Previously, on The Handmaid’s Tale: June and Luke found themselves in deep doo-doo when captured by Commander Wheeler’s private militia in No Man’s Land. Wheeler planned to have June quietly executed rather than risk any of the nearby authorities letting her off the hook, which, to be fair, they literally all did a few episodes ago. “Oh no, Fred died? What a shame.” [Gilead, America, and Canada whistle nonchalantly] Serena haggled herself a front-row seat for the execution, and then the gun, and shot Ezra the Goon rather than June, before escape-napping June at gunpoint whilst in labour. Meanwhile in Gilead-proper, Lawrence dispatched of Creepy Warren courtesy of information from Lydia and a bullet from Nick. It was a lot! Here’s my full recap for episode 6 if you missed it!
This week: Our two reluctant allies have a few crises to navigate, such as the fact that they hate each other quite a lot. But needs must when the devil drives, eh? And if you have been waiting for Serena to commit to Not Being Awful, you will enjoy this one. Spoilers are ahead for episode 7, so buckle up, check your car breakdown cover, and for the love of god, wash your damn hands if you are doing double duty on car repairs and amateur midwifery. No one wants verge mud and broken glass in their hoo-hah.
We’ve been so close to Team Jurena in the past, only to get burned when Serena could not be trusted to commit, so we might be a bit too jaded going into the enemies-to-buddies narrative of ‘No Man’s Land’. Remember when Fred was in the hospital and Team Jurena started running things? Then he got home and beat Serena up, and the walls went back up again. How about when Serena helped June smuggle Nicole out of Gilead, or at least didn’t stop her from doing it? Then she got sad about it and tried to steal Nicole back. We’ve been stung before, that’s what I’m saying. I’m not going to be a sucker again. No ma’am. I’ll believe this epiphany when it’s tested by literally anything at all and holds. June’s in the same position, and when Serena accidentally fires the gun mid-contraction, fortunately just into the windscreen rather the back of June’s head, June’s out. She’s done.
Of course, that’s like a minute in to the episode, so that’s not the end of it.
Serena’s in too much pain to drive safely, and runs the car off the road while trying to chase after June, who can’t just leave her there crying in pain, because we don’t leave a sister behind when there’s a wee person trying to shimmy out of her nether regions. (That’s totally how birth works, right? No, don’t tell me.) And thus begins June’s role as the potty-mouthed midwife of the day. Serena refuses to go to a hospital because of the Baby-Stealing Wheelers, and the car’s wedged in tight, so there’s nothing for it but to head to an abandoned barn and pray for a manger.
The two-person A plot is intercut with flashback sequences from early in June’s posting to the Waterfords. Serena and June attend a Birth Day ceremony and silently bond over finding the behaviour of the Wife ridiculous. It’s also lovely to see our Handmaid Friends of Yore again, before their untimely death by train. In the flashbacks, Janine is pregnant, so this looks like it occurs very close to the events of season 1, when Serena’s attitude towards June has already hardened, and there’s no more stifled amusement, only glares. These scenes are reminders of June’s rudimentary birthing assistance training (mostly just chanting BREATHE and PUSH in a creepy but emphatic and rhythmic way) and the risks involved in labour, because things take a turn for the horrible when there are complications and the nameless Handmaid is ‘sacrificed’ for the cause. The Wife doesn’t pretend that this part is happening to her. Funny that. The shots of Serena and June show a silent sympathy and shared grief, and hint at a bond that never fully came to be. Until, perhaps, now, in a chilly barn, in the middle of nowhere, where there’s no one else to help and no one left to perform for.
In the barn, Serena’s pain is met with weary contempt at first. Maybe there’s some pleasure to be found in gloating; every reference to June’s experiences in labour is a minefield, every anecdote a burn. And there’s Serena, crying, in agony. She’s not easy to help, that one. And June’s not the most patient person ever.
“You want to do this on your own? Do it the fuck alone.”
When June storms out, who could blame her? But after she frees the car from the muddy verge, she has a choice, and she chooses compassion. She’s grumpy as hell about it, because she’s not a saint. But she stays. And damnit, it’s bloody moving. We want Serena to be a better person! And isn’t it nice to see Hero June again, rather than just Murdery June? Smiling, hugging June? Oh man, I am totally a sucker. My cynicism lasted but a few paragraphs. If/when Serena goes all horrible again, there will be egg on my face and no mistake.
“Was it worth it?” June asks Serena, as she holds Newborn Noah. Indeed. It’s a big question, and a loaded one. It’s not just about the birth. It’s about all of it: all the pain, all the terrible things she did in the pursuit of pregnancy, all the horrors, all the suffering, the whole existence of Gilead. Was it worth it? Serena’s perilously close to saying ‘as the mother of a son…’ but she doesn’t quite get there. All of this was about being a mother, and she’s finally done it. What will she do with that freshly discovered love? Use it to justify her work, or to see the error of her ways? Just two episodes ago, it would have been the former. But since then, Serena has had a taste of Handmaid Life, and although it shouldn’t have taken a personal hit for her to realise how gross it was, we take our wins where we can.
“They’ve been controlling me, my every move. They’re everywhere. It’s like I’m their Handmaid. It’s like I’m you.”
“Why didn’t you kill me?” Serena asks June. Another loaded question. Why Fred and not Serena? “I didn’t want to,” June says, with a teary smile. She’s hoped for this too, then, for Serena to be better. I don’t know if she would go so far as to say she likes her, but there were moments when they suffered together, and maybe that’s enough. I am lapping this up. EMBRACE BEING A SUCKER!
“Do you think he’ll be like him?” It depends who raises him, says June. Will it be Gilead Serena, or Serena 2.0, the one who has some awareness? Whoever it is, what Noah is taught is “his to take” will shape who he becomes. He is a blank slate, and Serena can choose his story now. The fact that she didn’t call him Barney is a bit of a missed opportunity, but there we are.
Serena and Noah need to get to a hospital, and because Serena is so terrified of the Wheelers coming for them, she makes her first choice: to give Noah to June and die alone in the barn. Thus, the epiphany is complete. Serena has discovered her selfless maternal love. We saw a glimpse of it with Nicole, but it was fleeting. She commits this time.
“I don’t have a future, but you have a future. Maybe you could take him with you. I know that I want what’s best for him, like you did with Nicole, with your daughter. He would be safe with you. You could care for him, you and your husband — he’s a good man. He could teach Noah to be a good man, the kind of man who would never do the things that his father did. The things that I did. June, I think God sent you to me today.”
HERE. FOR. IT. SUCKERY FOREVER! And June’s won over too! It’s a combination of things that eventually did it for June. There’s confirmation of Serena’s new selflessness, and the way that Serena describes her as an angel — not one of the sweet benevolent ones with a tinsel halo at the school Nativity, but rather one that burns with righteous vengeance. It’s meant to be a compliment. It’s not. It’s not the role that June wants to be cast in.
“Is that what you think of me?”
If vengeance was what she wanted, she would have it now. She could walk out, having given Serena the full taste of her own medicine, leaving her to the wolves. This is what Dark Offred would have done. June no longer has the stomach for it. Not when Serena compares herself to a vessel, handing her child to June, making June the baby-stealing Wife and Serena the nameless Handmaid, slipping into the shadows. Oh hell no.
June: A vessel. That’s what you thought I was. What we were, who we were, where we came from, what we wanted, none of that mattered to you. To any of you.
Serena: I’m sorry.
June: I don’t care that you’re sorry. We mattered. We were… we are people. We have lives. And that’s why I’m going to save yours, Serena. Because this isn’t Gilead. And I am not you.
Serena: I don’t deserve to be saved.
June: It’s not for you. It’s for him. Look at him. Look at your baby. You are the only person in the whole world that he knows. You are the only familiar smell. You are the only voice he recognises. You love him. And you wanted him so much. You’re his mother. And he belongs with you. That is God’s Will.
My mascara was doing pretty well until June said “Do you understand me?” with that firm but gentle tone, a phrase that both women have screamed at each other in previous episodes. It was a threat that divided them; now it’s a promise to be shared.
They are bonded now. BFFs forever. June gets her across the border to Canada, and straight into a hospital. Only when Serena and Noah are being taken care of does she phone home to tell Moira she is back and she is safe. It’s all going great! Noah is in the NICU, Serena’s getting medicine, though she has a bit of a Medical Karen moment about it, but it’s early days, so let’s be patient. Pun intended.
Aaaaaand then Luke buggers it all up. Firstly, HUZZAH, Luke is safe and well! And to be fair, he knows nothing of the Great Barn Epiphany, and is still firmly in Avenging Angel mode, but BOOOOOO, LUKE! You called ICE on Serena? TOO FAR, MAN. She’d just become nice, and now Noah’s been taken away and she’s been cuffed to her hospital bed. Way to go, Luke. SLOW CLAP.
OK, it was quite funny to see Luke wondering why June gives a crap about Serena all of a sudden. And sure, he was wronged by her too, and wants to see some justice. But he’s going to be in trouble when they get home…
Next time: Lawrence reveals more about New Bethlehem, and Serena faces off against the Wheelers.