It's so much easier for a world like Gilead to come into being than most people realize. It could be lurking just around the corner, and the warning sings could be everywhere. But like June (Elisabeth Moss) and Luke (O.T. Fabgenle) and so many others on "The Handmaid's Tale," we probably weren't paying attention.
And those that were, we laughed at and got annoyed with, and probably called them conspiracy theorists. In this week's episode we met June's crackpot mother Holly (Cherry Jones), who certainly got under June's skin with her incessant drive to take to the streets and march and fight for freedom.
At first, June had been enamored of her mother's conviction and activism, but as the years passed it began to grate on her. Even seeing a group of women throwing sheets of paper with the name of their rapist on them didn't have a lasting impression. "I remember thinking there were so many pieces of paper. So many it was like snow," June recalled of the moment. And yet that image didn't stick with her enough to incite lifelong passion to fight for what is right.
Before the #MeToo movement, most of us never thought about how rampant and out of control sexual harassment was in this country. We were too busy wondering which milk was best to give our children, or why our husband was out so late tonight. For June, she was too busy falling in love and thinking about her future with Luke to see what was going on in her world.
"You are so young. You really want to take all that energy and passion and give it to a man?"
"No, to Luke."
"This country is going down the f-cking tubes. It's time to get out in the streets and fight, not just play house."
"No mother is ever completely a child's idea of what a mother should be, but I suppose it works the other way around as well," June said of her mother.
More and more, people like to stay in their happy little comfort bubbles with a Facebook feed that agrees with all their ideologies and filters out all the things they don't want to know about. They willfully ignore what's happening in the world around them because it's too depressing or too angry or too stupid, but most importantly, because they think it doesn't have anything to do with them and it won't affect their day-to-day lives ... until it does.
Holly was frustrated that June was "playing house" when their world was falling apart bit by bit around them. Holly saw it, and couldn't fathom why her daughter didn't care. But the truth was, June wasn't paying attention to all those little things the way Holly was. Just as June was blind to what Holly saw, Holly was blind to just how little her daughter knew. How many of us are surprised when we find out one of our family or friends doesn't know something that seems so important to us?
As with most of us, June was too distracted within her own little sphere of existence to look at the larger picture, nor did she want to. It was so bleak and depressing, it was easier to just ignore it and hope someone else would take care of it. But anyone in sports can tell you, if you take your eye off the ball, you're in danger of getting hit in the face by it.
"I told her it was dangerous what she was doing," June told Moira (Samira Wiley) at the center about Holly's activism.
"You were right."
"So was she. She knew. Moira, she always knew."
Holly knew because Holly stayed informed. She read the papers and stayed on top of the news in a world that still embraced a free press. In our world, that free press is under attack. In the world of Gilead, that press was attacked and ultimately decimated. As June left the large factory-like building we'd left her in last week, it was revealed that it was the Boston Globe.
She'd described it as a slaughterhouse, with nooses still hanging by the printing presses. Upstairs, she found newspaper clippings that detailed the slow decline and fall of the United States, one minor inconvenience after another that people just accepted because they couldn't be bothered to look up from their lives or their screens to really think about what they were giving up. And then one day, they'd given it all up and their world was completely unrecognizable.
CREATING A NEW NARRATIVE
"I don't know how you could give your baby up to somebody else," the econowife who reluctantly took June in chastised her.
"I'm trying not to."
"I would die first."
"Yeah, I used to think that, too."
It's a small moment that reminds us that not only did Gilead eliminate the free press and any who might have the fortitude to seek out the truth, they quickly began to write their own narrative. To most of the people of this new nation, the Handmaids volunteer to father the children of the nation's leaders and then give them up for the leaders' wives to raise.
The truth is that Handmaid's are slaves, used and abused only for their functional wombs. They are barely more than cattle, or baggage carrying the most important luggage of all in a world where fertility rates have plummeted to precipitous levels if the human race wants' to survive.
"I was in the army. Logistics and rapid deployment. After everything, they just turned us all into guardians. A week later my unit was hanging bodies on the wall. Gender traitors. One of them was a guy I dated in college," a new refugee from Giead told Moira
Just like we keep our heads in the sand as the world slowly changes around us, accepting our new normal incrementally without ever looking back to see how unrecognizable it's becoming, all those little things we've given up for the sake of convenience or even just because it was easier. It's human nature to just go along.
But when it comes to the military or people in positions of authority, this can be terrifying. Much has been written about all those people in Nazi Germany who not only accepted the systemic torture of Jews but even participated in it. These were normal people who suddenly turned on their neighbors for an arbitrary reason like race and religion.
When you're a soldier, you're trained to follow orders. But our own nation was built on the idea that we also have a brain and a conscience enough to see when the orders are wrong. To know when injustice is happening and it is then that we must stand up against our own leaders and put them down if need be. And yet, so many, like those soldier, simply don't. They follow the next order, even if it means killing their own boyfriend simply because he's gay.
And if you were to ask them why they did it, they probably wouldn't have an answer.
"Someone brave or stupid or both. There's a lot of both," the man who took June into his home told her of the people participating in the Mayday network to free people like her from Gilead.
While most people will follow orders blindly, or accept the new order of things without question out of self-preservation or simple fear, there are some who not only still recognize right from wrong, but have the fortitude to do something about it. Unfortunately, they are few and far between, which is why June's journey through Massachusetts was fraught with so much peril.
These people who do something about the oppression and injustice they see around them are heroes now in the truest sense of the word. They are risking everything for total strangers. But before the world fell apart, they were the crackpots like Holly, speaking out against what only they could see coming ... because only they were bothering to look.
Before the world fell apart, they were laughed at or ignored by the largest part of society. Now that the new world order has taken over, those same people who laughed at how stupid the crackpots were with their conspiracy theories are now only too eager to turn them over to their new overlords for some small token or favor. How quickly we turn on one another.
WAITING IS THE HARDEST PART
"I'd waited before. I thought things would be OK. I swore I'd never do that again.," June told herself before leaving the home of the man who took her in after he and his family had been gone conspicuously long for church.
Only she never should have been there in the first place. June needed to let the Mayday network work the way it needed to. Understandably, after life as a Handmaid, she wanted to regain some control, and she did so by forcing the man in the truck to take her with him even after he'd gotten word that the next safehouse was compromised.
Just like that, she broke the program and endangered herself and everyone involved. Like the underground railroad from the days of slavery these "brave or stupid or both" people were risking their lives to save her and others like her. Being aware is also knowing when to give up control. In this case, the people helping her -- strangers who were keeping her in the dark, yes -- still had more information than she did. Yes, it was frustrating for her, but it was still better than going blindly on her own, as she ultimately did.
When she made it to the plane, it seemed almost inevitable that they would never take off. If the safehouse was compromised, surely the next phase of the operation was compromised as well. Now June may well have gotten caught in the sign warehouse as well, but at least there the network knew where she was. Once she went rogue, she was truly alone in a hostile environment. It was a foolhardy thing to do, and June paid the price.
After three episodes, June's pleasant little "vacation" is over. It's back to hell on "The Handmaid's Tale," premiering new episodes every Wednesday on Hulu.