Just when you thought we were done with characters making decisions that make little sense after Game of Thrones’ bizarre final season, The Handmaid’s Tale comes steaming in with a gripping but frustrating new episode.
Serena is extremely done with Gilead. There is seemingly no professional future for there, she’s been out of love with Fred ever since the pinky-ectomy, and the adopted daughter she loves is in Canada. So then why, when she lands a solo visit north of the border (and gets to ditch her teal uniform for a high-end cowl neck polo sweater and tan coat!) does she not just claim asylum? My home is my home, she explained to the hunky secret service agent who’s still trying to turn her this week, but the reasoning felt contrived.
I couldn’t get a handle on June either in ‘Unknown Caller’, who seemed vehemently opposed to a call with her husband, even though it presented a lot of opportunities to send and receive intel. It was crushing to see June explain via tape to Luke that Nichole was in fact “born out of love” however, and further evidence that this show isn’t destined for a happily-ever-after reunion. People change during horrific events like this spanning many years; part of them moves on and things will never go back to how they were before. June’s brutal truths were necessary for the both of them, and will allow her pining for her husband to abate so she can focus on effecting change in Gilead moving forward.
This episode was really all about Serena though, who seemed to be redeeming herself in recent episodes only to deceive June here in a selfish bid to get her adopted child back (whom she didn’t actually spend that much time with? Again, confusing motives). Will this betrayal mark the end of June trying to work with Gilead’s upper class, or is there still mileage in her strange alliance with Commander Lawrence? After this week’s events, things feel pitched more towards ‘burn it to the ground’ rather than ‘reform it through back-channel diplomacy’.
A congratulations to Colin Watkinson, who made his The Handmaid’s Tale directorial debut with ‘Unknown Caller’, after lighting and photographing the show in jaw-dropping fashion for two-and-a-half seasons. He capped off his first episode with yet another stunning bit of cinematography, the camera slowly tracking into a close-up of June during the Waterfords’ TV address as the lights artfully dimmed. Narrative logic once again distracted us though: with the whole world watching, was this not the time for June to wreck the joint and shout out Gilead’s ills?
Assorted interesting moments this episode:
The Dr Strangelove-esque circular Gilead conference table
The strangely austere Gilead aeroplane (surely a luxury private jet would be more on brand?)
Serena actually smiling, for what might be the first time in the show’s history