It’s official: June is back in the clutches of Serena Joy and Fred Waterford, and where this story goes next is anyone’s guess. The latest, “Other Women” episode of The Handmaid’s Tale (Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on Bravo) had it all: Offred reclaiming the red robe as an official handmaid, a weird-ass bridal shower, violent Serena Joy and lots of creepy, creepy Aunt Lydia. This pregnancy suddenly feels a lot more real, doesn’t it?
If we were to pick an episodic theme, it would be the ultimate clash of June versus Offred. As Aunt Lydia said to a chained up June, she could continue spending the rest of her pregnancy in that basement, counting the flowers on the bedspread until she gave birth and faced subsequent execution. Or, she could resume being Offred and grasp at a second chance as “a very good girl” in the Waterford household, deliver the baby and continue living out her days as an obedient handmaid. Well gee… door one or door two… such lovely prizes behind both.
Obviously the woman picked life over death; the human will to survive is very real. But that choice set up a pretty interesting episode of June versus Offred, with only one persona winning out in the end.
The big return
As viewers, we knew June coming back to the Waterfords was inevitable—otherwise what’s the point of having those two characters return to the show? That didn’t make June’s return to the household any less white-knuckling to watch. June was still defiant to the point of actually being funny. “Hey” and “uh huh” aren’t exactly appropriate responses to a Commander in Gilead, but they were allowed for now. There are optics to think about, after all, and a baby to consider. So the official story is that June was kidnapped, and the hand of Gilead is so far-reaching and mighty that they were able to save her from the terrorists. “Uh huh” indeed.
Back to basics
Life in the Waterford household has always been strict and mundane for Offred, but June found clever little ways to escape. (Read: anything having to do with Luke.) But after a physical escape we can’t imagine how hard it would be to return to that subservient model, which is why June glared defiantly at Serena when she began choking her out for disappearing for 92 days, or spat up that gross green drink Aunt Lydia made her chug down. Obviously behaviour like that can’t continue if June is to survive, which is why Aunt Lydia got to work on “breaking” her straight away. But, as we’ve seen in the past, June is a hard gal to break and it wasn’t going to be that easy.
The baby shower
Baby showers can be awkward for the best of us, but in Gilead they’re downright creepy. The gifts were all old school (heaven forbid anyone allow an electronic or a piece of plastic into this world), the other wives were jealous, Serena was the one who was treated like she was pregnant while June sat awkwardly in a chair behind her, and then there was that whole religious ceremony with the ropes. Shudder. But other than to creep us out, there was a whole other point to that scene: June needed information, and the way for her to get it was through the other handmaids in attendance.
Unfortunately the news was not good. June learned that after her capture Mayday had stopped helping handmaids altogether, that things have been stricter than ever since her attempted escape, and that one handmaid even lost her tongue for speaking out against Aunt Lydia and refusing to stone Janine. That didn’t stop June from embarrassing Serena, first by announcing–in front of Serena’s friends–that she had felt the baby kick, and then by reminiscing about her own shower for Hannah. But as soon as Serena lashed out at Rita in response it was like June finally snapped and realized just how real of an affect her actions have had and continue to have on others around her.
June’s nerves were already frayed from Serena’s attack on Rita, so she probably wasn’t prepared for what Aunt Lydia had in store for her. If there was any lingering doubt as to just how far Gilead will go to keep its residents in check, that was completely quashed when Aunt Lydia showed June the bread truck driver who let her stay the night at his apartment. The man was hanging from the wall, dead. His wife had been sent to live as a handmaid in order to redeem herself, and their son was taken away to live with another family. And whose fault was it?
“My fault,” June said from her knees.
“June’s fault,” Aunt Lydia told Offred, as June began crying, half in horror and half in acceptance.
The psychological warfare in Gilead is real, people.
Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. Don’t let the bastards grind you down. That saying was so vital to June’s surfacing in the first season, and to the show in general. There’s a reason those words were plastered on so many billboards during the women’s march and in other protests around the U.S. and Canada. So when June lay down in the closet after that walk only to realize those words on the wall had been taken down, she was defeated. For the first time she felt truly alone; that Gilead had won. It was her final straw and a moment of acceptance. The emotional and psychological repercussions of her fight were too much to bear and so in order to survive, June had no choice but to retreat within herself and let Offred take over.
“We’ve been sent good weather,” she told Luke as he tried to talk to her on her way to her daily walk. It was a mantra that took us to the end of the episode, as June repeated it over and over in her head. “We’ve been sent good weather. We’ve been sent good weather. We’ve been sent good weather.”
We’re calling it. Offred has officially won for now, but let’s not give up all hope. June’s spirit has been broken before, but she also has a lot at stake right now. Something tells us she’ll be back soon to continue fighting the good fight.
The Handmaid’s Tale airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on Bravo.