In Season 3, episode 2, Mary and Martha, June begins to find her place in the complicated Lawrence household, Luke and Moira get used to having a new baby to take care of, and Emily tries to find the parts of herself that her wife would recognize. Everyone except
Head Gamemaker Commander Lawrence digs deep inside themselves to meet their new challenges. As usual, Lawrence surveys the system he’s put in place and makes minor tweaks to keep it interesting and functioning at a certain level.
June’s voiceover: “I used to be bad at waiting. ‘They also serve who stand and wait,’ Aunt Lydia said. She also said, ‘Not all of you will make it through. Some of you will fall on dry ground or thorns. Some of you are shallow-rooted. Think of yourselves as seeds. What kind of seed will you be, girls?’ I pretend I’m a tree. And I wait.”
This is a lovely little metaphor, until you realize that the seed is consumed in the creation of the new plant. The baby is all, the mother is nothing. It’s also a story you’d tell to children, as is typical of the infantilization that’s programmed into the women at the Red Center.
But June turns it into a metaphor of empowerment. She doesn’t grow a baby who consumes her, she grows into a strong, immovable tree, who waits for the right time to act. Childbearing is a small part of her. She has a family of trees to help with the baby.
She watches the other handmaids walk by from underneath the brim of her bonnet. She sees both Janine and Alma. Then her new shopping partner, Ofmatthew, approaches and they walk to the grocery store.
Of Matthew is chatty. She tells June that Gilead is about to win back Chicago from the Americans. And she says she’s praying for the Waterfords and their poor lost baby. Ofmatthew can’t imagine what came over Ofjoseph, who kidnapped the baby. June reminds Ofmatthew that she is Ofjoseph, a callback to when Emily had been Ofglen, but was taken away for being a gender traitor. At the time, June didn’t know Emily’s real name. When she asked her replacement walking partner about Ofglen, the new partner told her, “I am Ofglen.”
Must be nice to be able to pay that one forward.
Once in the store, June signals Alma to meet her in the canned vegetables aisle to share information. Alma says that Casey had her baby, but it didn’t live. It was born with a defect, a shredder with its heart on the outside, and didn’t live long.
When June gets back from the store, she tells Chef Beth that she could only get golden beets, which Beth is fine with. But the butcher gave her a fillet instead of a steak, which is tragic. The lack of flavor will have to be covered in a Bernaise sauce.
June is called to the parlor to check in with Aunt Lydia, who is not dead, despite Emily’s considerable efforts. She’s still recovering from her injuries and using a stylish, if sinister, cane. Commander and Mrs Lawrence are also in the room. Lawrence is surprised she’d dare set foot back in his home again so soon. June expresses her happiness at seeing Lydia back on her feet. No believes her sincerity, though she puts on her best, “We’ve been sent good weather” face.
Lydia tells the group that she’s there to check up on June, since the handmaid has been disrespectful in the past. The Lawrences repeat several times how fine June is. She’s the finest in all the land. There’s insincerity everywhere in this conversation.
Eleanor realizes she’s tired and can’t handle being in that room for another minute. As Lawrence gets up to take her to her room, Lydia asks about the Ceremony, since, according to their count, Ofjoseph should have been fertile last week. I’m not sure if anyone in the house is actually keeping track. Everyone who lives in the house freezes for a moment. Lawrences tells Lydia that the Ceremony was aces. Lydia tries to speak to Eleanor again, but Lawrence gets her out of the room.
As soon as they’re gone, Lydia asks June what’s going on with Eleanor. June says she doesn’t know. Lydia tells June that she can come to Lydia if anything unseemly is happening in the Lawrence household. Emily was only there for two days before she attacked Lydia. “God only knows what he did to her.”
Yeah, that’s it. It wasn’t the rapes, clitorectomy, forced separation from her family, enslavement or time being irradiated in the concentration camps in the Colonies. Commander Lawrence said something mean to her, she snapped, and took it out on poor Lydia, who’d only ever tried to help Emily. 😱😱
June helps Aunt Lydia up out of her chair. Aunt Lydia decides she wants to see June’s room, possibly to prove to herself that she can face the scene of her beating again. June walks her to the bottom of the stairs, then Lydia stumbles as she tries to climb up the steep stairs on her own.
When June tries to help her up, Lydia lashes out at her. She jolts June with her cattle prod and tells her that Aunt Elizabeth didn’t punish her severely enough for going to the MacKenzie’s house. Lydia would have put June on the wall.
Given how few healthy babies are being born, the shortage of handmaids and the fact that June has had two healthy children, I doubt Lydia would have been allowed to kill June. She might have been able to cut off a piece of her, though.
Lawrence comes down the stairs and watches the two women. Lydia gets herself under control and blames the cattle prod on June’s conversation with Alma at the grocery store. She doesn’t want Lawrence to think she’s a hysterical woman. He rescued June from further abuse with just his presence. He makes a sarcastic remark or two to Lydia and she leaves. After she goes, he wonders out loud what the voltage is on the cattle prods. He doesn’t say anything else to June.
After Lydia is wheeled out in her wheelchair by another aunt, June is still sitting on the stairs, recovering from the electric shock and tongue lashing. She gives Lawrence a dirty look as he walks back up the stairs.
He probably did her a favor by reminding her that she has no true friends in his house.
Luke drinks a beer, looks at a family photo, and works on his Gilead file while sitting on hold. He’s working on getting Nichole enrolled in the Canadian National Insurance program.
(Moment where I, as an American, consider moving to Canada for the umpteenth time.)
Moira tries to get him to spend some time with Nichole, but he says that he needs to visit the embassy and the lawyer’s to get Nichole’s forms notarized. Moira reminds him that Emily is coming for dinner. He says he’ll be back in time, but also asks when Emily is going to inform her wife that she made it out.
Emily is still going through her various doctor’s appointments. Her ear is healing from having her tag removed. Most of her lab tests are normal, except she has small uterine fibroids and high cholesterol. The cholesterol is from the excess butter and meat they served in Gilead. The doctor gives her a referral for a clitoral reconstruction and a dental surgeon, so she can try to get back the pieces of herself that Gilead took away. And for a psychiatrist, for obvious reasons.
June enters the kitchen asking Cora if she has anything for burns. We never do find out why she needs it. Beth and Cora are arguing over a third Martha, Alison, because Alison is getting out, but can’t go to the pick up location yet. They had to change locations, and the new one isn’t safe yet, so Beth brought her back to the house. Cora doesn’t want to get involved or to let her stay. She just gets the fake passes.
June asks why Alison can’t stay for a few hours. Cora tells them that neither of them understand how things work in the Lawrence household. Lawrence enters the kitchen, looking for his wife’s tea. He asks Alison who she is. She gives him her name. Cora tells him she’s there to help polish the silver for his meeting with the other commanders.
Lawrence recognizes that as a lie. He goes to get a guardian to take Alison… somewhere. June follows him out. He tells her that he doesn’t like strangers in the house, and asks why she’s there. June says that she’ll only be there for a little while. He makes her tell him why. June tells him the truth. He doesn’t see why he should help a stranger. June says that he knows what the Marthas’ lives are like. This one has a chance for something better. He should let her have it.
Lawrence relents, saying, “Okay, it’s your funeral.”
June goes back into the kitchen to tell the Marthas that Alison can wait there. Beth says, “That must have been some blowjob.” June doesn’t miss a beat, and replies, “Red Center Special.” She takes Mrs Lawrence’s tea up to her room, leaving it outside the door, according to instructions. Lawrence is also alone, in the parlor. He tells June to close the door.
When June returns to the kitchen, the Marthas are arguing over who’ll take Alison to the pick up location. Cora doesn’t want to go, but Beth doesn’t want to walk back alone, because it will look suspicious and she’ll be questioned. June tells them that Lawrence has sequestered himself, so they should go now. She wants to go with so that she can see how it works.
Beth is anxious, because moving people is difficult, so they hardly ever do it. Sometimes they move black market goods and messages. Anything else is dangerous. June assures her that she understands and can handle herself. She insists, and they do need her, so Beth agrees. During the discussion, it comes out that Alison was a high school chemistry teacher.
They dress June as a Martha and the three set out for the laundry district, a section of town June’s never been to. Handmaid’s aren’t allowed, because Gilead doesn’t want them exposed to the chemicals involved in the dry cleaning. She notes that Gilead is green, but there are some little luxuries they aren’t ready to give up. A fresh, neatly pressed suit is one of them.
June looks around a little more than the other Marthas, but otherwise, seems to go unnoticed. Her pass is accepted, even after one of the handmaids just ahead of them in line is arrested for having a fake pass. June enjoys blending in with the anonymous group of gray green Marthas, instead of standing out as a handmaid in bright red, who’s unable to be missed and thus can’t disappear.
They bring Alison to an old automotive garage which is serving as the pick up location and Beth tells her she needs to wait quietly and out of sight. Alison is distressed at the idea of waiting alone. June, who has some experience with this situation, takes Alison’s hands and tries to send some luck and fortitude her way.
On the way back to the Lawrences’, Beth apologizes for the blowjob comment she made earlier. She explains that the Marthas are also drawn from the ranks of the sinners. She had her tubes tied, so she wasn’t eligible to be a handmaid. If she hadn’t already been a chef, she would have been assigned to the Jezebels.
June asks if Beth knew Moira when she was a Jezebel named Ruby. Beth remembers her. June shares that Moira made it to Canada. Beth tells her that Alison is going deeper into Gilead, to a western resistance cell, rather than to Canada. She uses her knowledge of chemistry to make bombs. She made the suicide bomb that Ofglen set off in season 2.
A truckload of guardians pulls up in front of the two women and rushes back the way they came. All they can do is hope that Alison is okay.
Emily sits outside in the playground in Little America, with red, white and blue twinkle lights shining behind her, while she’s lost in thought. Her tongue still finds the spot where her teeth are missing. Eventually, she goes inside to have dinner with Moira, Erin and Luke.
At dinner, Luke gets drunk and mansplains the entree ingredients to Erin, who cooked. Emily mentions that she has high cholesterol, which is new, since she was a vegetarian before Gilead. Luke describes how June used to determine their menus for the week, including Meatless Mondays.
Then he not so subtly asks Emily about Sylvia, her wife. Moira orders him out of the room under the guise of getting more potatoes. Erin goes to fuss with the apple pie. Emily apologizes to Moira, but she assures Emily that all the trouble came from Luke.
When he looks at Emily, he thinks about June, and worries that she won’t want him anymore, when and if they have the chance to be reunited. If Emily calls, maybe June will. If she doesn’t…
Emily is sure that June would call. She thinks that June is stronger than her. Moira’s not so sure. Moira knows that calling the people from the past is terrifying. “I’ve seen a lot of these reunions and it’s not always a storybook ending. But nobody’s talking about happily ever after. Just after. And he does make a great pie.”
Back at the Lawrences’, as the women are cleaning up the kitchen for the night, June comments that Rita would never let her pitch in. Beth is happy for the help, because it means she can go to bed faster.
They hear noises in the back which turn out to be Alison and another Martha, who’s been shot by Guardians. They hurry the severely injured Martha into the basement. June, the daughter of a doctor, tries to talk the Martha through what’s happening, hoping to keep her calm, since she’s in a lot of pain and making too much noise.
They put pressure on the wound and try to think of someone to call. The commander calls Cora upstairs. June goes with her. Lawrence asks Cora what going on in the basement. She tells him Beth screamed when she saw a rat. He calls her out for lying to him a second time, and turns to give June a shot at telling the truth.
Before June can speak, the doorbell rings. She quickly tells him that Alison and another woman are there, and the other woman is hurt. He tells her to get them out. When she tries to argue, he repeats himself.
Cora answers the door. It’s guardians looking for the two fugitive Marthas, of course. June turns to go to the basement, but stops when she notices a giant, bloody hand smear on the wall. June gets a damp towel and scrubs at the spot until the commander and guardians come into the room. Then she stands in front of the handprint to hide it.
The guardians tell Lawrence that they’re talking to all of the households in the area and have a man doing a perimeter check, since there was trouble in town. He offers them some coffee. Eleanor appears and takes charge of refreshments. She leads the guardians to the parlor, then closes them in.
The parlor is clearly the hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil, room.
As Eleanor leads Cora to the kitchen, she notices June back at work on the blood stain. June stands at attention next to it. Eleanor puts Cora on cleaning duty, sends June downstairs and makes the coffee herself.
When June gets downstairs, the injured Martha is worried that she’s going to die, and becoming panicky. June and Beth are worried that she has internal bleeding. Beth thinks they should give her to the guardians, so she can go to the hospital. The Marthas can say they took her in when she came to the door, out of Christian charity.
June stops Beth, because the guardians will torture the Martha until she talks, then kill her anyway. She’ll turn them all in and the entire network will be gone.
The guardians checking the perimeter shine flashlights through the basement windows. June pulls the Martha onto the floor, and puts her hand over her mouth to keep her out of sight and force her to be silent. By the time the guardians are gone, the Martha is dead.
June asks Alison is she knows where she’s supposed to go next and how to get there. Alison does. There’s a back door in the basement, so she sends Alison out through that before Lawrence discovers that she’s still there. Alison has a moment of fear and wants to go home instead. June gives her a pep talk.
June: “This is not your home. Listen to me. I know you feel bad, we all do, but she knew what could happen. We all did. Listen to me. Do not let this be for nothing. Okay? Go. Hurry. Godspeed.”
Once Alison goes, Beth says, “This is why we don’t move people.”
Lawrence comes downstairs to survey the damage. He sends Beth to Eleanor, then says, “I was wrong. It’s not your funeral after all. Do you even know who she was?”
June: “No, sir.”
Lawrence: “Women like you are like children, asking for too much, taking whatever you want. Damn the consequences.”
June: “I’m sorry, sir.”
Lawrence: “I bet you are.”
As he begins to walk away, June asks if Eleanor is okay. Lawrence turns back to her and screams, “Do not presume to speak to me about my wife! [quieter] I knew it was a mistake.”
June: “Sir, we had no idea she would come back.”
Lawrence: “I meant taking you in. Clean it up.”
He meant the Martha’s body. No matter how it sounds at certain points, he’s not upset that a Martha died. He’s upset that it might affect him and his wife.
June wraps the Martha’s body in an old sheet to create a shroud and tries to lift it, but it’s too heavy. Beth helps her carry the woman from the basement. Once they are out in the yard, Lawrence sees them from an upstairs window and calls Beth inside. June is left to dig the grave alone and say a prayer as the funeral rites. As promised, she’s not afraid of hard work, and completes the job.
Afterward, she soaks in a hot tub. Beth brings her a salve for the blisters on her hands. She promises that when June’s hands have healed, she’ll share some butter. That’s what they use to keep them soft.
Lawrence sent Cora away. Beth doesn’t know where. “He doesn’t like liars.”
Nichole fusses during the night. Her crib is in the living room with Luke. He wakes up to get her a bottle, while Moira holds her. He says that Moira always has everything together. Moira disagrees, saying they’re all messed up, including her.
She remembers when Hannah was as tiny as Nichole. Luke takes Nichole from her. He tells the baby that June went back to save her big sister, because he couldn’t. Moira tells him that June had another job in mind for him.
Luke sends Moira back to bed. He finally bonds with Nichole, kissing her forehead and telling her she looks like her mommy.
The next day, Eleanor plants flowers on the Martha’s grave to disguise its real purpose. Ofmatthew tells June that the Martha was from another district. The guardians lost her trail in a creek. Ofmatthew is very uncharitable toward the missing Martha. June asks her if she heard Ofjohn died. Her walking partner pushed her in front of a bus. A bus drives in front of June and Ofmatthew. Ofmatthew looks nervous.
Emily goes to the optometrist to have her eyes examined for new glasses. The doctor asks her if what she sees is better? Or worse? Over and over. Once she gets her new glasses, Emily looks like her normal self.
She must feel an improvement, too, because she finally calls Sylvia. Sylvia is driving and picks up in the middle of rush hour traffic. When she hears Emily say, “It’s me!” she comes to a sudden stop. They both cry.
I think I’m in love with Eleanor. Definitely a Hufflepuff. Altruistic, takes care of her own, hides in her burrow, seems harmless, but DO NOT F–K WITH HER. She would undoubtedly poison your tea, if necessary, and her husband the Slytherin is so smitten that he would take the rap for her.
While the Lawrences are sitting in the parlor with June and Aunt Lydia, whenever the camera rests on them, it slides out of focus within a few seconds. The focus shifts over to Lydia, who is also in the frame. They are hiding things, and don’t want to stand out much. They are eccentric and reclusive, which Joseph’s status in Gilead can support, but otherwise, they want the appearance of a quiet household.
The Lawrences seem to be taking full advantage of Beth’s cooking talents. Did Lawrence have her transferred to his home because of her cooking skills or her resistance connections? Her cooking skills make a perfect cover for her resistance connections. She can say she wants check a special ingredient out for herself or search for a particular tool.
Mary and the Marthas
The Mary and Martha of the title are sisters from the Bible. Martha is the woman the show’s Marthas are named after. They are mentioned in the book of John, when Jesus raises their brother Lazarus from the dead. Martha declares that she believes Jesus is the Son of God. Mary washes Jesus’ feet with an expensive perfume, considered an act of devotion.
The two sisters also appear in the book of Luke. Martha invites Jesus over for dinner, and works hard to prepare and serve the meal, while Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, listening to Jesus teaching. Martha eventually complains to Jesus that Mary should be helping with the women’s work. She asks him to send Mary into the kitchen. Jesus tells Martha that Mary has made the right choice and he’s not going to stop her.
The sisters illustrate two types of religious life. Martha represent a more active life of service in the community, while Mary represents a life of quiet devotion and contemplation. Both are equally important.
Who are the Marys and who are the Marthas in this episode? Eleanor is the most obvious Mary. Is she the true mastermind of the resistance? Or Gilead? June is also a Mary, more interested in showing devotion to her causes than the domestic activities of everyday life. Cora is a Martha, since she’s unwilling to take necessary risks, and doesn’t explain why she doesn’t want to in any depth. Alison is a Mary. Beth even says she’s going deeper. Beth struggles between being a Mary or a Martha. Like Cora, she takes part in low level resistance activities, and believes in the cause. But it’s not clear yet if she has the intense devotion of a Mary.
Lawrence’s Reaction to the Injured Martha
The way Lawrence tried to humiliate, subjugate and blame June after the injured Martha died was very close to what Lydia said and did to break June in season 2, episode 4, Other Women, after she stayed with Omar’s family, then was caught in the plane. Neither time was her fault. In both cases she came in at the very end of a compromised operation. But both Lawrence and Lydia blamed her for the mission failure and told her she was grasping and selfish for supposedly condemning the Martha/Omar to death. They told her she needed to remember her place at the bottom of the Gilead social order, where she belongs, because she’s an incompetent, thoughtless sinner.
Lydia’s version took time, because June needed to be broken after months of freedom. Lawrence’s motives are unclear. But it’s safe to say that the similarities between the two punishments aren’t accidental. Either Lawrence created the methodology used by Lydia, or he studied June’s file and decided to see how she’d react when he used it on her. Or both.
Is he testing her to see if she’s strong enough to withstand that kind of punishment now, so he can judge if she’s ready for the inner circles of the resistance? Is he grooming her?
Or is he just looking for her reaction and making this up as her goes along, amusing himself and giving the resistance something to do?
One thing is for sure. Very little that he does or says, ever, is spontaneous and uncalculated. He’s costumed perfectly, in his high-necked outfit that makes him look officious and straight-laced, even when he’s relaxing at home alone. He’s always standing straight and tall, with his back and neck elongated. He’s above you, whether it’s morally, physically or socially and he won’t let anyone forget it, ever.
Lawrence the Gamemaker
Gamemaker= “The Gamemakers design and control the Hunger Games. They design the arena and the outfits, as well as the animals in the arena and the scenery of the arena. They also keep track of the number of deaths that happen in the arena, as well as signalling cannon fire for the deceased. From the tiniest detail to the biggest bloodbath, the Gamemakers are in charge of entertaining the Capitol to the fullest… The Gamemakers’ job is to make the annual Hunger Games as spectacular, bloody, frightening and entertaining as possible. When the Head Gamemaker feels that the Games are becoming boring, they will introduce some new element such as a forest fire or tsunami or announce a feast to excite the audience to drive the tributes closer together and kill some of them off. They control everything that happens in the arena.” (The Hunger Games Wikia)
Let me say this now, because I see Lawrence being woobified already: He is the architect of Gilead and the Colonies. He is not an older, more dignified Josh Lyman. He sits in his house, like a spider in its web or a cat in a tree, and watches his prey. Then he catches and plays with it until it becomes boring. When it becomes boring, and he’s done with it, he tosses the dead thing aside, then moves on.
We don’t know how capricious he is yet, but he’s definitely not a wholly benevolent man. Sometimes his cast off gets to go to Canada. But I’m willing to bet that sometimes they go to the Colonies or the Wall, because he has to keep up appearances. You aren’t safe with him, because when he’s inevitably done toying with you, you don’t know which way he’ll send you. Your fate is based on his whims, not unbiased justice or your own actions, at least not in any way you can plan for or control.
He’s not an outright sadist, but he has no warmth and very little empathy, either. I think Eleanor largely functions as his conscience. He gets caught up in theory and possible outcomes, without letting the fact that he’s thinking about actual human beings enter his thought process at all, until it’s forced in. He’s the epitome of the academic up in their ivory tower, out of touch with the real world, unable to understand that what sounds like it should function perfectly in the lab often falls apart when it meets practical reality.
He’s been forced to understand it, now that he sees the results of his theories in the real world. But I don’t think that he finds the Gilead system to be the failure that most of us do. I don’t think viewers should assume that he wants to help end Gilead, the culmination of his life’s work.
We were told all of these things, in so many words, in season 2. They bear repeating. Just because he helped people a couple of times, doesn’t mean he’s ultimately trustworthy. The Marthas who have been with him the longest don’t trust him. Why else would Cora lie, when she bantered with him easily last season?
Don’t make the mistake of blaming the women in his household for his anger or listening to his words when he lashes out at them. A great deal of the time, he says what he says to see how they’ll react, not because he thinks there’s any truth to what he’s saying. Much of the rest of the time, he’s being misogynist. He’s like a cat batting a mouse to make it run, so the cat can catch it again. He’s playing mindgames with people’s lives, for his own amusement and as part of how he manages Gilead.
Notice that in my opening paragraph at the top of the post, I did not say that perfection is a goal for Gamemaker Lawrence or Gilead. Perfection is boring, and bored people are restless people, with too much time on their hands to think and plan. People whose most basic needs are met, but who still have to struggle, are too occupied with survival to make elaborate plans, but probably not angry enough about their situations to risk their lives for change.
Welcome to Gilead, and real life in the 21st century, where standards of living are dropping to “Be grateful for what you’ve got and don’t complain, because you could be sleeping on the street. How dare you act so entitled and think you deserve more.” Which is almost exactly what Lawrence says to June after he blames her for the anonymous Martha’s death. It’s also a common criticism of white women (and other activists) who push for societal change for everyone.
Lawrence knows women like June. She takes after her mother, Holly, who he undoubtedly knew of. He’s afraid she’ll take control of the Resistance away from him, and build it into more than a token organization. She has the strength, charisma, confidence, organizational and communication skills to do so. She’s learning more all the time.
He’s not afraid of June getting people killed. That act was part of his game. He regularly sends people to their deaths. He’s afraid she’ll be successful, and ruin his set up. The Gamemaker can’t allow a better player onto to the board, but he also can’t resist the challenge of going up against her. He’s so bored, he’ll bet everything to see how she’d attempt to take Gilead down, because he thinks he can stop her at any time.
I think they could be setting up a relationship between Lawrence and June similar to the one between President Snow and Katniss in The Hunger Games. Those two are frenemies who understand and respect each other and who have a common enemy, but ultimately want different results. He thinks strict control of the population is the only way the earth can be saved. She thinks it can be done with a more progressive agenda. Will either be able to sway the other’s thinking? Will this end with them destroying each other?
I always found Katniss’ relationship with Snow to be the most fascinating thing about the book trilogy, much as I also adored Katniss and Peta. So bring it on, with a side of interesting subplots for
Women’s Identity and Power in Gilead
The episode examines the roles we play for one another, as opposed to what we feel like deep inside. Moira tells Luke that everyone in Little America is a mess on the inside, even if they seem together on the outside. Emily gets her outside back to the way she used to look, and that begins to heal her inside.
This is most clearly shown by the two women in the episode in Gilead who have some authority, Mrs Lawrence and Aunt Lydia. Emily’s attack has left Lydia seriously injured and vulnerable, which isn’t what she wants to present to the world. She struggles mightily to project her usual power and confidence. Eleanor Lawrence frequently presents herself as somewhat addled and incompetent to the outside world. But when the situation requires it, she’s able to take charge, organize, delegate, and determine what’s needed to keep her household safe.
One puffs herself up to keep enemies at bay, the other prefers to be underestimated. Both know they are in danger and are trying to survive.
Commander Lawrence spends the episode trying to figure out June and her survival strategy. She tends to march out onto the battlefield and throw everything she’s got at the enemy. Gilead has taught her to move more cautiously and be more resourceful, but she’s still at her best when she’s able to work face to face with people and keep things moving. And it helps her to have a partner like Serena, who’s good at strategy, while she handles logistics and negotiations.
It’s not an accident that she made it out of the Waterfords alive, while the previous handmaid committed suicide, and it’s not because she’s a manipulative user or seductress.
Those are the positions Gilead puts women in. Almost the only power women have to use in Gilead is the power over their own lives and bodies. They can cause their own deaths, as Ofglen did when she suicide bombed the Red Center and the previous Offred did, or they can offer sexual favors to others in transaction for whatever they can get in return. It’s not fair to condemn people for using these methods, when they are the only methods left open to them.
Occasionally, someone will give a handmaid an opening to use another method, and the handmaid will have the ability to take advantage of it. June is in a unique position, because of the combination of her higher education and language skills, plus watching her mother work as an organizer and activist. She uses those skills and her natural confidence to earn respect and favors from the Commanders.
The handmaids seem to be a mixed bag when it comes to their previous lives, since the only qualification is fertility. June worked in the same business as Serena Joy, so she, in particular, is on the same level as the Waterfords. Her mother was a doctor, so she has an air of entitled privilege that people enjoy criticizing in women. But in a situation that you have to bluff your way through, starting out with the sense that you belong and should get what you want, known in men as confidence, gives you a head start to success.
Her confidence makes some people want to break her spirit, but with others, like Fred, Serena and Lydia, it helps her eventually earn their respect. It also makes her a natural leader and allows her to make the decisions others hesitate to make. Since she’s willing to do this quickly, she’s good in a crisis. In this episode, things go wrong and June steps in when others are hesitant. She makes decisions and takes responsibility for them. She accepts the consequences, without complaint. That’s also because of her strength, which is another essay.
Since her mother was an activist, she knows that the fight to bring Hannah home might take some time. Remember, what happened the night that Emily and Nichole escaped wasn’t something she planned or asked for. It fell into her lap, so she tried to take advantage of it, as best she could. June couldn’t get Hannah out, but she knows her daughter is in a loving home for the moment, so she’ll keep working toward her goal. June’s mother taught her to keep going, keep fighting, no matter how long it took or how hard the fight became.
On the show, June’s been criticized for living a settled, happy life before the revolution, instead of continuing her mother’s activism. But look around the real world. Most parents with children to raise don’t have time to be activists in more than a minimal way. Wasn’t June trying to live the life her mother had fought for her to have? June had put in many hours as an activist as a child, whether she wanted to or not. She was exposed to some difficult issues at a very young age, as we saw in season 2. It’s okay that she wanted to take a break and focus on being happy. It’s not selfish to live your own life.
Now that she has a fight of her own, I think June has proven herself as an activist and warrior. She’s been tortured, multiple times. She’s made friends with the enemy, and kept their secrets. She’s made friends with the resistance, and kept their secrets. She almost made it out once, but the plane was stopped by guardians. Her life was only spared because she was pregnant. From that experience, she realized it would break her heart to abandon Hannah in Gilead.
(Contrary to popular belief, she didn’t get anyone caught in that escape attempt. That operation had already been compromised. There’s some powerful misogyny out here in the real world that leads people to blame June for everything that goes wrong around her and to believe misogynist characters who shift blame to her. As Dr House said, everyone lies. Especially in Gilead. Especially Aunt Lydia. And the terrible things that happen around June are happening everywhere. Body parts are severed, people are executed or escape, bad things happen to babies. All of those types of events are illustrated in this episode, and none of them are caused by June- Cora has already lost an eye; another handmaid has a deformed baby who dies soon after birth; we see multiple “walls” where people have been hung; so many people escape Gilead that the Canadian doctors have a protocol for dealing with them and expectations for their test results.)
June talked Fred into letting her see Hannah. She gave birth alone in an isolated house and didn’t crack or panic. She talked Serena into giving up the baby who was her recompense for the many broken promises made to her. That baby was meant to be the center of Serena’s world, and June was able to convince her, over time, that she needed to let Nichole go. Wouldn’t you want someone who could accomplish all that on your team?
June is one of the few in Gilead who tries to live her life honestly and bravely enough to be herself, no matter who she’s with. That shines through and attracts people to her. It convinces people they can trust her. When she does use subterfuge, it becomes that much more powerful.
Images courtesy of Hulu.