Previously on The Handmaid’s Tale: Serena wanted Fred to make a deal with the Americans using the secret phone she got in episode 5; June recruited allies for her Great Plan; and the Lawrences found themselves under the uncomfortably watchful eyes of High Commander Winslow. Here’s my recap for episode 10 if you missed it!
This week: Plot. Fib. Squish. Uh-oh. Cillit Bang. Road trip. All together now: “They had it coming! They had it coming all along…” This was probably the best episode of season 3 so far, so without further ado, fire up your washing machine (might need some Vanish), and let’s dive into all those episode 11 moments that made us cheer. Spoilers are ahead!
Apologies in advance for getting “Cell Block Tango” stuck in your head this week, but really, they had it coming. First up is Joseph. Last week, the witnessed Ceremony changed much of the power dynamic in the house, with Joseph brought low from shame, and June given some leverage. “You owe me.” Eleanor just seemed broken, but this was underestimating her again. The ‘crazy person speaks the truth’ trope might be a bit too familiar, but in The Handmaid’s Tale, where telling truth is rare on a good day (let alone this week, when the episode title is ‘Liars’) the truth is liberating. This week, she isn’t crying behind a curtain; she’s threatening to shoot her husband in the head.
“You were raped because of him. You were brutalized because of him.”
June talks her out of it, perhaps not in a way that offers much comfort to Joseph (but hey, he had it coming): “I would like to kill him too. But we can’t always just do what we want.” She saves him because she needs his help, not because he deserves anything different. It works; as they hug, it’s clear that June is now the centre of this household. She’s the one with the (barely sketched outline of a) Great Plan, the one who can finally manipulate Joseph and the one who can keep Eleanor calm. She’s taking a very relaxed attitude to her handmaid uniform — for who is there to tell her what to do?
In honour of the title, keep your eyes peeled for Lying Liars Who Lie. June’s just done a whopper — we’re rescuing 52 kids to make you look good, Joseph! — to try and get a few more trucks for the Great Plan. Speaking of which, the Martha Network, Provider of Abundant Yes-Muffins, isn’t too happy with June thinking she can just waltz into their business and mastermind the most dangerous plot ever. To be fair, her and Joseph’s qualifications for ‘getting people out’ were just the two of them piggybacking on a Martha Network operation. Beth vouches for her, and reminds them of the Chicago 5 incident, when June saved some women from certain death in the Colonies, to serve as Marthas and bring super-duper rebel skills to the team. Still, the Martha Bosses offer a stark reminder: they could kill her and get rid of her body, and no-one would ever know what happened. Whatever you do, don’t mess with existing Martha Network plans. Got that, June? She nods. If she gets in trouble, they won’t come to save her. She would be on her own. Unless, by some huge and incredible coincidence, there happened to be some Marthas nearby who owed her their lives and would just help her out without any prompting. But what are the odds of that, eh? Don’t be ridiculous!
Sure, sure, no problem. June will absolutely, definitely not interfere with the Marthas’ plans. I mean, she might ask a few questions, but nothing too probing. Minutes later, when the doody hits the fan and the Lawrences disappear to make their own escape, thus ruining the Great Truck Plan, she immediately decides to piggyback on the Marthas’ plans, and try to get those kids on the plane. (Escaping by plane didn’t work out too well last time, June…) It’s a desperate move and a desperate time for June, Beth and Sienna; they don’t have long before someone notices that the Lawrences have gone, and… NO WAIT, it’s OK, panic over. They’re back. Worst escape attempt ever.
Joseph claims he came back because he had an “attack of conscience”. LIAR! He doesn’t have the authorisation codes to get past the checkpoints any more. So the Great Truck Plan aka Operation Kiddy Convoy is still dead. He has given up. “I will do what I can to keep you from the worst of it,” he says, but June is the one sitting at the desk now, and she’s already come up with Great Plan B. She’s not letting it go without a fight. A “kind Commander” isn’t good enough. Why should it be? Aim high, June!
So the plane is the best option now, though she hasn’t asked the Martha Bosses for permission (sigh). Instead, she’s going to try Billy the Bartender and Black Market Big Boy. And so, we’re paying another visit to Jezebels. We’ve not been there for a while, but when we did, we saw three important things: Commanders feeling free to be as awful as they want, plus a lot of rape and even a murder. BODES WELL.
Billy the Bartender is easy to find — at the, uh, bar — and June strikes a quick deal, offering Joseph’s art collection in exchange for the plane loitering for about 20 minutes after delivering the mysterious shipment, in order to load up 52 kids, the Lawrences, and also now Beth apparently. (Fairly sure that’s a fib, and the LIAR klaxon can go off here, because I don’t think Beth’s escape has been mentioned before, but she dangles it to sweeten the deal for Billy. Look, I’m saving your friend!)
All sorted, it’s time for June to duck out of Jezebels and head home. But then it all goes wrong. HEY, OFJOSEPH! George Winslow, High Commander and Terrifying Lech, just happens to be at Jezebels and manages to recognise her. (That’s mostly Fred’s fault, right? He kept pointing her out, and making her the centerpiece for all those promo pics and videos.) It’s a good job June limbered up her lying skills with Billy, because she needs a great honking cover story now. She does well! It’s pretty plausible. It manages to save her from being arrested, but it doesn’t save her from everything.
And so, for the second week in a row, June prepares herself for rape, in order to survive.
“I’ve done this before. I can do it again. Just like all the other times. You treat it like a job. You steel yourself. You pretend not to be present. One detaches oneself. One describes. Not me. Not my flesh. I’m not here.”
Then, suddenly: not today, Satan. He had it coming. He had it coming all along.
When was the last time anyone told him no? When was the last time anyone refused to do what he wanted? How many women has he done this to? How many children has he stolen? He ran into my pen. He ran into my pen 22(ish) times… Squish. Come on, he even tried to get her to show mercy by mentioning his children, which backfires. As a father of daughters… HIT HIM HARDER, JUNE!
And then there is a dead Gileadean VIP on the floor. June is covered in blood. Uh-oh.
But who’s that knocking at the door? Housekeeping! No screaming or panicking here. Just the air of a weary Martha who sees a corpse and sighs, thinking, ‘Great. Another Code Dead. Must be Tuesday.’ She takes a quick look at June and also immediately recognises her. (June must be famous! I mean, even without the uniform, important plot people spot her straightaway!) And you might wince at the massive coincidence here, but I loved the fact that the Martha who happened to come to that room was one of the Chicago 5. Solid motive to help, and the skills to get it done. The Martha Bosses did tell us: they can make a body disappear if they want. So, almost without a beat, Chicago Martha #1 sends June off safely. Off you pop, dear. Just do the Murderer’s Walk of Shame down an unbearably long corridor. No-one pays any attention to women covered in blood and bruises. Just a normal day in Jezebels.
June gets away, then, and the Marthas get to work on the big cover up. Damn, they are good. Was this the whole Chicago 5 working on the room? I hope so. The big montage, set to Kate Bush’s “Cloudbusting”, shows the Marthas cleaning up the evidence, hiding George’s body in the laundry and then stuffing him in the incinerator. Back at the Lawrence house, and unaware of how thorough they are, June changes back into her uniform, covers as many of the injuries as she can, and prepares for the consequences. Joseph gives her his gun. “They’ll be coming for us,” he says. Have faith in the Marthas, Joseph! They are armed with OxiClean, Shake ‘n’ Vac and Cillit Bang and they aren’t afraid to use them. Bang, and the dirt is gone, baby.
And now, it’s time to talk about the best and worst road trip ever!
Serena and Freddy head off on a little bit of an adventure to meet American Agent Dude, provider of the Treason & Coconuts phone, because Serena wants Nichole and she’s fed up of waiting for Gilead to get it done. What’s in it for American Agent Dude? Cast your mind back to his first chat with Serena, where he promised her fertility treatment and a cosy retirement in Honolulu if she turned on Gilead and offered up something juicy to the Americans. Hold that thought. Now remember that going on the road trip just the two of them, i.e. without armed guards, was her idea. Think about how nice she is to Rita when she’s allegedly saying goodbye for one whole night. Think about how we know Serena will turn on anyone to get what she wants. Think about how there was a scene missing in our last visit to Canada — where she passed on the tape and received the phone from American Agent Dude. Think about the title. Conclusion: She’s a LYING LIAR WHO LIES.
They break the journey at a random country house, with — apparently — the Von Trapp family, whose impromptu Kumbaya concert is very nice and all, but they’d rather go for some chit chat in the woods. And what an interesting chat it is… Away from the city, it seems like they can be honest with each other. There’s a little bit of red flag nostalgia at first; Fred kept buying her pastries to fatten her up, because he didn’t want other men looking at her, and she rightly guesses that he would have resented being the less powerful one in their relationship. He throws her a bone (“You were a good writer”) but that just reminds her that he took that away from her.
“Sorry. I didn’t realise how much this would cost you.”
She jokes that if Gilead had never happened, he would have left her for a younger woman. (A bit on the nose, there. He’s had at least two ‘affairs’ with handmaids…) He jokes that she would have done the same: replaced him with a husband who could give her children. Is that because she would definitely choose a child over you, Fred?
It’s a semi-honest conversation but the score gives us another clue that this is uneasy, and something definitely isn’t being said. For the first time in a long time, they share a bed and have some Waterford sexy times. Is this her way of saying goodbye? Or is she just committed to the lie? The camera lingers on her face, daring us to figure it out.
We see a flicker of doubt from Fred when American Agent Dude instructs them to follow him to an unspecified second location. “Do you trust him?” SURE, FRED, IT’S TOTALLY FINE. DRIVE ON. NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT.
It’s a long old way though, and the drive is shot like a fancy car commercial, from above, so you can see how isolated the roads were. Finally alone in the middle of another forest, with the not-at-all ominous sound of crows cawing in the background, it’s time. HAHAHA you just drove to Canada, Freddy! And you’re under arrest!
War crimes! Human rights violations! Kidnapping! Slavery! Rape! He had it coming. He had it coming all along. Suddenly, Fred is blustering. He protests his innocence as he is led past men and women in American uniforms, giving him the stink eye.
And what of Serena? She knew what was happening the second she got out of that car. Part of her dreaded it, but she did it anyway. She’s escorted to another waiting car — more gently than Fred, and without the War Criminal Walk of Shame. But she’s not free either. So what has she got out of this arrangement, eh?
And just like that, the three most powerful people in the show have left the building. The Winslow/Waterford alliance is done. What sort of terror will arise to take their place? We’ll have to wait to find out…
Odds & Ends
Wait, does everyone else know how easy it is to drive across the border? I feel like someone should pass that on to June…
When I said I missed Team Canada, this wasn’t quite what I had in mind, but I’ll take it. Fans of Moira and Luke don’t have much longer to wait though — they are going to be around next week.
What’s in the mysterious shipment? More cleaning products? Weapons? MORE MUFFINS?
Nick has been away for a long time now. I wonder if he’s being nearly-pointless again…
I’ve been listening to “Cloudbusting” on repeat for days now. It’s not the first time we’ve had an iconic Kate Bush song in the show — remember the fake-out execution at the start of season 2?
We all make jokes when we’re uncomfortable right? But seriously, Joseph: stop. Best not to make snarky comments about how “many regrets” you have about your utopia not working out. They won’t like that kind of talk in Canada.
June’s line to Eleanor really stuck with me: “It’s your fault too. You could have done something. We all could have done something.” It’s a reminder that worlds like Gilead don’t just happen overnight.
Until next time: 2 more episodes to go! Is the Glorious Revolution coming? Well, the show has been renewed for Season 4, so it might be a way off yet. But let Kate Bush reassure us for now: I just know that something good is gonna happen…
Header Image Source: Hulu