The Handmaid's Tale: Unfit
July 10, 2019 12:38 PM - Season 3, Episode 8 - Subscribe

June and the rest of the Handmaids shun Ofmatthew, and both are pushed to their limit at the hands of Aunt Lydia, who reflects on her life and relationships before the rise of Gilead.
posted by roolya_boolya (19 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Haven't seen this one yet - it's still about three weeks from airing here in the UK - but I've been hoping for an episode showing Aunt Lydia's backstory ever since half way through season 1. Hope it lives up to expectations!!
posted by Paul Slade at 3:04 PM on July 10, 2019

I decided last week that I wasn't going to watch any more of the series. I feel like it has jumped the shark, so to speak. Having just stumbled across your post, I am going to watch at least this one. I really want to know about Aunt Lydia's background!
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 4:46 PM on July 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

The only part of this episode that recalled some of the original force of the show was the Testimony Circle, or whatever it's called. This is because, to me, this is reminiscent of how women can actually treat each other and can turn upon the "shamed" outsider, and never mind they are doing it as a formal ritual here. Echoes of this came through with June enjoying Ofmatthew's torment, was enough of a tie-in to "our" world to be interesting. Also the part where Noelle is shown to be, in essence, Aunt Lydia's first handmaid. The rest was business as it has been lately: Commander Lawrence could do more than stamp around promising a storyline that never materializes; June making commentary that is starting to have all the emotional depth of a sports announcer giving a play-by-play, give or take a few f-bombs; people get shot, someone gets whaled on with a can of food, and so on. Show ends with the now-customary non-synchronous music, June scowl/smiling as fiercely as ever.
posted by Crystal Fox at 5:15 PM on July 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

I wanted more from Aunt Lydia's backstory. Ann Dowd is a treasure but wow, that just did not reveal enough about her and ... well, that was just weird. (There was an interesting glimpse into the early days of Gilead, I guess, though, and I'd like to see more of that.)

(I was intrigued by the scene of the aunts trying to decide which handmaid would go where but also ... what?)

The less said about the non-Aunt Lydia stuff, the better. Although the shame/testimonial circle scene was powerful.

Is June supposed to be a villain now? I kind of hate her. I wish Commander Lawrence/Bradley Whitford was given more to to than to tell June she sucks, but I'm glad someone is.

I know I said I'm done with this show but I came back because I wanted to learn about Aunt Lydia. And wow, was I disappointed. But I might as well see this through to the end of this season now. I think I'm out for season 4, though, unless things radically change (which they won't).
posted by darksong at 6:14 PM on July 10, 2019

You all are harsh! I thought the Aunt Lydia backstory was spot on. Disillusioned family lawyer turned elementary school teacher seems about right. Clearly starved for love - in the makeup scene you can tell that no one has touched her with affection in years. Strict legalistic morality - "if we're going to have rules there have to be consequences for breaking them" and "if doing X is supposed to lead to Y then why are so many undeserving not-Xs getting Y and vice versa?"

The twist I was hoping for was the principal having her fired as being unfit to work with children due to her immoral advances on him.
posted by Flannery Culp at 6:38 PM on July 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

(Everything else is still trash: visuals over substance, June allowed to live because Reasons, bewildering music cues, etc. But I thought Lydia as someone who has tried to bury her need for human connection, briefly lets it surface, then lashes out disproportionately when rejected, seemed right.)
posted by Flannery Culp at 6:47 PM on July 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Beyond the plot armor, I'm really having trouble buying June as puppetmaster directing with a knowing glance and a telling smirk. At this point it makes no sense why she's still alive or at least allowed to continue in a routine that lets her influence the other handmaids. So many have been killed for less.

I get the feeling the writers have drifted into waters out of their depth and they have no idea how to get back to shore (they're in good company... lots of shows have drowned there in season 3 or 4).

The most interesting story this season has been Emily (before they started dangling the threat of her 'crimes' in Gilead) and they've tossed that in favor of June's meandering descent into exercising a control over things that makes no sense in the context of the rules that the story established for Gilead.
posted by kokaku at 7:19 PM on July 10, 2019 [3 favorites]

I thought June gave a good defense of her plot armor in this episode when she says it'd be a shame if she had to go back on TV with her tongue cut out. But it's still wearing a bit thin with her always standing off to the side scowling. There's a lot of things you can do to a person that make them feel awful but don't leave a mark.
posted by scalefree at 8:31 AM on July 11, 2019 [5 favorites]

KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat, I actually stopped watching after the last season and have just been lurking in this season's threads to find out what happens without having to watch. I'm appreciating the discussion.
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:36 AM on July 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

Fiercecupcake that's a great idea! Thanks.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 10:12 AM on July 11, 2019

wow it's like you're all watching a different show. I thought this was a powerful episode. The little sympathies we've been handed for Aunt Lydia are shown to be unjustified, that her caring and, at times, sweetness for the handmaids are born of her old-fashioned mindset of thinking she knows what's good for everyone else, with a heavy dose of religious dogma as her armor. Her brief surrender to temptation cracked the armor, and she hated it so much that she redirected it towards the submission of the handmaids.

June is basically using her own armor, the Waterfords' PR campaign, to wage her own war now. She's just out for revenge against Ofmatthew, and as evil as she's acting, I can really sympathize. I think, though, the show is setting her up for a path of darkness that will be redeemed at the last minute. The image of poor Janine getting beaten again was hard to take, and so was of Ofmatthew getting shot, but June standing there with the streak of blood from her legs was a strong visual, and foretelling, I think.

There's definitely an overall sense of the show portraying how such a society can lead to the extremes of its inhabitants, either completely giving in to the dogma, like Ofmatthew and Aunt Lydia, or doing terrible things to fight it, like June and Emily. It's certainly not a new idea, but it's still interesting to see how it plays out. I'm still waiting for Lawrence to drop a hammer, and it can really fall on either side.
posted by numaner at 11:49 AM on July 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

I am losing my patience a bit with the show too. It is still great on a scene level and even on an episode level, mostly, but in terms of season and series arc it is often just going back and forth on the same old plot lines. I'm going to give it until the end of this season before I pass full judgement to see where they are going with it but so far I'm disappointed.

I enjoyed Lydia's back story. Well, enjoy isn't quite the right word for handmaid's tale, but you know what I mean. The Ofmatthew plot was painfully bad though. Great actress but a poorly drawn character, and like the black Martha the previous week, she seemed to have been introduced only to die to drive June's plot forward. Elizabeth Moss is great but I would be much more interested in exploring the lives of other people in Gilead in more depth and not just through their interactions with June.

I absolutely agree that it's ridiculous that June is seemingly untouchable. Lydia managed to torture her quite well when she was pregnant including by punishing the other handmaids.

I would prefer to spend more time in Canada and see how Moria, Emily and Luke are getting on. There's a wealth of material to explore there instead of looping back over the same old ground in Gilead. There's potential to have a couple more good seasons but I fear this will become one of those shows that drags on far past its sell by date. Which would be a crying shame because the potential to be a seminal piece of tv is still there but diminishing by the episode.
posted by roolya_boolya at 11:58 AM on July 11, 2019 [4 favorites]

Aunt Lydia used to be human until she was rejected? Makes sense.

I was surprised they killed Ofmatthew. Did the guards not realize she was pregnant? Her shunning was very satisfying, though. June testifying against her was kind of expected. So it's different because it might have been a girl, huh, Ofmatthew? Sigh.

Seeing Moss & Whitford in scenes together is great. Alternate universe to West Wing. ;)
posted by luckynerd at 1:15 PM on July 11, 2019

Aunt Lydia was an incel.
posted by 80 Cats in a Dog Suit at 2:38 PM on July 11, 2019 [9 favorites]

I could be wrong, but this was the first episode where they mentioned race as a factor, that I can remember (Lydia saying one of the commanders don’t want a handmaid of color). I always wondered about the decision by Atwood and the writers to create a world based on oppression and discrimination, but also where there seems to be no racial tension and children of all races are equally accepted. I guess this addresses that sort of in that some people are still racist.
posted by monologish at 8:44 PM on July 11, 2019

June making commentary that is starting to have all the emotional depth of a sports announcer giving a play-by-play, give or take a few f-bombs

I was starting to get a very Dexter feeling this episode.

I don't know how many times I can watch Janine get beaten. She's like the sweetest person in this whole universe and she keeps getting shit on. June gets to be a mean girl scowl.
posted by LizBoBiz at 11:48 PM on July 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

Elisabeth Moss still makes it worth it for me. I thought she had a lot more to do than scowl this time. Her face acting during Ofmatthew's end was phenomenal. I felt it in the pit of my stomach and I was genuinely afraid of her and afraid of what she might do. She was just so damn excited by the violence and the imagined comeuppance. An acquired taste, indeed.

The little bit about child protective services being privatized, also nice.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 4:32 PM on July 14, 2019

I'm behind a week. Like everyone I was glad to finally see some of Aunt Lydia's story. I felt it was a little too on-the-nose incel, simplistic, but given they have about 7 minutes screentime total a compressed telling is not unreasonable. The heel turn was sure swift and vicious though. My favorite moment was early on when Mom asks her "do you have a boyfriend? or girlfriend?". She looks briefly offended, angered at the suggestion of queerness, then quickly calms and realizes her guest is just trying to be polite and so simply answers the question by talking about her former husband. Great little moment of acting.

There's a real danger in making Aunt Lydia too sympathetic. She's a terrible monster. There's a fine trick for showing that even the monsters have a decent side to them, or have trauma that explains some of their monstrousness. But then you can't use that as an excuse. Lydia chooses to mutilate the women she trains for a life of sexual slavery. She may do that because she didn't get enough dick as a younger woman, or because she genuinely cares about children. She's still a monster.

If you like Ann Dowd as much as I do, be sure to watch her in the first season of The Leftovers. She's amazing.

June has stopped being a character that makes any sort of sense. She's become a force of plot action. I liked the choreographed formality of her standing the middle of a bunch of Handmaids being awful to poor Natalie, the symbolism of her slowly building her movement of resistance. But Lydia is watching all that and is not dumb. I have to think by the Gilead standards of the first season or two she'd have long since been shipped off to the colonies for insurrection. Or hung. Or worse.
posted by Nelson at 9:11 AM on July 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

I guess maybe the arc of this series will turn out to be June's transformation into a stone-cold killer in her fight against Gilead? That's the way it's looking to me at the moment, anyway.

Also, The Testaments, Margaret Atwood's own sequel to The Handmaid's Tale, is out on September 10. I wonder where she'll take the story and whether it'll be at all influenced by the first season or two of the TV version?
posted by Paul Slade at 2:23 PM on July 28, 2019

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