The Handmaid’s Tale recently dropped Season 5 Episode 3, and it was quite the ride. While there were some parts that didn’t make sense (like the level of freedom Serena is enjoying), overall this was a stellar episode.
Yvonne Strahovski was perhaps this week’s MVP, as she shined portraying a character trying to hold her composure while seeking to navigate her way to escaping June. But my favorite scene went to her and Bradley Whitford as Commander Lawrence, for that one scene where he dashed her last hope for rising to power within Gilead.
This is a review for The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5 Episode 3, “Border,” so there will be spoilers.
June Connects with Women Who Are Still Actively Fighting Gilead
The episode begins with June understandably feeling traumatized after seeing her daughter Hanna holding Serena’s hand during Fred’s funeral, broadcast internationally for the entire world to see. Her anger at what Serena did to her is tough enough, much less adding in seeing her daughter being manipulated by that woman. On top of that, Hannah was wearing purple — a color that both June and Moira are wholly unfamiliar with. (We later learn it means that Hannah is about to be trained to be a wife, which is wholly horrifying unto itself.)
June is taken to a secret hideout near the border where a group of women are able to find ways to connect with people inside Gilead. It seems like a big risk, considering that June still has connections with Tuello and could simply wait and use him. But of course, if she did wait, we would have missed out on a lot of fascinating scenes and stories this week.
It turns out that the hideout is run by Mayday — the same group from within Gilead has branches in countries all across the world, all working together to fight for freedom. I like the way they called back to an earlier storyline, bringing everything full circle.
Serena Enjoys a Strange Amount of Freedom While Visiting Gilead
The nuances of Serena’s life right now are a bit confusing. In this episode, we’re led to believe that she basically has full freedom and can even decide to remain in Gilead if she wishes. Tuello seems to be there just to keep an eye on her and try to influence her to return to Canada.
The episode showcased Serena attempting to manipulate two different men in the same ways she had manipulated Fred once, but failing at both attempts. The world is very different than it was when Serena was helping Fred create Gilead.
Tuello appears to be her attempt at a backup plan in case her idea of staying in Gilead doesn’t work out. But truly, it is Tuello who is manipulating Serena, not the other way around. We saw him show his true colors when he was with June, talking about how Fred needed to rot in hell. He puts on a different face for Serena, as he tries to let her think that he can be manipulated like Fred.
But Serena’s big play this episode was a strange one. She wanted to stay in Gilead and ultimately marry Commander Lawrence. In her eyes, Lawrence can’t wield much power without a wife, while she needs the protection of a Gilead husband who won’t hold her to the restrictive rules the country has against women.
And while Lawrence values the baby she carries (and who wouldn’t in a world where the birth rate is so dangerously low), he knows Serena can’t be trusted.
To me, the best part of the episode was when Serena thought she had manipulated Lawrence, and the next day before the Commanders’ meeting he revealed just how wrong she was.
He stepped out of the room, looked at Serena, and said, “Serena, do you have some kind of expectation of me?”
It wasn’t just what he said, but how he said it and how he looked at her. The scene was perfection.
And then the Commanders decided that they didn’t have the “infrastructure” to accommodate a woman like her, so she has to return to Canada. They claimed to give her a budget to be an emissary of sorts for their country, but it’s all just a way of papering over the fact that they really don’t want her anywhere near them.
It’s tough to understand why Serena would return to a country that views her as a traitor and would subjugate her to be a wife again (at the very least.) My only guess is that this clues us into just how terrified she is of June. She’d rather place her life in Gilead’s hands — without Fred to protect her — than be in the same country as June.
And she really is flailing out of fear of June. After everything she did to Commander Lawrence in the past, she actually thought he’d consider marrying her. She will do whatever she can to try to keep herself safe.
Nick Is Walking a Thin Line
Nick, meanwhile, is walking a very thin line. His wife doesn’t seem to be as “strictly Gilead” as some wives are, and they betrayed that a bit while they were with the Commanders. Then to make things worse, he made he ill-advised decision of speaking briefly with Tuello before he and his wife left. While it wasn’t a smart idea, this wouldn’t be the first time that Nick has taken unnecessary risks, especially about anything even slightly including June.
June and Nick did get to have a phone call, where Nick finally revealed to her that he’s married. And he admitted he won’t be able to keep as close of an eye on Hannah as he’d like.
Although the end of their conversation seemed like a final goodbye, I have a tough time believing it truly is.
New Players Are Emerging
Commander and Mrs. Mackenzie seem to possibly be taking the Putnams’ place as being larger players this season. The Commander wants June cut out like a cancer, and he’s highly suspicious of Nick and Lawrence. I think these two are going to be a part of some pretty big plot twists moving forward.
Aunt Lydia Is Beginning to See the Error of Her Ways
Janine’s near-death experience is a major turning point for Aunt Lydia. She’s absolutely distraught over this girl, in a way that we haven’t seen with anyone else. The love she feels for Janine is going to end up making her reconsider everything.
She’s fearful that God may be punishing her by hurting Janine — punishing her for how harsh she has been. She was only harsh to the girls, she said, because she was trying to protect them. But I think she’ll have to figure out a different way to protect them moving forward.
(On a different note, the medical care in Gilead must be amazing for Janine and Esther to have survived such an intense poisoning! And I couldn’t help but think how beautiful Janine looked. Usually, when you’re in the hospital after nearly dying and you’re still unconscious, you’d look like you were a wreck. But not here in Gilead.)
As for Janine, once she finally regained consciousness, she looked like a very different person than she had been before.
Either she’s really angry and no longer buying into the brainwashing she experienced, or she’s experienced some form of brain damage. Either way, Aunt Lydia will have trouble navigating the fallout, I bet.
Of course, the very last scene of the episode was the perfect ending. June somehow found Serena’s car and ran up to it, yelling, “Never touch my daughter again!” Serena lost all composure, after briefly feeling a bit of superiority when she saw that blonde woman crying in appreciation of her. June put Serena firmly back in her place, as the war between the two continues.
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