Summary: In flashbacks, June is confronted by Luke's wife Annie who is upset that Luke is in love with her. In the present, June is under confinement from Aunt Lydia. June is returned to the Waterford residence and Lydia stays with her to ensure she doesn't escape again. June acts aggressively and infuriates Serena. Lydia takes June for a walk and shows her Omar's dead body and reveals the family's fate. June complies to become Offred again and accepts life as a handmaid once more.
The Good: This episode was another great examination of June's character. This season is doing a superb job of making June into a well-rounded character by exploring her flaws as well as her strengths. This episode is all about conveying how selfish June is and how her selfishness has caused damage to other people's happiness. The flashback scene in this episode demonstrates this with Annie being hurt by June's selfish desires to be with Luke, not even thinking about how his wife must feel. This is brought over into the present as well as Omar's dead body is revealed. June's selfishness and carelessness in the previous episode has come back to bite her as she once more feels guilty for not thinking about others and instead fixating on herself. In the end it's this guilt that leads to her reprising her role as Offred the handmaid, unwilling to fight back as June because she deserves her fate. The storytelling in this plotline was excellent in pretty much every way and is one of the reasons that "The Handmaid's Tale" is one of my favourite TV shows right now even if it hasn't quite reached greatness.
Aunt Lydia was a highlight in this episode. Ann Dowd plays the character ridiculously well and does a great job of conveying Lydia's conflicting feelings about Offred. Lydia does love Offred like she does with all of the handmaids, but also wants to and has to punish her for her mistakes and everything she has done. These conflicting emotions create a killer performance, allowing Lydia to steal any scene she is in, even outperforming Elisabeth Moss at times which is very impressive. While Lydia had seemed a bit 2-dimensional in the first season, she has improved a lot in the past 4 episodes.
I really liked how this episode set apart June and Offred as two different characters. This allows us to understand the different pieces of June's life better, as we have who she really is (June) and who other people want her to be (Offred) and this episode toys the line separating both characters and has June shift from one side of the line to the other. As mentioned above, the execution of June's transformation was great, but what I want to commend here is the decision to bring attention to the fact that there are basically two different versions of June in the series. Simply addressing this fact allowed the episode to take a more thoughtful and memorable approach and I'm glad that the show went with that instead of something basic which you will often see from lesser shows.
Serena and June's rivalry continues to be fairly enjoyable. I'm glad that their storyline hasn't been dropped and that their falling out from last season has impacted their relationship will has soured a ton. I thought their conflict in this episode had good build-up and on very uncomfortable moment as Serena talked to her baby in the middle of the night without even acknowledging June. There wasn't anything particularly great here, but it was enjoyable enough.
The Bad: Serena is a bit of a double-edged sword at this point though. While she has compelling aspects about her, she also seems very inconsistent. In "A Woman's Place" back in season 1, we learned about how Serena sacrificed everything for her current life. Yet that has had no impact on Serena's story at all and instead her storyline consists of her being an annoying and angry character who is apparently being easily manipulated by Fred. That doesn't add up nicely and makes her character as much of a mystery to me as she is compelling which isn't good. Furthermore, this new addition of her surprisingly motherly instincts leans things more to the bad side as it is yet another aspect of her character we didn't know before which we have to just accept now. We aren't told why she is motherly, just that he is which is much less satisfying.
If Serena is a double-edged sword, then Fred is a blunt blade. His character intrigued me so much last season because I was interested to find out the deeper layers to his character and what drove him from a good person into the monster he is now. But instead we got nothing and I've had to realize that the show is happy to leave him as a 2-dimensional and boring villain. This is a huge waste which I feel wastes the potential of giving this show one of the all-time great villains. The best way to put it is that the show could have had a Ben Linus but has instead settled for a Negan. A great performance, but a one-note character who isn't as interesting as the show thinks he is.
I think this show is going a bit too heavily on the misery. In the first season it was important to establish the harsh reality of this world, but now I think there needs to be more change and that the show should start gravitating away from the horrors it loves to explore. In time these horrors will grow weary and I think the show should be smart enough to move away from them before that happens. Let's hope for something a little less bleak in the future, or at least something that's bleak for a different reason.
The Unknown: Will June escape/rebel again? She seems to be stuck as Offred for now, so what will make her go back to being June? Will anything make her go back to being June?
After seeing Annie in the past, I wonder if she will make an appearance in the present. Could she be in the colonies too? Perhaps the colonies will become more central to the story in the second half of the season since there has been little focus on them.
I want more insight on Serena and her motherly instincts. Why does she have them? Was it something in her childhood or something she gained whilst living in Gilead?
Best Moment: Omar's death reveal was the most powerful scene for sure. It was tough watching June fall to her knees and have so much guilt washing over her. A very "The Handmaid's Tale" scene in every right with how much misery was conveyed. Aunt Lydia's cold speech was the icing on the cake though, taking a disheartening and powerful scene and turning it into something special.
Character of the Episode: Lydia.
Conclusion: This was a very strong episode of storytelling, but it is hurt by familiar inconsistencies with the Waterfords who haven't been as compelling as they should be. I still enjoyed this, but I feel like there needs to be better characterization going on for the Waterfords in order for the show to be excellent again.
Just a university student who loves to watch TV. And criticize it like hell.