good decisions. June had to learn that, and she learned it. From the examples above, let me explain how each of her decisions is actually good:

  • Yes, Eden’s affair ends in tragedy. Two young people are forced into an impossible decision and an evil regime murders them. But June was right. We should choose love. What is the alternative? To be Fred? To be Serena? No. choosing love is the right decision. Eden and June were right. Gilead and Eden’s father were wrong, not June. Eden’s death is horrific, but that horror doesn’t mean that June was wrong about seeking love.
  • Showing that book to Serena finally breaks through to Serena. How will they, the women in Gilead, raise children to know the word of God, that they care so much about, if these children can’t actually read the word of God? Serena may have lost a pinky but from that loss, she may have started a movement of her own. We have followed the story from the perspective of the handmaids, but none of the women in this regime have a full and valid role, including the wives and now these daughters. The only way that Gilead will fall is if all the women and all the rest of oppressed people there band together. We may not like the wives as much, but they are oppressed, too. June, by showing Serena the book, helps Serena become more aware of her own oppression.
  • Oh, god, how much did I love that slap? Fred is SO CREEPY! I wanted to slap him the whole season. That slap was such a good decision. He slapped her, she slapped him back, and because of that slap she is put on more equal footing with him. I know you may be saying, “whaaa?” to this. But it’s only after this slap that Fred tries to bargain with June. He offers to keep her at the house, he wants dole out visits to Hannah, and he starts to see June as someone he has to make deals with. Her slap was a good decision, though I am not sure that June is willing to make those bargains, she at least moved to a position where she can bargain.

And her decision to walk away from that truck was good too. I know that what seems like the right decision was for her to protect that baby. And, she did that. Emily will care for Nichole (Holly). Emily is a badass herself. June knows that. June has TWO children.  As she was walking away, I was thinking of Hannah asking if June had looked for her. How could June go to Canada when she had a chance to go try to save Hannah? No matter how wild or far-fetched that chance is? She had to stay in Gilead. She had to save Hannah. And, I think she will. Because Rita (Amanda Brugel) is right, and June is a badass.

Some other quick notes:

  • No way is Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) dead. She was so perfectly evil this season that I hope she is more complex in Season 3. The aunts are the most unexplored facet of this society, and I hope they open that up more. How do you become an aunt? Who wants that horrible job? Unrelated, I wonder if we will ever find out Lydia’s real name. Or do they get to keep their real names?
  • Speaking of names, I don’t think that June has changed the baby’s name to Nichole. I think she is saying that the baby should be called Nichole so that she will have some level of protection, as the Commander’s baby, in case they get caught. That’s my guess. She says “Call her Nichole,” not “her name is Nichole.”
  • I don’t get the Colonies and how that is related to the economy. I’m guessing the Colonies will be a bigger deal next season.
  • Nick (Max Minghella) holding that gun on Fred was such a big deal. I guess Nick will have to run, but I don’t think he will get far, which means we will likely be without Nick next season. That is too bad because I really like Nick and don’t want his story to end this way.

 

 

 

 

 

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TWD Season 7: When Negan Comes Around

the-walking-dead-season-5-trailerRecently, I read TWD viewing is somehow associated with political party, with the prevailing thought being that Republicans like the show and Democrats don’t. Then, I read an article about how the show is actually an embodiment of fascism. I don’t agree with this at all.

First, this article is one of many; others go down different paths, assigning political values and mores to TWD.  This assigning of a particular value system to the TV show is limiting. For instance, I am a democrat and prior to season 7 (and with the exception of Live Bait, the episode where Phillip Blake wanders around for what seemed like ten, boring years), I thought the show was pretty good. I know plenty of folks who watch TWD AND Game of Thrones.  I definitely don’t agree that Talking Dead exists only to “teach [me] how to praise the show“. Talking patronizing, Sean Collins, should be everyone’s response to that bit of nonsense in your article. My beef with Sean Collins’s article, beyond his condescension, is that calling everyone, every TV character or movie show that you don’t like, “fascist” undermines when there is a real fascist to worry about.  That type of criticism also doesn’t make sense because we can’t really apply our own ideas about governance, in relatively peaceful times, to this situation. I mean, Negan is awful (not Jeffrey Dean Morgan — I like him and he’s doing the best he can with what is arguably a terrible character and not just because Negan’s a murderous asshole). But, Negan is still trying to survive in an actual crisis, not just a “crisis” in the way in which we use the word (My hair is flat! It’s a CRISIS! It took me four hours to get home from the gym! It’s a CRISIS!). So, calling the actions of these survivors fascist or republican or any modern conception of politics doesn’t fit into the circumstances of the show.

Just because I don’t think that the show is some vehicle for fascism doesn’t mean that I don’t have a critique of the show. I do. But my critique has to do with the show based on its own set of rules, keeping with some level of verisimilitude. I’m currently reading Seveneves by Neal Stephenson, and this book has a much more sensible approach to presenting how society will react to the end of the world, and, like TWD, it doesn’t stray away from violence. Stephenson makes a key point in this book that is really proving to be a fatal flaw of TWD– when the end of the world comes, we will protect women, not out of chivalry, but out of the need for survival. After all, it takes men 2 minutes to create more life, and one man can create many lives. It takes women at minimum 40 weeks, and they typically create one life at a time. And, real survival comes not from having a cool horse painting, but from having CHILDREN.

giphyWhich is where Negan comes in. TWD has set up one strongman, badman antagonist after another. Each of them has had a reckless disregard for human life (Shane included here, but progressing to the ultimate in Negan).  During this time, though, society has begun to rebuild. There are communities. The communities have begun to set up rudimentary trade routes. Judith provides us with some level of a timeline, so we know that Season 7 is set about 3 years post-apocalypse. Negan is evidence that the zombies are no longer the problem; re-building society is. Negan acts as though he is the zombie police, but all the communities found a way to fight the zombies just fine before he makes it to the show. And, Negan is the ONLY antagonist so far who seemingly does not care about sustaining life.

forget-sasha-checks-out-a-gun-olivia-asks-her-about-bringing-back-a-boars-legThis leads me to my critique. There are too many men on this show. I mean, I get it. We are following the lives of the most active, aggressive characters because they are the most interesting in terms of storytelling. And, because of my above point about the relative expendability of men (not all men, just that humanity will survive with less men rather than less women), we will naturally follow along with the more aggressive characters, than the ones who are re-building society by gardening or sewing, who would most likely be more women. This is not sexist; it’s math (2 min vs 40 weeks).  The focus on mostly male characters or mostly aggressive  female characters (Carol, Andrea, Michonne, Maggie, Rosita, Sasha, etc…) makes sense within the rules that TWD has set up for itself.  But, Negan breaks the rules of the show and make us question what is really going on in TWD.  The best example of this is that Negan allows Arat to kill Olivia. Olivia represents a less interesting character, but not a less important one.

Negan is aware of the importance of society — he names his men “the saviors” because he sees himself as the savior of society.

But you can’t save society without women. Women like Olivia. For every Michonne, Rosita, Carol, Sasha, and even Maggie, there need to be 10 Olivias who are, literally, taking stock and keeping the pantry full. People like Olivia, who is willing to put herself into danger in order to protect the one child we’ve seen born post-apocalypse (Judith), represents an absolutely necessary part of re-building society.

This child, Judith, and this emphasis on protecting children is why it makes sense that Rick would protect his home and family from Negan. After all, isn’t that an essential part of society? But that means that Negan DOESN’T MAKE SENSE. I mean, he’s got a harem of wives… but no babies? Negan puts himself and his society in danger and wastes other men who could be capable of providing (Glenn and Abraham) for society just to prove a point? He thinks violence and mayhem is a sustainable plan, even as it is clear that others, like Rick, will fight back and will fight well? We’re supposed to think that Negan is just evil; he’s not given a backstory on the TV series so far (the comics present him as a kind of teacher/coach/philosopher with a fucked up sense of ethics). Negan is presented by the TV show as a soulless visionary. A ruthless, merciless visionary, but a visionary nonetheless.

His vision, though, just plain DOESN’T MAKE SENSE. There are too many men who have memories of a just society, and too many opportunities to take out the tyrant. This whole “we are all Negan” is supposed to explain their behavior away. It doesn’t. For example, Dwight, an obviously caring protector with many survival skills, would find a way to kill Negan in order to get back his wife and his chance to have children and, therefore, advance society. That is a basic, common instinct of humanity.

Basically, Negan is killing TWD because he killed one father, Glenn, and subjugated another, Rick,  at the beginning of the season and reminded us all that fathers and mothers are what society is about. Not just survival for yourself, but survival for your children. Each episode makes that clearer and clearer, but Negan does not fit into this ethos, which makes his violence not just abhorrent, but aberrant. As Stephenson points out, “Fighting isn’t about knowing how. It’s about deciding to.”

And, at this point in the story, who would still be deciding to fight, other than those fighting against Negan? But, my argument is that Negan choosing to fight doesn’t make sense. You could, perhaps, convince me that Negan kills Abraham to stop Rick from fighting him and to force Rick and the Alexandrians to submit to his societal rule. That flies. Until he kills Glenn for a brief moment of rebellion from Daryl. Until he threatens Maggie, pregnant Maggie, while she is potentially losing a precious, in the absolute meaning of that word, post-apocalypse child. Until we learn that Dwight allows his wife to be taken from him. Until Olivia is shot for no real reason.

If we’re supposed to see politics in TWD and make sense of it, Negan just doesn’t fit with the rest of the show and its viewpoint.  Now, I’m giving the rest of Season 7 a chance because there is SOME indication that Rick and crew have finally realized that Negan represents chaos on a level that is unacceptable. Maybe they will realize that Negan is just a man “going ’round taking names” (“Man Comes Around,” Johnny Cash). TWD has a chance to keep me watching. But only if they keep their cornerstone viewpoint — that humanity can survive, that Rick and his crew can keep their hearts beating, and that chaos will not take over the world. If not, then really, and I mean this, what’s the point of watching? If Negan doesn’t make sense and he continues to take over the narrative of the show, as he has thus far, then the show is riding that pale horse to its own end.

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Haven (SyFy Series 2010-2015): Rocky Start, Goes On Too Long, But Great in the Middle

For an unabashed (now) Stephen King fan and Constant Reader, I am surprised that I haven’t been watching Haven all along. I say unabashed now, but I have been bashed in the past for my love for King by those who think he is not a “real writer.”  These criticisms make no sense to me now, but when I was younger and more insecure, I remember feeling that perhaps I wasn’t as smart or literary as other folks because I didn’t like the right writers. Now, though, I go with the Angus theory for literature, which is Screw’Em! Who cares what they think?

This series makes me wish I’d come up with a clever way to rate what I watch, like 5 bags of popcorn = excellent or three couch pillows means it was only okay. Alas, I did not. This series would definitely be a 3.5 on whatever scale of 5.

If you haven’t watched it yet either, then just know that for the first 1-5 episodes, you’re going to be doubting whether or not you will even watch the next one. The series gets off to a very rocky, very corny, and very silly start. None of the main characters (Audrey Parker, Nathan Wuornos, and Duke Crocker) seem very likeable or real; they all start as these stiff, stock characters who are hard to even pay attention to, and then they immediately become crime solvers/ saviors to unintentional X-men, which is all very peculiar.

However, at some point, the show gets much better. I tried to figure out which specific episode, but it happens over a few of them at the end of Season 1. If Haven had had a set time period and been more interested in telling a story than in having multiple seasons, this show could have been a 4.5 out of 5, even with the not-so-great start. The drawn-out-over-too-many-seasons problem means that the characters don’t grow and develop in a way that makes sense, and there are too many times when Audrey Parker says “I have to stop the troubles” and too many times where Nathan had to try to come to grips with Audrey having to stop the troubles. As a huge fan of Six Feet Under, it was great to see Eric Balfour back on the screen again, but his character was also undermined by the attempt to have too many episodes. How many times were we supposed to follow along with him coming back from the “dark side” of the troubles?

This show offers up some  funny, breaking the 4th wall quips, like Jennifer’s “You try operating a supernatural door with a vampire novel and a positive attitude.” There are also some great King Easter eggs, like one character having Dandelos cereal for breakfast and Duke wearing a Deux Ex Machina Cargo hat.

If you’re looking for a show to have on in the background while you do other things, Haven is a great choice. It would have been a show to WATCH if they’d just been okay with having a set number of episodes, but I am not sure that was even a thing back in 2010 when this show started.