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‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Turns Life Upside down (Yet Again) for Three Gilead Women

The Handmaid’s Tale Season 3, Episode 12: “Sacrifice”

After last week’s explosive episode, it’s understandable that things would slow down a bit as the pieces move into place for next week’s season finale. And while “Sacrifice” isn’t quite as action-packed (or as bloody) as its predecessor, it’s far from uneventful. In fact, for three of Gilead’s women—two wives and a handmaid—life will never be the same.

Let’s start with one of the most tragic characters we’ve seen all season (which, for Handmaid, is saying a lot). Yes, Eleanor Lawrence was the wife of one of Gilead’s most ruthless commanders (although he’s been forced to rethink a lot of his positions as of late). So you could argue that she was just as culpable as Serena Joy Waterford or any of the other wives who aided and abetted the cruel actions of their husbands and helped maintain this awful society.

But that just doesn’t seem to be the case. We don’t know a lot about her before Emily, and then June, entered her home, but we do know that she truly believed there was good in her husband, but she was also quick to condemn his actions. She treated her handmaids with respect and kindness. She obviously struggled with her mental health, but even that could most likely be attributed to her exposure to, and involvement in, Gilead society. So while it would be difficult to hold her completely blameless, she definitely doesn’t belong in the same category as Serena. Not even close.

In fact, it’s her conscience that ultimately drives her to take her own life. Unlike the Waterfords or George Winslow, Eleanor wasn’t capable of hurting people and feeling nothing (or at least ignoring the guilty feelings and doing it anyway). She had done far less than most in her position, but she felt so much worse about it, to the point that she desperately wanted to help June save as many children as possible from this awful place. But she just wasn’t capable of helping at this point, and that may have been the final straw for her. As commander’s wives go, she was far better than most, and it’s sad that she was unable to hold out a little while longer—she may have been able to get the help she needed had she been able to make it to Canada.

Speaking of Canada, I guess we have to talk about the Waterfords (ugh). I won’t waste a lot of time on Fred—it looks like he’s going down hard, and it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. What’s amazing is that, even when Luke confronts him about the horrible things he’s repeatedly done to June, Fred still tries to condescendingly justify his actions and make himself out to be the hero. I think we all wanted the guard to turn his back for about five minutes, but at least Luke gets one good punch in.

And then there’s Serena. I’ll give her credit for throwing her husband under the bus—I don’t know how she’s put up with him this long. But it’s still frustrating to realize that she’s most likely going to be sent to Hawaii to live a life of relative luxury after what she’s done. She’ll probably go back to writing and speaking, and she’ll have a very lucrative career as a Gilead “survivor.” And that just doesn’t seem fair. Unlike Eleanor, Serena actively participated in, and perpetuated, the atrocities of Gilead, and I hope there are serious consequences down the line. 

The one good thing about her story is that, no matter what happens, she doesn’t get to keep Baby Nichole. And since that’s apparently all she’s ever wanted, maybe that’s punishment enough.

Then, of course, there’s June. She’s been on such a rollercoaster ride this season, and so when the episode starts with “You’ve got the plane—everything’s gonna work out,” you just know it’s not gonna end well. And while the mission to get the kids out is still on, the price she’s having to pay is getting awfully steep.

No, I wouldn’t put June in the same category as Walter White for the way she handled Eleanor (although that’s the first thing that popped into my head). Walt let Jane die for purely selfish reasons, and you could argue that June’s decision is actually an act of mercy.

But the truth is that, at this point, it’s hard to know exactly what’s motivating June at this point. Although it’s not an earth-shattering observation, Waterford hit the nail on the head—Gilead’s changed June. Plus, coming off her killing (in self-defense) of Commander Winslow, she’s probably still a little numb. And regardless of how much she liked Eleanor, the truth is that Eleanor’s death means that June’s rescue mission just got a little bit safer.

So why does June let her die? Short answer—it’s complicated. But Eleanor’s probably not the last death June will have to deal with before she can get out of this horrible place.

Random thoughts:

  • Predictions for the season finale: June gets the kids on the plane and they make it out alive, but Lawrence does not. June is arrested and sent to the colonies (but somehow either escapes or is reassigned early next season).
  • Why are the Waterfords being held in what looks like a luxury hotel? Apparently being a war criminal has its advantages.
  • I like the fact that Rita and June are able to connect, even briefly, over the Waterford’s arrest. They share common experiences in that house, so they deserve a moment to celebrate together.

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