Even if The Handmaid’s Tale hasn’t been a good show for some time now, it managed to take a few steps forward in the past few episodes. “Sacrifice” practically brings any positive direction to a screeching halt.
June seems to have acquired something of a taste for violence, toying around with the gun Lawrence gave her, fully expecting to fight off the Eyes who are surely arriving to punish her for her crimes. Instead, she finds Gilead’s leadership is far more concerned about the capture of the Waterfords and even believes that Winslow’s disappearance may be part of a larger conspiracy.
“I guess they didn’t bring 52 kids with them,” Lawrence says wryly to June, who breaks out in giggles once she hears the news. As for her mission, the last piece of the puzzle seems to have fallen into place and word is even starting to spread in certain circles about June’s activities, with more Handmaids, and even Rita, volunteering more kids for the trip. It’s always nice when The Handmaid’s Tale remembers its fantastic characters exist, and thank god more of them appear in “Sacrifice” because otherwise it would be a complete waste, rather than what has now become a weekly reminder of how much this show seems determined to squander its rich potential.
If the Waterfords are still around, at least it’s less on their terms now that they’re removed from Gilead, even if how they arrived makes no sense. Serena may be responsible, but she’s as selfish as she ever was. She betrayed Fred solely so she could fulfill her dream of becoming a mother, retaining all the beliefs that brought her to help bring Gilead into existence in the first place. If we had any doubts, they’re eradicated when she’s told Fred isn’t her concern anymore and Serena replies, “He’s my husband.”
Thankfully, The Handmaid’s Tale does one thing right and brings Moira back to hold Serena accountable, even if she does it while being forced to uphold the bargain the Americans made and allow Serena to have some quality time with Nichole. As Moira fiercely points out, Nichole came into existence because Serena helped rape her friend, not to mention how Moira herself suffered when Gilead forced her into prostitution. When she tells Serena, “You are the gender traitor,” it’s one of the show’s shining moments in a sea of general disappointments.
Luke and Fred also have a very different meeting than their previous one, with the former visiting the latter in a comfortable prison where Fred can offer the very best his accommodating hosts have on hand. As Luke points out, for all their differences, these two men grew up much the same way, only to take very diverging paths. That’s probably due to far more complex issues, such as race, that The Handmaid’s Tale has proven completely unwilling to even acknowledge, let alone touch upon, and they don’t break the habit. But as for his wife’s eventual return, Fred warns Luke, “The June Osborne you knew doesn’t exist anymore.”
Apparently, the series doesn’t disagree, with June committing an act as sadistic as it is unnecessary, especially if she values her plans to get Gilead’s children to Canada as much as she says she does. When Emily (where is she anyway?) committed her own vicious crimes, part of what made them so shocking, horrifying, and saddening was that it was the culmination of a carefully constructed arc that left Emily’s actions as recognizable as they were despicable. Compare that with June’s characterization, which has been so haphazard that her latest decisions have felt less like a game of checkers that is simple yet baffling, where the rules are suspended at will. It would be comedic if the game they were playing wasn’t so laced with unneeded cruelty.