Another week, another dark and depressing episode of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale. But as I’ve said in previous reviews, no matter how dark this dystopian speculative fiction show gets, it continues to impress. The Waterfords pushed their monstrosity level to new heights this week. And, based on the uncertain ending of “The Last Ceremony” it’s difficult to tell whether the show is down one good guy. Ah well. Such is life in Gilead, I suppose.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2, Episode 10: “The Last Ceremony” – Emily Adds Insult to Injury
Having insisted that anyone helping the Sons of Jacob deserves to die, it’s suspicious that Emily’s commander dropped dead during “the ceremony.” Add to Emily’s violent rhetoric the fact that when she was in the colonies she poisoned a fallen wife for the part she played in systematically raping a woman, and the circumstantial evidence against Emily starts to mount.
I enjoyed Emily’s falsely pragmatic response to her commander’s death, insisting that she must lie on her back to increase the chance of impregnation. It’s always refreshing to see handmaids use the limited power they have to manipulate the monsters they work for. As for the kicks to the dead man’s groin, I’d say he had them coming.
I wonder, though, will Emily continue to take matters into her own hands, and maybe plan a larger attack on the establishment? Based on her conversation with June in the market, she doesn’t seem to think she has much left to lose.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2, Episode 10: “The Last Ceremony” – “Sorry Mrs. Waterford.”
After doing her best to remind Emily what it is she has to live for, June starts having contractions. The babymobile rushes June to the Waterfords, and the ludicrous preparations get underway.
We see Fred discussing June’s next handmaid assignment with a commander interested in procuring her services. The interested commander shows himself to be something of a lecher. He describes his current handmaid as “never much fun,” and June as “not bad-looking either.” Unfortunately for Nick, he has a front-row seat to all of this, standing guard as Fred’s protection.
But seemingly through sheer force of will, June does not give birth. She was only experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions. Staff inform Serena and Fred that June’s labour was false, and the too-early revelers go home.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2, Episode 10: “The Last Ceremony” – Infertile Fred
June visits Fred in his office after the party has left. She asks him to do what he can to help ensure that her next handmaid assignment be somewhere close to her estranged daughter Hannah. Even though she says she’ll never try to see Hannah, Fred refuses and implies that he has been too lenient with her.
After being flatly refused her request, June makes a brave but probably foolish move: she tells Fred that he’ll never have a child of his own. One would think that if Fred had suspicions before about Nick’s involvement in June’s pregnancy, those suspicions are probably all but confirmed now.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2, Episode 10: “The Last Ceremony” – The Most Natural
Fred meets Serena in her potting shed and the two discuss June’s false labour. Serena insists that June is happy about the result, and Fred agrees that they have spoiled her. Serena is adamant that they have a doctor induce labour, but Fred doesn’t want to risk harming the baby.
I cringed visibly at Serena’s next line, that she thinks it best if the labour is induced in the most “natural way.” These people are terrible.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2, Episode 10: “The Last Ceremony” – “I’m not here.”
This leads to what was, arguably, the most graphic scene viewers have yet watched in The Handmaid’s Tale. Although some other reviewers and fans have complained that June’s violent rape by Fred and Serena was needlessly graphic, I disagree. June’s violent rape underscored that what a commander and his wife do during “the ceremony,” whether the handmaid lies back and goes numb or whether she kicks and screams, is rape either way.
Too often, mass media characterizes rape only as a violent act that involves a great deal of screaming and physical resistance. This narrow view disregards the importance of power in any sexual relationship. I argue that this is really what The Handmaid’s Tale, both Atwood’s book and the TV series, is all about.
If a partner in any relationship, professional or personal, holds all or most of the relational power then any romantic or sexual advances made by the powerful partner in that relationship act as coercion on the less powerful partner.
June’s violent refusal of “the ceremony” in “The Last Ceremony” reminds the viewer that “the ceremony” is rape whether the handmaid refuses or not because handmaids have no legal right to refuse. Rather than being overly graphic, this scene brought home important points about spousal rape and the pervasive atmosphere of sexual coercion, not in the fictional Gilead but in the real world.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2, Episode 10: “The Last Ceremony” – “Don’t worry ‘bout it.”
Keeping the importance of relational power in mind, Eden and Nick’s relationship provides access to a completely different can of worms, the effects social norms and legal prohibitions have on people who feel they must stay together to benefit society or, more often, cover their butts. In Eden and Nick’s relationship, neither coerces the other. Social norms coerce them both in different ways.
Eden would probably prefer to be with a man closer to her in age, like the guard Nick caught her making out with, and Nick would definitely prefer to be with June. Duty, as defined by the powers that be, forces them away from their desired partners and toward each other. Their sham marriage is, like so many others, based on serial deceit, both of each other and of the society they live in.
Eden’s suspicions of Nick and June’s ongoing relationship, mixed with her fear that Nick may inform on her for cheating, may prove deadly for Nick — unless he actually died at the end of this episode that is.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2, Episode 10: “The Last Ceremony” – “Why didn’t you try harder?”
If viewers’ emotions weren’t ratcheted up enough, they certainly were during the last 10 or so minutes of this episode.
In what seems like an effort to assuage June’s feelings of resentment after he and Serena raped her, Fred tells June that he’s planned a surprise for her that he thinks she’ll like. He packs June into his SUV with Nick as her driver, tells June she deserves this, and kisses her on the forehead.
As he drives, Nick asks June what happened but she refuses to speak. He drives June to a deserted, huge, and snow-covered house, and when she enters she sees a number of armed guards and her daughter Hannah playing with a Martha. A guard tells June she has 10 minutes. Ah, all the time a mother could ask for with her estranged daughter.
This scene was a heart-breaker. There are few things more hurtful for a parent to hear than “Why didn’t you try harder [to protect me],” and “I have new parents now.” Hannah, whose name has been changed to Agnes, used both of these parent-crushers during her time with June but did come around eventually.
June tells Hannah to do whatever her “parents” tell her and to keep herself safe. June demands that the Martha protect Hannah and love her. She says she will, and June answers yet another heart-breaking question from Hannah, “Mommy, am I ever going to see you again,” to which June replies “I’m gonna try.” — *sobbing noises fill my TV room.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2, Episode 10: “The Last Ceremony” – Pregnant and Alone
I kept hoping Nick would whip out his Glock, blow all the armed guards away, and hurry June, Hannah, and the Martha across the border. Unfortunately, this is Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and happy endings are few and far between.
Instead, the armed guards hurry Hannah and her Martha into an SUV after allowing June and Hannah a tearful goodbye.
After they’re gone, Nick, spying another black SUV, rushes June back into the house and goes to see who it is. Unfortunately, the SUV contains yet more armed guards. Nick lies that he was checking up on the house, but the guards don’t buy it. A struggle ensues, a gun goes off, and Nick falls to the ground. The guards load Nick into their SUV and speed off. They also steal the SUV that Nick drove to the big house, leaving June abandoned in an unfamiliar place with no one around for what may be miles. Suffice it to say, this is not the best predicament to find yourself in during your third trimester, especially in Gilead.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2, Episode 10: “The Last Ceremony” – Final Thoughts
This was a great ensemble-cast episode. It’s difficult to pick standout performances because everyone involved dialed it up to 100. Aunt Lydia’s condescension toward Serena following June’s false labour, Fred’s brooding malevolence, Serena’s willing complicity in June’s rape followed by her feelings of guilt, June’s violence during her rape, June and Hannah’s scene together, Eden’s naïvety and suspicion of Nick after he caught her kissing the guard, Emily’s violence against her commander, Nick’s casual indifference toward his young wife…it was all great. It was all depressing but it was all great.
As the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale wraps up — there are only three more episodes to go — I wonder what the third season will look like. I also worry that this brilliant TV show will suffer the same fate as so many other excellent serials, that is saturation and loss of focus.
If a TV serial runs too long, it often goes bad. This decline in quality sours viewers’ opinions of the show. And in some cases, this souring even changes viewers’ opinions of the original idea that made the show worth watching. I hope that when the time comes the creative team will have the courage to walk away from the truckloads of cash that networks may offer for superfluous seasons. After all, it’s better to do something right than to do it forever.