Handmaid's Tale Recap: June Confronts Serena in Canada — Heads Down Dangerous Path
Suffering from trauma, abuse and PTSD, June finds it challenging to settle into a normal rhythm with her husband and daughter — reconnects with fellow Gilead survivors in Emily, Rita and Moira.
The creeping silences that linger on “The Handmaid’s Tale” took on an extra tone of ominousness this week as all of our action took place in the seemingly idyllic land of Canada.
That darkness came with June. We can’t say enough about how effectively the writers and performers use silence to tell this story. What can’t be said in words can often be said in between the lines. And when you have a cast this talented, they can do a lot with body language and facial expression.
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At the same time, Elisabeth Moss in particular knows how to create enigmatic moments that leave you uncertain as to exactly what’s going on inside her head. One scene in particular, toward the end of this episode, left us very worried about her current mental state.
Obviously, she’s endured incredible pain and suffering during her seven years in Gilead. Arguably, she suffered more than any of her friends from that world, including her pre-Gilead BFF Moira, Emily and even the Waterford’s Martha, Rita.
Now that she’s freed from the constant stress of just living south of the Canadian border, all of that trauma and anxiety and hurt has nowhere to go and it’s clearly consuming her, no matter how much she tries to put on a brave face.
We saw it when she had several flashback episodes in the grocery store. Something as simple as peering between the grocery store shelves flashes back to Handmaids doing the shopping and how they’d connect while there in just such a manner.
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These scenes were also effective at reminding us of just how much horror we’ve endured as viewers of this show. It’s easy to forget after this many years just how brutal June’s life has been, and the lives of so many women on the other side.
And then there was her late-night visit to go visit Serena Joy. While it’s interesting that Mark went along with this, even driving her over there, we suspect it has to do with him wanting to keep her happy as a key witness to the atrocities of Gilead.
That scene with Serena, though, was incredibly difficult to watch. June absolutely unloaded on her former captor and tormenter — and occasional ally — in a way vicious and cruel. We’re not saying it wasn’t deserved, but it was clearly some sort of catharsis that June needed.
The only problem is that it then created something in her to where she went home and pretty much sexually assaulted her husband. While she shied away from intimacy with him earlier in the episode, after sneaking out to scream at Serena, she came back and initiated sex.
But when he tried to lift his hand to touch her, June pushed it back down. When he started to repeat “wait” as if in an effort to get her to slow down or stop because there was something off about all of this, she put a hand over his mouth and finished.
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Yes, he probably could have thrown her off and stopped it if he really wanted, but he was probably very confused and uncertain as to what exactly was happening. Plus, he knows she’s in a very fragile state.
It could also be argued that she was trying to regain some control over her sexuality after having her entire femininity stripped away from and being relegated to something not much more than cattle for all those years.
But the biggest takeaway is that she didn’t want Luke’s involvement (other than the obvious) and she wasn’t interested in listening to his objections. That’s problematic at best, and a key moment (again in the silences) while they were playing with Nichole the next day showed a look on his face that proves he sees the problem, too.
On top of that, June made a very pointed and impassioned speech to Mark about how narcissistic and manipulative and abusive and dangerous Serena Joy is. We then recall how June has been bullying everyone around her for years, to the detriment of all her Handmaid friends (and the deaths of several of them). We still don’t know if Janine is alive.
It seemed framed in such a way that we’re supposed to be thinking about the dangerous, broken woman that June has become through her time in Gilead while she’s talking about Serena. In many ways, it felt like she was describing them both, as if they’ve become the same woman in many key ways.
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Certainly we saw that when June aggressively pushed Rita during their impromptu group therapy session with Emily and Moira to tell her everything she knew about Serena.
Now, she is fresh out of Gilead and still very raw, and we’ve seen how both Moira and Emily suffered in their own attempted transitions back into normal life. We understand that June is also experiencing that difficult transition, but that doesn’t make her behavior any less concerning.
The strength of will that made her a great rebel may not serve her so well in an environment where she has no enemies. That may be why she sought out Serena, to give herself an enemy to face. And why she felt that euphoric need for sex afterward.
Even her explanation to Mark as to why she saved all those kids on Angel’s Flight was because she wanted to make them suffer, referring to Gilead in the collective and Serena in the singular. So much of her is driven by rage and revenge.
A lot of this is understandable because of what she’s endured and the fact that her daughter Hannah is still there, fueling her guilt and regret over her decision to leave, but it’s setting her up for more hardships to come.
She can only yell at Serena so many times — and in this case, it only drove Serena back into Fred’s arms where they can stop fighting each other (and turning on each other, which was helping the U.S. efforts) and unite against their common enemy, June.
Eventually, she’s going to have to figure out how to live in a normal Western civilized society again, to pick up the pieces of her life. There is a way to work toward saving Hannah, perhaps even dismantling Gilead altogether, but with their military might and now making powerful new enemies (even behind bars), June is once again leading with her passion instead of her mind.
She’s heading down a dark and dangerous path. In Gilead, that path led her to being all alone with one person who barely trusted her and half the time couldn’t stand her in Janine. Where will it leave her now if she can’t find a new way?
“The Handmaid’s Tale” continues with new episodes every Wednesday on Hulu.
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