In episode 7, June and Serena are on the run in No Man’s Land as Serena’s labor intensifies. Flashbacks show a birth both women attended in Gilead shortly after June was placed with the Waterfords.
June’s never ending, terrible, no good, very bad day continues.
Serena points the gun at the front of the car and tells June to drive. June does, but questions where Serena wants her to go and what Wheeler’s men did with Luke. Serena has another contraction and accidentally pulls the trigger, firing a shot through the windshield. She immediately starts apologizing, but June has had enough and stops the car.
She jogs away from the car as Serena tells her she’s not going to shoot her and tries to follow in the car. On her next contraction, she drives off the road and gets stuck in mud. June runs deeper into the forest, then stops and reconsiders.
This season’s motif of June, lost in the No Man’s Land Forest with a companion and in danger, continues. First she was with Moira, then Luke, now Serena. In the forest, June finds clearings, empty old buildings, inhabitants who live off the grid in odd buildings and other strange sights, such as the dead rapist, but whenever she enters it’s much more difficult than expected to get out. The only times she gets in and out safely are when Nick is involved. That might make him her protector or it might make him the Big Bad Wolf who’s in charge of the forest- or both.
June goes back to the car and figures out that Serena’s in labor. Serena’s water has already broken, which means it’s not false labor- this baby is coming.
Since her skirt isn’t wet, her water must have broken before she left the Wheelers’. She knew she was heading away from a medical birth when she got into the car. Wonder if she ran out of the house because she wasn’t able to hide the evidence very well and needed to flee before one of the maids found her wet clothes and told Alanis.
June snatches the gun away while she’s laying on the steering wheel trying to get through a contraction. June’s outraged reaction that she has to put up with Serena’s labor is priceless. And since the Wheelers don’t let their handmaid have a watch or a phone, Serena isn’t even sure how long ago the contractions started or how far apart they are. It’s clear that they are close together and becoming intense now.
June tries to get the car free, but it doesn’t budge. She tries to get more information out of Serena about why she shot Ezra. From June’s perspective, it would have made more sense to ask him for help instead of her arch nemesis. Serena is too deep into labor to give answers to that kind of question. June stands in the middle of the road and looks around, considering their options. She spots an abandoned barn and points Serena toward it.
When Serena balks at the thought of giving birth in the old building, June says what we’re all thinking, “Maybe they’ll have a manger.”
After the title card, we switch to a flashback from sometime early in season 1, when June had just been assigned to the Waterfords. Serena and June arrive late for a birth, just in time to encourage the handmaid and Wife to push and breathe in tandem. Brianna and Alma, who died last season, are among the handmaids cheering the laboring woman on. 😭 So is Janine, who I believe June currently thinks died in the carpet bombing of Chicago that separated them just before June’s rescue by Moira.
Aunt Lydia coaches the Wives and handmaids to continue their efforts, speaking as if their words and enthusiasm are prayers that will encourage God to help the handmaid have a healthy birth. June and Serena share a few knowing looks that show neither of them are comfortable with the circus Gilead makes of giving birth.
Once they get to the barn, June coaches Serena through another contraction. She tries help Serena get warm in the cold barn, worrying that it will get colder when night falls. She notes that labor tends to be long with first pregnancies. Her labor with Hannah was 19 hours and her pelvis almost broke. Serena looks nervous.
June continues, telling Serena that although Nichole’s birth was faster, she was alone and worried she’d die in childbirth. Since she blames Serena for that pain, she rubs it in, suggesting no one would have ever found them. This isn’t true, since Nick and Fred knew where they were. For once, Serena has the sense to stay silent, until she groans with another contraction.
Recalling her own pain during Nichole’s labor, June revels in Serena’s suffering for a moment as she watches her go through the contraction. But then she realizes that she doesn’t want to be someone who will let a mother and infant die out of spite and tells Serena she needs to check her cervix. Serena shoves her away, certain June means to kill her after listening to what she just said about Nichole’s birth.
June gives in to her fatigue and anger and walks out. She goes back to the car, and this time she methodically goes through the steps to free a stuck car, starting with trying to push it.
While she’s pushing the car, her thoughts return to the flashback. Things don’t go well for the handmaid, Ofclarence. Her labor stalls and she starts bleeding. The wives clear out and the doctors enter, ready to do an emergency C-section. Aunt Lydia has the handmaids recite the Prayer of Purification while she speaks to the doctors. She tells them that whatever the outcome, it’s God’s will. Then she closes the doors to the room and has the girls step away from Ofclarence, who is barely conscious.
The doctors put Ofclarence under anesthesia and carry her to a gurney, then pull a screen between the handmaids and the surgical area. Aunt Lydia instructs the handmaids to finish the prayer aloud, then pray silently. Overwhelmed, June watches the surgery in silhouette instead of bowing her head in prayer. Lydia admonishes her to pray for the life of the child. She continues to steal peeks at the surgery and watches as the doctors remove the baby from his mother’s womb and cut his umbilical cord. He cries for the first time.
Present day June gives up on pushing and puts the car’s floor mats and some fence rails? branches? behind the tires so it can get some traction to crawl up out of the ditch. This time she’s able to back out of the ditch and onto the road. She sits there for minute, at war with herself. Abandon Serena or help the innocent child? We get a shot through the gunshot hole in the broken windshield of June looking at her bloody hands. Knowing she wouldn’t be able to live with herself if she left a child behind to die, she gets out of the car.
Serena is resting on a pile of hay bales. The way she says, “You came back,” makes it clear that she thought June was gone for good and she doesn’t blame her for leaving.
We jump ahead a few hours. Serena squats and leans on June while she pushes through contractions. June tells her the baby is crowning and she can see that he has brown hair. She uses this to keep Serena going through the toughest part of giving birth, especially in their situation. They are in this together, with Serena totally depending on June, staring into her eyes and rocking in sync with her. June puts her own feelings aside and says whatever Serena needs to hear, giving her body over to Serena for support for the sake of the baby.
Thankfully, the birth is uncomplicated and the baby boy is healthy. June holds him, as just for a moment she considers how she could use him for revenge. But when Serena asks if he’s okay, June snaps out of it again and gives him to his mother.
Back in flashbackland, Ofclarence doesn’t survive the birth. The handmaids watch as her body is covered and removed from the bedroom. Aunt Lydia tells them not to grieve for their fallen comrade, because she’s fulfilled her purpose as a vessel to provide a more deserving woman with a child. Now she can be thrown out with the trash, as God intended. We’d cherish her memory always, if only we knew her real name so we could include her in our thoughts and prayers. Surely God will reward her, except she was a sinner, so maybe not. Enough of this nonsense, time to go home.
Stunned, June looks down at Janine’s pregnant belly. As they head toward the front door, the handmaids pass the room where the wives are celebrating the birth. With a look, she tells Serena that Ofclarence didn’t make it. Serena gives her a nod in sympathy.
Cut to birds, symbol of souls, in the rafters of the barn. Serena is below, lying on the hay bales, nursing her son. She decides to name him Noah.
THANK GOD, I WAS SO WORRIED HE’D BE NAMED FRED JUNIOR.
Noah is still grandiose, of course. When June complements the name, Serena points out that Noah was the savior of humanity. No pressure on this child, then.
She tells Noah how much she wanted him and how long she waited. June asks if it was worth it. I understand June’s motivation, but it’s an unfair question, even toward Serena. June is willing to move mountains and start wars for her own children. Most parents feel the same way. Serena looks conflicted and says, “Right now, I think it was.”
June asks about his latch. Serena says he’s hungry and he has a strong grip on her nipple. June describes the tough time she had breastfeeding Hannah because she was tonguetied and they didn’t know it yet. She recalls that Hannah got lots of colds and she blamed herself for that, too. She’d have to stay home from work frequently and sometimes she couldn’t or didn’t want to.
Serena asks why June didn’t kill her outside the information center. Why kill Fred, but not her? A little teary, June admits, “I didn’t want to.” Serena looks humbled and not sure what to do with this information.
Back to the shot that includes the pigeon. I’m enjoying thinking of Fred’s soul riding around in a pigeon, reduced to (powerless?) eavesdropping. Serena says she always thought Fred would be there when their child was born. June looks uncomfortable for a split second, but Serena doesn’t take the subject any further. Instead she notes that Noah looks like Fred. June says that babies always look like their fathers at first, an evolutionary mechanism that developed so the fathers will accept them.
Based on anecdotal evidence, I think the writers made that one up.
Serena is skeptical too, but because she doesn’t believe in evolution.
Then she worries that Noah will grow up to be like Fred. June reassures her that his grown up personality will depend on his upbringing and how much like Gilead it is. Serena says she wants everything for him. June reminds her that all parents want that for their children.
They stay in the barn overnight. Serena gets some sleep, but wakes up with a fever. June wants to take her to a hospital, but she’s afraid to go anywhere official where the Wheelers can find her and take the baby. She tells June about the Wheelers and the way they treat her like a handmaid- like she’s June. She mentions that they were the people who captured June and were ready to kill her. June acknowledges what she says, but I don’t think she takes the threat to her life seriously.
Ezra was taken down by a woman having a contraction- it’s hard to see him as a hit man when you’ve got June’s history.
June has been awake and without food or water for so long now that she only has the bandwidth to focus on getting Serena and Noah to safety. Serena is hypothermic, dehydrated and has an infection. She and Noah need immediate medical attention, but unfortunately, June doesn’t consider stopping somewhere outside the Wheelers’ territory or calling Tuello so that Serena can ask for asylum or help from the UN.
June explains to Serena that she and the baby will die if they don’t get to a hospital, where her infection can be treated. Serena says she doesn’t have a future in Canada or Gilead- life is over for her. She offers to let June take Noah and leave her to die. She’ll let Noah go so he can have a better future than he would with her, the same way June did with Nichole. She calls Nichole June’s daughter, which would have been a major concession in the past, but isn’t as meaningful now that she has her own biological child.
All the same, I believe she’s sincere. She might forget about this in a week, but right now, she means it. This depression was inevitable. She’s ill, her hormones are crashing and her “culture” teaches her that she’s nothing more than a vessel, especially without a husband. She may be remembering the same Gilead birth as June. She’s lost everything- she doesn’t even have a country or a friend anymore. June, who cursed her and her child and executed her husband, was the best she could do for a birthing partner. She’s reduced to trusting in the altruism of enemies.
She asks June to adopt Noah, saying Luke is a good man, who would be a good father and never do the kinds of things that she and Fred did. She must have forgotten the cheating and divorce that got June turned into a handmaid in the first place. But Serena thinks God sent her to save June from Ezra’s bullet, so that June could raise Noah. She says maybe June is her avenging angel and quotes the Bible.
“Rejoice with Him O Heavens
For He will avenge the blood of his children
and take righteous vengeance on his adversaries.”
(Deuteronomy 32:43, from The Song of Moses)
June doesn’t want to adopt Noah or be Serena’s avenging angel.
She wants to sleep for a few days. Caring for a newborn would really interfere with her rest. Serena switches Bible stories and decides Noah is Moses. June can be Hatshepsut, Pharoah’s daughter who found the baby in the river. He’s another savior of humanity, a prophet and a Prince of Egypt. How can June refuse to adopt him?
“And when she could no longer hide him, she built for him an ark of bulrushes and placed this child therein.” (Exodus 2:3)
Serena thinks maybe all that was meant for her was to be the ark, the vessel who carried Noah to June. It’s God’s will. She hands Noah to June.
June carries Noah a few feet away, tempted to go along with Serena’s self-inflicted justice. But then she thinks it through a little further. The Wives saw the handmaids as disposable vessels. To agree that Serena is just a vessel would be to agree that the way Serena treated her and the other handmaids was God’s will. June won’t do that. Serena is sorry now for what she did, but that’s not what June cares about.
June: “We mattered. We were… We are people. We have lives. And that’s why I’m going to save yours, Serena. because this isn’t Gilead. And I am not you. “
Serena: “I don’t deserve to be saved.”
June: “It’s not for you. It’s for him. Look at him. Look at your baby. You are the only person in the whole world that he knows. You are the only familiar smell. You are the only voice he recognizes. You love him. And you wanted him so much. You’re his mother. And he belongs with you. That is God’s will. Do you understand me?”
The Handmaid’s Tale takes a bold pro biological motherhood stance without adding 30 seconds of disclaimers immediately afterward. But don’t worry, they’re coming. Everyone who hates Serena or wants her baby will be happy to tell us why she shouldn’t keep Noah.
Jarring cut to June and Serena exiting an elevator into a hospital and June asking for help. She tells a nurse that Serena is 6-8 hours postpartum. Serena is scared as they wheel her and Noah away, but June promises she’ll stay. June asks to use the hospital phone to call home. Moira answers.
Once Noah is in the NICU and Serena is settled in a room, June visits her. Noah was having trouble regulating his temperature and might have jaundice so they’re doing some tests. June assures her that this is standard treatment. They gave Serena antibiotics and her fever is down. She’s upset that they didn’t let her infection run its course naturally- which could have ended in death, as June pointed out in the barn. And she’s worried because they’re giving Noah formula until they’re both fully hydrated. June tells her again that it will be okay.
Serena: “I just want to go home.”
June: “There is no ‘home’, Serena. There’s just wherever you are.”
Serena: “No Man’s Land.”
Well that sentiment doesn’t bode well for her relationship with Luke. No Man’s Land is where she meets with Nick. You would think her home would be where Luke, Moira and Nichole are, but apparently not. Home is where the heart is and her broken heart is waiting for Nick and Hannah.
June gets up to leave. Serena thanks her and they clasp hands for a minute. June walks back to the nurses station in slow motion. This experience has changed her. She’s finally burned through the anger that’s driven her since, well, since the beginning of the series, but especially since the beginning of S4.
Luke is waiting for her at the nurses’ station and he’s okay. Wheeler’s men dropped him at the border. He’s already given the USB drive with the information about Hannah to Tuello and his team is working on it.
While it’s impressive that he held on to the thumb drive through everything, the fact that it wasn’t confiscated by Wheeler’s men makes me question again whether the whole trip into the forest and the information about the Sugar Plum schools are set ups. Beyond that, he could have given June a chance to look at the info on the drive before giving it to Tuello, who will declare it all classified and off limits.
They hug, then Luke asks if she’s okay or if Serena hurt her. She tells him that Serena had her baby, then starts taking about Noah’s condition. Luke interrupts her- he doesn’t care about Serena’s baby. He asks about Serena. June says she’s fine, assuming he’s asking about her health after giving birth in such rough conditions.
Luke is confused by her answer- he’s forgotten that they are frenemies, though he’s seen evidence of this and been told about it before. But he’s never seen firsthand the way June can turn from wanting to kill Serena to caring about her and back again.
June says she’ll explain the whole thing to him at home. Then they notice a pair of Canadian Immigration officers on their way to Serena’s room. June follows them, and watches as they tell Serena she’s being detained because she’s undocumented. They handcuff her to the bed.
Luke watches with glee. He knew she’d given up her diplomatic visa when she left the Gilead Information Center, so when he heard the Wheelers weren’t protecting her in the hospital, he turned her in for illegal border crossing and lack of immigration status. While June is moving past her anger, Luke is just finding his after suppressing it for years.
The immigration officers inform her that as an undocumented immigrant she has no right to an attorney. She won’t be able to have Noah with her at the detainment facility because it isn’t set up for infant care. The Child Protection Unit is taking Noah’s into custody.
June is bewildered by this sudden turn of events. As Serena screams for June or anyone to stop them from taking her baby, Luke gloats that this is justice.
Justice for who? Luke’s fragile male ego? June didn’t need this justice. Noah didn’t deserve this justice. Serena has had her finger amputated; been whipped with a belt; served as much time in prison as Fred; been publicly and privately humiliated; and served her time as a Wife in Gilead, which was much more oppressive than the system she advocated for before the war. Realistically, she’s received quite a bit of justice already. If you’re not advocating for the execution or lifetime imprisonment of Joseph Lawrence, who has had no justice imposed on his own person, then you are being misogynist if you think Serena deserves more punishment. And yes, I’m calling Luke misogynist. She pushed his buttons when he asked her to free Hannah and he’s going to make her pay. He thinks he has the right to control women’s bodies and his actions in this episode are just another facet of that control.
I’m sure I don’t have to point out the irony of Luke separating Serena from her child just because he can after she wanted him to raise Noah because she thought he was the kind of man who treats women and children better than Fred. He cheated on and left his first wife, now he’s taking his anger at Serena out on a newborn baby. Still not in the same league as Fred, but very flawed.
The flashbacks show that June and Serena have always had a connection, with their shared devotion to the safety of children as a foundation. This episode reminds us, again, that in a better world they could have been friends and colleagues. Alma and Brianna would still be alive. Janine would still be happily raising Caleb. Esther would be a high school student. June helps Serena because she hasn’t given up hope that the world can become a better place. Her prayer at the end of episode 6 was sincere and that hope is shared by Serena.
I should have put this in the episode 6 commentary, but the implications of Wheeler sending Ezra to kill June hadn’t totally sunk in yet. Did Ryan or his men call the home office and get told by Gilead HQ to kill June in No Man’s Land the way she killed Fred? Who made that decision? MacKenzie and Putnam want(ed) her dead, so if they got the call, it would be an automatic yes. Nick and Lawrence would vote no.
But the leadership was in crisis during episode 6, with Lawrence and Nick seizing power from Putnam. Was Wheeler left to make the decision on his own? Did Joseph sign off on killing June???
All June knows is that she was put on a bus back to Gilead, then she was taken off the bus by Serena and an armed man. Even by the end of the episode, she doesn’t understand who the Wheelers are and the power they wield. Or that the kill orders are serious this time and come from her enemies in Gilead (MacKenzie) and in Canada (Wheeler). I believed Ryan when he said he wanted to make sure she was properly disposed of this time, just like I’m certain that MacKenzie meant it when he said she’s a cancer who needs to be wiped off the face of the Earth. Serena did try to warn her, but was understandably caught up in her own affairs and doesn’t have much information either.
While writing this, I had fun imagining Luke’s reaction if June brought home someone else’s baby for him to raise AGAIN. On the one hand, Noah is Fred’s devil spawn. On the other hand, he’s a boy. On the third hand, Luke could stick it to Fred’s ghost every single day- he could feel like he won, with possession of June and both kids. It would be a tough call for Luke. But mostly, in a world with so few children, it’s hilarious that everyone keeps passing children to June and Luke. Even Angel’s Flight was essentially people bringing kids to June and then her sending them on to Luke. June isn’t so much an avenging angel as she is the patron saint of kidnapped children.
Maybe Serena will finally see the light and become her own avenging angel. If she ever decides to work with Tuello for real and hit Gilead where it hurts, it would be a sight to behold. A woman who has so much verse memorized likely has a photographic memory, which means she didn’t have to have extensive access to Fred’s files to remember the details. She was within hearing range during meetings and sat at the table while he had his laptop open. And as an architect of Gilead, she didn’t need context explained to her.
She’s another source who Tuello wasted in going after his perceived Commander Big Fish. Just give her a good reason to finally come over to your side, Mark, instead of playing her for a fool so you can land her husband or the next Commander Big Fish. Alas, I don’t think he’ll ever learn. Serena will get rid of Alanis and go for Ryan, make her own way independently or end up with whatever group June forms or joins, whether it’s Mayday, a UN sponsored group or her own expanded spy and vigilante squad.
Once again, I am impressed by Serena’s ability to pull up Bible verses from memory, no matter what crisis she’s in the midst of. She recites a butchered version of Deuteronomy 32:43, presumably from the Gilead Bible, but close enough. There has to be a way she can make money from this talent- a “Stump the Living Bible” stage act or advice for the lovelorn via Bible verse or something.
Serena uses a verse sung by Moses to name June as her avenging angel, then uses the infant Moses as a metaphor for her son. Moses was a refugee for his entire life, even though he also lived as a prince. His generation angered God and as punishment they never reached the promised land. In this episode Serena accepts that the promised land of a reformed Gilead, along with any other promised land, are closed to her. But she’s also willing to consign her son to refugee status for life, even as she says she hopes June and Luke can give him a better home. She has hope, but she doesn’t believe in June’s hopeful prayer that their children can solve the problems they couldn’t.
There was very little color in this episode. The green of the forest early on, then the red of the handmaid’s uniforms and Serena’s blood. The green wildness of the forest as June tries to escape contrasts with the illusion of bars made by the light filtering through the slats of the barn walls. Both women are trapped in a cycle created by Gilead. As always, June’s freedom would be paid for in someone else’s blood and she’s seen enough of that. Even the blood of her nemesis is too much. She won’t even wish death or the loss of a child on the woman who stole her children.
This is the next evolution of Warrior June. She wants to keep fighting, but not for revenge and she doesn’t want to hurt people. Maybe, even if she can’t help Hannah, she’ll return to helping women and children, like she did with Angels’ Flight.
But it means Luke and June are out of sync again. After feeling emasculated by Serena when he met with her and watching Jaden the “pure” Guardian get seriously wounded, Luke has found some bloodlust. He’s taking very dangerous and unnecessary risks to prove that’s Serena’s wrong about him and prove to himself that he could take care of June if he had to. Especially since he shouldn’t be ashamed of how he spent his time while June was in Gilead.
I don’t blame Luke for staying in Canada instead of going on a suicide mission into Gilead to prove a point. By staying, he was available to support Erin the mute former handmaid; he helped Moira when she arrived; he helped get the notes from the women in Gilead out to the public when Nick brought them to him; he was there to raise Nichole when June got her child by another man out; he helped other refugees; he researched Hannah’s case, keeping the US government aware of the plight of kidnapped children; he was there to support June when she escaped; and more, I’m sure.
He’s been the backbone of his family system, providing the support that allowed June the peace of mind to stay in Gilead and fight for Hannah when she could have escaped. When he’s in a good frame of mind, he frames it as masculine protection of family. The issue for Luke and June, when it comes to dealing with this history, is that women usually stay home and provide that support while men go on the dangerous missions. These gender roles are codified in the Hero’s Journey. Though it wasn’t June’s choice to spend years on an odyssey in Gilead, it still happened and Luke still played the role of the one left behind.
So both of them are criticized for performing the wrong gender roles and they criticize themselves. Those internal voices saying “you should” can be noisy. Now that June is home, Luke feels pressure to play the role of the “man” in the relationship and is confused that June doesn’t need that anymore. I suspect he needs to accomplish some kind of big win against Gilead before he’ll be able to settle down and be comfortable in his skin again. That’s separate from what will happen with their marriage- I’ve always thought that she’s probably changed too much for it to survive.
June struggles with this issue as well, torn between mothering Nichole and the need to keep fighting Gilead as another form of motherhood. June’s mother spent more time working as a doctor and as a women’s rights activist as forms of mothering than she did mothering June. June has always had mixed feelings about this, but came to appreciate and understand her mother’s work when she was staying at the Boston Globe office in S2 and used their archives to recreate the rise of Gilead. She realized her mother had fought the Sons of Jacob from the start, before most people even saw the threat. Then in S3 Ep9, June met another doctor, who knew her mother and praised her work and spirit. He helped inspire June to look at her situation differently, beyond how she was personally affected- to think like her mother.
That line of thinking led to Angels’ Flight. June has been either on the run, a prisoner or adjusting to life in Canada since Angels’ Flight, so she hasn’t had the chance to be creative with her activism- except arguably with Fred, which she needed to get out of her system. This episode with Serena is the other half of that coin. Now that she’s gotten closure with both of the Waterfords, I wonder if the angel symbolism we’re seeing this season is pointing toward June’s return to rescue work, rather than more vigilantism.
Images courtesy of Hulu.