My, how the misogynistic tables have turned.
OK, OK. So The Handmaid’s Tale’s Serena Joy doesn’t actually become a handmaid in this week’s episode. After all, thank goodness, she’s not subjected to the ritual rape that Gilead forces upon any woman chosen to wear red. But she is made to live in a house where she’s treated like garbage, while a woman who hates her appoints herself mother to her baby.
Meanwhile, Lawrence makes June an offer she can’t/doesn’t want to refuse. Read on for the highlights of “Motherland.”
SERENA’S NEW LOW | Near the top of the episode, we get our first look at “New Bethlehem,” Commander Lawrence’s housing development for people who’ve escaped Gilead. Or, as the pamphlet likely will say, “A modernized, strategically liberalized island where Gilead refugees can come home with amnesty and the promise of reuniting with long-lost family and friends.” Lawrence tells Nick and the other commanders who are touring the site that he wants to project maturity, confidence and “moral fortitude” to the outside world. What’s more, he’s planning a trip to Toronto to entice families into moving back.
Speaking of Toronto: We learn that Serena has been phoning June and Rita from the detention center, hoping for some help. They’ve been screening her calls. And when we cut to Mrs. Waterford, crying as she pumps breastmilk in a corner of the detention center’s visitors’ room, that assessment seems accurate.
The Wheelers are fostering Noah while Serena is in custody, and Alanis is there to collect the milk and be a judgmental jerk. As Mrs. Wheeler looks at Serena like she’s a piece of chewed gum stuck to the bottom of her shoe, she relates that Ezra survived, thanks to the bulletproof vest he was wearing when Serena shot him. Serena tries to play on the younger woman’s sympathies, saying “the pressure and the pregnancy” caused her to go a little kooky. Alanis doesn’t really care. Instead, she complains about how Noah cries all day and night, and that they’re using the cry-it-out method with him to try to get him to hush. (“YOU CAN’T DO THAT WITH A BABY THAT YOUNG! THEY CAN’T SELF-SOOTHE!” I write indignantly in my notes. That poor kiddo.)
Then Alanis throws shade at Serena by implying that she doesn’t have the “mental toughness” necessary for motherhood. “I have overthrown a country. And I have, against all odds, given birth to a very healthy baby. And not once have I lacked for mental toughness,” she grits out. They argue more, but it comes down to one stark truth in the end: “You’re in here,” Alanis says, “and I’m not.” Ouch.
HELLO AGAIN | June and Lawrence meet up during his trip north. He’s both incredibly frank about his goals at the start of Gilead (“Unfortunately, I had to use religious nutjobs as a delivery system” to save humanity “and I underestimated their depravity, but it was triage, and it worked”) and his offer to bring June back into the fold. Gilead won’t let Hannah out, but June is more than welcome to become one of New Bethlehen’s first residents. “No handmaids, no hangings… where one might visit their grown children running their own houses,” he dangles, bringing June to tears as she contemplates a reunion with Hannah. “You’re saying I can be with my daughter?” she wonders, and man, Elisabeth Moss’ reading on that one is truly heartbreaking. Lawrence also puts it out there that Nick is working with him on this resolution, and the he gives June a phone so she can get in touch when she’s thought things through.
Back at home, she’s certainly considering the offer. Luke… definitely is not. She points out that Lawrence has repeatedly come through for her, and “he has been my friend,” while the American government hasn’t done much for them. Their conversation ramps up into an argument that isn’t helped when Luke, who’s understandably frustrated by how much Gilead has blown up his family and changed his wife on a fundamental level, blurts out that she’s letting emotion cloud her judgment. “Of course you don’t understand what I feel,” she shoots back. “Look what you did to Serena and her baby.”
Yeowtch. June’s statement is interesting on several levels. First, it definitely falls into that category of “Things you think during an argument with your partner but try not to say… but then you say them and the fact that you’ve clearly been sitting on them for some time is more damning than the things themselves.” Second, June is kinda #TeamSerena on this one, which is a change, to say the very least. June doubles down, telling her husband that she didn’t ask for him to intervene. “Just let me protect you sometimes, please,” he begs. But she doesn’t soften. “The thing is, I don’t need your protection. I don’t need it,” she says. “Hannah does.”
JUNE CONSIDERS HER OPTIONS | June goes upstairs and soothes Nichole, who’s been roused from sleep because anti-refugee protestors are honking outside the house. June sings The Velvet Underground’s “I’ll Be Your Mirror,” which she used to sing to Hannah. “I want you to know her,” she whispers to the little girl. Just outside the room, Luke overhears.
After June wakes up in Nichole’s bed the next morning, she comes downstairs to find Tuello there. He’s not pleased that the Architect of Gilead is canvassing refugee families in Toronto. “Lawrence’s goal is to kill off America, once and for all. You’re a get for them,” he says, calling June a “domino” who will kick off a catastrophic effect if she chooses to go back. That’s when June decides she’s had just about enough of people who weren’t handmaids telling her what is and isn’t good for her re: Gilead. She demands to know what Tuello is doing with the information they got for him in No Man’s Land; after trying to hide behind “it’s classified,” he eventually admits that a military action is in play. But that vague promise isn’t enough for June. “Lawrence is offering us Hannah,” she says angrily. “You are offering us NOTHING.”
Later, June consults Rita, asking her what she should do. Rita gently says she’d never go back — but she also doesn’t have a child on the inside. “If there were a world where my son isn’t dead?” she wonders. “I would do anything to see him again. I would travel to the ends of the Earth.”
‘GUESS I’M A BETTER CHRISTIAN THAN YOU’ | Let’s check in with Serena again. Lawrence swings by to tell her that she’s being released to Gilead custody, and she’ll return to a room at the Wheelers’ house. She is NOT happy about that turn of events, and she’s gutted when he reminds her that Alanis and Ryan have legal custody of Noah; basically, the only way she can be with him is to play ball. She refuses to live in the same house as her child’s “kidnappers,” crying and saying, “I’m not a handmaid.” Honey, it if walks like a duck, talks like a duck and has its human rights violated like a … OK, you get where I was going with this one.
Serena’s next visitor is June. It’s clear that Mrs. Waterford thinks they’ve leveled up in their relationship, and she doesn’t hesitate to ask her former handmaid for help finding an advocate. “Serena, we’re not friends,” June says bluntly. In a brief but awesome exchange, June makes it clear that she did not for one moment forgive Serena, and that she helped with the birth because Noah “didn’t do anything wrong.” Still not completely getting it, Serena brings up their “bond,” and June’s face basically has a patronizing “Oh, sweetie” written across it. “I turned the other cheek,” she explains. “Turns out after all this, I guess I’m a better Christian than you.” BOOM.
As Serena tries to process that truth, she wonders aloud “How do you go and live in a house with a woman who’s trying to steal your baby?… How did you ever live with me?” So June tells her: Basically, the entire time, she was plotting her revenge. And, it kinda paid off? “Look at what happened to Fred, and look at you now,” June says. Who knew the detention center would serve up such a satisfying array of just desserts?! Before June leaves, she tells Serena that you can’t help your child if you’re not with your child. And that seems to cement something in her brain.
LAWRENCE’S CONSCIENCE | So when she next meets with Lawrence, she demands that he stop Gilead from marrying off Hannah. “Gilead’s gonna Gilead,” he replies glibly, adding that the “arranged marriage” is “not too bad” by the regime’s standards. This is too much for June, who yells at him about all of the women raped, tortured and abused “in a world YOU created, you sick f—k.” That hits him hard. Tearily, he says he was just trying to save the world “and it got away from me,” and he’d erase everything “just so I wouldn’t have Gilead on my conscience.” (Side note: Bradley Whitford is really, really great in this scene.)
June implores the commander to do SOMETHING, and he counters that New Bethlehem IS that something, a “nicer autocracy.” Still, not long after their meeting, June receives a package with a DVD in it… and it’s footage of Hannah walking through a glass passageway at what appears to be a school.
Remember how Luke and June’s earlier argument was tough? It was nothing compared to the way they throw down about what to do re: New Bethlehem and the footage they’ve just received. She yells that he hasn’t done anything for seven years, then immediate apologizes. He puts his foot down that he won’t bring Nichole back into Gilead, then June counters that she’ll go alone. “We’re never going to be enough for you, are we?” he says, dejected, and June sobs. “She needs me, and I left her behind,” she cries as Luke takes her into his arms. “I abandoned her… I have to go back to her.”
In the end, they take the footage to Tuello, who promises to throw every resource into locating Hannah but asks for some time before June makes her final decision. Elsewhere, Lawrence tells Nick he’s pretty sure June will move, and he offers Nick a post in the development as his right-hand man. And elsewhere from there, Serena returns to the Wheelers’ place, where they make it clear that she’s only allowed to nurse Noah, and Alanis will perform “all the duties of motherhood.” Even worse, Serena has to agree — out loud! — that she’s not fit to be a mother. When Mrs. Waterford is able to hold her kid, he nurses with abandon as she weeps and tells him she missed him so much. (Side note: Look at how that kid is looking at Yvonne Strahovski! This show’s baby casting is ACES.)
‘WE FOUND HANNAH’| A week later, there’s still no news from Tuello… until he calls June to say the words she’s been waiting to hear: “We found Hannah.” (!!!) He explains that they know where the school is, they know where she is, and they have a plan. June’s joy overflows; she’s at a local market and winds up hugging the storekeeper before running home, smiling. She bursts into the house and hugs Moira and Luke as she cries, “They’re gonna go get her!” Luke is overcome. Everyone is happy, except for me, who fears that any good thing on this show is going to be infected by Gilead’s poison.
In the last shot, we see Hannah at her school, working on some plantings. As the camera pulls back… what’s the shape of that planter? Interlocking Cs? US? Hit the comments with your theories.
Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the episode? Sound off in the comments!