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The Handmaid’s Tale – Hi. It’s Me.

Posted on the 16 June 2019 by Cathy Leaves @cathyleaves
The Handmaid’s Tale: 3x02 Mary and Martha.
The Handmaid’s Tale – Hi. It’s me.
One of the reasons why Gilead has been successful in its subjugation of women is because it has divided them into groups, and then set these groups against each other. We have seen the effects of this before, and the most obvious example is the tenuous relationship between wives and handmaids – the Wives mistrusting the Handmaids for coming into their marriages, and from their perspective, taking away their husbands, the Handmaids mistrusting the wives because they are participating in their torture and rape. But the other social groups in Gilead are similarly pitted against each other. When she escaped and met an Econowife, she heard all the prejudices that these women hold against her, and she realised that her fate is used as a bogey-man-story to scare children. Mary and Martha further explores the relationship between Handmaids and the Marthas that serve their households. The reason for this is that June has since learned that the Marthas are a central part of Mayday, the organisation that is actively resisting the regime both by sabotaging it from the inside and by providing a precarious path to the outside for refugees. June hasn’t had a good run with Marthas, and it took her a long time to gain Rita’s trust – but now that relationship is even more strained because she was meant to leave Gilead, and has put others at risk for a chance she has given up, and she is in Commander Lawrence’s household, where nobody knows her or can vouch for her. June knows she will eventually need the help of the Marthas again if she is to find a way to free Hannah. Added to that is another odd power dynamic we witness in this episode: Aunt Lydia, not dead after all but severely injured, is still visiting the Lawrences to check up on both June, whom she deeply mistrusts, and the Commander himself, who she suspects of something. Commander Lawrence stands up for June, but it’s a clear sign that his household is in danger, if only because his wife is frail and not able to perform the (as we’ve seen, occasionally public) role of a Wife. We haven’t learnt yet what has happened to Mrs Lawrence exactly, only that she deeply resents what her husband has built (the economy of Gilead, including the colonies to which the Unwomen are sent). There are hints here that she may be more actively involved in whatever resistance there is, or that she at least is very conscious of what has been happening in the cellar of her mansion. 
June soon realises that the Marthas of her household are very busy indeed in the resistance. They are providing shelter for women who are about to be transported somewhere else – she meets one of them, and learns that instead of crossing over to Canada, the former chemistry teacher (June calls her “Walter White”, just to remind us how close Gilead is to the present times) is going deeper into the resistance to build more bombs just like the one that blew up the new Rachel and Leah Centre. When they are about to be exposed and Commander Lawrence furiously asks them to remove the threat to his household, June decides to leverage what she thinks is her connection to Lawrence to help the Marthas, and gain their trust for future use. The exercise mainly serves to showcase that Commander Lawrence, as different as he is from all the other higher-ups we’ve met before, is primarily concerned with the security of his house (and that of his wife), and that his empathy and help only extends to those he considers part of that household. 
It’s a stark contrast to the kind of resistance required to bring about the end of Gilead. Commander Lawrence’s subversion – the fact that he speaks freely, that he has art on his walls, that he despises the double-speak and lies of Gilead – is ultimately meaningless because the only way to topple the regime is to extent empathy to all those who suffer from it, and to risk safety and lives for people who aren’t part of your inner circle. This is the lesson that June has learn again and again – in seeking shelter with strangers, who paid dearly for it, in trusting Emily with her child. The only way to break Gilead is to destroy the way it has pitted women against each other, and to create an alliance beyond the artificial class system that Gilead has imposed on them. The alliance between Handmaids and Marthas, and June’s willingness to risk everything in this episode for someone she had never met before, even though Lawrence mocks her for it, is a lot more natural and easy to swallow than that between June and Serena, even though their short moment of cooperation last season was so powerful (but ultimately futile, as Serena’s attempts to change the regime from within failed utterly, and ended with her losing a finger). Even though the rescue mission fails, June manages to gain the trust of Beth, even if it takes having to dig a grave for a stranger by herself. 
The Handmaid’s Tale – Hi. It’s me.Across the border, Emily and baby Nicole now live with Luke, Moira and Erin. She is going through the steps of returning to a normal life, and all the medical check-ups necessary after what happened to her. A doctor suggests a clitoral reconstruction, a psychiatrist. She warns her about her cholesterol levels. But it looks as if this normalcy, the triviality and banality of even considering living long enough that cholesterol levels would be of any consequence is impossible for Emily to consider. She seems to be in a daze, and for now, incapable of contacting her wife and son. Luke doesn’t understand, and it takes a very patient Moira who has undergone some of the same trauma as Emily to explain to him that he doesn’t get to dictate how Emily deals with her trauma, or to assume that everyone would deal with it the same way that he did. To him, the person that should have crossed the border is June, and now he taunts Emily about not reacting the way he expects her to. It is hard to comprehend that there is no “happily ever after”, just “after”, because the severe psychological and physical trauma of having survived Gilead can’t just be shed at the border. There is another argument about empathy here -that it requires work to understand how Emily feels about her rescue and new safety, and that it requires patience and love to support her in whatever path her grief takes. Luke doesn’t understand, even while the path that his grief takes keeps him from seeing Nicole as June’s baby. Moira is the one looking after her because she sees the similarities to Hannah. 
It’s a good line about the happily ever after, because Emily has survived the impossible. She hasn’t just escaped Gilead – she survived the colonies, she shovelled radio-active soil, she came back from certain death. Of all the horrible suffering we have witnessed, and all the specific torture used against women, Emily has been through the most. 
I think she waits to make that phone call -again, something so trivial that we would have taken for granted, but that has been so impossible to even consider for so many years – until she feels like herself again, or at least until she feels a semblance of connection to her old life. She calls, and says “Hi. It’s me” an on the other end of the line, everything changes. Nobody deserves that impossible happy ending more. 
Random notes: 
I genuinely thought that we would have seen the last of Aunt Lydia but obviously, she would survive pretty much everything you throw at her. 
As much as I love Emily, I truly hope that this is the last that we see of her, that this is it for her (even though I wish we had seen as much of Clea DuVall's Sylvia as we have been seeing of Luke, because she has been criminally underused). 
In a great scene, after her new walking partner misreads June entirely (and partakes in exactly the kind of snide gossip that contributes so much to women undermining each other), June joyfully tells her the tale of another Handmaid who snapped and threw her walking partner in front of a bus. 

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