‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Is Back to Remind Us Where We Could Be Headed if Things Don’t Change

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The Handmaid's Tale Season 3, Episode 1:

The Handmaid’s Tale Season 3, Episode 1: “Night”

When The Handmaid’s Tale debuted in April 2017, it resonated with so many of us who were still in shock over the inexplicable choice our country had made just a few months earlier. The new administration was already steering us in a direction that clearly seemed immoral, yet so many who claimed to follow the teachings of Christ were on board with it. So while a story of totalitarian oppression and tyranny masquerading as religion seemed a little over-the-top, there was definitely a sense of, “Yeah–this could really happen.”

Now, as the show’s third season gets underway, it not only seems possible, but it feels like we’re almost there. Granted, that may seem a bit hyperbolic, and it probably is—but by how much? Women are the most oppressed people in fictional Gilead, but the rights of women are also being taken away in the real world by clueless men who don’t even understand how the female reproductive system works. We have a president who consistently lies and who has repeatedly resisted attempts at congressional oversight, and his willing accomplices in the Senate are working very hard to stack our courts with conservative ideologues who can rubber-stamp his unconstitutional policies and actions. It’s no secret that the president admires a good dictator, and one can only assume that he’d much rather be free to run the country as he pleases without having to worry about pesky nuisances like the Constitution and the rule of law getting in his way.

It’s against that backdrop that we pick up the story of June after last season’s finale that saw her get Baby Nichole out of Gilead but choose to stay herself. It was a truly selfless act (no matter what Nick says) because she chose Hannah’s freedom over her own, which just shows how great a mother she really is. Sadly, it turns out to be a tragic choice since she’s caught and returned to the Waterfords before she can rescue Hannah. And no matter how much Mrs. MacKenzie tries to assure June that Hannah has a great life with them, June knows the truth—in Gilead, no woman can be truly happy. The patriarchy won’t allow it. But all June can do is let go for now and hope that Hannah can make the best of it. She’s at least living with two loving parents, but love only goes so far in Gilead.

Despite her numerous setbacks (including her badly beaten feet), “Night” is a triumphant episode for June in a lot of ways. No, she isn’t able to get to Canada, and neither is Hannah. And Nick’s probably right—unless something drastic happens, she’ll most likely die in Gilead. But, in a sense, she’s finally bested the Waterfords. Getting Nichole out of that house finally broke them, and even though she doesn’t get to stay long enough to really enjoy it, June is the most powerful person in that house for a few brief moments. 

Speaking of that house, how cathartic must it have been for June to watch it burn? June points out the irony for us—the Bible is full of references to God’s judgment taking the form of fire, and so it’s fitting that the house where so many terrible things have taken place should go up in flames. And it’s even more appropriate that the blaze starts in the bed where a woman was repeatedly raped and that it’s started by another woman who lost a finger just because she dared to read something. Call it God, call it karma, call it whatever you want to—they had it coming.

But June’s final moment of triumph comes when she learns that Emily and Baby Nichole have made it to Canada safely. At least one of her girls has a chance at a life of freedom, and with her new posting at the house of Commander Lawrence, who knows? Maybe she’ll get one more shot.

Random thoughts:

  • Welcome to our weekly coverage of The Handmaid’s Tale! I know the first three episodes have dropped on Hulu, so we’ll try to get caught up with those over the weekend, and then you can find new articles here on Thursdays (or thereabouts) throughout the season.
  • Housekeeping note: we will always refer to someone by their given/chosen name rather than their Gilead name if possible. For example, we will never refer to June as “Offred” (or “Ofjoseph,” which I guess is what she’ll be called now that she’s living with Commander Lawrence). She deserves at least that much. The only exception would be for Baby Nichole since that’s what June wants her to be called.
  • I only briefly mentioned Emily’s journey across the border, but that river crossing may have been the most intense couple of minutes I’ve seen in a long time. Are they coming out of the water? Is Nichole dead? Oh, shit—are those the Guardians? No—it’s the good guys! She’s breathing! They made it! I’m tearing up again just thinking about it.
  • So I guess this is goodbye for June and Nick? If so, that’s pretty sad. Yeah, I know Luke’s still out there, and I know she still loves him. But Nick was there for her when she desperately needed someone–anyone–to care about her. I don’t blame her for what she did, and hopefully Luke won’t, either.
  • Did Aunt Lydia make it after last season’s stabbing? I hope so. Not because she’s a sympathetic character (she’s not), but because she’s such a mystery, and I really want to know more about her backstory. Unlike most of the Gileadites, her cruelty seemed to be motivated by genuine (though misguided) belief and, in a weird way, actual love for the handmaids. I want to know what made her that way.
  • Even the bottle of antiseptic Serena uses to clean her wound (and then set fire to the bed) has pictures on it instead of written instructions. It’s amazing the lengths they go to to make sure women can’t read anything.
  • “You’re safe now, and we’re very glad you’re here.” Just imagine how good hearing those words must have felt after the hell Emily’s been through. She deserves this.
  • If you’re looking for another show that highlights the scary stuff being done by our current administration but in a more direct way, I recommend The Good Fight on CBS All Access. The first three seasons are available now, and it’s worth watching.

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