Spoilers ahead for the penultimate episode
Season 3 of The Handmaid’s Tale has, for June, been about learning how best to rebel and what level of collateral damage is acceptable. We’ve seen her lunge at Serena with a knife and most recently stab High Commander Winslow to death, but this week, through inaction, she allowed an ally to die in order to further her cause.
The death of Eleanor Lawrence brought to mind that of Jane Margolis in Breaking Bad. Walt stood by as Jane succumbed to an overdose, and here June did the same. Granted, June had better reasoning, knowing that Eleanor would almost certainly accidentally blow the whole plan to free the children, but it was still an ethical milestone for June.
I bought June’s decision, but less so the circumstances surrounding it. First, since when was Mrs Lawrence so senile that she’d just start blurting out secret plots? Second, would her death really embolden Joseph in his decision to help June, or cause him to resent her? Anyhow, Joseph does seem as though he is going to follow through and be instrumental in the mission to liberate the children. This should be an exciting climax to the season, in which he could easily die or – and this may be more interesting and subtle – make it to Canada and actually face up to the historic evil for which he is responsible.
Across the border, Fred learned that Serena had indeed sold him out (hurray!). I’m not sure how exactly Luke convinced the secret service to let him in a room with Fred, but the pair got their long-awaited confrontation, Commander Waterford throwing the only weapon he has left: the indelible harm he has caused to those in Gilead. Having Serena and Fred in Canada has really reinvigorated the show, and tees up season 4 for an interesting exploration of politics, international relations and war crimes – presumably set in courtrooms not quite as cinematic as those of Gilead.
Like Emily before her, Serena started to return to life not lived under authoritarian rule, this week’s nod to 2019 coming in the form of the American agent recommending her an article in a newspaper about media bias. Serena is still obsessed with Nichole, and it’s interesting to consider how legitimate this is. Serena isn’t the baby’s biological mother and only fostered her (technically by force) for a few months, so is she deserving of empathy? Moira certainly didn’t think so, giving Serena a dressing down as she briefly handed over Nichole. You kind of felt for Serena in this scene, the show reinforcing a point that’s not hugely popular in the world right now: once you get to know a person ideologically opposed to you who has done wrong, you find they are still ultimately just a human.
June has had a good run of luck lately, which is inauspicious as we head into the season finale next week. This whole elaborate ‘free ~50 children’ (and herself) plan just feels too big of a dream to be pulled off, especially with several more seasons of the show still lined up. But can suburban Massachusetts sustain another season? I could see the escape plane taking off but not making it as far as Canada for instance, leaving June in a new part of Gilead. Whatever happens, it’s poised to be a thriller next week, the season having really picked up after a fairly slow start.