Handmaid's Tale, Season 4 Discussion (Spoiler Alert, Obviously)

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Handmaid's Tale, Season 4 Discussion (Spoiler Alert, Obviously)

1avaland
Redigeret: maj 15, 3:04pm

A few of us in another location on LT got talking about this 4th and last season of Handmaid's Tale. I will let the reader who posted elsewhere the initial question that got us thinking (it is afterall her question), but otherwise feel free to use this space to ask other questions, make comments, or generally vent.

This discussion assumes you are current with the most recent episode....

2avaland
maj 15, 3:16pm

Generally, my husband and I have been discussing various plot points, but I find myself thinking about what punishments I think various characters deserve, or what I would like to have happen for June and others.

Serena, for example. She's pregnant. Would the most appropriate punishment being an eye for an eye, take her baby away from her. Or, the more 'turn the other cheek.' Seems she & Fred must have to do some jail time, right?

And what would I want for June after all this? She's damaged, she can't go back to the hubby and live a normal life, can she? And it would be a bit twee, to go off into the sunset with Nick and the baby they sired.

And, as we saw in episode four a child traumatized from being removed from the only family he has known (even while we know they either were stolen from their parents or created by rape.

While I'm a bit unsettled about how they are going to end this show, I will give them credit for providing a lot of complicated situations that give me pause, and offer few easy solutions.

Please, tell us what you think!

3nohrt4me2
Redigeret: maj 16, 11:46pm

I read a story some months back about the "padding" in shows put out by streaming services--slo-mo scenes, montages against a song like a music video, and scenes with lots of lingering significant looks. All of these are ways to drag 30 or 40 minutes of action into 50 or 60 minutes of viewing. I can often overlook these tricks, but they're starting to annoy to me in this season of HT.

June's torture scenes were among the dragged out scenes, which is unsettling because it starts to border on torture porn.

I liked the scenes between Rita and the Waterfords. Rita's story is one that offers some grace notes and uplift. And what will happen to the Waterfords is what keeps me watching the show. Those two and their mind games remind me of George and Martha in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" ... if George and Martha were religious nuts.

I like trying to figure out what Commander Lawrence's game is.

I don't know how June and (maybe) Janine have survived this long. I think the bastards will finally wear them down (to hearken back to the first season), and madness or suicide are the only logical outcomes for them. Not sure I want to be in on the end of those story arcs.

4avaland
maj 17, 6:18am

Damn! I just lost my whole post!! Will come back later and try to recreate.

5avaland
maj 17, 7:39am

The story on padding must have been interesting.

So, I'm thinking, Gilead is not going to die easily (it comprises most of the country). Canada and Mexico are likely not coming to free the women either. I don't see Europeans landing on the beaches. The only answer would be that the women and their sympathizers free themselves. Perhaps June will become a martyr and this will cause a full-blown, country-wide rebellion....that will give the viewer hope but NOT a straightforward resolution?

Serena & Fred better being going to jail (I can't see Fred's intel giving Canada a magic solution for the demise of Gilead). Then their baby can be removed from them legally.... (I have some tiny, tiny sympathy for Serena).Yes, the scene with Rita was great.

And what about Aunt Lydia. Hmmm. She is a true zealot and recent scenes confirm that she can't be reformed or de-programmed. She believes it all. She can't go unpunished....

I thought the torture scenes might have been meant to remind us June is very damaged at this point; she can't go back to a 'normal' life. In the same way, the party with the sex slaves (same episode, I think), reminds us of Moira's life in Gilead.

Yes, what is Commander Lawrence up to? I can't see the rest of the power that be trusting him. And I doubt we can expect a happily ever after reunion of June, Nick and their baby....


6nohrt4me2
maj 17, 9:39am

Yes, the torture scenes do serve a purpose, but they seem over the top. Maybe they're needed given whatever they've got in mind for June. The symbolism of the cross on the water-boarding towel used on June was especially disturbing to me. They're hitting the religious irony pretty hard and, of course, making fairly heavy-handed commentary about the dangers of conservative evangelicals as a political force.

June seems awfully intent on getting a gun and fighting. She already turned down a chance to try to get to Boston and Canada. I am guessing she's going to turn her back on Moira--if Moira is not a figment of her imagination. I think we're into territory where the writers are not above doing tricksy things like that.

It will be interesting to see if HT series follows Atwood's sequel in The Testaments. That book is set 15 years ahead of where the TV show is now, and it doesn't resolve the fates of some of the main characters. That likely means they're out of the picture in some way--dead, in prison, or absorbed into private life not involved in the political machinations of Gilead. So it gives the writers a lot of latitude in where they take those characters on TV.

Atwood, in a possibly oblique dig at the show, said that women who have lived under tyrannies have complained that the rebel handmaids would have been shot long ago. If you look at how the MaddAddam trilogy plays out, Atwood's general view of women's ability to control their destinies is fraught with compromises, deals with the devil, and limitations.

So my overall criticism/fear is that the show has become more action/adventure than psychological drama/social criticism. If June is the completely dead character I think they've made her, then the writers can take the easy road and just turn her into Rambo. Cut to a montage where she rejects all human ties, shaves her head, tricks herself out in leather gloves and vest, shoves a knife in her boot, and charges screaming over the top of a heap of rubble in slow motion while indiscriminately firing a machine gun.

If that happens, I think I'm done.

7avaland
maj 17, 10:28am

>6 nohrt4me2: Moira did say in the earlier episode she might sign up to do humanitarian work...

(honestly, I read The Testaments but can't remember a thing about it now....)

Oh, gosh; I don't want June as Rambo (while I can see how some might get a buzz out of that). It is hard to see June becoming anything else besides the martyr. Perhaps her encounter with Moira will make a difference.

8nohrt4me2
maj 17, 1:04pm

I wasn't sure what to make of the kiss with Nick on the bridge as June is sent to the baby farm. Hard to imagine there would be any feeling left between those two. I can't stand that little weasel. Plus there were witnesses to that incident, guards on the bridge, and I don't know why someone didn't narc on Nick. Maybe they will and he will get his left hand amputated like Janine's commander. Or worse.

9dukedom_enough
maj 18, 8:54am

>3 nohrt4me2: I don't see how they can bring this story to a successful close in only 5 more episodes - everything so far has opened up the story, not pointed to a close. As you say, why padding? Maybe the commanders will all get blown up and that will end Gilead - unrealistic, but this is TV. Maybe Serena's pregnancy signals an end to the infertility epidemic, and everyone decides they don't need Gilead anymore. Maybe they'll end unresolved and start campaigning for another season? But Elizabeth Moss must be booked for work for the next 5-10 years, so when could she fit that in?

I think speculative fiction is always in danger of becoming uninteresting once the premise has been stated. It's rare, seems to me, for the later volumes of a trilogy to match the first.

10nohrt4me2
maj 18, 3:20pm

They already blew up some commanders, so I assume they'll have to try something different.

If the series end is informed by Atwood's sequel, "The Testaments" (trying to do this without spoilers in case anyone besides us is reading this):

--Gilead will continue on for years. Its fate won't be resolved in this season or in the series.

--Most of the main characters in HT will not be involved in Gilead's future. Whatever happens to June, she will not be a victorious rebel leader. The resolution of her arc could be tragic or heroic. Maybe both.

--The gender conditioning of the children born in or kidnapped and distributed to higher-ups in Gilead will continue, which will cause international problems. What happens to Serena Joy's baby will be interesting. Will parental rights be terminated because she is incarcerated?

--Any effective rebellion against Gilead will have to be an "inside job."

11nohrt4me2
Redigeret: maj 20, 11:08am

Last night's episode: We're back to the Hard Questions. June is looking back to Luke's faithlessness to his first wife, pondering what it means to make marriage vows, and agonizing over having let down and lost Hannah. I give that marriage about three months, tops.

I wonder if these issues stir up the same kind of angst in young women now, though. Marriage seems to be a purely secular and contractual affair, and children are passed around the extended family so much to accommodate working families that June's mommy-guilt might not resonate entirely. There also seems to be what the Germans call kinderunfreundlichkeit out there among Our Young People--a dislike of children and even some disapproval of and resentment toward "breeders" who are overpopulating the earth and getting tax breaks doing it.

The camera lingering over June's taking her first step off the boat as it lands in Canada and freedom struck me as pretty heavy-handed and emblematic of how the show is going off the rails in this season.

12avaland
maj 21, 6:01am

>11 nohrt4me2: Yeah, I don't see them staying together, although it's a nice romantic dream. She's too damaged. and then there is the loss of Hannah.

Agreed re the heavy-handedness of that scene. I don't think there is any good way to end the show.

Re the disapproval/resentment. Where are you picking that up from? Neither of my daughters (ages 38 and 41) seem interested in this show; both have very young children. Women have so many choices now, and our generation helped make that happen for them. Do we regret that? I don't. Can there be societal consequences that we didn't foresee? Possibility. Some of my old acquaintances from the era when the kids were young, seem rather bitter that they don't have grandchildren.

I guess I wonder who is reading the book these days; and what the demographic is of the show. I think it lost power as the seasons went on. I've been thinking about how various regimes have been toppled....

14nohrt4me2
maj 21, 10:32am

If you google around Third Wave feminism and motherhood you can get an idea of what's out there in terms of attitudes about motherhood and children. Pretty sure that HT has no relevance for women who came of age in the 90s, when the Third Wave supposedly started. Yes, definitely fallout from the Second Wave to the extent that mothers, homemakers, and women in pink/blue collar work were devalued. But that could be a debate for another time.

Good article. I guess I agree with the first critic: HT "has nothing left to give." It would have made a fine limited series had it stuck with and amplified the themes in the book. The cast is absolutely superb. The scene with Janine ready to jump from the bridge with her baby brought me to tears--and I never cry at the movies, not even when they bring up the violins. But, as I noted above, a psychological thriller and character-driven show has devolved into an action/adventure series that could go on and on like Transformers or X-Men.

15nrmay
maj 22, 12:21pm

I just want some good ending/resolution for June. She's been through so much with courage and high risk. She deserves some peace and contentment.

16nohrt4me2
maj 22, 4:49pm

>15 nrmay: It will be interesting to see what kind of ending June gets. I think there is some mention of June, though not by name, at the end of The Testaments. But the series may not stick to the original stories. I think The Walking Dead series differs from the original graphic novels quite a bit.

In the original HT book, the handmaid's diary was an artifact being presented at some kind of academic symposium in a time removed from events in Giliead. The actual identity of Offred and what happens to her is incomplete. So the series has gone far beyond the scope of the book and has, so far, made no nod to that later time. It would be interesting if that were worked into the series in some way.

17avaland
maj 23, 1:48pm

It just occurred to me that if the Canadians try the Waterford for crimes committed*, they will have a prime witness now. You know, a kind of Nuremberg thing... But perhaps the Canadian investigation is that?


18dukedom_enough
maj 23, 2:23pm

In episode 6, June gets 3 or 4 chances to be Rambo, as Lois calls it - to stay in Gilead or go back, hoping to rescue Hannah. She turns down each chance. Could it be that June has performed enough heroics, and is now free for another sort of story? Seeing how close we are to the end of the series, maybe the plan is to leave Gilead still in existence, and focus on June interacting with Luke and the baby, and separately with Serena and the court case. If Gilead is not toppled, that allows for a spinoff series of some sort. I don't know whether The Handmaid's Tale is popular enough for that.

Critic Abigail Nussbaum has a take close to some of our views here.

19nohrt4me2
maj 23, 4:53pm

>18 dukedom_enough: Gilead still in existence, and focus on June interacting with Luke and the baby, and separately with Serena and the court case. If Gilead is not toppled, that allows for a spinoff series of some sort.

The series has been renewed for a fifth season plus a spin-off of The Testaments. So it has enough viewership to remain a money maker for the producers. And the irony of there being entertainment buck$ to be made on female misery is a bit unsettling.

While I'm happy June didn't go Rambo on Gilead, it does leave me a bit puzzled about where the whole thing might go from here. Do the writers even know? When a series is renewed a season at a time, writers have to be prepared to reach a hard end or some type of cliff-hanger.

Most series burn out after three seasons, the really good ones after five. After that point, the characters become predictable and the plot starts to wander because the writers are getting burned out or hired for other series and replaced by hacks.

I think it's also really hard to sustain a series that is relentlessly dark. There is some variation in tone with look-ins at Moira, Luke, Rita, etc. But overall, the plot is dark, the done is dark, and half the time the action is shot in the dark is so that have a hard time seeing what's going on.

Will go read Nussbaum now.

20dukedom_enough
maj 24, 11:01am

>19 nohrt4me2:

I hadn't heard about the season-5 renewal. OK that leaves space for Gilead to invade Canada next season.

21nohrt4me2
maj 27, 11:24am

Not a bad episode last night (May 26), actors again transcending problems with the writing and plot:

Enraged June meeting with Serena seemed to be the centerpiece of the episode. That was real satisfying except for the part where June talks about the death of Serena's fetus. There's no indication the pregnancy is in trouble, so would have made more sense to me if June had instead noted that she would ensure that Serena went to prison for life and her child removed from her custody. Makes a better parallel with what the Gileadans did.

Nice work by Moss showing June's difficulties on re-entering "normal" life--discomfort with Moira being Nicole's mother figure, resuming conjugal relations with Luke, and dealing with flashbacks in the grocery store. I had many students who were veterans dealing with PTSD, and they described life as periods of near normality, feelings of "being someone else watching myself be normal," and dealing with triggers that forced them to relive traumas. Moss really seemed to show those states very well without being overly dramatic about them.

The actress playing Serena is really good. I saw her as an interesting mix of villain and victim in previous seasons. Turning her into pure villain now strikes me as a sign that the writers are paying less attention to nuances.

I'm guessing the Season 4 cliffhanger will be the reappearance of Janine at a refugee camp.

22avaland
maj 28, 7:03am

>21 nohrt4me2: Yes, a good episode but throughout I kept thinking, 'she will go back' while the story line was suggesting the opposite. I think this episode she gets to confront her demons, like a soldier from a particularly nasty and intimate war, and understand she is damaged, has PTSD...etc. and will constantly think of the other women still being initiated and abused.

Oh, yes, the actress playing Serena is good! it irritates me that she has been able to tweak my sympathy a few times.

I do hope we see Janine again, and there is still Aunt Lydia, Nick & Commander Lawrence....

I do think Gilead has to be destroyed from within as Canada is not going to launch an offensive, or Mexico. Seems doubtful Europe will muster up an offensive to cross the Atlantic. Maybe a plague that affects only commanders? Something in the wine perhaps?

23dukedom_enough
maj 29, 11:19am

I'm wondering if Serena's pregnancy signals the end of the infertility plague. What need for handmaids if the Wives themselves can have babies? But that probably gives the producers too much credit.

I liked the supermarket scene, with the store filled with a too-rich array of goods, contrasting with the spare markets June frequented in Gilead. And actual words on the products, women being allowed to read in Canada.

My call for season end is still that Gilead invades Canada to take back the liberated children.

24avaland
maj 29, 2:31pm

Your ending seems too complicated as the children are no longer in one place, they are with various family members. Perhaps they will invade to get the Waterfords back (ha ha).

Bringing down an autocratic government: "mass revolt or orchestration by regime insiders"...

Interesting piece: https://ciaotest.cc.columbia.edu/journals/twq/v37i1/f_0030502_24672.pdf

25nohrt4me2
jun 3, 12:48pm

PDF won't open. I need a new tablet with more head space.

Didn't see the Waterford Fan Club twist in last night's episode coming, and I like that development. Maybe a showdown for custody of Baby Nichole, which would explain her arc in The Testaments (I seem determined to square everything there with what happens 15 years down the road in Atwood's sequel).

Also guessing Aunt Lydia is going to brainwash Janine and send her to Canada as a propaganda tool to testify at the Waterfords's trial that the Handmaids are well treated and everything is hunky dory in Gilead. This wouldn't necessarily result in exoneration, but it would ramp up the support in Canada for the pro-Gilead faction.

However, Aunt L. also knows that Janine is VERY unpredictable, and if she decides to throw her into the Waterford controversy, it may be with the expectation that Janine will backfire as a propoganda bombshell and play into Lydia's own ulterior motives consistent with what she will do later in The Testaments. The writers seem to have abandoned Commander Lawrence, at least for now, as a stay-alive-at-any-price coward.

I am of mixed feelings about the rage-and-revenge of the former Handmaids theme. Women and children are too often expected to "work through" trauma in support groups that discourage any expression of the anger they feel. So I thought the tension in June's group and her desire to upend Moira's carefully controlled little sessions was realistic, especially given where June's head seems to be at. Plus I think June has a lot of resentment towards Moira that bears exploration. However, the writers do run the risk of turning June into something like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill.

I did think they missed a big opportunity to flesh out Iris/Aunt Irene. The Testaments gives Aunt Lydia's backstory, which is as harrowing as anything the Handmaids go through, so just making Iris into a self-centered religious nut demanding forgiveness was kind of unsatisfying.

At this point, I am more engaged with what they're doing with Serena Joy. Wondering when/how she will stab her husband in the back so she can run the pro-Gilead faction. As I recall from previous seasons, she was pretty much the mover and shaker in their partnership before the Gilead revolution, making speeches about women's biological imperatives before she got shot. So we know she's a good little organizer and self-promoter.

Two more episodes to go.

26nohrt4me2
jun 3, 3:34pm

>24 avaland: PDF did open eventually. Interesting read! So many factors to look at in regime changes.

Was struck by the finding that regime change that was driven by "the masses" often depends whether a movement can build a diverse coalition. I think that holds true not only for toppling dictators, but in enacting big legislative reforms, forming new political parties, or disengaging a duly elected leader who has been in power a long time. That seems to be happening to Netanyahu in Israel, as the Palestinian Israelis and less conservative parties join forces.

No broad coalition of opposition in Gilead. Some women are willing to fight it, but not the Wives and certainly not the men. So does that make Lawrence, Nick, and maybe Aunt Lydia the insider elites best placed to topple Gilead?

27avaland
jun 4, 6:47am

I'm going to have to re-read The Testaments, clearly.

I like your observations, thoughts and speculation on this last episode. I'm not sure I've processed the episode yet.

28nohrt4me2
jun 9, 10:04pm

More wandering plotlines in tonight's episodes. Or maybe it's that the plotlines have become so fragmented that they can't spend much time on all the now far-flung supporting characters and still do umpteen sequences of June crying.

29dukedom_enough
jun 10, 7:18am

>25 nohrt4me2: For me, the Waterford Fan Club connected somehow with the popularity of Donald Trump and extreme right wing ideas in the USA. How could people like that man? The trend has always seemed like something out of nowhere, even as I understand its roots in American history. Yet there Trump's fans are; same for Canadians (presumably) cheering on Gilead.

>28 nohrt4me2: I was half expecting Nichole and/or June to be kidnapped back to Gilead during the visit to Nick. They can only do PTSD June for so long, right? Can Janine and Esther take over the role of suffering a Handmaid's life?

I guess the betrayal of Cmdr Waterford by his buddies suggests that Gilead will not invade Canada as I've been expecting all season.

30nohrt4me2
Redigeret: jun 10, 7:17pm

>29 dukedom_enough: Yes, lots of reverbs between HT and current events, I think. Interesting that when the book came out, there were a lot of militant TV preachers that readers thought might be the inspiration for the Gileadean commanders. Those groups are still out there with their PACs.

Recently one of the local Catholic churches has asked parishioners to put "St. XX welcomes you to worship" signs in their yard. We took a turn around town the other night and noticed that maybe a third of these signs were sitting next to Trump/Pence signs that the True Believers have left up. So the message is "St XX welcoes you to worship Trump-Pence." I have sent a friendly letter to the priest pointing out that perhaps he might want to address this. Like all the messages I have ever sent to any priest, I expect it will be sh*t-canned.

I thought something bad would happen with the visit to Nick, too. I am not sure what his deal is. As far as I can see, he has his doubts, but he knows bad things can happen to commanders who don't knuckle under.

The only really good part of the episode to me was the undercurrent between June and Luke, when Luke is urging her to visit Nick. Luke clearly wanted to send the message to Nick that they have each other's daughters, kind of flexing this as power and influence. Luke also seemed to be poking at June, perhaps testing her loyalty to him and Hannah. He was clearly testing boundaries there. Again, such good acting transcending the writing.

The Waterford's marriage continues to be a struggle for power. I'm ready for the show to be all about them!

31dukedom_enough
jun 10, 9:35pm

>30 nohrt4me2: Re:Waterfords - spinoffs and prequels are always possible!