June Doesn’t Give A Sh$t Now
The Handmaid’s Tale Series 3 Episode 8 “Unfit”
In “Unfit,” Series 3 Episode 8 of The Handmaid’s Tale, we see how June really doesn’t give a sh$t much anymore. We also are introduced to Aunt Lydia’s backstory.
It’s an episode that gives us a deeper sense of the daily life of Gilead, what helps lead to this world, and leads to June’s breaking point.
Last episode, we saw Aunt Lydia putting the handmaids in a terrible position — helping to hang the “bad apples” who threaten the well-being and mission of Gilead.
The handmaids were forced to participate in the regime that oppresses so that they become no better than the oppressors.
This episode we see another duty of the handmaids — the birth mobile. They go to the homes of handmaids who are in labor to support them in their efforts to have a baby.
Not only do the handmaids participate in murder, they participate in bringing new life into the world. Or, we learn, so it seems. The handmaids help birth a child strangled by its own umbilical cord — reminding us of last week’s hangings.
The handmaids can do no right and are harbingers of death, not life.
Not only did this episode leave us in horror, it left me with three observations about this episode:
This Was A Character Study
Unlike many past episodes this season, “Unfit” mainly focused on the history of one character who welcomed and participated in the creation of Gilead. This episode’s purpose is similar to that of Season 1 Episode 6, “A Woman’s Place,” which showed Serena Joy’s pre-Gilead life. Both women had specific reasons for embracing the Gilead world-view.
For one it was born from trauma and the other from disappointment.
For Serena it is the trauma from losing her fertility after being shot in the abdomen. This event helps commit her to Gilead’s cause. For Aunt Lydia, it’s the disappointment in others (and in herself) to live up to the “Christian” values that are the supposed framework of Gilead. However, both women cling to this world-view both as self-protection and as a weapon.
In this episode we see Aunt Lydia as a somewhat sympathetic — or at least broken — person who finds fault in others to make up for a lack of self/worth.
Serena Joy and Lydia both have a longing to love and be loved, but it is more than not having a child of one’s own for Lydia. Spurned by a potential romantic love interest, she shuts off the part of her that can be wounded. The shield of Gilead’s rules and higher purpose allows her to excise any hurt or rejection or loneliness she has ever felt.
Aunt Lydia needs this world.
Unlike with Commander Lawrence, Nick, and even Serena, we see no regret or misgivings about ushering in this system with Aunt Lydia. She is a true believer.
Aunt Lydia believes her purpose is to help guide these surrogate-slaves so that they can achieve their higher purposes. She functions as a house mother who only has the best intentions, and she really can’t understand why everyone isn’t more appreciative.
After all, Aunt Lydia is doing God’s Work.
During this episode. a large amount of time is given to Aunt Lydia’s mentoring of a young single mother in pre-Gilead time. She plays a similar role that she will later play as an “Aunt,” childless older women in charge of the handmaids. At the end of her backstory, Aunt Lydia betrays the young mother by reporting her to CPS.
Her reason? She says it is because of the moral failing of the mother. She claims she is protecting the child from being corrupted. But we know that her cruel act is the result of being spurned by a potential lover, the principal at the school she teaches at.
Aunt Lydia says it is her duty to do this as a teacher — protect children from their faulty mothers. It will later become her duty in Gilead as well.
It’s telling that, when the mother screams at Aunt Lydia for being cold-hearted and ruining her son’s life, the future “Aunt” says “I forgive you.” She truly doesn’t believe she is cruel. The fault always lays with others.
Aunt Lydia believes she is doing what is best no matter the consequences.
For Aunt Lydia, being of service means doing what is best for humanity, even if humanity doesn’t appreciate it. She’d rather be disliked and do good. After all, she figures she’s going to get rejected anyway.
In the last scene of the episode, I (probably like all viewers) both recoiled and rejoiced when Ofmatthew pointed the gun at Aunt Lydia. June appears to be almost telepathically controlling the other handmaid to go ahead and kill Aunt Lydia. But instead, the attempted murder is interrupted by shots when Ofmatthew is gunned down by The Eyes.
We are left either disappointed or relieved (or both). Disappointed that Aunt Lydia’s cruelty isn’t put to a stop. Relieved because she plays such an important role in the show.
Aunt Lydia reflects our deepest insecurities and how they morph into in a lack of humanity under the right conditions, and that makes for good television.
June Gets Cruel
The interesting character study of Aunt Lydia parallels June’s transformation.
June’s give a damn is broken.
June has no reason to care anymore for her safety, but she also knows she is protected from Aunt Lydia. Both know June has an important role in trying to get baby Nicole back. June defiantly says,”What are you going to do, cut out my tongue, burn my arm…”
What she only finds out at the end of the episode is that Aunt Lydia has found a way to punish her: reassign her out of Commander Lawrence’s household.
June is becoming reckless with her life, perhaps believing she will never see her children again. In the process she’s also becoming cruel, wanting to see others suffer because she is suffering. It reminds us of Serena punishing June because of her own pain.
Serena and June are not so different after all.
We can understand anger born out of grief. June feels grief for seeing her daughter slip through her hands. But it is hard to watch a basically kind person become grotesque.
The grief Serena felt when she saw her fertility slip from her hands transformed her. Rather than continuing to be a voice for domestic feminism, she exemplifies the voicelessness needed to herald in domestic terrorism.
But June doesn’t give up her voice despite coming to her breaking point. Instead it makes her loud and mean.
As Commander Lawrence points out, June is reveling in her pain. He says, “That must have felt good,” when she cruelly chastises him for destroying his wife by keeping her in Gilead. It’s hard to watch, her turning on a man who has treated her with a modicum of decency in an unrepentant world.
June shares at the end of the episode that she, herself, feels a transformation.
She is becoming ever more comfortable with cruelty. And this is in a way is even harder to watch than the other horrors inflicted by other characters in this show. June knows better, can be better and yet she still allows her valid anger to turn into a weapon.
What we don’t know is if this path June is on is just temporary. Will she pass through this anger or will so much trauma break her?
My gut says this is a temporary transformation. From a story-telling point of view, it is hard to keep an audience engaged if the hero they have been rooting for becomes a villain.
June is coming to a crossroads.
She is going to have to re-evaluate her purpose. For 2 and a half seasons it’s been about self-sacrifice and wanting to protect her children. Now with her newfound taste for vengeance, she will have to figure out how to maintain her humanity.
Is This Turning Into Black Mirror
I really started to feel like I was watching a Black Mirror episode, dystopian series on Netflix. That show often explores the limits of human nature.
Everyone’s darkest human nature is not as rare as you think.
What’s shocking in this episode isn’t how cruel June is becoming or the warped back-story of Aunt Lydia. It is the implosion (literal and figuratively) of Ofmatthew. She is not only so pious it’s sickening, she’s with child — a child she (at least for a second) didn’t want.
Although Ofmatthew has embraced the handmaiden sacred duty, she is scared. She believes she is pregnant with a girl. She, like June and, to some extent, Serena, does not want her child to be subject to the oppression they themselves experience as women in Gilead. It’s no wonder she ultimately feels so much rage towards Aunt Lydia, who enforces their oppression, so much so she’s willing to resort to violence.
For Ofmatthew to not only target Lydia in rage and then be killed even while pregnant, you have to ask yourself, is there any glimmer of hope in this hopeless world?
There is an increasing lack of humanity, to the point I wonder if any humanity is even possible in Gilead now. Before, June wanted to protect the other handmaids and she had a respect for Commander Lawrence. She had hope she would be united with Hannah and that she could keep baby Nicole protected.
Now June is hopeless.
It seems like her wrath is like machine gun spray, everyone is collateral damage. Is the compassionate June gone?
All I can think is that as long as Nicole is in Canada, there is redemption. Hope is alive, at least for the viewer. We have to believe there’s some escape from this world. But this show is becoming so increasingly uber-dystopian, it’s hard to believe hope is possible.
At the end of the original book by Margaret Atwood, we find out from the tapes Offred records (like June does in the show to Luke) that her story is supposed to serve as a cautionary tale. She is speaking to an audience that she hopes can view Gilead in the true light — showing how horrific it was. Her tapes serve as historical documentation so history doesn’t repeat itself.
But watching this episode, I don’t know how this world can be a part of history, rather than a future inevitability. Will a future fictional audience have the opportunity to look back at Gilead in horror?
At this point, we don’t if Gilead will ultimately implode like Ofmatthew did. We don’t know if that future audience will hear of June’s story in the context of revolution.
If the show does continue to resemble Black Mirror, I can’t say for sure June’s story will get to that audience during this series. We may be the only witnesses, a cautionary tale for us. I don’t know how far the writers are willing to stray from the original concept presented in the book.
Overall, “Unfit” reveals the horror in abandoning one’s humanity.
But it also shows us one of the conditions that leads to the darkness of human nature. No one is exempt from cruelty in this series. But it’s yet to be seen if there will ever be redemption in The Handmaid’s Tale.
What do you think? Let me know on Twitter @lissahoopy
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