In episode 6, “Borders”, Moira (Samira Wiley) and June (Elisabeth Moss) visit a rebel camp on the Canadian border with the hope of getting more information about Hannah (Jordana Blake). Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) works to secure her future in Gilead. Hannah’s adoptive parents, the MacKenzies, worry that June is a threat to their family. As Janine (Madeline Brewer) lingers in a coma, Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) stays by her bedside the way she once had June sit with Natalie/Ofmatthew (S3Ep9).
The episode picks up later in the evening after the end of the funeral in episode 2. June sits in her living room, going over the funeral broadcast in her mind and staring at a photo of Hannah from the before times. She asks Luke (OT Fagbenle) what Hannah was wearing, but he can’t remember. Moira, who’s been trying to get through to the refugee center on the phone, was watching at home and remembers the outfit. June asks if she noticed the color. Moira is upset that the broadcast revealed Tuello is in Gilead with Serena. But she recalls Hannah was wearing purple rather than pink, the color little girls wear.
They all look at each other with dread when this ominous sign that Hannah is growing up sinks in. June remembers seeing Nick (Max Minghella) there as well and decides to contact him. Luke reminds her that they have to use Tuello’s (Sam Jaeger) sat phone to do that. Moira tells them she knows of a group of rebels at the border who are able to get messages into Gilead.
June is confused, then angry that Moira didn’t share this information as soon as she found out and asks when Moira was going to tell her.
Moira: “I wasn’t going to tell you that, because I think they’re basically suicidal. They’re a bunch of traumatized refugees and they’re the last people you need to be around right now.”
June: “Well you don’t get to decide that.”
Moira: “Fine. I’ll ask them to meet. For Hannah. Just me and you, though. No men allowed.”
They turn and leave the room.
And just like that, Moira writes Luke out of the rest of the episode. For the sisterhood. She’s been overprotective of June since she dragged her out of Chicago, but she backs down pretty fast here. Hannah’s safety finally trumps June’s. Finally seeing Hannah onscreen in real time brought home to Luke and Moira what June already knows- that Hannah is no longer the toddler in their memories. She’s reached a dangerous age in a culture that believes in child marriages. Esther must have been married when she was 13 or 14. Hannah is 12. Time is running out.
June and Moira drive to meet an escaped former Martha in the parking lot of an abandoned restaurant near the border. The Martha, Lily (Christine Ko), recognizes June, but thought she’d be taller. (Elisabeth Moss is 5 foot 3 inches, an inch taller than me. I really hate the patriarchal stereotype that height and physical size somehow equate to power. There’s more to strength than the muscles you can see.)
They confirm that June wants to send a message to a Commander in Boston. Lily asks if he frequents Jezebels, because that’s the easiest part of the network to contact. June is certain that he doesn’t. Lily tells her they can still get the message through, it will just take longer.
Lily: “I got to expand the network a bit before the Eyes busted me. I’m one of the women you traded for Waterford.”
June: “Sorry I didn’t do it sooner.”
Lily: “I don’t know how you managed it. Getting us out. And all those kids.”
June: “I was lucky.”
Lily: “Women always say that when they’ve done something extraordinary. Follow me.”
Moira looks back and forth between Lily and June as they talk and then head to their cars. Before this, I don’t think she understood how important June’s successes have been to the resistance in Gilead.
Mark Tuello pulls a card from one of several flower arrangements in Serena’s hotel room and asks whose crest is on it. She tells him the flowers were sent by Commander Broderick from DC. He repeats the name, “Commander Christopher Broderick. Quite a get.” He tells her he’s not surprised Gilead’s leadership is VERY grateful to her after the show she put on yesterday.
OMG, he’s such a fanboy. Has he studied the genealogy and astrology charts for Gilead’s founders? Does he have the entire British royal line of succession memorized, too? And did you catch that the Commanders have used women’s inability to read as an excuse to create family crests for themselves, as if they’re European nobility?
Serena is relieved that Gilead finally respects Fred, forgetting that she blackmailed her way into that respect a few days ago. She graciously expresses concern that she’s gotten Tuello in trouble with her shenanigans. He says that since they gave her permission to bury Fred, they don’t care how she buries him,
any more than they cared how justice was dispensed once they turned him over to Gilead.
With a straight face, he says the Americans are trying to make up for the unfortunate mix up where they handed her rapist husband over to June in exchange for the freedom of 22 heroic Marthas. That one hits a nerve with Serena. She drops the mask for a moment and points out that as a spy, he’s been handed a golden opportunity to observe Gilead on the inside. Tuello gives her a big smile in agreement.
Serena doesn’t feel like playing anymore and tells him he should leave so that he doesn’t compromise her reputation. The hotel staff will be watching them and she wouldn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea. Tuello looks fragile as he tells her he’ll return when it’s time to accompany her to Joseph’s (Bradley Whitford) house.
These two are always on such a roller coaster ride together.
June and Moira follow Lily to her resistance camp, headquartered in a rustic cabin in the woods, close to the edge of No Man’s Land. There are dozens of armed women, but no men. They lead June and Moira past an American flag hung upside down, then inside the cabin to talk. Lily explains that they use sat phones to bypass Gilead’s cell phone towers, but it can take time to get to a particular person.
June and Moira stop to examine the cabin walls, which are filled with maps, photos, diagrams, etc- the information this resistance cell needs to operate on a daily basis. They ask about the 54 polaroid photos which are arranged in neat rows. Lily explains that these are the people they’ve gotten out of Gilead. And on the next wall, arranged more haphazardly, are the people they’ve lost. As with June and her friends, this outpost has lost nearly as many as they’ve saved. Gilead is a brutal, ruthless enemy.
Lily tells her that everyone working with Mayday knows that death is a possibility. June and Moira look at her like she just told them she’s a leprechaun. All these years, all those rumors, and this is the first time anyone June has met admitted they were Mayday, instead of Mayday adjacent or working based on rumors of Mayday or denying its existence.
June repeats the name and Lily confirms it. June is going to need some questions answered, now that she’s finally found the elusive resistance organization she first heard about from Emily in season 1.
June: “Mayday’s in Canada?”
Lily: “Mayday’s everywhere.”
Moira: “Wait, how have you not been caught?”
Lily: “There’s no, you know, flag or anything. [Me: Or rebel family crest.] It’s outposts. Small, like this. Families sometimes. Just people. People who are trying to do some good.”
Moira, in an excited, hopeful tone: “And they’re all along the border?”
Lily: “No idea. It’s safer that way for everyone. Most of my circle are still inside. I was a Martha. We got our information out through this place. Mayday sent back weapons, explosives, stuff to make some trouble. And if you were caught, totally f**ked, they were the ones who would at least try to get you out. This was my Mayday.”
June: “We thought we made it up. We thought it wasn’t real. We thought we made it up cause we had to.”
Lily: “Well then, you were Mayday, too.”
Thank you, Lily, for finally making June official and giving another layer of validation to 4 seasons worth of deaths and captures. They didn’t die for nothing or for June’s selfishness. They died for Mayday operations, working to bring down Gilead. But I do wonder who funds the operation. Much of what we’ve seen these small, independent cells do can be done on the cheap and by word of mouth. June pulled off Angel’s Flight using her own resources. But this operation looks larger than that and they don’t look like they’re starving, the way the Chicago fighters were. They may be receiving money from the outside to pay for explosives, weapons, day to day operating expenses for the camp, medical supplies, bribes, etc.
I wonder if Emily and Sylvia were involved with them. My guess is that Emily is the one who told Moira about this group and Moira asked Emily to keep the information from June for the time being to protect June from herself.
When they arrive for dinner, Joseph is excited to see Serena and Mark, calling them the dynamic duo and Serena the guest of honor. He urges Serena inside, then tells Mark to wait outside while the rest of them have dinner. “We have a strict ‘No spies allowed policy.’ No hard feelings.” Mark’s feelings aren’t hurt, but he suggests that he and Joseph speak privately later. Joseph laughs at him and closes the door in his face.
Mark must have missed the “no spies” part. Joseph is being watched so closely and the guests are so paranoid that Mark can’t even wait in the kitchen during dinner like a handmaid or a bodyguard.
Serena greets High Commander and Mrs MacKenzie,
Hannah Agnes’ adoptive parents. We met Mrs MacKenzie ( Amy Landecker) in S3Ep1, when June snuck into their house to see Hannah after she sent Baby Nichole to Canada with Emily. MacKenzie (Jason Butler Harner) lets Serena know that the Commanders are already aware that June killed Fred, but it seems they believe the Americans handed Fred directly over to her. That may be part of why Tuello’s not allowed inside. Joseph makes a joke about the American tendency toward political assassinations.
Nick and Rose (Carey Cox) arrive, bringing a change in the topic of conversation. Serena didn’t know about Nick’s marriage. Rose is a favorite of Commander MacKenzie’s, but he hasn’t met Nick yet. Rose tells Serena that she and Nick met a few months ago. They fell in love after talking at several galas. Nick adds that he’s always enjoyed talking with Rose. The ladies agree that they are a lovely couple. Nick hands Serena a gift-wrapped sweater Rose knitted for the baby. She and Nick joke and tease each other about her knitting skills.
Rose is a delight. Nick is nervous with Serena, but his congratulations on the baby are heartfelt. He knows what she’s been through to reach this point. Rose tells Serena that Nick speaks of her with great respect.
Aunt Lydia is very, very alone. She walks down a long, white hospital hall to Esther’s (Mackenna Grace) room, where the young woman lies in a coma. Aunt Lydia wanders the room, seeming to consider whether she should kill Esther right now and how to do it. She settles for a hard slap across the cheek, but then regrets the outburst. It’s hardly sporting to go after someone who’s unconscious.
Lydia leaves Esther to her fates and finds Janine, who is also in a coma. She limps to Janine’s bedside. Stuttering and in tears, she kneels down to pray.
Lydia: “Dear God, she does not deserve this. You know she does not deserve this. I know you… I know you’re unhappy with my behavior sometimes. I’ve lost my temper. I’ve made choices. I was trying to keep my girls safe. Surely you understand that. Please do not punish her. Please do not punish her to teach me a lesson. I will turn things around. I can turn things around. I will. I… I will do things differently. I will do things differently. I promise you. I promise you. [She kisses Janine’s hand.] Please.”
In an episode about lines crossed and boundaries established, Aunt Lydia makes a solemn vow before God, begging for Janine’s life to be spared. She’s been changing since Emily stabbed her and pushed her down the stairs in S2Ep13, but we haven’t seen anything like this before. She promised God she would become a better person if He lets Janine live. She dedicated herself to love and protection rather than Gilead’s violence and hate.
Once the dinner party is seated at the table, Joseph brings up the briefings he read earlier about how successful the broadcast of Fred’s funeral was. He suggests they consider developing a new trade strategy with Europe. MacKenzie agrees, but shelves the subject until the council meeting in the morning. Such business talk is too boring for the ladies. Mrs MacKenzie notes that men aren’t good at the social niceties such as leading dinner parties, but his next wife will soon take care of the issue for him. Joseph tells them that he doesn’t plan to remarry. MacKenzie reminds him that leadership isn’t open to single men in Gilead.
Serena changes the subject, jumping in as a substitute hostess for Joseph. Think of it as an audition, now that she’s discovered Nick is already married, but Joseph has to remarry.
Yes, it seems this was a husband hunting trip.
She thanks the MacKenzies for traveling to Fred’s funeral and says it was nice to see Agnes. MacKenzie replies that they want to speak to her about June, their mutual enemy. They thought June would give up once she was in Toronto with Nichole, but it doesn’t look that way. And they’re afraid the Americans will help her get to Agnes the way they helped her get to Fred.
The MacKenzies regret showing June mercy during earlier days. Serena looks a little confused here- she doesn’t know about June’s visit to their house in S3Ep1 or her visit to Hannah’s school with Eleanor in S3Ep7, which resulted in the execution of the MacKenzie’s Martha. It sounds like they allowed June to be spared because they didn’t want Hannah to find out they’d had her birth mother killed. Hannah remembered June fondly at that point, because of the visit Fred arranged in S2Ep10, so she would have blamed them. Soon after that, they started teaching Hannah that June was a dangerous kidnapper, maybe so that they could have June killed eventually, in addition to making it less likely that Hannah would willingly leave with her.
Mrs MacKenzie: “It’s one of God’s great mysteries how our sweet angel came from that devil of a woman.”
MacKenzie: “”We led with sentiment in all the mercy that we’ve shown her. But Agnes is strong. And she will be able to understand, when she has to. June Osborne is a cancer. We have to cut her out.”
Everyone at the table who’s not a MacKenzie alternates between looking sick and guilty while the MacKenzies speak about June and Hannah. Serena occasionally looks satisfied.
While they wait for the call to Nick to go through, June and Moira help out with sewing contraband such as maps into items the cell is sending back to Gilead. The leader, Sam (Savannah Welch), hands June a pack of arsenic to add to her project, explaining that it will be used in an attempt to kill a Commander in DC next week. She says that arsenic is a terrible way to die. June is glad to hear it.
They hear shouting outside- an armed Guardian that the group doesn’t recognize has approached the camp. He yells at them not to shoot and says he knows the code, but then he has trouble remembering it. A woman, Rachel (Kaitlyn Chu) runs out of the shadows and yells for them not to hurt him. Some of the others recognize her. She gives the code and is welcomed into the group. The Guardian, Jonah (Brett Houghton), turns to return to Gilead. June stops him to confirm that he’s going back in. He explains that he has a wife and a child who are still inside, so he has to get back before he’s missed. He won’t leave until he can also get them out. June stares at him until he disappears.
Tuello waits in a gazebo, playing with
fire his lighter. Nick asks Rose to wait outside for him while he speaks to Tuello for a minute. He asks Tuello not to mention Rose to June, so that he can tell her about his new marriage himself. Tuello agrees.
I don’t think it would have crossed Mark’s mind to tell June on purpose. Mark assumes Nick thinks the same way he does: that Nick and June see their relationship as a brief affair that’s over, June is little more than a useful prostitute, and Serena is a high quality woman who deserves respect.
As Nick is trying to leave before anyone sees him, Tuello asks if he’s thought any further about their conversation. He brings up his offer to trade treason for a ticket out of Gilead right out in the open, where any of Joseph or High Commander MacKenzie’s staff could hear him.
Nick whispers: “Yeah, no. I can’t do that right now.”
Even MacKenzie could have heard them, since he joins them in the gazebo a second later and questions why Nick has left his wife standing in the driveway to speak to this American dog. Then he dismisses the American dog and explains to Nick that he’s old friends with Rose’s father, High Commander Wharton, so he hopes Nick didn’t take advantage of his friend’s lovely daughter solely to advance his own career. Nick denies it, but MacKenzie promises he’ll be watching Nick anyway.
Yikes. If there’s more to Nick and Rose’s marriage than the typical Gilead marriage, I hope she’s in on the scheme. I hate to side with Commander MacKenzie, but he’s right. Rose doesn’t deserve to be lied to and humiliated by her husband. We know Nick is an Eye and that he helped June try to escape at the end of S1 using resistance contacts. He has all sorts of secrets that lead to lies and deception.
He loves June, but she’s currently living with her husband in Toronto, so I can’t blame him for trying to move on, as long as he’s not lying to his current wife the way he lied to his first wife, Eden, in S2. Granted, he didn’t have a choice about marrying Eden or lying to her. We don’t actually know why Nick and Rose got married- he could have married her as part of a resistance strategy; or to further his career; she could be an Eye as well; or part of the resistance herself; or they could be old or new friends who both felt pressure to get married and decided to make it work together. Or they could truly be in love. Whatever the truth is, I doubt they told Serena and the MacKenzies the whole story.
I am intrigued by Rose’s comment that she and Nick got to know each other over small talk during several galas in DC. That sounds like the most unNick-like behavior I can think of, though I suppose we have seen him flirt with June here and there, and he was cute with Beth once or twice, so maybe he just hasn’t had the chance to express his talent for charming small talk on camera yet.
After the others leave, Serena sits down next to Joseph, in Eleanor’s chair, and tells him she always liked his late wife. He replies that the feeling wasn’t mutual. Serena acknowledges that most women don’t like her. Joseph notices her amputated finger and tells her Fred was a weak man who shouldn’t have done that to her. He thinks Fred was overcompensating for toxic masculinity, a term his students taught him back in the day. Serena admits she now realizes that her son will be better off without Fred, because a boy needs a strong father to guide him and Fred couldn’t be that. Joseph wishes her better luck with her next marriage. She points out that he needs to remarry. He argues that it’s not a good idea to marry for power. She puts his hand on her belly to feel the baby kick. He tells her, “We’re gonna protect you, Serena, you and your child.”
The marriage negotiations end in a stalemate for now.
Aunt Lydia is still sitting by Janine’s bedside when Naomi (Ever Carradine) arrives with Baby Angela. Lydia arranged for them to visit after remembering the way Janine saved Angela’s life in S2Ep8 by holding her and singing to her all night when the baby was rapidly fading away due to failure to thrive. She hopes Angela’s presence now will reignite Janine’s spark in the same way.
Naomi digs deep and finds some compassion inside after being reminded that Janine saved her daughter. But she speaks as if it’s a sure thing that Janine will die, not with the hope that Aunt Lydia is trying to keep alive, despite the doctors’ gloomy prognosis. She brings Angela to sit with Janine.
Naomi: “I’ll make sure that Angela grows up to know where she got her beautiful smile and her sweet nature. You won’t be forgotten.”
As Tuello walks Serena to the door of her hotel room he teases her about the way he was left out in the cold all evening. Then he says that Joseph’s treatment doesn’t surprise him. “Men in power can’t resist showing everyone just how much power they have.”
Tuello: “It’s been interesting being here. I spent so many years studying this country.”
Serena: “Is it different than you expected?”
Tuello, chuckling: “Not particularly, no. Surface level beauty, doing it’s best to paper over a stunning amount of hypocrisy.”
His line about beauty covering up hypocrisy is meant to apply to Serena as well. They were careful to make sure he didn’t see anything remotely like the horrors June described and he didn’t go looking for anything below the surface that wasn’t literally attached to a Commander, as usual. The little saga between Lydia, Esther, Janine and the Putnams that played out in front of him was none of his business.
Serena says that if he’d looked further he would have seen more of what they do right in Gilead. Tuello starts to say goodnight, but she stops him and invites him into her room. Then she tells him she’s staying in Gilead. She has too many goals to accomplish to leave.
Important dinner conversations to lead?
Tuello doesn’t understand why she’d throw away her freedom.
She ignores his question and thanks him for all of his help,
especially with getting rid of Fred permanently. Then she gives him a lingering Judas kiss on the cheek, just to keep him on the string a little longer. He pleads with her not to make such a huge mistake, especially since she doesn’t have a husband to protect her. She tells him she thinks that will be changing soon. He’s shocked at her fast work.
She reminds him she’s still in mourning. Of course she’s not getting married right away. The engagement will be at least 15 minutes long, 14 minutes longer than Nick and Eden’s.
He must have missed the whole arranged and brokered marriage section of the Gilead curriculum.
A hotel employee knocks on the door and informs Serena that the Commanders have requested her presence at the Council meeting tomorrow morning. She asks if Joseph specifically called the meeting, but the aid doesn’t know. Serena assumes her future is moving forward already. Tuello leaves her to it.
Some time later, Lily wakes June up so she can finally speak to Nick on the Mayday sat phone. She and Moira had fallen asleep on cots since it took so many hours to get through. June takes the phone into a secluded corner. Nick appears to be alone in his living room. They say hi, then Nick tells her he didn’t get to talk to Hannah at the funeral, but he made sure she’s safe. She hasn’t been with Serena since the funeral.
Commander MacKenzie scares me more than Serena.
June asks what the purple that Hannah was wearing means. Nick explains that it means she’s “ready” for wife training. She’ll attend a special school for High Commanders daughters. He reassures her that it’s just school. There are no plans at the moment for Hannah to get married. Plus, Hannah is tough, like June. And her
kidnappers new parents really love her.
June, about to jump out of her skin: “They love her so much they’re sending a 12 year old to wife school?”
Nick apologizes, but he can’t do more to help right now.
He was just threatened by his father-in-law for having a conversation with Tuello. This conversation could get him killed. He has to keep himself alive or he can’t help anyone. June asks if he could transfer to live near Hannah, as if suddenly he can choose his own assignments. He tells her he has to be more careful now because he has new obligations.
And then he tells her he got married again, because that’s how it is in Gilead. And that he told Rose about her. He thinks June would like Rose. Nick asks about Nichole. June says she’s smart and loves the doll he gave her.
Nick: “Listen, June, you gotta be safe. MacKenzie, he’s powerful. You gotta keep yourself safe, keep Nichole safe. Promise me.”
June: “I promise. I will.”
Nick: “We won’t be able to talk again for a while. I’m sorry.”
June: “No… Just, I mean… I understand. Hey, Nick? Try to be happy, okay?”
That last line is an echo from their meeting at the abandoned Catholic school in S4Ep9. We’re shown a couple of quick flashbacks of them together. I think the second one was from the school. He might have been imagining the first one and that’s why he hung up the phone so fast. After they hang up, June looks devastated and Nick looks trapped.
June and Nick’s definitions of keeping safe might prove to be different.
Aunt Lydia wakes up to an empty hospital room. She rushes out to the hall, where she finds a doctor, who brings her outside to Janine. He tells her that Janine woke up a few hours ago and they brought her outside for some fresh air. Janine, who is sitting in a wheel chair, glances over at Aunt Lydia, then away again.
No word on how Esther’s doing.
When June met Janine at the Red Center she wasn’t compliant and sweet natured. She took on that persona after the aunts took her eye. Will Esther’s betrayal change her again?
Serena waits outside the council chamber for the meeting to start. She stops Joseph on his way in and asks if he called the meeting. He didn’t. He turns down her marriage proposal before they’re called into the chamber.
Serena stands at a podium in front of the assembled High Commanders, the way we’ve seen happen with defendants at trials. Commander MacKenzie informs her that they have good news. They have found a way to make use of her by sending her to Toronto to act as an unofficial global ambassador for Gilead.
So, good news in the sense that they’ve decided to exile her rather than wait until the baby is born, then execute her or make her a handmaid. Possibilities she seems to have forgotten about, but which would apply to any other treasonous woman in Gilead. Or any woman with goals to accomplish, for that matter.
They tell her that she’s a capable, impressive woman, so they think it will look good for Gilead to have her as their public face. And as an unusual woman, they don’t have the “infrastructure” to accommodate her in Gilead. Serena demands a staff, a substantial budget and protection from her enemies. They assure her that none of this is a problem.
MacKenzie and Joseph both seem personally invested in getting Serena not just out of Gilead, but situated in Toronto. Is she meant to keep June distracted and out of their hair?
When Serena gets on the plane, Tuello asks if she had a change of heart. She doesn’t answer.
This scene is straight out of a ’40s noir, right down to Tuello’s coat.
June and Moira are still at the Mayday camp in the morning. June is in despair, sure that she won’t be able to keep Hannah safe now that she’s in Toronto. Moira insists that Hannah will be okay and they will make sure she doesn’t become a wife. “She’s one quarter Holly and she’s one half you. She’s gonna be okay.” While Moira packs their things, Lily tells June that Serena and Tuello are on their way back to Toronto.
At the airport, Tuello tells the guards that they’re taking Serena back to the detention center. As they drive out of the airport, they pass another crowd of Serena’s followers holding lit candles. The driver calls them her fans, but she says they’re servants of God.
Up ahead, the road is blocked by another car. When they stop, a bedraggled June suddenly appears out of the dark and slams both of her fists onto Serena’s window. June rasps, “Never touch my daughter again!” Then repeats the whole thing. She stares at Serena with hate in her eyes while the car drives away.
ETA: Ann Dowd was chosen as TVLine’s Performer of the Week for her Emmy-worthy performance as Aunt Lydia in this episode.
There is less glass and more fire in this episode, but Serena and June’s themes continue:
Dark Angel Serena is connected to Gilead’s men, corruption, oppression, death, night, fire, lives in a glass house and lies to herself and others.
Bright Angel June is connected to women and children, nature, sunshine, survival, growth, truth and the battle for justice.
June’s fingerprints are now on the packet of arsenic meant for a DC Commander. I wonder if that will come back to haunt her. According to Nick’s file, the MacKenzies live in Colorado. Are they actually in DC?
I was wrong last week about Serena choosing to remain unmarried and independent- that turns out to be Tuello’s dream for her. 😉 Instead she remains committed to the ideals in her book, A Woman’s Place. Plus, she’s so afraid of June that she doesn’t want to live without a (strong, effective) man in the house and Gilead’s border patrol between them. I look forward to the continuing husband hunt and Mark’s continued efforts to qualify.
And also to watching Joseph’s continuing dance with the other Commanders around the issue of his remarriage. His loyalty to Eleanor is admirable, but MacKenzie appears to be a formidable adversary. I’ve grown attached to the old curmudgeon and don’t want to see him die or suffer character assassination. Somebody find him his own Rose, quick.
Fleur-de-Lis, Lilies and Roses
When Nick, MacKenzie and Tuello speak in the gazebo, a lantern that hangs above them is featured prominently. It’s decorated with fleur-de-lis symbols, an ancient French design representing a lily or iris, associated with purity, saints (especially the Virgin Mary) and the monarchy, which has been used in many ways over thousands of years. The fleur-de-lis has been connected to the divine right to rule, since it’s symbolism involves the relationship between humans and the Holy Trinity. It has also been connected to the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph. In addition to purity, the flower’s three petals have been said to represent faith, wisdom and chivalry.
The fleur-de-lis also has a dark side: as a symbol for the monarchy, it was traditionally used to permanently brand criminals in France. In the US, French settlers brought this tradition with them and it became part of the punishment for runaway slaves.
Earlier in the episode, Tuello lets us know that family crests have become popular. The Lawrences could have chosen the fleur-de-lis. Or the symbol could be hinting at information about the three men who were standing under them, Tuello, MacKenzie and Nick. An American, a Gilead loyalist and a man whose loyalties are divided. Will one of them emerge as a saint, a criminal or a king? Or were we watching one of each?
It can’t be a coincidence that the fleur-de-lis appears on Joseph’s porch just when an ex-Martha named Lily from Mayday appears and tells June that Mayday exists but they don’t have a flag. Maybe the fleur-de-lis is becoming their symbol and it appears outside a house as a sign that it’s a safe place for runaways and fugitives to stop. Joseph’s house has a strange layout and could have secret hiding places left over from the original Underground Railroad. That could explain his attachment to the house beyond the memories of Eleanor it holds. (And the body buried in the garden.)
The handmaid who bombed the Red Center in S2Ep6, Ofglen 2, was identified by Rachel Tapping in Canada in S2Ep7 with the name of Lillie Fuller. There were prominently displayed fleur-de-lis on the Catholic items left behind at the school Nick and June met at in S4Ep9. More coincidences?
Maybe they gave Ofglen 2 an alias to help protect her surviving family in Canada from retaliation by Gilead and its followers.
While we’re looking at symbols, let’s examine Rose’s name. Roses are also symbols of the Virgin Mary- MacKenzie went to speak with Nick about Rose, so maybe the fleur-de-lis also refers to her and she is trapped just like the other women of Gilead, despite being a High Commander’s daughter. MacKenzie’s overprotection certainly could become oppressive. Roses are also associated with love, souls, angels and God’s power at work on Earth, which connects to Lydia and Janine’s storyline. In addition, Tarot cards connect roses to purity, wisdom, strength, balance, honesty and death.
Perhaps most interesting of all:
“Roses can also mean secrecy or confidentiality. The term “sub rosa”, meaning under the rose, comes from ancient times. Romans would hang roses from the ceilings of banquet halls, and it was understood that anything said under the influence of wine was to remain confidential. In the Middle Ages, roses were also hung from the ceilings of meeting rooms. It was understood that everyone under the roses was sworn to secrecy.” (FTD.com)
Roses were the original Cone of Silence.
Nick and June
I’m not as certain as June that Nick doesn’t go to Jezebels. I don’t think he would seek it out on his own, but if a group of Commanders that he’s part of were going as a social ritual, which we’ve seen multiple times, he would go rather than stand out as different. He would also probably take someone up to a room, then chat with her for an hour instead of having sex and bribe her into silence.
Before Gilead, Nick told Pryce his family consisted of his father and brother- no mother, sisters or girlfriend to teach him what life is like for a woman. I think he didn’t understand how bad Gilead is for women until the Waterford’s handmaid prior to June hung herself, then June opened his eyes further. He still doesn’t understand the full impact, in part because he lived with Serena, the cheerleader for female oppression, for so many years. Now, he diminishes the threat to Hannah’s safety that becoming a wife poses. He mistakes High Commander MacKenzie’s possessiveness of Hannah and Rose for love and probably assumes such a caring father will find his daughter a loving husband. Nick has been in Gilead so long that he doesn’t even notice MacKenzie’s cruelty and need to dominate for the warning signs that they are.
Though June and Nick were in sync the last time we saw them, circumstances now force them apart and out of sync. They both tend to make more mistakes when they don’t feel in tune with each other or have a sense that the other is safe. Right now, they both know that they both aren’t safe. Since Nick’s wife knows about June, she knows he isn’t cutting her off just because of his marriage. He’s cutting off contact because of he’s under increased scrutiny due to MacKenzie’s suspicions. Possibly they also suspect him of helping June get access to Fred. He may also have a mission that requires him to play Commander Nick Blaine very convincingly, without distractions.
Serena and Other Villains
Serena very much deserves the fright June gives her at the end of the episode. Fred and Serena turned June into the person she is today, a woman who is capable of tearing her enemies apart with her bare hands. Serena threatens June the first time they meet, less than 10 minutes into the pilot, a few moments after we’ve watched Guardians rip Hannah from June’s arms in the forest just short of the Canadian border, then club June into unconsciousness.
The capture and redistribution of children is just fine with Serena, since she and her friends are infertile (at the time). If you feel June is too hard on Serena, it might help to rewatch the first 3 seasons and recall how much Serena has put June through. June and her daughter were captured and enslaved/ held as hostages. Just because the MacKenzies call Hannah their daughter doesn’t make it so. Hannah is still a hostage and on her way to facing the pressure to produce a child. As a High Commander’s daughter, she will have some protection in the choice of a husband, but once she is another man’s wife she is his property, not her father’s and she will be subject to his whims, just like Esther and Serena were.
In an episode where Serena spends the hour thinking only about herself- even the baby is clearly an afterthought and a means to an end- the contrast with our other female villain, Aunt Lydia, is striking. Lydia literally kneels before God and asks him to punish her instead, then promises that she will change her ways for Janine. Lydia sacrifices her pride and ambition for the lives of her girls. June spends the episode agonizing over how she can save her daughter from Gilead’s crimes against humanity and human rights violations. As always, she’s willing to sacrifice herself to save Hannah.
Serena spends the episode scheming to stay in Gilead to further her own ambitions. She’s willing to sacrifice her son’s freedom, safety and soul to do so, subjecting him to Gilead’s crimes and oppressive, abusive culture, forcing him into life in a country he won’t be able to leave, a country which will turn him into a rapist.
Joseph wouldn’t even consider marrying Serena because she and Fred forced him to go through with the Ceremony with June, which led to Eleanor’s breakdown and death. The other commanders might push him into marrying someone else eventually, but marrying the woman who drove Eleanor to her death is a line he won’t cross.
While Tuello is correct that Joseph is capable of throwing his power around to make an impression and maintain his position, that isn’t what he was doing in this episode. MacKenzie, our new villain, was the one making sure everyone understood he’s the new boss in town now that Waterford and Winslow are dead, which makes it interesting that Commander Putnam wasn’t even shown.
Poor Warren, still only a petty king, no matter how hard he tries, career anchored to the ground by the vices he won’t control, just like Fred. He’s another Commander that Tuello has met before, like Nick and Joseph, but Tuello didn’t even bother to try to work him, despite all of the blackmail potential his family presents. Or maybe Mark missed the air of scandal that surrounds the Putnams, even though it was paraded in front of him.
Once again, ignoring the actions of women, other than Serena, to his detriment. Or maybe I’m wrong and he’s learned his lesson, but is biding his time. He did note Aunt Lydia’s name and spot hypocrisy. He also loves to speak in code. Please, Mark, prove me wrong and do something to help the little people rather than to further your career.
Moira, June and Borders
Moira uses “traumatized refugee” as an insult at the beginning of the episode, even though she counsels traumatized refugees at the refugee center and everyone in that room came from Gilead as a traumatized refugee. She’s put a barrier between her current self and her trauma and struggles hard to keep it in place. But she hasn’t actually finished dealing with what happened to her- she just hid it away, leaving her threatened by anyone who might get close enough to trigger her.
The episode title is Border, referring to the lines crossed in the last episode and this one (and S4Ep10). There are multiple exiles from both places of choice and from people they love, not just Serena, such as Nick, June and Joseph. Moira has been exiled from herself, which has kept her exiled from June, who is normally her person. This episode sees Moira crossing back over that border within herself to face Gilead again, and to find the strength within herself to fight them for her Goddaughter Hannah, which also allows her to let June back in.
June doesn’t cross into No Man’s Land this time, but she brings Moira with her to the border, showing her friend the good that the traumatized refugees she scoffs at are risking their lives to do. It’s a mirror image of Moira dragging June out of Chicago and an echo of all of that glass from episodes 1 and 2, though there isn’t as much glass in this episode. Instead, we see the faces of those who’ve also crossed the border, who’ve crossed through the looking glass to the other side, bringing the looking glass world back into reality for Moira. Mayday and their wall of survivors prove to Moira that June isn’t alone in her feelings or her work and that together, these people have made a difference in the fight. They prove to her that it’s a fight worth fighting, not the lost cause Moira and Luke thought it was.
Meanwhile, June was ready to follow Jonah the Guardian back into Gilead right then and there. He said the words she’s been saying since the end of the pilot, “Not without Hannah.”
Of course it took a man to fully validate June’s fight, despite Moira’s feminism.
More on the Rogue’s Gallery and Gilead Politics
Serena thought she could triumphantly return to Gilead, pregnant with a son, find a Commander to marry her, and pick back up with the life she’d always dreamed of. But the Commanders decided to send her into exile instead, allowing her to give birth safely, then use her talents to help them without contaminating the women of Gilead with her “unusualness”. It’s the best of both worlds for the Commanders, because appointing a female ambassador allows the world to believe Gilead is less misogynist than it is, which will reduce international pressure for reform.
Is part of Serena’s shock that Nick is married because he was her first choice for her second husband? She may have decided that Joseph and Nick owed her a replacement husband, thus expecting one of them to marry her and restore her standing in Gilead. Maybe she even thinks one of them wanted to marry her, so they participated in the scheme to get rid of Fred? I can see how she would misinterpret Joseph’s “We’re going to protect you and the baby,” as a promise he and/or Nick would be there for her physically, not a promise to get her out of Gilead with a steady income, security staff and a secretary, as if she’s the mistress they’re paying off to get out of town before the wife finds out about the affair.
When Gilead began, the founding fathers did use Serena as if she was “the other woman”, then toss her aside when they were done with her. After keeping her on ice for years, they’re still keeping her on the string, but at a distance, in case they need her again. Since she uses people the same way, the tactic should be recognizable to her. I have no doubt that Joseph was the one who talked them into sending Serena back to Toronto with the ambassadorship. MacKenzie was shrewd enough to immediately grasp the wisdom of keeping June’s attentions divided.
Nick was so flustered by the events of the dinner party that he messed up by letting MacKenzie see him speaking with Tuello, an uncharacteristic mistake for an experienced Eye. MacKenzie was going to give him that speech sooner or later anyway, because that’s just who he is.
MacKenzie is ambitious, vindictive, possessive and not as blinded by corruption as many of the other Commanders. His wife has tempered his reactions to June’s actions in the past, but that time is over now that June has shown she’s capable of making the decision to kill on her own. The Commanders turn all of the handmaids into murderers by forcing them to participate in salvagings, and they will never understand what forcing so many to cross that line has done to the handmaids. The Commanders will, however, continue to reap what they’ve sown- they created murderers who now intend to kill as many of them as possible. That willingness to kill extends to the Marthas, many of whom have experienced the same brutal torture as June and Emily and watched their friends and family die, then hang on the Wall.
Rose is the daughter of a high ranking High Commander stationed in Washington, DC. She may also be an Eye and/or in contact with Mayday, like Nick. That would give him an excuse to tell her a version of June’s story, since he was officially spying on Fred and Fred’s relationship with June was a large part of the evidence against him. If he wanted to implicate Serena as well, he might have told Rose about her part in Nichole’s conception.
Marrying the daughter of a High Commander should give a boost to Nick’s career, since Gilead runs on cronyism and favors. It was disappointing to see him turn June away, but we’ve seen him shut her down before when he needs to play by the rules to survive and advance. She’s a loose cannon who isn’t helpful to his life in Gilead, no matter how much they love each other. It will all be worth it if he’s still working with Mayday to bring down Gilead.
MacKenzie seemed to stop just short of issuing a kill order for June in this episode. I was disappointed that Nick didn’t give June a stronger warning. I am aware that I am giving Nick the benefit of the doubt and he may be reverting back to the morally neutral man we met in season 1 who mainly looks out for himself now that June and Nichole are safely out of Gilead. As with Joseph and Serena, he’s devoted most of his adult life to creating Gilead and he may be more interested in continuing a reformed Gilead than bringing the country down entirely and restoring the US.
In his flashback episode (S1Ep8), Nick was used to illustrate that the previous culture wasn’t working for many, so there was a reason why people were willing to get behind Serena’s cultural ideas beyond the fertility crisis. Just as in real life, the fictional version of the US had a failing safety net and too many were falling through the cracks, into poverty, despair and early death. Nick was one of many who listened when the Sons of Jacob promised that the authoritarian structure of Gilead would provide a place for everyone.
As it turns out, that only applies to those who can survive its strict rules- as Fred said in S1, better doesn’t mean better for everyone. In practice, Gilead kills many more people than the previous culture did, and it kills them both quickly and slowly. They are all enslaved, ultimately even the Commanders. No one has a choice about their lifestyle. No one has a choice about whether they stay in Gilead or not. The High Commanders even police each other and commit occasional purges and coups, as we saw after the Red Center bombing in S2. No one is ever safe in Gilead, from the lowest Unwoman to the highest High Commander.
Could Gilead be reformed into a functional conservative theocracy? I doubt it. America’s roots are too deep in Gilead and the religious aspect isn’t prominent enough in their culture. The Sons of Jacob movement didn’t actually grow out of true belief. It grew out of male supremacy that clothed itself in religious extremism because that was more politically acceptable and a way to hoodwink more people into following them, just like we are seeing in real life in America. Biblical patriarchy is a useful excuse for authoritarianism and misogyny, providing an immediate air of authenticity and history.
Some of the original Sons of Jacob were true believers, but most of them were dead by the end of S2. Serena may be the only one left and she was shut out once the war was won. There is a younger faction, led by Commander Calhoun, but he’s the minority leader in Boston, not a High Commander. If Gilead is to survive in any form, even as a religious movement, that faction will need to grow and to mellow their beliefs into a more reasonable version that involves more equal rights and less murder. They need to learn the art of persuading people to listen to their ideas. Now that their experiment has had time to prove that monogamy and clean living do lead to a restoration of fertility, it shouldn’t be as hard.
Was this the first time we saw a council of High Commanders in action? No wonder Serena was shaking in her boots. But also, that’s a testament to her actual importance as a founder of Gilead. They don’t dare kill her. any more than they can kill Joseph. They might threaten and demean the two of them as outsiders, but ultimately it was Serena and Joseph’s ideas combined that created their country. That’s probably why they feel the need to keep the two of them in check- their ideas are powerful and dangerous.
Combined, Serena and Joseph’s ideas brought down a country as powerful as the United States from within. Imagine what they could do to a tenuous country like Gilead if they were working together as a couple. That may also be another reason why Joseph doesn’t want to get too close to Serena- he’s both afraid of the dark magic they would work together and he knows the High Commanders would be very afraid of them attempting a coup. Especially since Serena now comes with a male heir apparent. Of course she had to be exiled. That’s what you do with dangerous heirs to the throne- it’s exile or death.
Now I’m imagining Serena building her own army in Canada and eventually helping the Americans win the war in Gilead, with the caveat that she becomes queen of a constitutional monarchy. Tuello would totally go for the deal. And let’s face it, Serena was born to be a queen. Nick had hitched his star to Serena’s long before he met June. His border appears to be the line between choosing loyalty to one woman or the other. Serena realized her cause wasn’t completely lost when she saw he’d married a High Commander’s daughter, though I do think he was also one of the backup husbands she had in mind.
She just hasn’t had time to think through the power that being unmarried gives her to keep many pseudo husbands perpetually under her spell. As Fred’s wife, men kept her in the background, diminishing her power by giving her weak husband her rightful spot in the public eye. This is her chance to rectify the situation by turning lemons into lemonade. Tuello isn’t her boss any more, just the liaison for the Americans. Her bosses in Gilead are far away, in an isolated country with little media. They aren’t inundated with social media alerts the way we are. She has the freedom to act, then apologize later. They can’t drag her to prison or the wall, because she’s in Canada.
Gilead barely has its tiger by the tail. Hopefully they’ve underestimated her, as usual. Hopefully she and June can find some kind of separate purposefulness, if not peace, instead of spending the season in petty catfighting. They each have a child to care for and Gilead, with all it holds, is lost to both of them for the moment.
Serena can build her personal following as well as Gilead’s reputation. The High Commanders forgot that she’s famous in the outside world. Her book still exists and multiple people have mentioned it in Canada. Her following proves it still resonates. The driver was correct when he said the people were there for Serena, not Fred or Gilead. She was the star of Fred’s funeral. She’s still the most famous and friendliest face associated with Gilead. And now she’s also associated with a miracle. A woman who was publicly shot in the abdomen is pregnant with her dead husband’s child. That’s a powerful story. Serena is already known for her courage and facing her next challenge alone will only add to her legend.
Images courtesy of Hulu.