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‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Sends June to a Very Dark Place, Then Brings Her Back

The Handmaid’s Tale Season 3, Episode 9: “Heroic”

With all of the injustice in the world today, it’s easy to get discouraged. And, if we’re not careful, that discouragement can turn into anger and bitterness, and we find ourselves acting in ways we never thought we would in the name of “setting things right.” Before we know it, we look in the mirror and realize we’ve become the very thing we were fighting against.

After June and the other handmaids pushed Natalie (OfMatthew) to her breaking point last week (justified or not), we knew there would be repercussions. And so we spend most of our time this week in the birthing center with June as she’s being forced to stay in the birthing center around the clock with Natalie and her unborn child. “Heroic” is almost a bottle episode of sorts in that nearly all the action takes place in the same room (although we do see various cast members interacting with June throughout). It’s not a bad hour of television by any means, but it’s understandably quiet after last week’s action-packed ending.

If June thought things couldn’t get any worse after losing Hannah, she severely underestimated Aunt Lydia’s penchant for torture (but always in love, of course). Not only does June have to spend every waking hour on her knees praying (or at least pretending to pray) for the woman who sent her daughter away, but she has to do so with no mental stimulation or entertainment of any kind (except when the other handmaids are forced to come and pray with her). Over a month of that would be enough to drive anyone insane, and so homicidal thoughts aren’t surprising under these conditions. And so when Serena Joy makes an unexpected appearance, the opportunity to take her out with a stolen scalpel is just too good to pass up.

Fortunately, the doctor in charge of delivering Natalie’s baby helps her put things back into perspective and remember what’s really important. I’m sure the unnamed doctor is like a lot of men in Gilead—he probably doesn’t buy into the whole Gilead philosophy, but he doesn’t make waves, either, because he knows that he can at least do some good if he plays by the rules. Gilead won’t allow him to save both Natalie and the baby, and so he concentrates on the baby and keeps Natalie alive just long enough to complete the gestation process. In his mind, it’s better than being put on the wall, which would mean that he’d never be able to help anyone.

Right or wrong, June’s not the type that would make that kind of compromise even if she were able to. But the doctor’s point is well taken: if you want to make the world—even a horrible world like Gilead—a better place, you have to choose your battles. If you don’t live to fight another day, you can’t win the war. So an all-out, in-your-face, one-woman rebellion isn’t going to help anyone—it’ll just get June killed.

But it also helped her realize that, by lashing out and literally trying to kill people, she’s no better than those she’s fighting against. Especially when the targets of her wrath—Natalie, Serena—are Gilead victims as well. And while playing nice like Janine, or buying into things like Natalie, won’t get the job done, taking a swipe at everyone who crosses you won’t help, either. The cumulative effects of years of abuse coupled with recent events have loosened her grip on reality, but now she needs to take a step back and refocus.

Because now she understands what she needs to do. Her daughter may be out of her reach, but there are so many other kids in Gilead who are someone else’s sons and daughters, and they need to be rescued. They don’t deserve to grow up in this hellhole to become breeders and cruel guards and heartless commanders, and June can help them escape this place and have a better life. Maybe it’s too late for Hannah, but it’s not too late for them. 

Random thoughts:

  • Poor Janine. She tries to help Natalie, Natalie beats the crap out of her, and yet she blames herself for the fact that Natalie’s dying. So when she tells you you’re being an asshole, you know you’ve gone too far.
  • At least Janine finally gets an eyepatch—naturally it’s red because, if you’re a handmaid, every piece of fabric on your body has to scream to the world, “I’m a loose woman.”
  • I like the fact that June apologizes to Natalie (even though she’s not awake to hear it). June knows she went way too far, especially with another handmaid who’s carrying her fourth child.
  • So where does June go from here? I can’t imagine Lawrence wanting her back, but maybe Ms. Lawrence will intervene on her behalf. But if she goes back to the Waterfords for some strange reason, I’ll probably throw something at my TV (something soft, of course—I can’t afford to replace it).
  • If you’re looking for more Elizabeth Moss in your life, you might try the gritty crime drama Top of the Lake. Both seasons are streaming now on Hulu.

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