Tue. Jun 18th, 2019

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Episode 1 Recap: “Night”

(Photo by: Elly Dassas/Hulu)

June (Elisabeth Moss) stands in the middle of the wet road, having just sent baby Nicole off with Emily (Alexis Bledel) to freedom.  As distant screams of millions of viewers yelling at their televisions last July when June doesn’t get in the van still reverberate in the mist, June defiantly stands tall when a car pulls up, bracing for the consequences of her actions.  After rooting for June to get out for two years, not only do we not see her escape when she has the chance, but now we are faced with watching her be punished for trying to. But, instead, the show throws us a curveball in the form of Lawrence (Bradley Whitford), who is the one driving the car and who is the one trying to help her to freedom.  Not only doesn’t he punish her or turn her in, he’s still trying to get her out. But June has already made up her mind to not leave without Hannah, so she asks him to take her to the McKenzie’s, so she can get her.

But before she has a chance to grab Hannah, the police arrive at the McKenzie’s and take June away, which makes me wonder:  who called them? This is literally minutes after her attempted escape, nobody even knows she’s gone yet and certainly nobody knows yet that Nicole is gone, so it’s clearly Lawrence who drops the dime on June.  Is this out of spite or just gameplay? One minute, he’s trying to help, the next he turns her in. It’s just the beginning of the season and we’re already seeing a tonal shift in the story from brutal, graphic repression to mental cat-and-mouse games.  It is a welcome transition and I’m intrigued to see how it plays out.

What is familiar is the twisted dynamic between Fred (Joseph Fiennes), Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) and June, which is fully on display when June is returned to the Waterford’s.  It’s hard to tell who is more pissed at seeing June—Fred or Serena. Fred is furious for putting them all at risk and demands to know where Nicole is. Serena has no such practical thoughts, she just, in this moment feels nothing but betrayal, anger and fear.  Serena is utterly broken when she sees June standing in her living room instead of doing what she didn’t have the strength to do: keeping Nicole safe. At least someone else is as incredulous as the audience is that June didn’t take her opportunity to get out when she could.  

When Fred promises to fix everything and put things back to “normal,” Serena snaps and literally burns the house down, an awesome sequence that feels as cathartic for the audience as it does for Serena.  The song choice of Boomtown Rats’ “I Don’t Like Mondays” playing over the inferno as it incinerates all the reminders of the horrors of the previous two seasons is almost comedic in its simplicity and applies the perfect touch.  It was always June who wanted to burn everything to the ground, but it’s Serena who lights the first match. Once the smoke clears, Nick (Max Minghella), Fred, Serena and June all go off in different directions, and it is unclear as to what their fates may be.  Fire often signifies rebirth, it will be interesting to see how these characters come back together again, if they do at all.

Meanwhile, Emily makes it to Canada with Nicole and unites with Luke (O-T Fagbenle) and Moira (Samira Wiley), but it’s all a bit overwhelming for her.  She’s not adjusting well after all she’s been through. Director Mike Barker lets Alexis Bledel do what she does best here as Emily’s terror, confusion and apprehension are all revealed in the nuances of Bledel’s moving performance.  

Having been taken back to the Red Center, June gets punished by the new Aunt Lydia, Aunt Elizabeth, for breaking into the McKenzie’s, not for trying to escape or for kidnapping Nicole.  It seems Fred’s plan to frame the whole thing on Emily has worked, but it still seems strange that there would be no inquiry or investigation. There were at least two fires set, Aunt Lydia is brutally attacked and a handmaid and a child disappear—all on the same night?  It’s really hard to swallow that it wouldn’t dawn on them that some sort of coordination by multiple parties may be at play. After all we know about Gilead, it seems inconsistent that this is let go so quickly.

But, no matter what, we are finally seeing signs that the resistance is gaining traction.  We’ve already seen the network of Marthas who got June out (how many others have they done this for?) and now, as June is in the Red Center, an anonymous handmaid informs her that Nicole made it and is safe.  June feels a renewed determination, knowing that she’s not alone. But then, in the final bit of irony—or control— she gets assigned to Lawrence, who playfully teases her, “you’re not going to be any trouble, are you?”  Bradley Whitford is perfect at playing the morally ambiguous charmer, but there’s something especially creepy that he’s added to his performance here that is the perfect cherry on top of this nightmare sundae.

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