The Handmaid’s Tale this week finally takes a turn towards the showdown we’ve all been waiting for, with June (Elizabeth Moss) in Canada telling her story to bring down the Waterfords.
June has struggled with being oppressed by her “superiors,” so this episode’s trial gives her the opportunity to express her feelings. Each storyline that the characters focused on this episode are involved in is about the power dynamics created. June is the focal point as she is trying to recover from her trauma through imprisoning the Waterfords, but trying to help her fellow survivors.
June’s approach is different from what the other refugees have in mind. As Moira (Samira Wiley) pushes for a “living better is the best revenge” system, June wants actual revenge and says so in Moira’s support group for Gilead’s survivors. When asked to express her feelings on the trial coming up, June says she “can’t fucking wait.”
At the end of last week’s episode, Serena Joy ( Yvonne Strahovski) reunited with her husband Fred (Joseph Fiennes) after June’s verbal attack about her pregnancy. This week’s episode confirmed that unlike the Waterfords’ relationship in Gilead, where the two were always unequal, in Canada, Fred and Serena Joy have reached a point where there is no hiding the truth of Fred’s actions. To an extent, the two have developed a more equal partnership, since their trial doesn’t allow for lies. In their discussion of the trial ahead of them, Serena voices her concern about June and preparing for what she will say about them.
June’s attitude at home is less commanding as she is trying to navigate how to be a willing partner to her husband Luke (O.T. Fagbenle) again. She distances from him and, given the situation,it isn’t that unusual. The effect of June’s slavery is seen as June doesn’t know how to include him in her feelings anymore. June’s trust issues are displayed in her desire for him not to attend the trial to support her or share information about their child with Mark Tuello (Sam Jaeger).
At one point in the show, after June yells at Luke for attempting to support her, he laments to Moira, saying that half the time, June feels like a stranger. Even though June pushes away Luke, he still comes to her trial. He listens to her heart wrenching testimony outlining the ceremonial rape inflicted on her by the Waterfords when Fred Waterford cuts in to defend his actions.
The conversation of power dynamics comes full force as June gets into his face to tell him she is done, gaining control of the situation. In the following scene, Luke and June seem to understand each other as Luke does not seem hurt by her revelations and is even proud to feel let into her emotions. The scene allows for a deep dive into what makes Luke and June so different from Serena Joy and Fred, as the former couple wants to know each other’s secrets to support the other rather than to save their interests.
June’s trauma may make it hard for her to relate to her husband, but her tactics pushed on to others is questionable at best. Still, the show pushed the envelope of an “appropriate” display of trauma behavior when June goes her coping mechanisms on to Emily. June sees Emily react viscerally to the sight of another woman and refuses to step back from the topic even though Emily shuts her down multiple times. The woman comes to one of the group meetings and is exposed as Aunt Irene, the woman responsible for the death of Emily’s lover in Gilead and Emily’s genital mutilation.
In a juxtaposition to the circles of shame the handmaids experienced in the Red Centers, the Gilead group questions Aunt Irene. Instead, “Aunt Irene,” now going by Iris, apologizes for her actions and asks for forgiveness for what she did but is denied as June screams at her for making such a request only for Emily to join in and deny her forgiveness.
Unsure of whether this did her any good, Emily goes to see Irene at the address she provided her, only to see her hanging. The group meets again and, having thought more on June’s approach to recovery, harnesses their rage, and discusses how they wish to inflict pain on their past tormentors. Emily shares that she hopes to have been why Irene killed herself. The women choose to stay and discuss their pain beyond just moving on from it as Moira had instructed them.
June’s influence over the women shows how she takes her form of coping and tries to get other former handmaids to take on the revenge model. June’s desire to take back her power is what the episode is about and how it is almost becoming a weapon. The problem is whether or not it’s beneficial for the mental health of the handmaids who have escaped. While they are the voices that need to be heard, those around June are concerned for wellbeing as she chooses revenge rather than a path to healing and is now taking others with her.
In the latter part of the episode, Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) attacks not only a handmaid but another Aunt. Thus, she is reassigned to the care of a handmaid recovered from Chicago, none other than Janine (Madeline Brewer), who has been recaptured. Except, Aunt Lydia takes pity on Janine and is implied she will take her into her care. Aunt Lydia has long been fond of Janine, but this is the most apparent equal playing field they have been on as they’ve both been relieved of their duties.
The episode’s exploration of not only the power dynamics between June and the Waterfords but also the complex and individual relationships created due to Gilead’s social pyramid.