The Handmaid's Tale season two, episode two: making a murderer - Gilead style
*Spoilers for The Handmaid's Tale season 2, episode 2*
Following on from the bruising, harrowing yet somewhat hopeful intrigue of season two's opener, new instalment 'Unwomen' broadens The Handmaid's Tale's scope considerably.
We get a different point-of-view, and travel to a whole new terrifying setting, with a secondary protagonist who is certainly not afraid to fight back.
It's a welcome return for one of season one's most sympathetic and engaging characters, in the shape of Emily. But her actions betray an increasingly dark and troubled edge. In short, Gilead has created a ruthless avenger.
Simmering, murderous vengeance
Finally, we get to see the much whispered-of, long feared surroundings of The Colonies. And they truly are a hellish place.
Amid an irradiated wasteland - seemingly the leftover remnants of a nuclear or dirty bomb attack - the titular 'unwomen' labour all day; hacking the smoking, sulphurous ground with bleeding hands. And it is here thatÂ Alexis Bledel's Emily, formerly known as Ofglen, has fallen - and become an embodiment of simmering vengeance.
When a Commander's wife arrives as a new prisoner she is shunned by the others, for obvious reasons. Emily, however, befriends the woman. Speaking with her, offering her advice and words of comfort, swapping histories. Even aiding her with medical supplies. But it all turns out to be a deceitful ruse.
Emily poisons her - having only pretended to be her ally - and leaves her to die a long, lingering death on the floor. Ultimately, it is an act of a cold calculating nature. And there's an additional cruel twist too; Emily refusing to stay with the panicked, sobbing woman as she reaches out to her for solace - instead hissing that she deserves to die alone.
When Emily crushed a guard to death with a car back in season one, it was a strange mix of both satisfying and horrifying; our emotions torn between cheering and recoiling in disgust.
Here, there is a similar complexity to her actions.Â The Handmaid's Tale wants us to feel uncomfortable about all violence. Even when it's a sympathetic character dealing it out.
Sympathetic, but tragic
The suffering Emily has been through is immense. Unthinkable. Gilead has stolen everything from her: her wife and son, a career she loved, her freedom, and even her ability to feel sexual pleasure.
Flashbacks paint the pain even more clearly - portraying a rising tide of discrimination in which she was sidelined from her role as a university lecturer, and her department head, also gay, was lynched from a college building; a vulgar slur painted beneath his dangling body.
We know why she did it. This woman embodies everything she hates, and wishes to bring down. As a Commander's wife, she may well have been complicit in that terrible ritual of rape. And she happened to be right there - a symbol of oppression that Emily was able to strike at.
Glimpses into Emily's past life built up an even more painful picture of her tragedy (Photo: Channel 4/MGM)
And yet, as we have seen, the Commanders' wives of Gilead are sometimes as subjugated as any other woman. They may wear the costume of ruler, but they still bow to the patriarchy of the regime, are banned from reading and writing, and are unlikely to have the ability to dissent without consequence.
This woman tried. She spoke out against the 'purges' (or so she claims). She embarked on an affair. But unlike the seedy male patrons of Jezebels, who typically get away with such sin, she was sent packing to The Colonies.
Emily's murderous thirst for violence is sympathetic, but tragic. An embodiment of just how much she has suffered, how far she has changed from the idealistic academic she once was, and how hateful and eager for payback she now is.
Gilead's brutality and violence is breeding brutality and violence among those who would have never contemplated it before. There but for the Grace of God go anyone.
The Handmaids' Tales
By contrast, June spent her time at the derelict Boston Globe offices lamenting the massacred members of the press with a peaceful shrine, after she briefly re-captured a semblance of her former life by watching a Friends DVD.
Both were lovely, poignant moments of peaceful reflection.
We now seem to have two very different protagonists, in what could now justly be termed The Handmaids' Tales.
That grey colour palette was probably deliberate this week (Photo: Channel 4/MGM)
One is a symbol of silent, defiant resilience; the other of a more active, aggressive and possibly self-destructive rebellion.
Moving forward, this could represent two sides of the May Day equation. One that simply seeks escape and salvation - the other of which wishes to paint Gilead with the blood of its hierarchy.
Other talking points:
It was nice to see John Carroll Lynch and Clea DuVall showing up in the drama as Emily's tragic boss and wide-eyed wife, respectively. You may remember Lynch as Norm Son-of-a-Gunderson in Fargo, and DuVall from The Faculty, Argo and Veep.That airport scene truly was nail-biting. You really felt the tension as Emily and her family attempted to flee, even though we already knew she did not succeed. The sadness upon their separation was palpable.Unless it was a bluff, Nick seems so sincere in his commitment to June he was prepared to give her his car keys and gun. Wisely, perhaps, she decided to wait a little longer.Janine has arrived in The Colonies, and will hopefully be protected by Emily. Her own story has been one of the drama's saddest running sub-plots.
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This article originally appeared on our sister site, iNews.
[Main image: Channel 4/MGM]