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The Handmaid's Tale - Unknown Caller & Household - Review

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The Handmaid’s Tale’s third season continues to surprise with new twists. Let’s take a look at the last two episodes (just a reminder that I am watching on Canadian television…). “Unknown Caller” was written by Marissa Jo Cerar, whose other credits include 13 Reasons Why, Shots Fired, and The Fosters, and was directed by Colin Watkinson. This is Watkinson’s first time directing, but he moves to the director’s chair from director of photography (2017) and Cinematographer for this season. It’s no wonder then that the episode contains so many of the rich visuals and visual callbacks we’ve come to expect from the show. So many wonderful performances in this episode. Elisabeth Moss (June) continues to amaze, O-T Fagbenle (Luke), who we rarely get to see enough of, delivers a powerful performance in this episode, and Yvonne Strahovski (Serena) continues to create a multi-layered sociopath who we so want to come to the good side.

The episode begins with a stunning sequence that shows June thinking of the images of Luke with Nichole. It’s a peaceful, happy place in the midst of the sterile grocery store as the life of Gilead flows around her in the form of the handmaids. We get the recurring image of a close up of June’s face – she is smiling and at peace for once. She is at the height of her power. It’s not a miracle – she… we… did this. She calls it a dream – the only dream for a handmaid in Gilead – that her child be free. I loved all the other handmaids circumspectly coming up and touching June’s arm as they say “Praise be” – once again using their ritual language in a way not intended. They praise not Gilead or the God that has enslaved them, but the “miracle” or the “dream” that has freed just one of their babies. A victory for one is a victory for all.

Seeing Luke has also brought out other emotions in June. She wants Luke. To be held. To be called by her name. June thinks that no one dies from lack of sex – they die from lack of love. There is plenty of research out there on the negative impact of not being touched. Human beings crave it and need it to survive. June’s reverie over Luke is interrupted by Ofmatthew (Ashleigh LaThrop) telling June that she is praying for her husband. June thanks her for being kind, but of course, that’s not her intention. She prays that Luke returns Nichole to the Waterfords! I loved Moss rolling her eyes before replying that the baby’s rightful place is with her parents. Clearly, the two have very different ideas of who the “parents” are. Ofmatthew then gives June a compliment – of sorts – by saying that June has better judgment than to have married a man capable of kidnapping. But June’s had enough. She responds to Ofmatthew’s “Under his eye” with “Bite me!”

I loved June surreptitiously watching the Lawrences in the mirror – some really terrific camera work here. Eleanor (Julie Dretzin) has done her hair differently, and of course, Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) notices. It’s an indication that Eleanor may be experiencing a “healthy” period – though we don’t know the exact nature of her mental instability. It’s also a very private moment between the two. Interestingly, it’s Eleanor who notices June lurking.

I loved Lawrence starting with “The answer is no.” June wants to know if Luke is safe. They know where he is now – and Lawrence asks if that isn’t what she wanted. It’s a backhand accusation that June doesn’t always (ever?) think through all the consequences of her actions. Lawrence points out that they are all in danger. It’s also an indication that he’s only willing to risk so much. He may have power, but no one in Gilead is truly safe.

Rita (Amanda Burgel) tries to comfort Serena by saying it was a blessing to have seen Nichole and know that she is well and safe. Serena can only focus on the fact that the baby is with a stranger – to her. Clearly, Rita is completely comfortable knowing the baby is with Luke – as Serena should be! Fred (Joseph Fiennes) has taken June’s advice and has arranged for Serena to be present in the meeting over the baby. It becomes increasingly clear that helping Serena in this way is going to backfire spectacularly on June. They’ve initiated a claim with Canada to get back their “kidnapped” child. But there’s no extradition treaty. Serena just wants to know about Luke. We learn that Luke used to work in Urban planning, and now he can only get part time construction work and utility work and he gets refuge aid. I loved how this underscored that it wasn’t just the women who have had their lives taken from them. And of course, this is the case with all refugees – it nicely underscores so much of what is happening in the world today. People, ripped from their homes because of war, who cannot find employment that they are qualified for and for which they used to make more than just a living wage.

Serena wants to know if Luke is a man of faith – and then it becomes about imposing religion on others. Fred points out that Hannah was baptized. And we know who among the Bankoles and Waterfords are the true Christians. Fred reads all the information about Nichole’s health to Serena, before passing a copy of the document to Serena – that has had all the text redacted – but does contain Nichole’s footprints. Fred is confused when Serena is still clearly unhappy. Fred is more at peace with Nichole being safe in Canada than Serena is. Strahovski is wonderful in this scene as she struggles with her overwhelming desire to be with/have the baby.

It’s interesting that it’s Eleanor that comes to get June when the Waterfords come calling. Dretzin is also delivering a terrific performance as she teases out this character. There’s a long pause as June considers what they might want before heading down. Lawrence is in the hallway, but offers no clues. Fred tells her that they’re just there to have a conversation. He tells her that they want to arrange a visit with Nichole. June is immediately worried – as she should be. Serena says it’s just to say goodbye. Fred promises that everyone will be protected. Serena asks her to call Luke, and June’s first reaction is no.

Serena asks to be left alone. June repeats no. Serena crosses the room to sit beside June. Serena tells June that she knows she can’t be with Nichole but she wants to be “something” to her. June insists that seeing her won’t help. June knows this from her own experience with Hannah. June tells Serena that it’s not going to be what she thinks. And June also knows what it’s like to want to be with your daughter – what someone might be capable of. After all, her only reason for staying in Gilead is the possibility of getting Hannah out. Serena looks genuinely surprised when June says she wants to see the baby too. It’s just another example of how self-absorbed Serena really is.

Moss is simply amazing in this scene. Again, the camera goes into tight focus on her face so as not to miss a nuance of the emotions. She wants to know what she gets. If Serena gets to see the baby, what does she get? Serena is ready to give her anything and smiles knowing she is getting her own way. June tells Serena that she just wants her to owe her. Oh June. Serena would have to have an ounce of decency to ever come through on what she owes – she is not a good risk to expect to do the right thing or honor a promise.

I loved how the phone call was set up. It looks like the President making an address from the Whitehouse. The lighting only reaches up to June’s chin and she is surrounded by black. She is flanked on all sides, hemmed in. Her hands are clenched tightly in front of her. She can take no joy in this conversation. She’s given only two minutes.

Luke is at the store, presumably buying things for the baby. There is so much going on here. The cashier (Prince Amponsah) is almost certainly a veteran. Is this the only job he can get? The actor, Prince Amponsah, has an extraordinary story of his own. Luke remarks that the groceries are almost $50 and will barely cover a week and wonders how other people afford it. The cashier remarks that most people don’t need it – so the fertility problem is still ongoing. Luke gets June’s first attempt as “unknown caller” and doesn’t take it as he’s paying. And does he really know the person who is now calling him?

Luke finally answers as he’s walking out of the door. He immediately forgets everything around him – even his groceries. Fagbenle is terrific here. He is in pouring rain and can only focus on June. He wants to know where she is. She tells him that she and Hannah are alright. He tells her that he loves her and misses her and thinks of her every day. She tells him twice that she loves him, but while Luke gives in to his emotions, June refuses to in front of her audience. Luke apologizes for not trying harder to find her, but she won’t let him go there. She tells him that she’s alright, but I thought it was curious that she didn’t tell him that they were listening. She tells him that she doesn’t have much time, and tells him that she needs him to go to the Toronto airport the next day and bring Nichole to meet the Waterfords.

Luke is stunned that she wants him to meet the Waterfords. June tells him that she needs him to say yes. He finally agrees – but only Serena – “not him.” June manages to say “I love you” one last time before the call cuts out. I loved the contrast between June and Luke once the call ends. The silence is replaced by orchestral music. Luke is alone and gives in to his grief, sitting in the rain, rocking and pressing the phone to his face. Lawrence surreptitiously offers June a handkerchief, which she ignores. Whitford is great here too. It’s clear that he admires June’s strength – something completely lost on the Waterfords. She asks if she can be dismissed. He steps aside to let her pass and she doesn’t look back at the Watherfors, even when Serena says “God bless you.” June simply clenches her jaw and keeps walking. I thought for a moment she would either collapse or give in to her grief once she got into the privacy of her own room, but she simply straightens and pulls herself together.

In Toronto, Moira (Samira Wiley) asks Luke how she sounded. Luke tells her like June. But is seems clear that while he recognized her voice, he also realizes that this is not the June he knew.

There’s a beautiful shot of that fireplace in the kitchen as June is suddenly revealed behind it. Eleanor, surprisingly, has come to check on June. She clearly has remained human among the monsters in Gilead. She expresses sympathy for how difficult it must have been for June. June confides that it didn’t go quite as she’d imagined. Eleanor tells her that what matters is that her love came through. She confides that Lawrence used to use mixtapes to communicate with her in college – because sometimes words aren’t enough. She also tells June that she misses the man who made those tapes for her. June suggests that there is part of that man left – after all, he helped her and Emily. June says “it’s ok to take a sliver of someone and hold on to that. Especially if that’s all you have.”

Once again, the show finds a way to introduce some terrific music into the show. June heads to the basement and finds the mixtapes. Leo Sayer’s “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” is the perfect choice as it dovetails us back to June thinking about dancing with Luke the night they conceived Hannah. The action shifts from June sitting in the basement to Serena at her mother’s house by the ocean – that lovely juxtaposition of fire and water again. Serena stands beside the round window – which almost suggests pregnancy. She then gathers things that she wants to give to the baby to remember her by.

Rita brings in her breakfast and Serena asks her if she thinks the baby will like the locket she’s giving her. Rita looks rightly terrified as Serena holds out the locket – is this a trap? But she reads it once she realizes that Serena isn’t trying to trap her. “For this child, I prayed.” Rita declares it beautiful and asks that Serena give the baby a kiss for her. Rita also hands Serena a brown paper package that arrived the night before. Serena asks what it is and Rita says it didn’t have her name on it. It’s clearly come through the underground network. Serena takes it and hides it when Fred appears to say the car is waiting.

Serena is transported with an Eye (Andrew McGillvray) in a cargo plane. She’s met in Toronto by Mark Tuello (Sam Jaeger), who she met the last time she was in Toronto. He invited her to defect to the US at the time, and renews the offer here. But he’s there to make sure that the meeting goes smoothly. When the Eye tries to tag along, Serena tells him no – and that she speaks for the Commander in his absence. Tuello has a change of clothes for her as Luke wants a more public meeting. It was truly odd to see Serena in jeans and flat shoes with her hair down! It certainly made her look more human.

Once again Fagbenle is terrific in this scene. His hatred for Serena comes off him in waves. Serena extends her hand, but Luke refuses to shake it. Tuello offers to stay for the meeting, and Serena leaves it up to Luke, who tells him he can go. Once again, Serena says “God bless you” and Luke says what we know June wanted to say: “Fuck you.” He tells Serena that he agreed to the meeting for his wife.

Serena goes and sits at a nearby table, trying to be as unthreatening as possible. She remarks that Nichole has gained a lot of weight and asks if she’s eating solids yet. Like any father, Luke can’t help but share that she’s not a fan of the peas. Luke’s voice quavers ever so slightly as he asks if June is ok. Serena smiles when she says yes and that June has been reassigned – like that’s a good thing! Hey, yeah, your wife is great – back to the raping once a month. Serena adds that June is perfectly safe, and Luke calls it for the lie it is. He demands Serena tell him the name of the man that June has been reassigned to, and she tells him Joseph Lawrence.

When Nichole starts to fuss, Serena can’t stop a few tears. Luke asks what Serena wants out of the meeting. She says she just wanted to see her daughter – Luke points out that Nichole isn’t her daughter and Serena shoots right back that she isn’t Luke’s either. Serena tells him that it’s not about biology, and that every child has a right to their own story. Luke tells Serena that he doesn’t know what Serena tells herself at night so she can sleep (good for you, Luke! I’ve wondered the same thing myself), but he’s going to tell Nichole exactly where she came from and how brave her mother (June) was for getting her there – that is Nichole’s story. Luke tells Serena that she will never be anything to Nichole.

Serena tells Luke that she tells herself that Nichole was her miracle and she let her go because she wanted a better life for her – and so did June. She asks Luke to honor June’s wishes and give Nichole the pendant. She then tells Luke that she protected June – and Luke is immediately on alert – it certainly sounds like a threat. Strahovski is excellent here as we suddenly get a glimpse of the old Serena. Tuello breaks up the meeting and Luke takes the pendant. Serena asks if there’s something Luke wants her to tell June. He tells her no – he’s clearly picked up on her not sharing anything that could be intruded on by Gilead. She then leans in to the baby – and Luke makes the fatal mistake of letting her hold the baby.

Unlike June, once Serena is alone to change, she completely loses it. It looks like she hasn’t passed on the package for Luke. When she looks in her handbag on the plane, there’s a phone with a message – “if you need me.” She destroys the message.

Back at the Lawrence’s, Eleanor and Joseph are listening to music together – “Cruel to Be Kind” by Nick Lowe. It’s another perfect song choice. Is Lawrence cruel in order to be kind to the few he can save? June smiles to be see the two connecting over the music.

Fred meets Serena coming off the plane. She tells him that Nichole was perfect, but now it’s over. He tells her that it doesn’t have to be. Would Serena really have let her go?

Back at the grocery store, there’s a truly horrific setting as Ofmatthew stands behind a counter of pickled meats in jars – ew! June tells her that she’s “ready to jet.” Ofmatthew shares that she’s “late.” She’s clearly not very happy about it. She also hasn’t told her commander yet. Ofmatthew finally tells June that she’s glad that her daughter and husband are safe. The two are interrupted when the Eyes come for June. I just adore the soundtrack – so ominous! Kudos to Adam Taylor for the music.

Meanwhile, in Toronto, I was at first worried about Luke walking alone along the street, but he puts on his cassette tape – this is what June sent. The outside world stops as the music comes up – it’s “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” but it soon cuts out to be replaced by June’s voice. It’s a nice throwback to the original novel that is pieced together by a series of cassette tapes… This is June’s chance to really speak to her husband. She knows him and knows that he would have had a hard time at first with Nichole – and her conception. We know he did. June tells him that she’s ashamed. She had to build a life of a sort – and she absolves him to do the same. He deserves a full life and love.

She also tells him that he’ll always have hers. She also tells him that Nichole was born out of love – as opposed to rape. She also tells him that her real name is Holly – and that her father was Nick. She hopes he’ll forgive her. She’s not the woman she was – but that woman is still a part of her – and this dovetails nicely back to her comment to Eleanor about holding on to even a sliver of a person – even when that person is you. She tells him that she’s doing what she needs to to survive and he should too. She tells him that it’s all for Hannah. She promises him that she’s trying to get to her. She finishes by telling him that she loves him.

June is met by Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd). June wants to know what’s going on, but Aunt Lydia tells her nothing, whisking her away and changing her into new – and much more flattering – clothes. Suddenly, she’s on a television stage with the Waterfords. She tries to get Serena to tell her what she did. Aunt Lydia is there, telling her “posture” and forcing her head down so she’s looking at the floor. She also tells her not to be clever – there are consequences.

Back in Toronto, Luke is continuing to listen to the tape at home with Nichole. Moira comes rushing in and he picks up the baby. The two watch in shock as they see Fred on the television. He’s sitting with Serena on a couch with the family portrait behind them and June behind and off to the side – Fred is demanding the Canadian government return their kidnapped baby! All June can do is clench her fists. Once again as the music comes up, the cameral comes in tight on June’s face, this time all around her goes dark and just her face is in the light – in perfect contrast to the opening scene. This is a beautiful shot as we see the ring of television lights around the pupils of her eyes – she’s furious….. She’s gone from triumph to defeat in this episode. Once again the musical choice of U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is a perfect choice.

“Household” was written by Dorothy Fortenberry, who has also written three teleplays for the show, and was directed by Dearbhla Walsh, whose other credits include Fargo, Penny Dreadful, Borgia, and The Tudors, so she knows spectacle and special effects. Just when you think that dystopian Gilead can’t get any worse, this episode proves that it can. Serena completely backslides into mania over the baby.

This episode picks up with a dream-like quality again – and June’s voiceover. Now there are groups praying that Nichole is returned to Gilead. This is the only way that she know Nichole is still safe in Canada – and she prays that their prayers go unanswered. She also prays that Serena sees past her broken heart and remembers that Nichole is better off in Canada. Oh June. Serena isn’t you. She’s never going to put anyone ahead of her own desires. Her opening monologue ends with another closeup of June’s face as she tells us she’s up for either Serena coming to her senses – or getting hit by a truck…

As June tries to make herself useful in the kitchen, Lawrence comes in and tells her to go pack. Waterford is borrowing her in his attempt to repatriate Nichole. When Lawrence calls her Waterford’s daughter, June asks him not to call her that, and he, at least, has the decency to look ashamed. He tells June that Fred has set up a week of public prayer in Washington. As the week unfolds, we get to see that Fred’s special talent really is spectacle. It’s why June has to go – he needs the whole household. Lawrence warns her that the Canadians are feeling the pressure. June clearly hopes that she’ll be able to talk to Serena.

Again, we have some truly stunning cinematography in this episode. The train that June takes with Aunt Lydia is shrouded by red curtains and patrolled by Eyes. It is dark – as they are kept in the dark from news of the outside world and how they are also shrouded in mystery – it doesn’t do to publicize state-sanctioned rape after all. As they near Washington, June pulls aside the curtains to see the desecration to the Washington Monument – it’s been turned into a giant cross.

Aunt Lydia is clearly excited – pumped! – about their adventure and remarks on the beauty of Union station. June says the old one was beautiful – but that had to be destroyed by Gilead because it was created by a heretic according to Aunt Lydia. It’s as they are going up the escalators that June sees what the handmaids here are wearing – they now have to wear a contraption that covers their mouths. And of course, we’ll later see just how much worse it really is…. As June looks back up, it’s clear that she realizes that she’d better toe the line here – things can get worse.

Aunt Lydia leaves her, telling her to take her spot. It’s like there are luggage racks for the handmaids. She is forced to kneel and listen to an Aunt (Rebecca Singh) say “blessed are the silent for only they will hear the voice of the Lord.” June is collected by Fred and Serena. He tells the Aunt that June is “theirs” and they are the guest of High Commander Winslow (Christopher Meloni). Meloni is deliciously creepy in this episode!

June greets Serena, saying she hopes she’s well. Serena immediately looks guilty, but June isn’t going on the attack. Though she clearly isn’t happy either. The two stare at each other before Fred leads them all away.

Rita and June catch up just a little – telling each other that they miss each other. June can’t believe that Serena wants this. Rita tells her it’s the only thing that Serena ever wanted. Rita has been with Serena longer after all.

The Winslow’s house is gigantic. Serena thinks that they should have stayed in a hotel, but Fred sees it as an opportunity. Serena isn’t pleased – all she wants is to get Nichole back, but Fred still has his ambitions.

Winslow keeps them all waiting, and they all stand at attention, hands clasped in front of themselves until he finally comes in and invites Serena and Fred to sit down. Serena thanks him for inviting them into his home, and Fred tells him that they have an exciting week planned. Winslow isn’t so sure. He tells Fred that they have to be judicious about the images that they release to the world. Fred agrees – the correct image can sway opinion.

Suddenly, into the awkward silence and entire herd of children intrude, followed by Olivia Winslow (Elizabeth Reaser). Olivia hugs Serena and Serena is overwhelmed by all the children. June clearly sees six children who have been taken from their real parents – and also sees that Serena will now be unreachable. Both these realities are underscored by the door closing – it’s a French door with ironwork in the glass – it looks like a garden gate right down to the ivy – the garden of twisted Eden – in which Serena, Fred, and the other Gileadians are locked in with the children and June, the handmaid, is locked out – away from the children and paradise…..

Rita asks if she’s ever seen that many children in one house before. The most she’s ever seen before are 3 in one house. The Martha tells June she’ll be staying with Ofgeorge (Kirrilee Berger) – and both Rita and June are surprised that the Winslows have a handmaid – they’ve already got so many children! Rita puts it down to the privilege of rank.

Fred comes to check on Serena as she unpacks. There’s a beautiful shot of him by the door with Serena reflected in the mirror hanging on the wall beside him, which is a lovely metaphor for the distance still between the two. Fred also remarks on the number of children – it’s a miracle but someday it won’t be so unusual. Fred catches Serena up. The Canadians could ask for a neutral party to intervene in the negotiations. He also tells her that their turnaround will be quick – filming in the morning to get images on Canadian television by the evening. He asks her to trust him. This he knows about. He leaves her wedding ring – so everything looks right – before he leaves. After he’s gone, she kneels. It looks like she is going to pray, and she takes out the report with Nichole’s footprints and folds it in her hands.

There’s a beautiful segue to June who is making a baby’s footprint in the condensation on her window. She’s thinking of Nichole too – but it’s much more fleeting and insubstantial a memory than Serena has. June is joined by Ofgeorge and she says the rote greeting before apologizing for intruding and trying small talk. She is a bit put off by getting no answer until Ofgeorge takes off her face covering and eventually turns around to show that her mouth has been pinned shut. I’m still not entirely sure how the mouth is shut – are those pins removable so that she can eat? What about nourishment for when she’s pregnant? Surely she doesn’t just drink her food – and what happens if she has to throw up???? Speaking of, June tries not to show her revulsion but can hardly contain her own horror and gagging when she turns away.

Fred has clearly planned his monuments and imagery well. His first filming location uses a statue of gigantic angel’s wings. He’s disappointed that Aunt Lydia was only able to round up a few handmaids to participate. Aunt Lydia checks under the mouth covering of one of the handmaids and is clearly troubled by what she sees. As Fred directs – the handmaid’s will follow June’s lead to pray – June takes the opportunity to ask Serena – once they’ve taken their places – how many videos Fred is going to make. Serena tells her as many as it takes.

When Nick (Max Minghella) arrives, June lights up. He tells Fred that “it looks beautiful” – clearly meaning the shot to everyone else – but it’s also a message to June – he’s telling her that she’s beautiful. Fred is surprised that Nick isn’t at the front yet, but Nick says he called at the Winslow’s and he sent him over. He’ll be getting his orders any day. Fred asks Nick to stand in for him so that he can see the shot. Nick takes the opportunity to have a moment with June. I loved him saying “nice girl like you in a place like this!” June smiles, and the two surreptitiously touch hands before Fred takes Nick’s place. June kneels to start the prayer – but not before shooting Fred a look. The other handmaids do indeed follow her lead. She looks at Nick, and he drops his eyes. It’s a clear foreshadowing that she can no longer look to him for help.

Back at the Winslows June joins Serena as she watches the Marthas play with the children. June tries to get through to Serena, telling her that she knows Serena doesn’t want this. Serena says that they can talk, but then tells June that seeing Nichole changed everything for her. June knows. But seeing Nichole changed Serena, but it didn’t change Gilead and Nichole deserves better. Serena is surrounded by happy children, however. June asks her if she’s seen their handmaid – things are getting worse for women! But of course, Serena wouldn’t have looked under the covering and wouldn’t care anyway. Her daughter would never become a handmaid…

The two are interrupted by Fred, who clearly wants to keep June away from Serena. He tells them that the Canadians have brought in the Swiss to act as neutral party. They want to talk to the entire household. June makes one final plea to Serena, but it’s clear that Serena wants Nichole back at any price. Fred knows he’s winning. He tells June to put on a clean dress.

As June waits with Rita for her turn to be interrogated, there’s a great overhead shot of the Rita amusing herself by walking about the checkerboard floor. The crane shot makes this game of chess a very clear metaphor. Fred and Serena are not happy when Mattias (Gord Rand) asks to speak with June alone. Fred says it wouldn’t be appropriate in their culture, but he insists and June sees this is her chance. She says she has no objection to speaking with them alone. Serena returns to form as she spits out to June “don’t be stupid.”

They first address June as Ofjoseph, to which she doesn’t respond. They ask if she’d prefer Miss Osborne – why not Mrs Bankole? But she tells them June is fine – and then has them clear the room before she’ll speak. Lena (Sarah McVie) asks her what she’d like them to know. She tells them that she is the child’s mother and she wants Nichole to stay in Canada. She says that she doesn’t expect them to feel sorry for her – although they should!!! – or promise that they will change things. Lena tells her that the situation is complicated.

June tells them that Fred isn’t Nichole’s father, and Sofia (Tara Rosling) tells June that they already know that – because they’ve heard the audiocassette she sent Luke! June looks hurt and surprised. It was supposed to be private. June controls herself and says that Nichole can stay in Canada if that’s what both her parents want. Mattias, however, says that Gilead is an extremely powerful country – and Canada is eager to avoid conflict. The only bargaining chip that June has is to provide information. June says she can get a Commander, an Eye, to talk to them. They immediately realize that it’s Nick. I did think it was a funny moment when they asked if they were still in a relationship and June fell back on the Facebook staple of “it’s complicated.” The Swiss try to dance around committing to a deal, but June insists it must be explicit. June shakes Mattias hand to seal the deal – Nichole is safe if she can deliver Nick. As June leaves, Buddy Holly provides the music. She clearly thinks that she’s won.

The music continues over Fred playing pool with Winslow. He’s impressed that Fred got the Swiss to the table. But it’s also very clear that Winslow has other ideas for Fred. I loved Meloni shoving his butt right in Fred’s face. He intimates that he might have a position for Fred in Washington – and I’m sure of that position! LOL! He also tells Fred to call him George. Fred is thrilled of course. It’s quite clear to Fred what George is expecting when he strokes his shoulder. The fact that Fred then makes the shot makes it pretty clear that Fred is willing to do anything for his career, including sleeping with the boss. Fred is saved for the time being by Polly (Maria Nash) asking them to a tea party.

Everyone gathers to play with the children. Olivia confides in Serena that she loved her book – and it saved her. Before Gilead she was a corporate lawyer – and so was George. They had no time for a family. Olivia assures Serena that she’ll have a wonderful family soon too. And is it just me, or is she also a little bit extra handsy? When Fred comes from some sugar, playfully using a lion, there’s a close up of Serena’s missing finger – and her wedding ring. She seems ready to take him back – and have that family.

Nick comes to June in the night and the two meet in the Winslow’s garden. They kiss, and she’s clearly happy to see him. Nick doesn’t look nearly as happy. And he’s even less happy when June tells him about the deal she made with the Swiss. He tells her that if you make a deal with the government it’s not so easy to get out. June tells him that this is his one chance to be a father to their daughter. She tells him it’s tomorrow morning, and he says ok.

Nick does go to see the Swiss. June paces at the Winslow’s, and manages to get Lena alone after a meeting with Fred. She tells June that they are recommending that discussions continue. June is furious, but Lena says nothing has been decided. Lena says they won’t be able to do business with Nick, and then fills June in on some of his past. Lena tells him that Nick is not to be trusted – or dealt with. Fred invites her to the taping, and Lena declines.

June asks Serena what Nick did before he was a driver. Serena tells her that he served Gilead – as a soldier in the crusade, and they wouldn’t be there without him. Serena takes the opportunity to rub it in before leaving June to consider who the father of her daughter is. We go back to Nick, and it’s clear that he has the total respect of the soldiers under his command. We are left to continue to wonder what exactly Nick did between being recruited as we saw in previous flashbacks and becoming a spy in the Waterford household. It’s also clear that Serena didn’t care who fathered “her” child…

Aunt Lydia comes to collect June for the taping. She fixes her headgear and dress – and then asks with what seems like genuine concern if June is alright. June says she’s just tired. And she’s clearly tired of the fight – in addition to tired of being in Washington. Ann Dowd is excellent in this scene. She has one more thing for June to have to deal with and she’s clearly not happy that she has to ask it. She has one of the mouth covering collars.

This is really a terrific scene between these two wonderful actors. June asks if Aunt Lydia wants them all to be silenced. Aunt Lydia has been a very hard taskmaster, but it’s also been clear all along that she’s had a soft spot for her “girls” – especially Janine and June. Aunt Lydia’s eyes also fill with tears as she says she doesn’t.  I loved how they filmed part of this from behind as the two sit together on the bed. Aunt Lydia confides in June that she’s tired from this trip too. She says she just wants to be able to help one person, one soul, that’s enough. Aunt Lydia says that she thinks of June. She embraces June and the two take a minute before June pulls herself together. She asks Aunt Lydia to help her put the gag on. The scene ends with a beautiful shot of June looking in the mirror, touching her fingers to the cloth over her mouth.

The final sequence is visually stunning. An out of focus shot shows June walking into the Lincoln memorial – the shot makes her look like an alien. And she is now in a world that is alien to everything that Gilead represents. She is a slave at the feet of the slave emancipator. Who has been decapitated by Gilead. It’s another stunning visual as the red of June’s outfit looks almost like blood running down the desecrated monument.

Serena joins June in front of the monument. Serena has a veil over her eyes – for she cannot see the harm that she’s doing. Serena comments “that’s nice” upon seeing June’s gag. She likes the silence. June then pulls the gag down and tells Serena that she could return the favor – she doesn’t want to hear anything Serena has to say. Serena tells her to just stop. June will be sent home, and Serena and Fred will stay in Washington and they will finally be free of each other. June then tells Serena that she will never be free of her – until both her children are safe.

Serena tells June that that is her prayer for Nichole. June tells Serena that she trusted her to let Nichole have the best life possible – not the hell that is Gilead! Serena tells June that she trusted her to stay with her. June confirms that she gave her the name Nichole to honor Serena. Serena insists that she’s doing what she’s doing because she loves Nichole – but June tells her that it isn’t love. Love isn’t selfish. June tells her that she built Gilead just so that she could have someone. Serena doesn’t know how to love. June tells Serena that she is small, cruel, and empty. June tells her that she will always be empty.

The two come together in front of the ruined monument. Serena tells June that she should have put a ring in her mouth the day they met – simply underscoring what June just said. June tells her that she should have let Serena burn when she had the chance rather than saving her from the fire. Serena walks out, leaving June alone. She puts both hands on the ruined monument – and it’s much like the way she put her hands on the bullet holes in the wall at The Boston Globe offices. She draws strength here – it’s the perfect image. Can she find the strength to free her daughters and the other slaves of Gilead?

There’s a beautiful shot as June leaves the Memorial and the cross that has been made out of the Washington Memorial is revealed. The reflecting pool is now surrounded by hundreds of handmaids. June descends the steps to stand between the Waterfords. Fred begins by raising his hands and asking the Lord to hear their prayer – he has to say it twice before June finally drops to her knees and the other handmaids follow suit. The episode ends with yet another closeup of June’s face – this time we see the cross of the Washington monument in her pupil. The episode ends with just the sound of silence – the wind and perhaps a flag pole…

It’s clear that things have to get worse this season before they can get better. This show continues to deliver both wonderful performances and cinematography. The music is always terrific whether it is a song choice or the theme music. Will Luke be able to keep Nichole away from the Waterfords? Will he have to go into hiding? Is it possible that Aunt Lydia will become an ally? Can Serena really be that blind, cruel, and selfish? Will Fred become George’s plaything even if it means a promotion? What happens if George grows tired of him or sees him as a threat? Can Lawrence help June? So many questions! This is turning out to be another terrific season of the show. What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below!

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