We’re back for season 3 of The Handmaid’s Tale in Gilead with June and the gang, since June
selfishly nobly didn’t escape in the season 2 finale. She stayed to rescue her first born daughter, Hannah, who had ordered June to try harder to be her mother just a few weeks before the escape attempt. June sent baby Holly/Nichole safely to Canada with fierce mama bear and dragon slayer Emily, knowing that she could trust Emily with the life of her child.
June also stayed in Gilead to help the Resistance, so that all women and girls could be safe from rape, torture and murder. Even if she can’t get Hannah out, she can try to make a better place for her to grow up in. Most of the people in June’s life take a while to understand the sacrifice she’s made. Serena is inspired to make a big change in her own life, as well.
The season opens with the standard reminder of what’s come before. Season 2 ended with June handing Baby Holly Nichole to her fellow handmaid Emily, and telling her to call the baby Nichole. Then she sent her younger child to safety in Canada, where she knew her loved ones would take care of her. Having fulfilled the promise she made to Holly before she was even born, that she wouldn’t grow up in Gilead, now June turns away from saving herself and toward her older daughter, Hannah. She made Hannah a promise, too, a promise to try harder.
In season 3, June will try harder.
June prays for safe passage for Nichole and Emily as she runs away. She worries that Nichole won’t know her or forgive her if they ever meet again. But, she’s at peace with her decision. “I’m sorry, baby girl. Mom’s got work.”
Commander Lawrence comes back to pick June up and take her to the truck with Emily and Nichole, as if she just forgot to get herself in after she handed the baby over. June, always pushing her luck, asks if he can take her to Commander MacKenzie’s house, so that she can kidnap his daughter. Then she’ll go to Canada.
Lawrence looks her over like she’s an interesting puzzle. June reminds him that he helped Emily. He says he liked Emily. She says they could put him on the wall. Even though he’s a Commander. Another risky move, threatening a Commander. He says she’s spunky. He takes her to Hannah’s house.
Commander Waterford is still being held in June’s bedroom by Nick. When Serena comes upstairs to check on them, Fred tries to get her to call the guards to hunt down June. Serena smugly tells him that they need to give June more time to get away. Fred, confused, asks what she did. Serena seethes when she replies, “I did what was best for my child.” Then she walks out. Nick closes Fred in the bedroom again, while he and Serena share a cigarette. Fred realizes that he’s been sidelined in his own life.
Commander Lawrence drops June off at the MacKenzie’s, but that’s all he does. June sneaks to the back door, where she sees the Martha who brought Hannah to their last meeting. She enters the kitchen and asks where each family member is, then goes to Hannah’s bedroom. More guards are already arriving before she even makes it into the bedroom.
She decides to at least visit Hannah, even if it means getting caught. Hannah sleeps through the whole thing. June kneels by her bed and whispers to her that she loves her and will never leave her. She pulls a thread from her cloak and ties it around Hannah’s wrist before she goes back to the hall and waits to be arrested.
Mrs MacKenzie stops the guards as they’re dragging June away and has them bring her to the dining room table. She wants to have a talk with June. She tells June that Hannah had nightmares for weeks after she saw June at the summer house. Seeing June is cruel and confusing for Hannah. June needs to stop and leave Hannah alone. June questions whether she’s the one confusing Hannah.
June asks what Hannah’s like. At first, Mrs MacKenzie is very general, saying she’s happy, blessed, thriving. Then she warms up and grows specific, saying that Hannah wants a dog, but she’s allergic, and she’s a good cook. June says that Luke cooks. The two mothers share a few moments, but then Mrs MacKenzie tells June that this can only end with her bleeding on the ground in front of Hannah, so if June loves her, she has to stop. But then she says, “Praise be, she has your eyes. It truly is a miracle.”
June says, “I’m her mother.”
The guard drags her out.
The levels of disconnect the upper classes of Gilead society are capable of is incredible.
June is taken back to the Waterfords. Fred screams at June, demanding to know where the baby is and assuring June that they’ll all be executed because of her. He’s quite unhinged. June ignores him and stares at Serena. She promises Serena that Nichole is safe.
Serena is not okay with her baby riding to Canada with Ofjoseph, a murderer. She trusted June to keep the baby safe, not someone so unstable. She grabs June’s shoulders and cries that June murdered her baby. June reminds Serena that she has another daughter, who was hunted down with dogs in the woods and taken from her arms, despite her baby’s screams. She hopes Serena’s pain feels like hers did when she lost Hannah. Then she puts her arms around Serena and lets her weep.
June tells Serena that Nichole will be free. Serena is still worried, since June was supposed to protect their baby. June says that Serena should have faith. “God will protect her.”
Fred has silently allowed this scene to unfold. Now he has Nick take June to her room. It’s Nick’s turn to tell June how wrong she is. He takes the approach that she’s selfish, because people risked their lives for her to be able to escape, so she had no right to refuse their offer.
WHOA. That’s some abusive thinking right there. Nick wanted this for June, so she has to accept it? June didn’t ask the Marthas to plan this rescue for her. They did it by themselves. It was a wonderful gift, but they did it for the baby, not June. They could have saved June years ago or while she was pregnant and and already in hiding.
The baby got out. The Marthas got what they wanted.
It was crazy of them to expect a mother to leave with only one of her children. They wanted her to make Sophie’s choice. She decided she wouldn’t abandon one child to torture, rape and death so that she could selfishly live an easy life with the other. That makes her a good parent and person, not selfish. Like Serena, Nick is upset because his child was sent to Canada without June to protect her. Plus, the baby will now be with June’s husband. He’s worried Nichole will become close to Luke, and eventually serve to bond June and Luke closer together.
Nick tells June that this was her last chance to get out of Gilead. Now she’s doomed to die there. June tells him she knows that, because she’s not stupid.
However, let me point out that Moira made it out ALL BY HERSELF. The scene directly after this one shows Emily, all alone with the baby, crossing a creek into Canada. She saved herself and Nichole. The Resistance only took her a certain amount of the distance.
The point of this juxtaposition is to remind us that everyone who’s berating June is doing it for their own reasons. Nick is telling June that she’ll never get out because he wanted to be the big macho hero who saved his woman and daughter from the hellscape he helped create and now feels guilty about. He’s just going to have to find another way to atone for his sins.
It’s dark, and Emily is still wearing her handmaid’s clothing. At least two drones fly overhead, patrolling the US-Canada border. The baby is fussy, and Emily does her best to calm Nichole down while staying out of sight of the drones.
Eventually, she has to just go for it and make a run at the border. My atlas leads me to believe that she’s crossing Hall’s Stream in northern New Hampshire, which is probably a sedate creek most of the year, but is at flood stage with the spring thaw and rains.
Emily is able to walk part of the way across the shallow, but wide creek. The current is fast and strong and sweeps her off her feet when she’s a little more than halfway. She goes underwater and comes up close to the shore, still holding Nichole. She struggles onto shore and waits anxiously until Nichole proves she’s still breathing.
She’s still recovering when an emergency vehicle arrives. The agent who finds them asks, “If you return to your home country would you be persecuted, based on being a woman, and would you be subject to the danger of torture, or risk to your life? As a person in need of protection, do you wish to seek asylum in the country of Canada?”
I don’t think Emily even knew which side of the border she’d washed up on. I know I didn’t. She’s so filled with emotion when she tells the agent, yes, she and Nichole do want asylum. It’s an incredibly moving scene, especially when you consider the shameful way the US is currently treating people who wash up on its shores.
Serena sits at her vanity and applies an antiseptic to her pinkie stump. Fred speaks to her from off camera, while we see part of her face in the vanity mirror. They have the entire conversation is in soft voices, almost whispers, as if they’re afraid of waking the baby or being overheard by an Eye. He asks if she’s okay. She says she needs to keep her incision clean. Fred says he’s sure it will heal quickly.
Yeah, he hopes so. Unfortunately, the whole point of the dismemberment is to give the victim a permanent reminder of the crime. Serena will never forget. But I doubt she’ll remember it the way Gilead intended.
Fred is going back to work. He tells her that Hansen has been put in charge of Nichole’s kidnapping. Serena assumes he’ll tell Hansen what happened.
Fred: “Ofjoseph [Emily] attacked Aunt Lydia, and took Nichole and ran. You and Offred tried to stop her, as any mother would. It’s the only way to keep you off the wall.”
Serena: “You don’t need to protect me.”
Fred moves from standing behind Serena to sit next to her. During the early years of their marriage, she was the public figure and he stood in the shadows. Now he has made her not just useless, but obsolete. He only puts on this show of pretending that she has any importance as more than his literal trophy when he thinks he might lose her for real or he needs to use her.
She may not be able to divorce him in Gilead, but she could still take herself and her political savvy away from him and he knows it. She could still ruin him on her way out. He can’t leave her suicidal or too angry, but he’s in unfamiliar territory now. He drank the Gilead Kool Aid and thought torturing, mutilating and humiliating a proud, intelligent woman would tame her. He was so wrong.
Fred: “I am protecting this house. God has made me master of an incredible woman.”
Serena: “I sent her away Fred. It was my choice.”
Fred: “I drove you to desperation. I’ll fix this. Things will be normal again, Serena. Back to the way they were. I promise.”
As he leaves, Serena looks like she wants to hit something. His first mistake is equating her and their lives with the house. He dehumanized her, and revealed that he sees himself in a mythological way. Then he says he’s her master, as if she’s a handmaid. Next he takes credit for her rebellious, but reasoned decisions, probably the first things she’s proud of doing in years. And then he strikes the final blow against himself and their married life, by promising that he’s going to force her back into the life of tedious servitude she lived before June came along.
Whatever was left of the Serena we met in season 1 snaps. She slowly dresses herself in her conservative best, careful not to hurt her sore finger. She’s preparing for the funeral of Commander Waterford’s perfect wife, who always followed the rules and believed wholeheartedly in what Gilead stands for.
When she’s satisfied with her outfit, Serena pours the bottle of antiseptic, which must have a high alcohol content, onto her marriage bed, where the Ceremony took place every month.
Upstairs, June notices smoke, which she follows to Serena’s bedroom. Serena is standing in front of the bed, which is now engulfed in flames. She looks like she’s trying to decide whether to throw herself on the bed or not. June takes a few steps into the room and calls Serena’s name. She takes Serena’s hand and leads her from the room. The curtains and walls are already being consumed by flames.
At the bottom of the stairs, June has Rita take Serena outside. June stays behind for a moment, to glory in the destruction of this house of horrors.
June, while leaving the house: “Lord Jesus, be revealed from Heaven with his mighty angels. In flaming fire, thou shall take vengeance. Burn, motherf–ker, burn.”
It burns. And burns.
The scrabble board. The nursery. June’s room. The women of the neighborhood watch in awe. I have a feeling there’s more vengeance taking to come.
The ambulance brings Emily and Nichole to a hospital, where everyone stops to watch them enter. She’s greeted by a female doctor, who explains that they’re aware of what she’s been through, so the first thing they’re going to do is make sure they’re both healthy. The doctor starts to reach for the baby, but Emily tells her she’d rather hang on to Nichole. The doctor says that’s fine. As they head toward the examination, the onlookers burst into spontaneous applause.
😭😭😭 They probably don’t see many babies getting out of Gilead (or at all, with the fertility crisis).
[The applause really was spontaneous. According to the Inside the Episode video, the extras did that on their own.]
The Waterford’s house has collapsed in on itself. The Waterfords, Rita and Nick are moving to a new home, while June is being sent back to the Red Center. Just before June leaves, Nick stops her and tells her to, “Take care.”
This is Nick-speak for “So long, and thanks for all the fish.” Or, “I tried to warn you it was going to get worse. Now you’re on your own. Good luck.”
Aunt Lydia is MIA, so the new crop of aunts punish June for her excursion to the MacKenzies. She has the soles of her feet whipped until they’re raw and bloody, just as she did after she escaped from the Red Center in S1 Ep4, “Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum”.
Luke and Moira receive a package at the Little America refugee center. It’s the photo of Hannah that June sent north with Nichole. He can’t get over how big she’s gotten. It drives home how long it’s been since he’s seen her. They hear a baby making noises behind them. When they turn around, Emily asks if he’s Luke. She introduces herself, and tells him that June saved her life.
June scrubs the floor barefoot, on her hands and knees. A group of handmaids with muddy shoes is brought through the room so that she’ll have to clean it all over again. Another handmaid brings her a new bucket of water. As she sets the bucket down, she leans in close to June and whispers that Emily and the baby made it safely to Canada.
June smiles a little and tries not to cry as she keeps working. When she’s done, an aunt tells her to get her things. She’s headed to her new posting.
The new posting is with Commander Lawrence, Emily’s former posting. He says, “You’re not going to be any trouble, are you?”
She looks at him with her big, wide, never quite innocent, blue eyes and replies, “No sir.”
Mrs Mackenzie doesn’t seem to understand that June is more than a vessel who “Agnes” traveled through, she’s actually the girl’s biological mother, so of course the two have traits in common. It’s like the women of Gilead, and most of the men, had lobotomies. You don’t need to understand DNA or even read to be able to see that children take after their birth parents.
This episode served to finish off season 2 and begin to move the characters in place for season 3. With all of the movement we’ve seen in just one episode, it feels like season 3 will be a transitional season. June has already left the Waterfords, so she’s freed from the emotional toll it took to keep up with the Waterford’s games. And, unlike the Waterfords’ previous handmaid, she made it out alive (the handmaid prior to June committed suicide, largely because of the way Fred and Serena tore her in two).
She’s also probably freed from the Ceremony and fear of going through another pregnancy in Gilead, since Commander Lawrence didn’t exercise his Ceremonial rights with Emily.
Serena knows who she isn’t anymore, but I don’t think she knows who she is. She just knows she needs to tear her life down and start over.
Images courtesy of Hulu.