Last week, The Handmaid’s Tale gave us a momentary reprieve from despair. We went bowling. We drank beers and listened to music. We watched Luke (O-T Fagbenle) and June (Elisabeth Moss) genuinely enjoy themselves while we – the emotionally threadbare audience – tried to forget the broader context. Luke and June had attempted a perilous journey into No Man’s Land to collect a thumb drive containing information on their daughter Hannah. Because The Handmaid’s Tale is the most consistent show on television, I knew their merrymaking would be short-lived.
June’s in captivity… again
June and Luke don’t make it out of No Man Land’s with the thumb drive, but it takes a while for the identity of their apprehenders to become clear. It’s not Gilead, June says. The truck smells too much like harsh disinfectants that the draconian, fertility-obsessed state would deem “unhealthy”. This is what a survivor like June is left with – the keen ability to read a situation. Her nose for survival seems, at times, to outpace her desire for it.
For most of the episode – called “Together” – Luke and June are locked in side-by-side nondescript cells in a nondescript building in the middle of nowhere. Luke is freaking out with panic – pacing, nonstop chattering. But June possesses the preternatural ability to stay calm in extreme situations. She manages to talk Luke down, too. She’s been exactly here many times before: alone in a dark room that she can’t be sure she’ll ever leave.
Luke’s right to be scared; it’s hellish. He’s beaten up when he resists being moved away from June. June, in turn, blames herself for letting Luke go on the escapade into No Man’s Land in the first place. She was the one who knew how bad things could get. She understood first-hand the depravity and brutality of this dark world, where men in masks literally rattle their cages just to keep the captives twitchy and frightened.
At some point, though, Luke cycles out of panic and into resignation. “Last time, we didn’t get to say goodbye,” he tells his wife through the cage that separates them. Here, June powerfully objects. She tells him, and the audience for the first time (I think), that it was “hope” that kept her alive during her first tour through Gilead. Hope that they would find each other somehow, which is exactly what happened. “We’re gonna do that again.”
Nick’s to become a father… again
Meanwhile in Gilead, plans to harvest Esther’s (Mckenna Grace) uterus – to be redistributed to some more willing handmaid, I imagine – are put on hold when doctors realise she’s already three weeks pregnant. She tells Lydia (Ann Dowd) that Commander Putnam raped her, which is literally the exact tragedy that Lydia had been training her to endure, albeit in the context of some other abusive scenario that Gilead calls a religious ceremony. Esther, handcuffed to a hospital bed, screams in anguish when Lydia comes near her. She thrashes so violently against the bed, I cried a little.
But you know what they say in Gilead? One woman’s rape is another man’s opportunity. Putnam has been making life difficult for Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) and Nick (Max Minghella) for a while now. Most recently, he scuppered Lawrence’s dreams for “New Bethlehem”. Esther’s pregnancy allows Lawrence the chance to take revenge using the rulebook for cover. The commanders agree Putnam should be put to death for the crime of “the rape of unassigned property”. In the middle of his breakfast, with Mrs Putnam watching, Nick shoots him in the head.
Lawrence is one of the series’ most intriguing and terrible men. He’s so committed to his amoral stance on just about everything that, compared to actively evil men like Putnam, he can sometimes be confused for a good guy. He’s not, though. He’s just a ruthless pragmatist. And Nick? His wife is understandably upset when her hubby gets home from a long day of state-sponsored murder. Rose is worried about the kind of person Nick is, but he assures her that he’s only making Gilead safer for…THEIR BABY!
Serena’s in captivity… again
At first, it seemed Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) was being temporarily moved to the Wheeler mansion to protect her from June. Now, it’s clear she’s in pregnancy prison.
The Wheelers install a birthing suite in their attic so Serena doesn’t have to travel to the city for her ultrasounds. They even set her up on a date with her gynaecologist so she can find her baby a new daddy. They forbid her from walking the grounds on account of her moderately high blood pressure. It’s ironic, really. All it took to finally kerb Serena’s ambition was for her to get the baby she’d always wanted.
Serena does receive some unexpected good news, though. Turns out Mr Wheeler’s private henchmen are the ones behind June and Luke’s arrests, and he promises to deal with June… for good. Impending motherhood has done little to dampen Serena’s bloodlust, it seems. She begs to go and see justice done herself.
Once Wheeler’s men confirm that Luke’s got legal status in Canada they decide to dump him back at the border (hopefully with the thumb drive concealed somewhere). Thank God. June thinks she’s on her way back to Gilead when Wheeler’s personal bodyguard– a guy called Ezra – stops the convoy and drags her out to where Serena is waiting.
Like a true movie villain who can’t resist one last taunting speech, Serena tells Ezra to remove June’s bindings so that she can pray. June rolls her eyes and plays along, praying for their children. “May they do better than we did,” she tells her. Serena draws the gun, takes a step toward June, and unexpectedly pivotes to shoot Ezra (who I think was wearing Kevlar but still goes down long enough for the sworn enemies to run off together). Turns out the one thing Serena hates more than June is being told what to do.
So on her old conspirator’s command, June gets into the driver seat of Ezra’s car. Serena gets in the back seat, so it’s more like an Uber ride than an homage to Thelma & Louise. However briefly this truce might last, it’s thrilling to see them on the same side… again.