In episode 7, June is recognized as a citizen of the United States and is accepted by Canada as an official refugee. This should mean that she’s not subject to extradition by Gilead as one of their citizens, but it doesn’t mean they won’t try to assassinate her in Canada or extradite her as an escaped criminal. In the meantime, Mark Tuello and Rachel Tapping put her up at a fancy hotel for the duration of her initial recovery and debriefing. Luke soon has other ideas and takes her home instead, where she attempts to fast track settling back into normal life, along with catching up with old friends and enemies from Gilead.
It’s a lot for her first 2 days in Canada and eventually it all catches up with her.
The episode begins where episode 6, Vows, left off, with June stepping onto Canadian soil. No sooner has her foot touched the pavement than Mark Tuello begins speaking. He and Rachel Tapping, the US government official who’s met frequently with Luke, are there to officially welcome June to Canada. But first, a few questions: “If you were returned to Gilead, would you be subject to a danger of torture, a risk to your life, or a risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment?”
June has a hard time keeping up with what they say and is afraid they’re here to send her back, especially after the cold welcome she received from Oona’s crew. She manages to answer, “Yes.” She also answers yes when Rachel asks if she’d be persecuted based on being a woman. Mark reminds her that she’s a citizen of the United States. She finally says, “My name is June Osborn. I am a citizen of the United States and I seek asylum in the country of Canada.”
Having heard the words they need to hear, the great soundtrack gods in the sky play Etta James’ At Last while June is taken to the nicest hotel in Toronto. Rachel and Mark are beside themselves with happiness that the rebel who got Angels Flight out of Gilead has fallen into their hands. She was also the handmaid for two high level Commanders and stayed in the Washington DC house of a third, Winslow. She’s the strategically-minded, grudge-holding fly on the wall the US government has been waiting for.
June hasn’t showered or changed her clothes since Chicago, but they parade her through the hotel lobby anyway, while continuing to talk at her. At Last plays so loudly that you miss most of it without the subtitles on. In the lobby, a live piano player clashes with the soundtrack the way June’s recent past clashes with her current experience. I immediately felt like June was being dragged through another Jezebels- I imagine that’s what she feels like, too. The framing of the elevator was particularly reminiscent of the main elevator scenes in the Boston Jezebels.
The last time June was at a Jezebels, she committed mass murder. Whenever she’s at a Jezebels, she’s either getting raped or committing murder. Sometimes both. I’m surprised she didn’t grab some glass (or a pen) in the lobby to use as a weapon, just in case.
Though I’m not sure what type of facility wouldn’t have been triggering at this point- June’s been abused in almost every type of building and vehicle over the 5 years that she was Gilead’s captive– but maybe they could have done better than talking at her too quickly and putting her in an environment with inherently high (and low) expectations. Staying at the refugee center, with Moira continuing to stay nearby, probably would have felt safest.
June is suffering from her success. Everyone assumes the amazing June Osborn will continue to be amazing and doesn’t need the buffers they give normal refugees. June herself believes she’s a failure and a weakling if she shows any sign of need. Gilead has taken her strength and made it pathological.
Tuello: “This will be your home for the next several days, while we ensure your security, your health and your well-being.”
Rachel: “This is the standard for all high-profile refugees. Please let us know if there’s anything else you’d like. We’ve also procured some clothing for you. We sent an assistant to Anthropologie.”
I’m willing to bet most of their high profile refugees aren’t traumatized handmaids who’ve watched most of their friends die in the last few days, after having spent years being raped and tortured. Most high profile prisoners live under better conditions than June has lived through.
In season 1, June told Ofglen2/Lillie that Anthropologie was her favorite place to shop for clothes. Either Luke or Moira must have told Rachel.
Luke: “You said there would be a doctor?”
Rachel: “A female doctor and a female therapist.”
Mark: “Thankfully your wife was cleared of traumatic injury on the boat, but yes, we will bring in a doctor and a mental health counselor to assist with this transition.”
As if the medic on the boat, who voted to let her die, suddenly did a thorough exam, please.
Rachel: “We tried to get all your favorite foods, but there’s a debit card you can use.”
Mark: “Ms Osborn, your importance as a witness, what you achieved in Gilead with Angels’ Flight, what you have seen in DC and Chicago- that all makes you inordinately valuable to us.”
Rachel: “We’ll leave you to rest. Order room service, have a nice meal with your husband, take a bath.”
Mark: “And I’ll see you tomorrow to ask you some questions and begin your debrief. See you soon.”
Mark and Rachel almost play Mom and Dad here, with Rachel offering comfort and practical information, while Mark tells June what will be expected of her. To June, it has to sound like more Gilead-style transactional threats- be our star witness, be strong, be Luke’s wife, or all of this disappears.
The other Gilead refugees we’ve followed were all allowed to settle in without pressure to be saviours. June needs to be in a hospital of some kind, whether it’s for her physical injuries or a therapeutic rest spa for her trauma and exhaustion.
What June absolutely doesn’t need is more expectations placed on her, not even that she’ll act as Nichole’s mother, Luke’s wife, Moira or anybody’s friend, or be together enough to act appropriately while staying in an expensive hotel. When you are at the bottom of your physical and mental reserves, as June basically is, performing any type of persona and meeting anyone’s expectations is too much. In addition to her personal issues, she is also going through culture shock, as Moira will mention later.
After Mark and Rachel leave, Moira leaves, too, saying she’ll bring Nichole back with her tomorrow. June looks terrified when Moira hugs her goodbye. Then Luke offers June a long list of choices- too many choices for someone who’s so exhausted. She picks the easiest, the bathroom, and takes a long shower.
But first, she locks the bathroom door. It’s both heartbreaking and completely understandable. Luke appears to be the most nonviolent guy on the planet, but he can be pushy. It’s been dangerous for June to say no to anyone, about anything, for many years. He came on the boat before she was ready and has already taken control as her spokesperson, rather than letting her decide whether she wants him or Moira to stay with her- or if she wants to be alone for a while. She just needs the option of keeping someone out for once.
As she undresses, her many battle and torture wounds are revealed, still red and purple. It’s only been a few days since episode 3, The Crossing, and her interactions with Hannah, Nick, Aunt Lydia, the Lieutenant and since she watched 7 of her best friends die in front of her. (Yes, Janine is MIA, not dead, but I think June considers her lost forever right now, and blames herself for all 7 losses, plus Esther’s arrest.) It’s been even fewer days since Steven in Chicago forced her to choose between remaining a sex slave in order to have food, clothing and shelter or almost certain death (S4Ep4, Milk). Then most of the boat crew voted to turn her in to Gilead to face death or more torture and she was once again saved at the last moment (S4Ep6, Vows). I don’t think the added layers of trauma that June has accumulated in Season 4 should be underestimated, especially because they’ve come so close together and she hasn’t had a chance to process any of them.
Luke seems confused that June isn’t acting like her old self, despite the number of traumatized Gilead refugees he’s dealt with, even lived with. But he was angry with Emily for taking too long to contact her wife, Sylvia, in S3Ep2, Mary and Martha. It makes sense for him to rush June because he needs to know that she won’t reject him. While June is in the shower, he orders room service and tries to arrange a perfect, romantic meal for them. June notices him arranging the dishes when she gets out. She goes straight to the bedroom without Luke noticing, then falls asleep. He’s disappointed when he finds her a while later, but lets her sleep.
June wakes up 17 hours later. Luke is dozing on the couch next to the bed. He wakes up and she invites him to sit on the bed with her. He sent the room service back- after she fell asleep, he wasn’t hungry anymore. She apologizes. He tells her not to feel bad, even though he just made her feel bad.
He says that he should be the one that’s apologizing, then he launches into his planned apology for not getting her and Hannah out. He might not mean to put pressure on her, but his plea for her understanding, so soon after she’s gotten home, does pressure her to act a certain way toward him. She immediately slips into her comforting wife persona, taking care of him when he should be taking care of her. Luke does try to comfort her by telling her she’s a good mother, but I don’t think he gets through to her at all. It’s too soon after her recent traumas, which he knows nothing about, since he’s controlled their interactions, rather than leaving himself open as a sounding board.
He doesn’t give her a chance to direct the conversation. What are you afraid of, Luke?
June tells him that Hannah remembers them and knows they care about her. She knows they’re trying to get her out. She continues, telling him about her brief visit with Hannah at the MacKenzie’s lake house in S2Ep10, The Last Ceremony, but she gives him a semi-fictional version that is much more positive and hopeful than what actually happened. She doesn’t tell him about her most recent visit with Hannah, a week or so ago, when Hannah was scared of her and didn’t recognize her.
The fact that June jumped straight to lying to protect Luke is disturbing. I’m not sure how much she was also lying to protect herself from losing him and losing the status of Wife that she’s just regained. June’s mind is a dark and twisty place right now. Her instincts are going to make her do what would help her survive in Gilead. Keeping
Fred Joseph her latest Commander happy by any means necessary has been central to her existence for a very long time.
But, as we saw during the flashbacks in S4Ep6, Vows, preGilead June also worried, a lot, about keeping Luke happy. And Luke likes to keep things chill. So it could be that even before Gilead, June would have put the best possible spin on the situation.
During her debrief, Mark asks June about Angels’ Flight. He’s amazed that she pulled the flight together with so little help and asks what motivated her to do it. She tells him it was the only thing she could do to hurt the people who had hurt them. She wanted to hurt the kidnappers, the Serenas, to give them- the ones who take everything from you- what they deserved.
From the other room, Luke senses an intense emotion happening. He rushes in to stop it, asking June if she wants to take a break. Mark okays it. June asks when she’ll get to see Nichole. Marks says that Moira is bringing Nichole over after the debriefing.
Luke tells June that she could go see Nichole now, if they skip out on the debriefing.
Luke seems a little territorial here. I think June takes it that way- finally she has a man who can publicly defend and claim her, after she’s been the concubine and worse for years. (They may be called handmaids, but it was also made clear over time that many of the Commanders treat them more like mistresses/concubines, as Fred and Putnam did, especially once Pryce and Cushing were dead.)
Mark is just doing his job. “It’s best to debrief while your memories are fresh. They tend to degrade over time and then they can become contaminated with new experiences.”
Luke: “We can debrief later, at the embassy. Right now, I’m gonna take my wife home. I wanna go see our daughter.”
Mark: “I understand.”
I’m trying to be positive toward Luke here, but he just stopped June’s debriefing because HE wants them to go see Nichole and play happy family as quickly as possible. If he can’t save anyone from Gilead, he will save them from Mark- except he saved himself again, not June, who was fine. By the time he’s finished speaking to Mark, her face is a mixture of scared and trying to smile. He also erased Nick as Nichole’s father, referring to her as “our” daughter- his and June’s. It’s great that he’s accepted Nichole so thoroughly, but he and June also need to acknowledge the way she came into the world.
Remember Mark’s words about why debriefing needs to happen quickly- I have a feeling they will come back to haunt June.
Before long, they pull up in front of the cute little house that Luke, Moira and Nichole live in now. Luke tells June, “This is home.”
When they get inside, Emily and Moira are dressing Nichole. Moira is frustrated that they don’t have the baby ready yet, but June almost cries when she sees Emily. In one of the most moving moments of the entire series, Emily walks across the room and hands June back the daughter June entrusted her to get out of Gilead. June holds Nichole up to her face, kisses her and cries.
Everybody cries to see mother and daughter reunited. 😭 😭 😭
Later, June sits in a rocking chair with Nichole. She tells her daughter how lucky she is to have Luke and Moira taking care of her- they’re both lucky. “I also want you to know that your daddy and I love you so much. Your first daddy.” Nick.
Serena prays in the prison chapel: “Dear God, thank you for allowing my pregnancy to reach this week. I know I have sinned, and I know I have not always behaved with light in my heart, and I am sorry. Whatever I can do to repent and redeem myself in your eyes, I will do it. Please. Please, Lord, let me have a healthy baby. [Tuello enters.] Please do not punish him for the sins of his mother. And please give me the strength to parent him on my own.”
When Serena finishes, Mark apologizes for interrupting. She’s angry that he listened. She asks if he finds it satisfying to hear someone from Gilead repent. He asks if she finds it satisfying to do so. She changes the subject and asks if he’s seen June, except she never refers to June by name. Her lawyer told her that “she” is here and will complicate Serena’s case. Serena assumes Mark doesn’t care about that. He doesn’t take the bait. Or rather, he throws out a barb of his own: “Your husband has renewed his request to see you again, as he has every day since finding out he’s a father.”
Serena corrects Mark- Fred is the sperm donor. She notes that Fred is afraid of how June will affect his case as well, but she still refuses to see him. Mark encourages her to change her mind, since Fred won’t want to fight both Serena and June. It would help both Mark and Serena if she could get Fred to be more cooperative.
Serena visits Fred. He looks at her pregnant belly instead of her face and quotes some nonsense scripture I can’t be bothered to note or look up. Serena tells him to “back off.” Fred tells her that everything has changed, the world has tilted on its axis and he wants to be a good father to his son. He smiles that weird, demonic smile at her- the creepy one that looks like a used car salesman. Then he says, “And a good husband to you. If you’ll let me.” Uh-huh.
Serena says none of that is happening. He refers to “our pregnancy”. She corrects Fred- “My pregnancy.”
Fred: “This pregnancy belongs to me just as much as Offred’s belonged to you.”
Serena tries to leave. Fred stops fooling around and turns to the legalities of the situation, pointing out that “Offred” could put them both away for the maximum sentence and have the baby taken away from them. He looks slightly more sincere than he did earlier when he offers to recant his claims against her and “do whatever it takes to ensure a good life for our son.”
If I were Serena, I’d get the definitions of a few terms, such as exactly what constitutes “a good life for our son”, put in writing before I made another deal with this slippery devil.
June wakes up in the morning in bed in her new home. For a minute, she isn’t sure where she is. Then she joins Luke, Moira and Nichole in the kitchen. They are functioning as a family unit. As soon as June gets there and interacts with Nichole, Moira decides it’s time to take the baby shopping so that June and Luke can have some more time alone together. Luke agrees. June is startled that she’s being pushed toward Luke and separated from her child and friend again. She tells Moira that she wants to go to the store, and then have Rita and Emily over later. She wants to meet Emily’s son. Moira worries about culture shock, but June insists that she wants to dive right in.
I don’t think June actually knows what she wants, except that she wants to be with Nichole and Moira or at least to feel like she’s part of the family. Luke and Moira don’t mean to do it, but they’re acting like the married couple and reducing June to feeling like the handmaid who’s confined to spending time alone with the pervy Commander.
The same issues continue at the store, and even worsen. After the empty, white store in Boston, the Toronto grocery store is overwhelming, with its bright colors and overflowing shelves. Luke checks in with June, and she insists she’s good. But he and Moira also function as a practiced team, while June is left out. Then June spots a woman through the shelves who reminds her of Alma. When she sees the woman a minute later, she discovers she and her companion are wearing red hajibs, which remind her of the handmaids’ outfits.
A second later, a wings logo gives her flashbacks to the wings statue in Washington, DC, which sets off a greatest hits series of flashes of torture, abuse, death and loss. Most of us probably have a similar reel in our minds, but few in modern America have suffered like June. One’s general level of mental health at any given moment determines how easy it is to trigger the reel and how quickly it can be suppressed again. June will probably see it all, often, for the foreseeable future. She leans up against a stack of groceries and gasps for breath.
June must pull herself together before Moira and Luke find her, because the next thing we see is her back at home, in the evening, when Emily and Oliver arrive. She’s alone on the stairs and has to force herself to go out and say hello. When she does, she asks Oliver for a hug right away, as opposed to when he and Emily reunited and it took a few hours for them to be ready for physical contact.
Rita arrives and asks for a hug as well. June throws herself into Rita’s arms and they squeeze each other tight. Rita says, “You made it.”
Later, once the women are sitting together, Emily tells them that Sylvia works late a lot. She doesn’t think her wife is doing it to avoid her- she just likes her job. Emily still hasn’t moved back into Sylvia’s bedroom. But Syl is patient and kind.
Moira reassures Emily that Gilead leaves everyone messed up about sex. Emily points out that Moira found Oona, but Moira says that she messed up that relationship, too. June says it was her fault Oona and Moira broke up. Moira tells June that she sounds like Aunt Lydia and to stop- “This is a Lydia free zone.”
Pretty sure Oona was the unforgiving one who messed things up, anyway.
Emily: “She [Lydia] can’t get us here.”
Moira: “None of ’em can.”
June: “Do you guys ever wonder if you deserve this? If you deserve to be here?”
Emily: “Sometimes, I think about what I did, when I was there.”
Moira: “We did what we had to do. To survive. To get out. But we’re here, ladies. We won. They tried to f—ing destroy us and we won.”
June takes in what Moira says, but she went so much further than Moira, or even Emily, did that she’s having a hard time forgiving herself or leaving Gilead behind. She committed multiple violent acts for revenge, not just for survival, and led others into violence and death as well. I have a feeling that this is the point that Mark was talking about, where a sense of normalcy starts to creep in and refugees begin to feel differently about their memories, which alters how they share them.
Next June asks about Serena. Rita reluctantly admits that she saw her because she’s pregnant with Fred’s baby and wanted Rita’s help as a nanny. June is furious, as you’d expect. They relieve the tension a bit by insulting Serena, but June is not okay. She went through years of torture, then lost Nichole, because the Waterfords’ were infertile. Now all of that is rendered pointless.
Plus, Serena will get to raise her child in Canada, while Hannah is still in Gilead. June probably wants to go murder Serena right this minute, after all of the times she refused to help June, despite knowing exactly where Hannah was and torturing her with the information.
Moira gets up to replenish their drinks and notices Oona walking away from the front door. She rushes to catch her ex-girlfriend on the sidewalk. Oona says she was stopping on her way home from work to drop something off for June. Her NGO is still operating, but they have to stay within Canada for now. Moira says she’s sorry and asks if it helps that June is a major intelligence asset. Oona says that’s the reason they haven’t been shut down. She seems to feel a little bad about almost leaving June to die and suggests they call it even.
Moira stops Oona as she’s leaving, telling her she doesn’t want their relationship to be over. Oona says, “You chose your friend over me, and my work and your work. I know where I stand with you and it’s fine.” Moira argues that it’s not fine- Oona doesn’t understand. Oona doesn’t want to argue, but Moira tells her that they have to have the argument so they can move on. Oona doesn’t think they can move on. Moira tells Oona that she feels like she could be forever, the same way Odette, her dead fiance, felt like forever. Oona agrees to try having the argument, but on another night and indoors, out of the cold.
After everyone has left, June drinks another glass of wine in the kitchen. Luke joins her and she leans into him for comfort. Then she tilts her head up and after some hesitation, they kiss. He caresses her face and accidentally touches her ear and handmaid tag. She abruptly pulls away. He apologizes. They try again, but after a couple of quick kisses, she pulls away again. They both apologize and both take the blame until June picks up her wine and walks away.
They seemed like strangers again.
Rookie mistake on his part. I don’t think he even knew or remembered it was there, which says something about how in tune he actually is with her experiences. He seems to expect her to compartmentalize her experiences in Gilead so that they don’t affect the marriage. He wants to insert Nichole into Hannah’s spot and go on as before. June will work out her issues in therapy and she won’t bother him with the messy details.
He has no idea what June’s been through or what kind of pull he’s up against.
That night, June lies in bed next to Luke as he sleeps. But she’s thinking about her conversation with Serena in the Waterford garden way back in S1Ep5, Faithful, when Serena convinced her to have sex with Nick since it was likely that Fred was infertile. June and Nick were attracted to each other before that, but it’s unlikely that they would have ever acted on it if Serena hadn’t given them that push.
Because of Serena, they got to know each other, fell in love, had a child and have had an off and on affair ever since. Other than her affair with Nick, June doesn’t have any reason to feel guilty toward Luke for anything that happened in Gilead. Each of the dozens of other times she was with a man, it was rape. It could be argued that her time with Nick was necessary for her survival- his loyalty has saved her multiple times and he’s been essential to her mental health many times. But June could be regretting their involvement while she’s lying next to her husband.
The fact that right now she’s thinking about how their relationship began (with rape that Serena coerced them both into) suggests that her thoughts of Nick are interfering with her reunion with Luke. But it could also be that she’s thinking about how much Nichole’s birth complicated so many lives, especially her own. Apparently, the Waterfords could have just waited a couple of years, rather than putting her and Nick and Luke through so much. And June could have been putting her energy into finding Hannah instead of having another baby.
June gets out of bed and meets Mark in a parking lot. He gives her a ride to the prison, where she meets with Serena. Serena’s hair is down and she’s draped in loose white clothing- handmaid’s bedclothes. June wears a tight bun and a dark blue top- she’s embraced the look of a Wife. They’ve switched places.
Serena says that she prayed June would visit and she thanks the Lord for answering her prayers. June sees this as another way for Serena to attempt to take her agency away, as if she’s still controlling June.
Mark tells them he’ll be next door. I’m not sure if he’s avoiding the crossfire or if he’s naive enough to think things are fine.
Serena tells June that the Lord brought June to her so she could make amends.
June: “I brought myself here so that I could tell you how much I hate you. You don’t deserve to make amends to anyone. The only thing that you deserve is a life full of suffering and shame. You have destroyed my life, my family, my friends, my country, and my child. There is no one less worthy of redemption than you.”
Serena: “I’m sorry.”
She gets down on her knees and begs for June’s forgiveness and the Lord’s mercy.
June, in a harsh voice: “Do you know why God made you pregnant? So that when he kills that baby inside your womb, you will feel a fraction of the pain that you caused us when you tore our children from our arms! Do you understand me?”
She takes Serena by the chin and forces her to look her in the eyes, repeating, in an even harsher voice, “Do you understand me?”
Serena stays on her knees and cries as June strides out of the room.
I think June said what she planned to say and Serena deserved all of it, although besides speaking to Serena as herself, June was also using her as a placeholder for all of Gilead. “Do you understand me?” is a callback to S1Ep3, Late, when Serena screams the same words in June’s face. She angrily banishes June to solitary confinement in her room for weeks for the crime of getting her period. June flashed back to the visual of the scene in the grocery store, earlier in the episode.
For Serena, this is mostly a performance for Mark. Serena is one of my favorite characters, but she gives as good as she gets. Everything she said to June was calculated to bait her into losing her temper. Serena is always, always aware of the effect she has on others- it’s one of her defining characteristics. She made sure to come off as the victim in this interaction to anyone who was watching, probably as the beginning of an effort to discredit June. The Waterfords will want to make her out to be an unhinged criminal whose testimony can’t be trusted. They used the same strategy previously in their attempt to discredit Emily when she escaped with Nichole.
When she gets home, June is still fired up with anger. She undresses, then joins Luke in bed. He’s asleep, but she leans over him and kisses him. He awakens, asking about the time. June doesn’t answer. She reaches down under the covers and fondles him into arousal. Then she gets on top and rides him. He’s surprised, but okay with it at first. When he reaches up a hand toward her hip, she pushes it back onto the bed and holds it down. He asks her to wait and repeats the request several times, but he doesn’t sound upset. She keeps going and puts a hand over his mouth. He stops talking and lets her do what she needs to do. She takes her hand off his mouth once it’s clear that he’ll stay quiet. He lies there and watches her finish, but it doesn’t seem like he finishes before the scene ends, with her still on top of him.
The next day, Luke, June and Nichole play outside together in the yard. They play happy family, but both Luke and June take on haunted expressions when they think the other one isn’t looking.
In voiceover, June describes Serena to Mark: “She’s pathological. She’s a sociopath. She’s toxic and abusive. She’s a monster. And by the way, a consumate actress.”
Serena visits Fred in his cell. She tells him she needs him. He approaches her and puts his face close to hers, but doesn’t kiss her. Instead, he slides down her body until his face is against her belly, which he kisses and caresses.
It’s the baby he wants, not her.
The visual switches to June and Mark in his office, where he has interest boards that show Serena, Fred, Nick and others. He asks June what drives Serena.
June: “Hatred. And rage. And underneath all of that, there’s nothing but pure misery. And she’ll do anything not to feel that way. Anything to feel okay. Even just for a second. She’ll do anything to get what she wants. Lie to you. Hurt you. Rape you. So if you feel yourself getting sucked in by her, run. Run for your life.”
When she describes Serena, June also describes how she feels about herself. I think she’s both wrong and right about both of them. Serena isn’t as empty as June describes and June isn’t a sociopath. But June currently feels very empty. They need to get her to the therapist they mentioned at the beginning of the episode, fast. I still think she should be checked into a clinic for a few days. Or weeks.
Mark Tuello is getting a true taste of life in Gilead, now that he’s jousting with the full Waterford household, June and Rita included, with Luke subbing in for Nick. Bet he’s longing for coconuts, minus the treason.
I think Fred’s plan is to lure Serena back to Gilead, then have her turned into a handmaid once the baby is born. He wants the true status symbol of Gilead, a son birthed by a wife. Then he’ll secure a new, young, fertile wife, who he thinks won’t cause any more trouble.
Fred used to fondle June’s eartag because he was, and is, so obsessed with the idea that he owned her. Note that he still calls her Offred, not Ofjoseph, her most recent name in Gilead, and not June, her real name. In Fred’s mind, she’s still his and I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t make at least one more bid for permanent ownership of her.
But what did Fred mean when he said the pregnancy belongs to him the way June’s pregnancy belonged to Serena? Serena isn’t biologically connected to Nichole. Does Fred simply mean that even though he isn’t the one who’s pregnant, he’s still invested? Or does he think someone else is the baby’s father? Someone else, like Mark? He and Serena have been weird with each other since he found out she’s pregnant.
I wouldn’t put it past Serena for this entire Canadian adventure to be a set up for the Waterfords to use Mark as their secret male handmaid, since Mark told Serena in S2Ep9 that usually the women are fertile and the issue is with the men, but I can’t see how they would have planned to get themselves back to Gilead again. Maybe Serena bribed someone in Gilead to eventually trade hostages for them, once they’re sure she’s pregnant. Using a father who’s outside of Gilead and who has a conflict of interest if his paternity is revealed would help them avoid the blackmail issue they face if they use an alternate father within Gilead.
This show is at its best when June and Serena spend time together. My hope is that they will continue to interact, eventually working through their past and figuring out that they should team up against Fred and Gilead. They need to have their arguments, just as Moira and Oona do, only turned up to eleven. But they’ve worked well together in the past and could bring down Gilead if they put aside their differences and pooled their knowledge and skills.
Luke and June and Risk and Control
June hasn’t forgotten about Nick, but she might be trying to let him go. Whether she’s in Canada or Gilead, June is always trying to let half of the people she loves go. There’s no easy emotional win for her. Hannah, Janine, Esther and potentially her mother are still in Gilead. Angela, Alma’s son Dylan, Brianna’s child, Natalie’s children- the children of all of the handmaids are still captives and I can’t imagine she’ll forget about them. I can’t imagine she’ll forget about the child brides like Esther and Eden, either, since that will be Hannah before long. Besides promising Hannah that she’d try harder to get her out, she made promises to others. To Esther and to Natalie on her deathbed, for example. And she does everything humanly possible to keep her promises.
What will be interesting is if she can get through to Luke now that she’s with him. He was symbolized as Jonah, the reluctant freedom fighter and prophet, back in S3Ep5, Unknown Caller. Will June eventually tell him the whole truth about Gilead, so that he understands why she couldn’t leave Hannah behind and why she needs to keep fighting? Will she galvanize him into stronger action the way she’s inspired so many others?
He’s already become a speaker, activist and fundraiser for the refugees since Nick brought him the letters (S2Ep9, Smart Power), and then especially after Nichole came into his life (S4Ep2, Nightshade). But he hasn’t put himself at risk since he got out of Gilead- and maybe he shouldn’t, if he’s going to remain Nichole’s primary caregiver. Maybe, as Moira once suggested, his primary role in overthrowing Gilead is protecting Baby Nichole.
But more and more, I get the sense that Luke’s relationships with both June and Annie were about keeping him happy and that his partners are required to appear pleasant and even tempered at all times. Even Moira, who usually pulls no punches, was like a Stepford version of herself when she was around him in this episode. He’s probably training her to behave the way he thinks she should in front of the baby.
It’s a stark contrast to the surly Luke of S3Ep2, who had developed a drinking problem and rejected Nichole. He was vicious with Emily in that episode because she hadn’t contacted her wife yet. Moira eventually talks both of them down. By the end of the episode Luke decides to accept Nichole as part of his family, since she’s June’s daughter and Hannah’s sister. The price of that acceptance, in his mind, shows up in this episode- Nichole is now June and Luke’s daughter and June has no right to refuse to see him when she returns from Gilead, even while she gathers her strength for a few minutes when the boat docks.
It’s important to note a couple of details, though- June handed Nichole to Emily at the end of S2Ep13 and told her to call the baby Nichole. She did not send instructions along for who she wanted to raise the baby. She left that up to fate and whoever Emily found at the end of her journey. Emily brought the baby to Luke, but they could have searched for another relative of June’s or Nick’s to raise her or let the Refugee Center deal with her. There’s no shortage of homes for infants in their world.
But Luke realized he could use the baby to create leverage in his marriage, in case June tried to reject him the way he felt Emily was rejecting Sylvia. In this episode, he cashed in on that leverage. In addition to doing good works, he used Nichole to very publicly make himself June’s loving husband. June looks like a villain if she rejects him, even though Moira, who’s worked with refugees since her own escape, told Emily that many marriages fail after the refugee comes home.
By the end of S2Ep10, Emily makes contact with Sylvia. It’s a while more before she sees her and their son, Oliver, in person. In this episode, we learn that approximately a year after Emily escaped Gilead, she still isn’t sleeping in the same room as Sylvia, never mind in the same bed or having sex with her. Because of Luke’s pushiness and her own need to prove she’s invincible (to herself, Luke and the world), June moves home after the first night.
Luke slept in the same room with her the first night- she wasn’t given a choice about who her initial companion would be or if she even wanted one. Everyone assumed she wanted romance, which is bizarre, given the adjustment experiences we’ve seen so far. After going through handmaid training, then escaping, Erin didn’t speak for more than 3 years. It took Moira years to be ready for a relationship.
But in June’s case, even she deferred to what Luke wanted and not what she needed. June’s experiences are equal to or worse than Emily’s and happened over a longer time. June needs time and care, despite her tendency to jump into situations and then push herself to the breaking point.
(Contrast this with the way Nick knew he had to protect her from her own instincts, whatever it took, when she was captured this season. He’d already seen one suicide attempt and he could guess that her mental state hadn’t improved.)
June already told Luke, in her taped message, that she’s no longer the woman he married, but he tried to push her back into that persona anyway. I have a feeling that their marriage was always going to fail. The preGilead flashbacks show a couple who don’t communicate honestly or all that well, who tend to focus on his needs and eventually on Hannah, but not on June’s.
They jumped right back into that pattern on her return. June made a brief, heroic effort to conform, but she doesn’t have it in her to let herself be subtly controlled by a man anymore. She would have eventually outgrown his routine of the nice guy who never raises his voice, but uses a look of disapproval to let her know when she’s out of line. Gilead just exploded the breakup process.
The Crowded Bed: June and Luke and Nick and Serena and Fred and Joseph and Lydia and…
The Green Persimmon Fairy granted Luke’s wish after all and brought June home, but this might be a case of be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.
June dominates Luke when they have sex in this episode, but I’m not willing to call it rape. She is in a mentally unhealthy place and it clearly wasn’t great sex for him, but in long-term relationships, sometimes you take turns letting your partner do what they need to do. Especially when they are fulfilling an emotional need, the way that she obviously was.
June came home from her meeting with Serena with her rage at the surface, after she’d kept it under control since she’d gotten off the boat. From the time that the boat docked, Luke (and sometimes Moira) subtly took control of her life and she had to actively take control back whenever she felt strongly about what she wanted.
Luke and Moira meant well, but neither gave her the chance to decompress, to tell them what she needed and to talk about whatever she wanted to talk about whenever the moment felt right. If she’d stayed in the original debriefing, at least she would have poured her entire story out to a non-judgemental listener, which might have been cathartic.
Instead, Luke took her home, where she faced the expectations she and Luke placed on her to be a good wife, mother and friend. He put his need to know she wouldn’t abandon him above her need to re-acclimate slowly, a need she didn’t yet understand that she had. But Luke knew, because he’s watched this process in others and been through it himself. And the experts told him.
By the time June got home from meeting with Serena, she was ready to blow. We’ve seen her in this state before- she and Nick worked through it using wordless, rough sex several times in season 1 and 2, especially in S2Ep2, Unwomen, when June took out her frustrations on Nick, which led to intense sex which she initiated. Nick understood where she was at mentally and what she needed. They were able to silently negotiate what each would accept, as they have in each of their sex scenes.
Nick tends to communicate with his physicality more than verbally, which has only been reinforced by his years with the Sons of Jacob. June’s years in Gilead have forced the same style of communication onto her. June and Luke were always very verbal, but it was playful and they danced around important subjects. June and Nick were forced by circumstances to get to the point, quickly, when they were able to speak openly.
After 5 years away, June brings a combination of her two relationship styles back to Luke. She’s also had relationships with Fred, Joseph and Serena, which complicate things even further, but I can’t bring myself to analyze how Fred’s rape and manipulation style is affecting her right now. Just think about their evenings in his office and nights out at Jezebels and know that they’re in the mix, too. As are Joseph and Serena’s games of cat and mouse with June’s life and sanity. She’s not in a position where she’ll trust any man or authority figure easily right now, even Luke, and it’s natural for her to want the appearance of power in order to protect herself.
In fact, it was both Fred and Serena who held June’s hands down and made her be quiet. It’s likely not a coincidence that she came straight from Serena and did the same to Luke. But it’s also important to note that she views herself as the Wife and Luke as her Commander in this scenario- she’s not seeing herself as Luke’s handmaid. She is taking back control of her life and her body. She won’t be like Emily and be a Wife who sleeps in a separate room and has a sexless marriage. She won’t let Gilead take that from her, too.
June tends to prefer to be on top and Luke has been hesitant about it in the past, but he’s given in. His hesitancy with letting her be dominant, but ultimately accepting it, is consistent with the pattern we’ve seen from them in life and in the bedroom. He very much prefers to be the one in control, but June very much needs to be the one in control this time. That’s what her actions told him.
He allowed her to take control in the moment, but I have a feeling he won’t accept her needing as much control over her life as she needs. When Gilead took away women’s jobs, bank accounts and civil rights, Luke didn’t get angry. His response was to tell June that she didn’t have to worry, because he would take care of her. June was raised by a controlling mother, so when she was young, a controlling partner felt right to her.
But after years as a slave, she’s not going to be accepting of his patriarchal attitudes for long. Part of what she got from her relationship with Nick was a sense of how partners can have an equal give and take in bed and in life, where they trade off automatically according to need, without ego getting in the way. With Luke, his ego always gets in the way, even though he manages to act like he’s the good guy most of the time. He’s an expert practitioner at the subtle art of using “niceness”, also known as passive aggressiveness, as a tool for manipulation.
“Wait” doesn’t mean the same thing as “stop”. Luke is twice the size of June. He could have easily thrown her off him at any time. It’s offensive to equate Luke’s decision not to stop his wife to the experiences of women who are held down by the weight, strength and size of male rapists and by their own lifelong socialization to be passive in response to men. There are shades of gray in the interactions between people and this is one of them.
The show may ultimately define it differently. They have more information than viewers, so that’s their prerogative.
I would also characterize Nick and June’s relationship as falling within shades of gray, along with Janine and Steven, after the first time. I don’t feel like we saw enough of Janine and Steven together to understand whether he continued using her or developed real feelings. The ease with which she left him suggests that she figured out that she was clinging to him in order to feel safe and to protect their source of food and shelter, but we weren’t given the details, so that’s conjecture.
Though I think the feelings between Nick and June are real, the reality is that his status as an Eye and then as a Commander have always given him the power to have her arrested and killed. The inequality between them leaves the relationship questionable and their actions open to multiple interpretations. Hopefully someday they’ll meet on more even ground and get the chance to see what happens.
I think it’s interesting, too, that we’ve seen all of June’s trauma, but so much of what Luke has had to deal with, we haven’t been there to see him process all of it. Is Luke as put together as he currently seems?
It’s funny. Someone once told me that some people’s anger gets expressed towards themselves, and it becomes depression. And I think some people express it very easily externally. Then other people, they kind of cover it up, and I think Luke is a cover it up type of person. You definitely see their relationship get about as extreme as you can imagine.
So, what’s next for Luke and June?
He struggles a lot with how to best be there for his partner, who was clearly traumatized, and his desperation to know more about their daughter, and to start that search again. His desperation to connect with June has some successes, and quite a few failures, and their relationship is really tested. Also, Nick.
Me: Lol- “Also, Nick.” I have my issues with Luke, but I love O-T Fagbenle so much.
Images courtesy of Hulu.