The Handmaid’s Tale Season 3 Episode 7
We were promised hope in The Handmaid’s Tale season 3, and early on, that’s what we seemed to be getting. Emily and Nichole crossed the border. Serena was crossing the aisle. And June crossed lanes to make allies in the Martha network. After two seasons of dread and despondency, a shift was detectable. The revolution was coming and it was thrilling.
And then … someone pressed rewind. They doubled back, called it off and The Grinch stole Christmas. All our gifts were taken away and fans were left wondering what we’d done to deserve it.
Seeing Serena melt in the presence of Fred on their DC date night (topped off by that bizarre dance sequence) muddied the careful portrait this show’s been painting of that clever, cruel woman over the past two years. She simpered, falling for Fred’s lie about bringing Nichole back as soon as he can when he clearly sees this endeavor as a route to promotion. Any hope that Serena would take June’s advice to “wear the dress, pull the strings” evaporated in that throwaway oversway and round of applause.
The Waterford romance was the least of it. This episode threatened to dismantle every previous victory. With one unassuming line, the safety of Nichole, Emily, Moira, Erin, Luke and all the Canadian refugees was jeopardised. “Once Nichole’s been returned, we’ll do our best to move the others along quickly,” Fred told High Commander Winslow.
Even acknowledging the economic value of children to Gilead (see how they’re guarded in schools like prison camps, with unassailable walls, armed guard towers and barbed wire), the Nichole hoopla seemed like a lot of fuss to make over one baby. Now we realise that’s because the fuss isn’t over just one baby, but every escapee so far. If Canada signs an extradition treaty with Gilead, anybody judged to have committed a crime there could be sent back to atone.
And that means everybody, because Gilead’s outrageous laws would make felons of us all. When Emily was asked if she’d taken any other actions Gilead would see as criminal while imprisoned there, she answered “Probably” not just to avoid confessing to the murder of a Wife, but because Emily’s whole identity as a gay woman and an academic is a crime over the border. Read a book? Criminal. Love another woman? Lock her up.
The promised “series of district-wide salvagings” now underway, Gilead once again made murderers of its Handmaids. June though, has more blood on her hands than most. What’s her tally now? How many bodies have dangled from the end of a noose because of her actions? There was the Econo-husband she begged to help her in season two. He ended up on the Wall. Now the Mackenzies’ Martha has met the same fate. If anything had happened to the clearly vulnerable Mrs Lawrence on that outing to Brookline, it would have been one more person trampled on to serve June’s needs.
In Gilead, a Martha will always be more expendable than a ‘ripe’ Handmaid, which explains why June wasn’t the one swinging in the breeze up on those gallows after the illicit conflab in Loaves and Fishes. Her punishment – well-designed – was the guilt of causing yet another death, but it is starting to feel as though June’s untouchable now. What will she get for throttling a pregnant Handmaid in public? Surely that move will have some consequences, as may Emily and Moira’s arrests.
What is the shape of this amorphous season? The tide came in early, rich with possibilities, then went out just as fast. Are we watching Gilead fall or fortify? June rise or be thwarted? If only season three’s narrative arc was as confidently plotted and composed as its stunning overhead shots, we’d all feel on surer ground.