After seven years fueled by her rage in Gilead, June isn’t ready to give it up now that she’s in Canada — but where can that much outrage go when the enemy isn’t all around you?
For three seasons, “The Handmaid’s Tale” told a story of horrific oppression, an allegory of what can happen if the attack on women’s reproductive rights escalates to attacks on women in general.
It asked us to explore what it means if we decide women are no longer people but rather only their wombs and their capacity to bring children into the world. What does that world look like where women are tools of procreation only?
Inserted into this world was one woman who fought against those notions, fought for her very humanity. Subjected to atrocities far more vile and vicious even than they sounded in her very cold testimony against the Waterfords in this latest episode, June was fueled by her rage.
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Is Rage Still the Answer?
Through seven years in Gilead, June never lost her drive, fueled by the burning hatred she had on a personal level for Fred and Serena Waterford, and the larger rage she had over the whole system. That rage saved lives, including her own, her friends and even a plane full of children.
But it also cost lives, because there’s a recklessness in rage unchecked like that. And as the years progressed, June’s recklessness continued. Even after she’d secured her freedom this last time, she wasn’t happy doing anything other than working to violently destroy anyone affiliated with Gilead.
She wanted to save Hannah, yes, but even more than that, she wants to make people hurt and suffer as she and so many women have suffered and hurt. It’s admirable in a way, but also dangerous. The fact that Janine was the only survivor — so far as we know — of all those Handmaids she was trying to save is a testament that letting your anger take the lead is not the answer.
So now that she’s in Canada and the enemy is south of the border and the war has changed, what can she do? What can a woman of action fueled by rage do when the biggest action ahead of her was a testimony against Fred Waterford in hopes he’d be put on trial?
As we watched June push Emily to confront the escaped Aunt (Irene) who’d caused her so much torment, getting her lover hanged in Gilead and leading to Emily’s genital mutilation so she would never be able to feel sexual pleasure again, we could see her again doing what she did in Gilead.
She was taking control, deciding what was best for everyone and always fueling the flames of rage. Yes, these women in Moira’s weekly group therapy session are all victims of Gilead, they all have anger over what they endured during their time there, but Moira has been cautioning against living in their anger.
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At the end of the episode, June pushed back with a simple question. “Why not?” she asked. “Why does healing have to be the only goal? Why can’t we be as furious as we feel? Don’t we have that right.”
This conversation came up as a direct result of Emily having seen that Aunt Irene committed suicide by hanging after Emily had told her there was absolutely nothing she could do to make anything that had happened better. Aunt Irene aka Iris Baker was asking for forgiveness.
Should it have been given? That’s a very complicated question. But as Emily admitted that she felt amazing over Iris’ death, and that she hoped her rebuff of the woman had played some role in what happened, the growing smile on June’s face was terrifying.
And then the pièce de résistance of her constant need to control everything, June pushed back against Moira attempting to end the meeting. Moira saw that June was working everyone up into their anger and wanted to allow cooler minds and hearts to prevail.
June, however, wanted to stoke the flames a little higher, offering to stay later if anyone wanted to. In other words, offering to completely take over Moira’s therapy sessions to try and help these women find some peace and instead try to push them into some sort of enraged revolutionary force.
Only what is June’s plan here? Does she intend to take her ragtag group of outraged women and storm one of the world’s strongest military mights in Gilead? Or does she just need to not be alone in her anger? Maybe there is no plan at all.
Luke spent the week reeling from her rape of him in the previous episode. When he tried to talk to her again and again she started pushing toward him sexually, this time he rebuffed her advances and demanded that she instead talk to him. She stormed out.
Her rage could handle sex — as we saw, only if she was in complete control — but it could not handle actually talking about her concerns. And yet, on the boat, June admitted she was scared that Luke would be disappointed that she’d not saved Hannah.
She was afraid and she was deeply feeling emotions then. Is she running from those emotions into this controlled burn instead as a defense mechanism from the pain of what she’s really feeling underneath?
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An unexpected bombshell dropped, though we honestly should have seen it coming, after Fred’s outburst in court in defense of Gilead. He argued that the measures being taken there are worth the “sacrifice” everyone is making because Gilead is the only nation with rising birth rates.
In this world where the human race’s very future is jeopardized because of declining birth rates, Fred is able to dismiss systemic rape, ripping children from their mother’s arms and everything else Gilead did as a “sacrifice” worth making because of the results.
And the next day, as he and Serena again prepared to head to court, they found a jubilant crowd of supporters awaiting them. With banners demanding they be freed, it’s clear that this situation is not nearly as black-and-white as we might have assumed or wanted.
But just look at counter-protests to the Black Lives Matter movement, or really any social issue of importance in this country and see that there are passionate people on both sides always, it’s not a real surprise that there are those outside of Gilead who thinks it’s great.
Now, we also emphasized that even June’s testimony did not paint a full picture of the horrors we’ve witnessed on this show. Probably all of those people holding signs have no ide what it’s really like on the ground in Gilead. They hear the propaganda, they see the conviction of Fred’s words, perhaps even the rising birth rates in Gilead, and they’re all in.
This world certainly has a history of people supporting human atrocities. Like Iris, they often don’t even realize exactly what it is they’re doing and how awful they are until it’s too late. It’s very telling in that instance that Iris said she’d never actually physically harmed Emily.
Her crime was turning Emily in for having a sexual affair with a Martha. The rest of Gilead murdered the Martha and mutilated Emily. Now, Iris was still complicit in that, but the fact she hung herself over that involvement is indicative of just how easy it can be for otherwise normal, average people to get swept up in something that horrific and somehow just go along with it.
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But for as many Iris’ as there may be and have been in Gilead, there are those like Aunt Lydia. It’s interesting to hear that Iris never physically harmed Emily in the district she was in before coming to the former-Boston district where Emily met June and Janine and the others.
That paints a very different picture of the training those Handmaids might have experienced under her guidance than the ones we all witnessed under Aunt Lydia. Commander Lawrence got it exactly right this week in acknowledging that Aunt Lydia enjoys hurting people, much as she might deny it.
She seems to be doing it out of a place of pain and insecurity in herself, but she nevertheless does seem to derive pleasure from the control of hurting others. Unfortunately, as Lawrence pointed out, this next generation of Handmaids is far more compliant than the last.
Seven years after taking over the United States, most of the young girls coming of birthing age have known nothing but Gilead for most of their lives now. They’ve been indoctrinated into it, or beaten into submission. They don’t need the whip nearly as much as the adult women who were kidnapped into becoming Handmaids.
In this regime, where does someone like Aunt Lydia fit? Like June, where does her outsized rage go? Where can she put it if she can’t electrocute these new Handmaids, or even other Aunts who might be laughing at her?
Commander Lawrence has been one of the show’s most enigmatic characters — in a show filled to the brim with them — and he left us uncertain again after he decided the solution to Lydia’s vicious streak was to give her poor Janine, rescued and recaptured in Chicago.
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Lawrence knows the capacity for cruelty within Lydia, and he willingly gave her Janine as basically a plaything to torture so she won’t hurt the new Handmaids. That’s a monstrous thing to do, effectively erasing just about all of the goodwill he’d engendered through June’s eventual escape.
What is his endgame? Why is he keeping Lydia close like this, offering her a “pet” to torture to protect her career. We get that he values the intel she’s able to bring to him, but what is his goal? Is he still trying to take down this regime he helped build?
If so, he must be playing a game of the ends justify the means, and Janine is the means. It’s incredibly cruel, but he’s facing a cruel situation. Even in helping June cross the border, he had to sit by and allow citizens to be carpet bombed by Gilead moments before an announced ceasefire when they’d be more likely to be out and vulnerable, seeking aid.
Gilead is a government of cruelty, and so Lawrence is using cruelty toward his own goals. We hope the goals themselves are still for the good of the world, but right now he’s in a pretty dark place and doing some pretty nasty things — worse than the kinds of things that drove Iris to suicide.
As for Aunt Lydia, who knows what evils she has in store for Janine. She immediately started toying with her, telling her that June had abandoned her (when June was desperately trying to find her). Janine begged not to be made a Handmaid again, but we’ll have to see what comes of it.
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Last week’s episode saw June unload on Serena Joy, even as she’d been telling Mark that Serena is a narcissistic sociopath who will say or do anything to control a situation and have things go the way she wants.
We wondered then if June was manifesting some of the same tendencies, and we definitely saw that happening here. It seems that June’s narrative about Serena was both accurate and a bit of projection as to what she’s become herself.
It’s been challenging being both grateful that June has found her freedom, being sympathetic that she’s trying to process her own trauma, and also feeling like we may be witnessing a repeat of what she did in Gilead.
While in Gilead, June’s sole mission was to destroy the entire system. Now that she’s in Canada, she is already sowing seeds of similar destruction into the things she can control, namely her relationships, Moira’s therapy group and even the Waterfords.
She may be her own worst enemy right now, and we’re not sure what (if anything) can rein her back in. In her zealous fervor, she’s no less fanatical than Lydia. We’re not as sure that Fred and Serena even buy into the b.s. they’re spewing about Gilead.
It looked briefly as if Serena may have had a different plan as to what she was going to do heading into the second day of court, but she changed her mind when she saw their supporters and heard the cheers. She shifted with the wind and held Fred’s hand.
June is absolutely right about Serena. But she may be right about herself, as well.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” drops new episodes every Wednesday on Hulu.