Suffering a concussion and desperate to find Janine, June still doesn’t want to leave Gilead without her daughter, Hannah.
Janine is still missing and June is an absolute mess as the latest installment of “The Handmaid’s Tale” began, unable to even recognize her one-time BFF Moira.
In what essentially amounted to a bottle episode “Handmaid’s” style, Samira Wiley and Elisabeth Moss were absolutely stellar in portraying their characters both in the harrowing present and their more idyllic (but still not perfect) pre-Gilead days.
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We quickly see that same stubbornness that drove Janine to lash out at her while they were in the milk car, but finally we get some context for June’s obsessive behavior. And it takes a flashback and Moira’s words to really drive home her fears.
In many ways, June is afraid of failing Luke, just as she was when she worried she wouldn’t be able to conceive. Theirs was a relationship founded on him cheating on his wife. Because of that, there is always that kernel of doubt and fear that he could do it again, that he could decide his new wife is failing him in some way and just move on.
When June was first moving out of the apartment she shared with Moira to move in with Luke, Moira warned her as much, but she was insistent that their love was different. Perhaps it was. They did, after all, stay together. But … June was also able to conceive, bringing Hannah into the world. Would Luke have stayed if she had not been able to do so?
In many ways, June hanging onto those fears shows just how deeply they were embedded in her, surfacing even after all the horrors of Gilead she’d endured. And it was those fears, and a concussive brain fog, that had her trying multiple times to escape Moira and go back to Gilead.
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Don’t get us wrong, she has her own reasons for wanting to save her daughter from Gilead’s clutches, but we do believe this fear of not having her if and when she leaves Gilead is just as real. How can she face Luke having abandoned their daughter to the horrors they both know exist in Gilead?
In this instance, Moira had to be her strength, yet again cleaning up after June’s messes. Only in this case, it was June who was the mess. And Moira really did step up, sacrificing her own relationship with Oona, and perhaps her humanitarian job, in the process.
Oona was ready to abandon June for fear of another air raid, and so the humanitarian effort was cut short and they fled. We can imagine Gilead was hoping for exactly this when they scheduled their raid for seconds before the 24-hour ceasefire.
What the Commanders didn’t know was that Nick and Commander Lawrence had kind of orchestrated this ceasefire for both political reasons and to give June a better chance of escaping. Little do they know (at this point) how successfully that ruse worked.
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Moira convinced June to get on the boat because everyone she loves is already in Canada, including her other daughter, Nichole. Of course, that’s another reason to have fear of confronting Luke, or being confronted by him.
Luke has been raising this child she got smuggled out of Gilead, but Nick is the father. Could this be yet another reason for him to leave her, having a child outside of their marriage with another man? Now granted, she had no real choice in the matter, but will that matter to him?
These were the kinds of fears her irrational and rational mind were conjuring up as they made the slow journey to Canada. So intense was Moss’ performance, that at every turn, we half found ourselves wondering if she really would wind up back in Gilead.
She was ready to turn herself into Gilead at the border inspection of the ship Moira had smuggled her on. In fact, it was only Moira begging Oona that got the latter to dress June up like one of them, complete with a fake ID.
It was absolutely heartbreaking seeing Oona walk away from Moira, unable to forgive the selfishness of risking everyone and everything they’re working so hard to do to bring June out, even if she has become a bit of a folk hero outside of Gilead for her Angel’s Flight smuggling all those children out.
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But the real heartbreak came when Luke came onto the boat and saw her for the first time in all these years. Both of their faces were absolutely unreadable, and perhaps intentionally so. June cracked first, crying and apologizing. “I’m sorry it’s just me,” she lamented.
At this, seeing her break, Luke embraced her and repeated “no” and suggested everything was okay. But is it? What was with that very intent look he was giving her for so long before she broke the silence? Is it unforgivable in his mind that she escaped without their daughter?
There was a line early in the episode that everyone has that unforgivable line. Once you cross it, it’s over between you and that person. Is this that line and did June cross it by crossing outside of Gilead without Hannah?
At this point, the sky is the limit as to where the show could go from here. June has been working from inside Gilead all this time, either as a prisoner or a terrorist/revolutionary. Now, suddenly, she’s on the outside. Can she have more power there?
Certainly she’ll have a lot of influence as everyone is going to want to meet her and pick her brain about Gilead. She’s also a bit of a celebrity at this point. Will that help her get Hannah out? And what happens with Hannah once Gilead discovers she’s out? How will they try to leverage daughter against mother to protect their nation and its secrets? Can they?
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And what happens when June inevitably reconnects with the Waterfords, now being held in Canada. We know Serena is pregnant, so maybe she will be willing to let Nichole go. That’s pretty callous, we know, but she’s a pretty terrible person.
There was a beautiful poignancy in the closing moments of the episode when June paused at the end of the boat ramp. One more step and she would be officially in Canada. It was both a small step and a monumental one, for her and the show.
Appropriately, with one giant breath, she took the step and the episode ended. From here, everything changes. And we still don’t know where Janine is. We have a hard time imagining she just dies or disappears. We hope she escapes, but she could be more leverage used against June if she’s captured, as June has felt responsible for her for so many years and surely now feels she abandoned her.
It’s exciting to think the show is unpredictable in a whole new way now. New relationships, new dangers, new plots, new possibilities.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” kicks off a dramatic new chapter next Wednesday on Hulu.