The Handmaid’s Tale — “Birth Day” — Episode 102 — Offred and her fellow Handmaids assist with the delivery of Janine’s baby, prompting Offred to recall her own daughter’s birth. Offred draws closer to Ofglen while dreading a secret meeting with the Commander. Offred (Elisabeth Moss) and Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes), shown. (Photo by: George Kraychyk/Hulu)
I’m a bit nervous about saying this last one, because it may be just me, and may make me sound callous or jaded or worse. But when I watch shows, I usually want to cheer for the main characters and celebrate their triumphs. I want them to succeed. And I do want June to succeed in escaping this awful world. The trouble is, I’m not sure she can. There are no high points or happy moments in The Handmaid’s Tale whatsoever. Everything is either bad, worse, or holy-hell-awful. Which leads to me, subconsciously, celebrating the times when it’s only just bad.
I catch myself, at times, feeling relief when people show her “kindness,” even if it’s just disguised sexism or condescension. I feel relief when punishment for “crimes” is only some physical violence, rather than death or mutilation. I breathe easier when Serena Joy or Waterford lets something go that she might otherwise be arrested for. And all of that is horrifying, because all of this is horrifying.
That numbness to actual depravity just because “things could be worse” is one of the hallmarks of the recent election, if in a different sense than in Handmaid’s Tale. When so much is so bad, it’s easy to just block it all out and only react when it’s really bad, celebrating when it’s only a little bad because it could so easily be worse. For me, that’s the most painfully real thing about watching The Handmaid’s Tale; it’s a feeling that’s making me take better stock of how I react to reality.