The Handmaid’s Tale asks what its women want, and it’s complicated


Maybe the central premise of this week’s The Handmaid’s Tale doesn’t make sense, but the emotional plot development does work.

Snow flurries are starting to fall in Gilead as we open on this episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, and June sounds a little stuffed up in the opening scenes. Of course, it could be from crying and worrying about Luke.

After all, he’s in Canada, and he’s been identified as the person who has Nichole right now.

“She’s with a stranger,” Serena says, right before she’s called into a meeting of the Commanders about the kidnapping. The first thing she asks for is information on Luke to understand who’s raising the baby. This alone is enough to make Serena cry from gratitude, but Fred still asks her to name her desires.

“I just want this to be over,” she responds. We’re left to interpret what this means. Is she tired of Gilead? Does she want to flee herself? That is supported by her stated wishes to be with Nichole, which leads to the Waterfords asking June if she can help them arrange a visit with the baby. (How does this even make sense? This writer is still struggling with that question, because if arranging stuff like this is that easy, the general tense relations Gilead supposedly has with Canada start to fall apart.) When Serena repeats the question to June, June’s answer is much more straightforward: “I want you to owe me.”

The next things we hear include a dial tone and ringing. While the phone call scene might make you think that June is sounding awfully restrained for the first time she gets to talk to her husband, the commanders are right there behind her, and she’s holding herself together for that one reason alone.

In flats and jeans, with her hair down, Serena emerges into the airport to see the baby. The scene is understandably tense, with Luke not receptive until Serena says that she protected June. Unfortunately, that’s right when the meeting ends. She only breaks down once she’s alone, but she returns with something: a way to contact Tuello in Canada should she “need” him.

Indeed, holding yourself together seems like the theme of this episode, considering how June goes and finds the tapes that Lawrence once made for his wife, listening to them on a boombox (and stealing one to send a message to Luke, which is a stellar shoutout to the book). Serena has a necklace for Nichole that says “For this child I prayed,” and only she gets to meet with Luke. Ofmatthew seems like she’s going to cry in the grocery store when she tells June she’s late. Even she’s taken out of the grocery store and reunited with Aunt Lydia, June holds it together as she undresses, then dresses in a new Handmaid’s outfit to record with the Waterfords a plea to bring Nichole back.

There are a lot of pointed word choices in this episode, but the one that sticks out the most is how even hardcore people of Gilead call Luke June’s “husband.” The book doesn’t recognize divorce as being legal, so Luke wouldn’t be June’s husband because he is indeed divorced. It’s a tiny thing, but even if you see it as being used as a form of emotional manipulation, it’s still strange. Note also the use of “blend in” when Serena is in Canada. Her first time, she stayed in her uniform. This second time, she can’t.

Perhaps the most important choices are in June’s messages. The hidden one to Luke includes what Nichole’s real name is, that she is a product of June and Nick, and that survival is the most important thing. The one she doesn’t get to record out of choice emphasizes “full cooperation” thanks to Fred, but even though she doesn’t speak, her posture changes — that’s enough.

These changes in the characters of The Handmaid’s Tale aren’t done happening yet.

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The Handmaid’s Tale drops new episodes Wednesdays on Hulu.