The Handmaid's Tale: Useful
June 6, 2019 10:56 AM - Season 3, Episode 3 - Subscribe

June navigates a meeting where she must face both Commander Waterford and Nick; Serena Joy attempts to recuperate at her mother's home; Lawrence teaches June a hard lesson about the difficult decisions he makes as a Commander.

AV Club: The Handmaid’s Tale puts the excellent Yvonne Strahovski in muddied waters
posted by numaner (15 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't disagree with AV Club that Strahovski was excellent here, but I do disagree that the episode couldn't tied together its plots. These are the things that has to be done in this episode to pay off rather, and I thought it was obvious that the very end stitched them together with the sense that "ok, now the women are getting ready to really fight back, wives, handmaids, marthas, all of them"

June knew she needed powerful allies, but Lawrence has proven to be unreliable, and perhaps even an opponent. So Serena is kind of her only powerful ally. But at least she can use Lawrence's own hubris against Gilead, by picking those five women. However I would be surprised if Lawrence himself didn't look over the qualities of those women and surmise why June chose them.

I can see Lawrence's nuances and maybe even sympathize with him, but it's clear, as Waterford said, he's a survivor, and he's only sentimental about his wife. To be the architect of this terrible regime, where your original goal was to save humanity because of declining birth rates, must take a very specific toll on the soul. Letting the women in his house run their little resistance to "blow off steam" is either repentance or literally another form of control. Either way he's an intriguing character so far.
posted by numaner at 11:05 AM on June 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yvonne Strahovski is amazing as Serena Joy and brings so much depth and nuance to someone who is an incredibly complex character. But I am tired of the show trying to make me feel sorry for her. Yes, I feel sorry for her in a human way and sure, the patriarchy hurts everyone blah blah blah, but she's a victimizer more than she's a victim. I am really not on board with any kind of redemptive arc for her, honestly. I hope the show finds a way to reckon with the damage she'd done and not turn her into a hero.

Lawrence has brought some new unpredictability to this show and I'm glad because it's needed it. I'm glad he's called June out for not being any kind of special "chosen one." (And I think that's part of what made the book so interesting -- the narrator was just a normal woman.)

This still may be a season where I quit mid-episode. But strangely, I liked the first three more than I expected to. I'm not sure this show is really good anymore. I can't tell, though.
posted by darksong at 12:46 PM on June 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

Letting the women in his house run their little resistance to "blow off steam" is either repentance or literally another form of control.

Bearing in mind Fred's comment that Lawrence doesn't like to be bored I also think there's an aspect of him doing it for amusement, or maybe stimulation is a better word.
posted by roolya_boolya at 1:00 PM on June 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

I agree that Strahovski is amazing in the role and Serena is an interesting character. But yeah, she's not going to be redeemed. I want her head in a basket along with her husband's. Not only is she culpable in this whole miserable society, she held down pregnant woman so her husband could rape her. I mean, it's sure sad that the leopards have started eating her face, but nope. I can see why June maybe needs to work with her, but they shouldn't be fucking friends and the show needs to knock it off.
posted by Aquifer at 1:25 PM on June 6, 2019 [12 favorites]

Lawrence has brought some new unpredictability to this show and I'm glad because it's needed it.

Absolutely! I'm loving that I have have utterly no clue what his motivation is.
posted by Bibliogeek at 1:25 AM on June 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

IMO Lawrence still believes that declining fertility is the core problem that needs to be fixed and his plan is the right way to do that but he's frustrated that Gilead leadership is fucking up the implementation. He seems like a Peter Singer-type strict utilitarian who allowed all this fundamentalist bullshit to be introduced as long as it furthered his goal of identifying fertile or otherwise high-value (by his definition) people and allocating them appropriately for producing children and improving society. Gilead has made society worse and not even produced that many children, and so he mocks its trappings and subverts it in small ways. I think he's hoping for the theocracy to crash and burn so he can try again in a strictly secular, rational, efficient way. Money, brute force, and Excel sheets.
posted by Flannery Culp at 8:32 AM on June 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

I generally agree on the idea of Lawrence as a strict utilitarian. I think he has a modicum of discomfort on seeing how the sausage is actually made, but I wouldn't give him enough credit to call it empathy or even guilt. I am not certain at this point how he balances out his fidelity to the system he created, his vague queasiness about how that actually looks on a granular level when implemented, and his chaotic need to keep things interesting for himself.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:29 AM on June 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh, I don't think he feels any guilt, just exasperation. "I gave you this perfectly thought-out plan! You had one job!"
posted by Flannery Culp at 11:25 AM on June 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

First solid episode of this season for me. I'm glad they finally framed Commander Lawrence a little better for me. Or directly; as June says, he is a psychopath. I think that's basically accurate. Even moreso than most Gilead members. Most Commanders, etc have the decency to at least look embarrassed or ashamed when women are abused. Lawrence embraces it, seeks it out. He may have done a helpful and heroic deed last season, and his stated reasons are even a tiny bit altruistic ("she's unnaturally smart and will help the world".) But he's also monstrous and fickle. Fascinating character and very well played by Bradley Whitford. My only dissonance is that a male character gets so much attention on the show. At least he's interesting, unlike Junior Commander "Nick" Cannonfodder.

I loved the narrative structure. June says early on she wants to fight back and needs powerful allies. Followed by scenes of her trying to recruit help: Fred, Serena, Lawrence. But they're all useless to him. And then she spots her opportunity, the hideous Sophie's Choice, and so she chooses five people with skills that will be useful to the resistance. Those are her powerful allies, she made them.
posted by Nelson at 7:17 AM on June 13, 2019 [4 favorites]

Fred, Serena, Lawrence are all useless to her. Argh, sorry.
posted by Nelson at 8:07 AM on June 13, 2019

Gobsmacked to hear Roy Harper. Where the hell did that come from. Ace.
posted by unliteral at 9:18 AM on June 15, 2019

I wanted Serena to kill herself. Perfect karma for Fred.
posted by luckynerd at 1:52 PM on June 15, 2019

Serena's mom is awful but also not wrong about where Serena stands in the world and what her choices are. That was an interesting dynamic.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 4:11 PM on June 24, 2019

I'm still not over "binders full of women" joke either.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 2:11 PM on June 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

I wonder what the showrunners would ever do to end an episode if they didn't have June looking directly to camera for the final shot. Staring at us with fierce determination, like shit is really going to be going down next episode, except, oh, wait, no, just another hour of humiliation for her. That's happened, what, twenty times now? Whatever. Find a new motif.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:03 PM on July 1, 2019 [4 favorites]

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