'The Handmaid's Tale': Surprise Cameo by Oprah Winfrey Brings New Hope and Life, Just Not Enough
Winfrey voices Radio Free America, which provides a distant glimmer of hope, but that’s not going to do much for June now as she goes into labor.
June (Elisabeth Moss) found hope in a quiet place this week on "The Handmaid’s Tale," but don’t worry, the writers still managed to quash it into nothingness and hit the reset button by the end of the hour.
Even a surprise cameo by Oprah Winfrey as a deejay broadcasting from a pirate station dubbed "Radio Free America" could only keep hope alive for about half the episode, which is right around when June’s water broke, and that’s when you have to start wondering how much more of this June and the audience can take.
This second season has been a chore at times, watching a show afraid to move forward, and yet it has also given us so many beautifully filmed artistic moments. This episode alone was a mastercraft in subtlety and the power of quiet. Until the closing moments of the episode, June had said less than ten words in the entire hour, not counting voiceover (and even that was limited).
And yet, the whole time we couldn’t help but feel that the inevitable was just around the corner. "The Handmaid’s Tale" has already been renewed for a third season. Therefore, June simply can’t be given her freedom yet. In fact, unless the show gets a legitimate end date or the writers prove willing to push in bold new directions, "Handmaid" could quickly find itself in trouble.
Here We Go Again And Again And Again
Already some viewers are growing frustrated with the repetitive nature of June’s arcs. She gains conviction and hope, says some bold things, gets a glimpse of freedom and then it all falls apart and she withdraws into despair. Rinse and repeat. This week alone we saw that full arc play out in 47 minutes.
We can only hope that despite the reset button happening again at the end of this episode, maybe Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) will go through with her plan to have June reassigned. Since June lacks the agency to do anything on her behalf in this society, the best we can hope for is for others to move the plot along for her.
Stranded in an abandoned house in the woods after her reunion with daughter Hannah went so wrong last week, June spent much of the episode alone, railing against the patriarchy with bold words and ultimately deciding to regain agency in her life only to be defeated again and again at almost every turn until finally she gave in and called for help via shotgun blasts. Help in the form of Gilead, that is, which isn’t much help at all.
So much was stacked against her from the beginning of the hour, and yet we were supposed to root for her to maybe gain some autonomy as she searched for keys, found a potential getaway car and even packed for a possibly long journey. But of course, that wasn’t going to work. This could go on for years. She can’t get away this quickly. So the writers didn’t even let her get out of the garage.
So Is This Torture Porn?
At what point do we have to question why we continue to watch this show? The middle seasons of "Lost" fell into a similar pattern where the writers had to keep things as much the same as possible because they didn’t know how much longer they were going to be on the air. So far this season, "Handmaid" has been following that lead.
Look back at what’s already happened. We spent three episodes with June hoping to escape, only for her not to escape. Janine and Emily wound up in the Colonies for a while, only to be brought back to June’s neighborhood to become Handmaids again. June has gone back and forth with the Waterfords so many times to where they treat her fairly well, considering, and then it’s back to torture, abuse and even rape again last week.
There are two episodes left this season, and it is imperative that we get something series altering or mind-blowing in them or there could be a junior slump on the horizon. "The Handmaid’s Tale" has always been a challenging show to watch, and at times a very depressing one to slog through. But always there was that glimmer that this was all going somewhere, that we would see June vindicated and Gilead fall.
But if that fall is going to be seven or eight years from now, the writers really need to brainstorm more interesting things to do in the meantime than torture June and the other Handmaids the same way over and over again. We’ve already gotten that message. We trumpeted it last season, and while we’re marveling at its parallels to Trump’s America this season, that doesn’t mean we aren’t ready for a new message.
June on the run or even June infiltrating an Econofamily and hiding out among them creates the same level of peril but in entirely new and interesting ways. And if the concern is that we need June to stay with the Waterfords so we can follow their story, that’s just silly. After two seasons, we’re invested in them as well, so we can just follow them without June being there at all.
So long as they have her baby, which looks to be the inevitable result we’ll see next week, that connection will remain. And even if their stories move in different direction for the next few seasons, we know that a reunion and a reckoning will be coming. That we can stick around for. But we need to have some hope that June can improve her situation, or at least change it.
This week’s glimpse of hope came with the soothing tones of Oprah Winfrey in a surprise cameo when June fired up the car in the garage. Scanning the dial, she caught a message from Oprah that filled her and us with hope. Of course this was when we all thought maybe she would make a run for it in this car. We should have known better.
Still, Oprah’s words provided hope that the world is standing united against Gilead and the United States hasn’t given up on its citizens still trapped therein.
"Radio Free America. Broadcasting from somewhere in the Great White North," she said. "And now, this news. The American Government in Anchorage today received promises of economic aid from India and China. In the United Kingdom, additional sanctions on Gilead were announced, as well as plans to raise the cap on American refugees relocating from Canada. Now, a tune to remind everyone who’s listening, American patriot or Gilead traitor; we are still here. Stars and stripes forever, baby."
And so the global picture continues to clarify with the United States hanging onto at least Alaska and Hawaii. We’d like to hope they also have the West Coast — as the Colonies seems to be the Midwest where the worst of the fighting took place. Of course, knowing the bleakness of this show, it may well be just those two disparate states remaining in the U.S. Down but not out yet!
Is it just as bad if you choose slavery for yourself over freedom? Admittedly, that’s not a totally fair question as June has an infant to think of and no available options for either of them. It’s a little unfortunate that she fired off those shots before she gave birth, as she feared she wouldn’t be able to deliver the child alone.
By the time Holly, named after her mother, had come into the world, Gilead was on its way. Had she not shot into the sky, she’d face a decision as to how to move forward. In theory, she could skulk in that house for awhile as no one seems to be very good at searching it, and take the time to try and get that garage door open now that she’s not having a baby while working at it.
Instead, she made the awful decision to subject herself again to whatever cruelties the Waterfords had in store for her, if only for the safety of her baby. For the monster she is, June at least knows that Serena wants this baby more than anything. She said as much this episode, while June was listening, telling Fred (Joseph Fiennes), "I gave up everything for you, and for the cause. And I only ever wanted one thing in return. I wanted a baby."
And Serena really did give up everything, including the ability to make decisions for herself, work and even write. That’s a hell of a lot to sacrifice for a baby. Serena has been bristling under all that she’s given up for weeks now, taking her frustration out on June, and now she’s in the impossible position of perhaps not getting what she gave it all up for.
If nothing else, that moment should open her eyes to all that she has sacrificed, and for what? So she could steal the baby from another woman and raise it as her own? Was it really that simple for Serena? She was willing to sell out her humanity and her nation and women everywhere just so she could steal a baby of her own?
That’s such a singular and selfish focus, no wonder she seems surprised at every turn at just how far things have gone in Gilead. The question remains, what will she choose now? She’s about to get her baby. Will she be content with that? With her heart’s desire in her hands, she’ll probably finally fully open her eyes to the world she helped create. Here’s hoping she finds it seriously lacking.
Serena’s redemption arc took a huge nosedive last week when she orchestrated the rape of June, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely over for her. Motherhood changes a person, and maybe having a baby of her own (kind of) will have a similar impact on Serena. Even more challenging, June gave birth to a little girl, so Serena has to think about the world she’s created for that girl to grow up in.
It’s not that great.
It’s even possible that Serena and June could find themselves both wanting to fight for a better future for their bizarrely shared child, which could be interesting to watch. For all her lofty position married to a Commander gives her, Serena’s station in Gilead isn’t much higher than June’s.
We’re still rooting for June to continue trying to escape Gilead, and maybe even finally manage to pull it off. Not only would this completely shake up the repetitive narrative the show has fallen into, but it would give us yet another fresh perspective on Gilead. June would now have two daughters she’s left behind, and she’d be a lot more determined than Luke seems to be about getting them back.
It would be refreshing to continue this narrative with June on the outside doing what she can to try and save her friends and children, while dealing with the inevitable PTSD, even as Serena works from the inside to try and dismantle what she created for the sake of her "daughter." This is a show about female empowerment, and it’s about damned time they started finding some.
"The Handmaid’s Tale" airs new episodes Wednesdays on Hulu.
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