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The Handmaid's Tale - Under His Eye - Review

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The Handmaid’s Tale “Under His Eye” was written by the team of Nina Fiore and John Herrera and was directed by Mike Barker. The episode finds June (Elisabeth Moss) back home and splits its time between “Boston” with June and Washington with the Waterfords as well as with Emily (Alexis Bledel) and Moira (Samira Wiley) in Toronto. This episode returns to the novel with the particicution scenes. The word is a combination of participation and execution – and just another way to indoctrinate the handmaids, to make them culpable and break their spirits – or possibly make crazy murderers out of them….

The episode begins as so many others have with some gorgeous cinematography of the particicution ritual. Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) oversees the handmaid’s duty and charges them to do God’s holy bidding. After being Gilead’s executioners, how could they ever go back to their own families and a normal society? As soon as Aunt Lydia tells them to drop the rope after one last pull to drop the platform and hang the accused, she tells them to disperse. After all, handmaids in a group are a killing machine. June doesn’t even wait for the order to disperse and Ofmatthew (Ashleigh LaThrop) has to run to catch up with her.

Ofmatthew tries to justify their actions – she’s heard the woman hung mistreated her child, letting it cry for hours and hours. June sarcastically replies that that’s a great reason to hang someone. Ofmatthew continues to spout religiously covered propaganda until she has to stop as her morning sickness overwhelms her. June, of course, takes pity on her and helps her breathe through the nausea. Ofmatthew tells her that she’s always loved being pregnant, but this time is more difficult. She just wishes it was over. June shares her own feelings and difficulties when she was first pregnant with Nichole. June even tells her that she had thoughts that she is ashamed of now. Ofmatthew is immediately offended and disgusted and tells June that she doesn’t have any “thoughts.” Oh the irony. No Ofmatthew, you don’t have any thoughts of your own nor do you contain any capacity for empathy….

Once again at Loaves and Fishes, June has another clandestine meeting. We also see that the “veils” from Washington are starting to appear in Boston. Alma (Nina Kiri) tells June that she saw two more the day before. Ofmatthew salutes their devotion while the others are clearly appalled. Alma, lamely, tells June that there’s fruit cocktail, and Ofmatthew is keen to get some too. Brianna (Bahia Watson) steps in and asks Ofmatthew to help her pick ripe avocados to get her away from June. Alma tells June that she’s crappy at improve.

June has arranged a meeting with Frances (Ordena Stephens), the Martha who looks after Hannah. Frances once again reminds her that Mrs Mackenzie asked her to stop, but June asks Frances if she could. Frances is clearly sympathetic. She tells June that Hannah is happy and doing well in school. June points out that it’s a school that would cut off Hannah’s finger for reading. June tells Frances that her Commander could get them all out – that Frances could be free. Does June really think this or is she using it as bait? Would Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) do it even if he could?

June insists that Hannah would be better off with her real parents and Frances isn’t so sure. June tells Frances to ask Hannah what she wants, and Frances says she won’t put Hannah in that position. June says she’ll ask her – she can go to her school. She tells Frances she just came from her fourth hanging this week, and asks Frances if she thinks it’s going to get better. Things are clearly getting worse – and Frances knows it. She tells her to go to the gate today as the Guardian at the gate is a friend who will help June.

In Toronto, Lena (Sarah McVie) interviews Emily to get her side of the story – and confirm the things she did in Gilead. This is exactly what the particicutions are for – what kind of credibility will these handmaids have if they do escape? How will they be judged? The set here is perfect – stark white and sterile, flooded with light to allow for no shades or shadows – no excuses for murder and violence. The little partitioned cubicles also reinforce the idea that there is no room for interpretation here, no excuses, just the bald facts. We see Emily’s answers from behind Lena and behind the slats of a blind, like bars on a prison.

Sylvia (Clea DuVall) has come with Emily and paces in the background. Emily has given up expecting justice or to be heard. Even without having had to wear a veil, her voice has been largely silenced. Since when would an academic not try to explain the facts of a situation? Emily is faced with the bald facts of her actions, stripped of the torture and horror that drove her to them. They are also laid bare in front of Sylvia. Emily is clearly ashamed of what she’s done. Sylvia tries to provide the context and wants to know if Lena knows what “that monster” – Aunt Lydia – did to Emily. Lena says she does and that she doesn’t enjoy asking the questions. When Lena asks Emily if “she took any other actions that Gilead would see as criminal,” Emily hesitates before answering “Probably.”

Sylvia tells Emily that she doesn’t care what Emily did in Gilead. She tells Emily that she doesn’t have to deal with it on her own, but Emily has shut herself off. She tells Sylvia that she’s fine and walks away.

In Washington, Olivia Winslow (Elizabeth Reaser) tries to convince Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) to move to Washington, and show her one of the last “unrestored” houses left. It’s a beautiful mansion, but the echoes of the family who either fled or were killed are everywhere. Coats still hang by the door, mail is on the table, unopened. Serena simply comments that the light is beautiful. She does ask who lived there before, and Olivia answers with clear disdain that she thinks they were Baptists. Broken glass litters the floor, family pictures still hang on the wall – ghosts of the family. There’s even a baby’s room with the name Phoebe on the wall. Olivia further tempts Serena by telling her that there are bunk beds in one of the other rooms – for when the kids – plural! – are older. If Serena stays, there will be more babies.

Commander Winslow (Christopher Meloni) is thrilled with Fred’s (Joseph Fiennes) work when Canada agrees to a general extradition treaty. Winslow thinks that they make a good team. Fred wants to get Nichole back – and then move the others along quickly, but Winslow points out that the baby gives them a lot of leverage while she is still in Canada. There’s a terrific close up shot of the two men, lit from behind, throwing them into a shadowed profile. Winslow gets uncomfortably (for me) close to Fred as he tells him that in the end, Gilead will know whom to credit. Fred has to weigh his overweening ambition against what this will do to Serena. I also loved how the light through the opening in the circular stairway in this scene as the two men break apart looks like an eye – circling back to the title of the episode – “Under His Eye.”

June comes back to the house and asks Beth (Kristen Gutoskie) where Lawrence is – like he’d tell her! Beth tells June he’s out doing Commander things. June tells her that she has to get to Brookline by three o’clock to see her daughter. Beth wishes her luck – sarcastically. June says that she can’t go alone as a Martha, but Beth refuses to go. June offers to take up Eleanor’s (Julie Dretzin) tray – it seems like she’s trying to persuade Beth by helping and then has a very bad idea….

June knocks and pushes in to Eleanor’s darkened room with the tray rather than simply let Eleanor take it. June pushes in and opens the curtains, declaring it a beautiful day. She offers to take her for a walk. Eleanor says Joseph wouldn’t like it, but June says he would be fine with it if he knew how much she’d enjoy it. Eleanor then objects to all the people out there. Dretzin is terrific in this episode as we see both glimpses of the woman Eleanor may have been and the different shades of her mental instability. She is drawn to the open curtain, fearfully peering out, yet a small smile appears on her lips. She would clearly like to go outside despite her fears. June can barely contain her own excitement when Eleanor finally agrees.

Frances calls June selfish, and this episode demonstrates June’s blinkered vision when it comes to what she wants and Hannah. She cares nothing about the potential harm to either Frances or Eleanor.

June isn’t happy to run into Mrs Putnam (Ever Carradine). It’s clear that she is curious about Eleanor. Eleanor is thrilled to see the baby, but has no filter on her comments as she just keeps going on about how they thought the baby was going to die. June exchanges pleasantries with Mrs Putnum who declares June a ripe handmaid, and then June cuts the visit short, suggesting they should keep going. June seems to start to think better of her plan.

The two stop on the bridge. June checks on Eleanor, who confides that it’s hard not to wonder what her own daughter or little boy might have looked like – is this the source of her condition? June is shocked to learn that she and the Commander tried to have children. Eleanor tells her that she wanted to, but he disagreed. She was teaching fulltime and it was a struggle – they were always adjusting her dosage. June responds that being a mother in Gilead presents its own challenges. Eleanor considers they did the right thing.

        June finally tells Eleanor the truth. She says she lied and that her daughter’s school is in Brookline and today might be her only chance to see her. She offers to take her home, but Eleanor surprises June by declaring that she’s keen on an adventure! They should keep going! I love that they’ve stopped on the very center of the bridge – and June should have turned back…

Emily has coffee with Moira and is anybody not expecting that they are going to end up together? Moira has clearly found her voice again. She is angry and adamant that Canada has to protect Nichole from Gilead. Emily tentatively agrees with her, but then asks Moira if she misses her “old job.” Moira admits sometimes and adds that she mostly misses the people. Moira has made a new life and left both of the old ones behind. Emily is still trying to find her way forward. Moira tries to guess where Emily used to live before Gilead. Emily tells her that she mostly studied and was at Harvard. Moira tries to find Harvard girls they would both have known. It turns out that they have no “gay” in common. It underscores how different they were before.

Moira gets a call to go to a bird dog protest and Emily surprises her by asking to come too. Moira gets right up in the Minister’s (Laurie Murdoch) face, demanding that they protect Nichole. Emily hangs back at first. The Minister insists that Canada’s doors are always open, but it’s in the interest of all Canadians to keep peace with their neighbors. Moira forcefully shuts the Minister’s car door to prevent him from escaping and wants to know why they won’t just refuse Gilead custody of the baby. The Minister says the mother surrendered her rights, and that’s it for Emily. She finally comes forward, telling him that the mother surrendered nothing, and she’s the one who got the baby out because that’s what June wanted. She tells him that she risked her life to get the baby out – she did her job – now it’s time for him to do his! Moira and Emily are arrested.

Eleanor and June get to the school which is heavily gated and guarded. When they ask of Guardian Parker – Frances’ friend – the Guardian (Spencer Robson) tells them that he’s not there today. That should have been their first clue, but it’s too late to turn back. Eleanor tells the Guardian that she was promised a tour of the school and she’s Commander Lawrence’s wife. The Guardian is happy to help her and lets her in – but not June. June then loses it and starts circling the school – but it’s surrounded by a high white wall. She can hear the children but she can’t see them. She can bear the children, but she can’t be a part of their lives. Once again, we get a beautiful shot that underlines the story as June presses herself up against the white wall and looks up into the camera, stark red against the white snow and wall.

June is lost in her own reverie when the Guardian comes for her. Eleanor, left on her own, has lost it. She has to beg June to take her home. Eleanor is clearly exhausted when she gets home, and Lawrence cares for her. June lurks outside the door, and Eleanor apologizes and asks for forgiveness – she really tried. June nods and then goes to sit on the stairs.

I was really expecting Lawrence to do something. June tells him that she had no intention of putting Eleanor in any danger. Lawrence doesn’t respond. June then gets angry with him and tells him that he should have seen Eleanor come alive out there. It’s clear that June feels like Eleanor is also being kept a prisoner. Lawrence remains enigmatic… Is he just trying to care for her the best way he can? Does he really know what is best for her? Is June simply blinded by her own – and all the other women’s – repression?

Back in Washington, Serena and Fred enjoy a dinner out. Once again, just a few short sentences help to paint a picture of Gilead. Fred asks Serena how the art gallery was and she says it was wonderful to see the works in an “intimate” setting – meaning that only the very few get in to see them, likely only Commanders and their wives. She then says it was a blessing that so many were saved from the Art Institute – and she must mean the wonderful collection at the Art Institute in Chicago – that’s where Nick was sent to the front, so these paintings are spoils of war. It sounds exactly like the Nazis pilfering art from all over Europe in WWII for Hitler’s private collection…

Fred and Serena enjoy an intimate and happy memory about visiting the Art Institute – and the location is confirmed by Fred saying he skipped a fishing trip to Lake Michigan to be with Serena – who interestingly was skipping out on a baby shower. Serena remarks that the Winslows have been very kind, and Fred remarks that she’s been very patient. Fred tells Serena that he’s going to bring Nichole back as soon as he can. She asks what’s happened – and he says he’s good at his job. Serena knows that some believe that it’s more politically expedient to keep Nichole in Canada. She’s not stupid…. Fred tells her not to push him for a timeline as he can’t give one – because he’s lying! And she accepts this. But is Serena also being seduced by her own ambition again?

Back in Toronto, Moira and Emily are in jail. Moira isn’t sure how Luke will react – she’s hoping he’ll be ok with it. Emily has no idea how Sylvia will react, and Moira jokes, “You’re a prison-bitch now, she might like that!” Emily says that Sylvia won’t let on even if she is mad because she’s trying to give Emily space. Emily doesn’t trust it because there’s a lot that Sylvia doesn’t know – and it’s clear that Emily thinks that Sylvia will condemn her for what she’s done. She tells Moira about killing the Wife in the colonies. She tells Moira that she’s not sorry. Moira tells her about killing the Commander.

Emily says “Look what they’ve turned us into.” But Moira has had more time to process what happened to her. She takes Emily’s hand and asks her if she’s killed anyone since she got out. She says no – obviously – and asks if Moira has. She says “No, so I think we’re good.” They aren’t murderers. They did what they did because of where they’d been pushed – in what was essentially a time of war. Should they feel remorse? It’s just another facet of the PTSD that they have to deal with.

Back in Washington, Fred and Serena attend a ball. Here is another example of how the elite live. George pulls Fred away to join the men, and Serena is left to enter the ballroom alone. Olivia immediately gathers here into the elite crowd. Serena says the space looks amazing – and it does. It’s part of Casa Loma in Toronto – and I recognize it because my niece was married there! Olivia says that Evelyn (Lily Gao) transformed it, and Evelyn says that her Dennis will likely take all the credit. Serena says, “Isn’t that what they all do?” The Commanders take credit for what the wives do… it’s a dangerous statement, but these women all laugh. Olivia adds “Every man needs a safe space to strut for the other peacocks,” and Evelyn adds “that’s why we have our own peacocks to strut for us,” as a Guardian walks by! Apparently, these women aren’t afraid to grab a little enjoyment for themselves – and they are powerful enough to command at least a few men. Olivia tells Serena to relax. She’s among friends.

Serena and Fred lock eyes across the ballroom. Then Fred stops in the middle of the dance floor and tells her that she looks stunning – and asks her to dance. I suspect that both Fiennes and Strahovski can dance, though the segment is carefully shot. All eyes in the room are on them as the dance floor clears. The finish to applause. The dance is clearly sexual, but more importantly, it’s a way for both of them to strut and a way to make their presence felt in this society. Serena is clearly enjoying it. Will her own ambition override her need to have Nichole back?

Back in “Boston,” the handmaids gather for another particicution. Alma immediately asks June what happened because the Mackenzies are gone. June is shocked and nobody knows where they’ve gone. Aunt Lydia begins by telling them to enjoy the beautiful day, basking in God’s light – and ironically – lucky shooting schedule – it’s actually snowing. It’s a nice way of undercutting both the literal and figurative meaning of Aunt Lydia’s words. They are there to punish the endangerment of a sacred child. It’s Francis. She’s getting out alright. She’ll be free of Gilead – but not in the way that June promised. Aunt Lydia forces June to pick up the rope. June sets her face and does as she’s told. As she makes the final pull, June says “By his hand.” She is clearly shifting responsibility for the killing. This isn’t her hand – it’s his – Gilead’s – she’s being forced to do this. Or perhaps she means God’s? Is she negating her own responsibility in this act? It also dovetails back to Nazi Germany and the trials afterward in which the Generals said that they were only following orders. It wasn’t a satisfactory defense. It also dovetails nicely with what Emily and Moira are dealing with. What will June be like if she ever does get out?

Aunt Lydia tells them to disperse, and unlike the opening scene, this time June is the last to drop the rope and leave. Also in contrast to the beginning, instead of helping Ofmatthew through her nausea, June attacks Ofmatthew when she tells her that June should be thankful that her temptation has been lifted. Ofmatthew saw her talking to Frances – we saw Ofmatthew lurking in the background. Ofmatthew tells June that Aunt Lydia told Ofmatthew to watch June to try to protect her. Ofmatthew is convinced that she saved June. The other handmaids form a circle to protect June from being seen by the Guardians and then pull her off Ofmatthew. The final scene is only a closeup of half of June’s face as she rushes past the camera – shocked by what’s happened.

Once again this was a beautifully constructed episode. I love how it was structured so that we essentially end where we began. It seems that Serena’s new life is on the rise as June seems to be losing all hope of completing her mission to free Hannah. Will June be able to see past her own ambitions to realize the harm and devastation she’s leaving in her wake? Does it matter that the people who are dying or being harmed by her actions are innocents who are trying to help her? George clearly has more than a professional interest in Fred. Will Fred’s ambition bend him to George’s will or will that be too much even for Fred? Will Serena give up Nichole for the promise of a higher status and other children? This show never disappoints, and this was another episode with wonderful acting, cinematography, and writing. What did you think of the episode? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below! And if you are watching on Hulu – no spoilers please!

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