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The Handmaid's Tale - Sacrifice - Review



The Handmaid’s Tale wrapped up season three with two powerful episodes. I’m going to do each of the final two in separate reviews because you and I both know that they are going to be loooong reviews! “Sacrifice” was written by Eric Tuchman and was directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven. The title resonates with the two main storylines. Serena has sacrificed Fred to get Nichole, and June sacrifices Eleanor to save the children.

As the episode opens, complete with very ominous music, things look very bleak. Once again, the episode opens with a beautiful shot of June (Elisabeth Moss) framed by the light of a window, only this time we see her back – and that she’s holding the gun that Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) gave her at the end of the last episode. June examines the gun carefully, pulling out the magazine, checking the bullets, and then making sure that there’s a bullet in the chamber. Her voiceover describes the van arriving as she thinks they have come for her – and the Lawrences and everyone else in the house. We hear the boots on the stairs, but they aren’t boots, they are Eleanor (Julie Dretzin), and June almost shoots her. She tells Eleanor there are people with Lawrence – they want coffee and sandwiches and Beth (Kristen Gutoskie) might need help!

June hears voices and the house is full of armed guards. She comes into the kitchen to help Beth, who tells her to take the day off – especially after last night – because June is “fucking fantastic!” Billy’s in and the flight is in a week. I still love how baked goods are messages. Beth notices the marks on June’s face, but neither comment on what last night cost her.

Sienna (Sugenja Sri) comes in and reports that Lawrence is with the Commanders and one of them wants to launch an attack. As June enters the room, Putnam (Stephen Kunken) is saying that the Canadians are holding them, but the Americans are behind it – and we already know that he’s talking about Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) and Waterford (Joseph Fiennes).

Calhoun (Jonathan Watton) and Putnam have come to Lawrence because they need a voice of reason and restraint – they’re on their way to a Council of War. Lawrence plays hard to get – Putnam promises to restore his high level clearance – given the circumstances. Calhoun is less conciliatory, but explains it by telling Lawrence that he spent the entire night at the hospital with his baby – Ofwarren’s baby. It’s a nice way to let us know that the baby is still alive – if only 3 pounds. Lawrence thanks them for the briefing and dismisses them to “mull.” As he leaves, Putnam says to June that she’s likely the only one pleased “about this.”

Lawrence tells June that she’s off the hook – off the wall! – for now because they think Winslow is just missing or maybe got taken in a plot by those tricky Americans – like the Waterfords who are now in custody in Toronto! He tells her that they are now in prison, facing trial as war criminals… Lawrence wryly adds that he guesses that they didn’t bring 52 kids with them – he could easily face the same reception in a week. Lawrence tells June to cheer up – Fred and Serena are toast and she just got away with murder. Elisabeth Moss is a joy to watch as all of the emotions hit her – and for once, it’s primarily happiness and relief.

Once again we get a beautiful sequence of June walking – this time under a red umbrella in the rain. She is still walking alone, without a partner, but she is serene as she makes her way to loaves and fishes. She tells Alma (Nina Kiri) that it’s happening and that the Marthas will bring the children to the Lawrences’ house. She encourages Alma to try to get her son out by sending a message through the Marthas to Dylan’s house.

June runs into Rita (Amanda Brugel), and this was a very sweet reunion. Rita is excited to tell June the news, but of course, June already knows. The two share a laugh over the carrots about Fred and Serena in orange jumpsuits. Rita tells June the Eyes questioned her and she told them the truth – that Serena was excited to be with the baby and was nice to her when she said goodbye. June and Rita both know that Serena is only nice when she’s up to something.

Over potatoes, Rita tells June she’s heard what June is planning and she’s told the Marthas she wants in – she’ll escort a kid or something. She asks June if this was all her idea, and when June confirms it, she marvels at what a “boss” June is now. She has, indeed, come a long way – and from the June in the novel too. The two surreptitiously touch hands as Rita tells June that she’s proud of her.

In Toronto, Serena visits Fred in his cell. She tells him not to tell them anything that will hurt him in the trial. Fred is sure that Gilead will demand their release. Serena tells him to be smart. She tells him it could mean life in prison – or worse, extradition, somewhere that he could get the death penalty. She tells him to stop worrying about her and save himself. She tells him that she’ll be fine.

This is perhaps Fiennes finest scene in the entire series as the penny drops that Serena has sold him out. He goes from shock to hurt to anger. For Serena, everything is justifiable in pursuit of Nichole. Fred finally realizes that it’s always been about what Serena wants – and he’s not wrong. He also tells her that he pities the child that has her for a mother. And I think we can all agree on that. Serena tells Fred that she’ll pray for him – and then she breaks his hold on her neck. We get another beautiful shot – this time of only half of Fred framed in the door’s window. What will he do without Serena pushing him? Or has she pushed him one final time?

June finds Eleanor with her head against the wall, clearly in distress. She tells June that she should go back – Lawrence would want her to. June offers to take her back. What she takes her back to is a prayer circle for Winslow! Naomi (Ever Carradine) is there with Olivia (Elizabeth Reaser). Lawrence tells them that there are no leads so far. Olivia tells him that she’s afraid for her children – and Eleanor pipes up with a sarcastic “your children?” Lawrence grips her shoulder in an attempt to keep her quiet. She’s very much their loose cannon. June pipes up with “may God watch over Commander Winslow” – which is hilarious – and she can barely keep the smile off her face.

Olivia worries that the other Commanders are simply focused on “blowing things up” – to which Lawrence replies, “boys will be boys” – and it is sadly true. Even here, it is really the women who care about the children. But Olivia has other very real worries. What happens to a wife without a Commander? For starters, as a wife without a husband, they’ll take away her children. I wonder if she’s regretting her choices now? Corporate law has to be looking pretty good about now, right? Eleanor pipes up that they can take the children with them – they have room! Lawrence tries to spin it into the children coming to their house. June and Lawrence exchange worried looks, but it seems that Naomi and Olivia don’t pick up on it. Eleanor is crazy after all.

Back in Toronto, Luke (O-T Fagbenle) and Moira (Samira Wiley) get dragged through a very, very thorough security check to take Nichole to see Serena.

Once again, the show uses a beautiful mirror shot as we see Serena putting her hair up. She thinks better of it and lets it down, starting a new life, one in which she is not bound. However, she is still bound in one way and she asks Tuello (Sam Jaeger) how many other women are imprisoned there when he comes to get her for the visit. He tells her that she’s simply being detained while they get through the process with the Commander. He asks her how he took it – and she tells him not well. Tuello tells her that Fred is no longer her concern, but she points out that he’s her husband. He tells her to look to the future – Nichole is there.

Tuello introduces Bonnie (Elva Mai Hoover), the social worker, who will oversee Nichole’s supervised visits. I loved Serena automatically saying “Blessed day” – and then switching to a simple “hello” when she doesn’t get the rote answer. Hot on Bonnie’s heels is Moira with Nichole. She tells Moira that it’s nice to meet her – really? How utterly self-involved can one person be!?!?! She clearly doesn’t remember Moira from the protest at the airport. Moira tells her that she’s June’s friend. Serena thanks her for bringing Nichole – and Moira points out that she’s June’s daughter. The baby is clearly bonded to Moira.

Moira talks softly to the baby, not projecting the uncomfortable situation or her own hatred of Serena onto the baby. She tells Nichole that she’ll have a good visit and that she’ll pick her up and take her home in an hour. Tuello cuts in to say that they all know the terms. Moira starts to give some directions, and Serena finally snaps and says the baby will be fine with her. And then Moira snaps too. She asks who Serena is, really. Just because she got new clothes, she’s no different. She tells her that she’s still the same woman who held her friend down so Serena’s husband could rape her. Tuello tries to step in. But Moira tells Serena that Fred raped her too in the whorehouse. She tells Serena that she is who she is and that she sinned plenty, but Serena is the gender-traitor. And I loved that Moira doesn’t pull her punches.

Serena clearly doesn’t care as she simply goes right to Nichole – who then begins to cry. The social worker tells her that it’s just a little bit of stranger anxiety. When Serena calls herself Mama, the social worker again intrudes to tell her that she can’t use terms like that because she’ll confuse the baby. It’s pretty clear that while Serena may have leveraged visits, she’s probably not getting Nichole back – and Serena is clearly not satisfied with what she has gotten.

June finds Lawrence on the phone, fighting hard to keep the other Commanders from closing the border. June asks if there’s trouble, and Lawrence tells her to move up the plane. She tells him that she can’t. The plane is on a weekly schedule and it has to look legit. She tells him that he needs to convince them to keep the borders open.

The two are interrupted by Eleanor who is on her way out the door to save a little boy down the street. She’s now obsessed with saving all the children that she knows. She even mentions Hannah, but June tells her that the Mackenzies have moved and she doesn’t know where. Eleanor wants to go back to the school. June gets rough with Eleanor, slamming against her against the wall. Lawrence, somewhat half-heartedly I thought, tells June enough, and Eleanor admits that she was wrong – she wasn’t thinking. June and Lawrence both clearly see the danger that Eleanor poses. What if they hadn’t been right there when she was about to leave? June apologizes and tells her that she’s sorry, but her face hardens again as she turns away. Lawrence tells her to simply focus on what their life will be like when they get out and leave it all behind. She asks him if he can really do that? She clearly can’t forget what’s happened and she will clearly carry the burden of what he’s done for the rest of her life. Whitford is great here as we clearly see him recognize this.

Lawrence tells her to get some rest. There’s a beautiful shot of Eleanor walking slowly up the stairs with her shadow on the wall. The shadow that will follow and haunt her the rest of her life. Lawrence and June watch her climb the stairs. They are shot through the bars from above. They can’t really reach her – and they both know it.

In Toronto, Waterford accuses Tuello of poisoning Serena and exploiting her obsession with the baby – and he would know because that’s exactly what he did for his own political theatre. Tuello tells Waterford that Serena is too smart to be manipulated. Tuello tells Waterford to see his incarceration as an opportunity – the whole world wants to know about Gilead. Waterford says he can’t be manipulated either, and it’s pretty clear that Tuello isn’t prepared to really try – he’ll be happy for Waterford to be punished. He also has a surprise for Waterford – Luke is there to meet with him – but it’s up to Waterford whether he takes the meeting.

Tuello leaves the two alone, but with the guard staying. Waterford offers refreshments, which Luke declines. He’s brought his research with him and he knows what Waterford has done – his entire life. Luke tells Waterford that they grew up the same – good family, first-class education, men of faith. Waterford insists that he’s saved lives when Luke accuses him of destroying them. He wants to know what Luke did when their values were eroding and their birth rate was plummeting. Luke tells him that regardless, Waterford is going to rot in jail now that Waterford’s wife has betrayed him. Waterford asks about Luke’s wife – all those years wasted. Luke insists that June will come back to him, but Waterford tells him that the June Osborne that Luke knew doesn’t exist anymore. Gilead has changed her, and Waterford has changed her. Luke snaps and attacks Waterford – and the guard pushes him out, screaming that he’s not done.

June brings Eleanor’s dinner to her and finds her unconscious and unresponsive, having taken a bottle full of pills. At first, June tries vigorously to wake her and is even almost to the door to get help, when she stops. Again, Moss is wonderful here as she clearly thinks through all of the ramifications. She shuts the door and backs into a corner. She can hear the noises of the house. It would be easy to get help. But if she does get help, an attempted suicide will raise too much attention. Eleanor poses a threat to all of them – and the 52 children. Eleanor has also indicated that she will be tormented to the end of her days. Is this a mercy killing? June kisses her, and then walks unsteadily out of the room, her course of action decided. June removes the tray to protect the fiction that she was never in the room.

June walks slowly back to her own room and lies on the bed. Waiting for Eleanor to die. Waiting for Eleanor to be discovered. The rain pours down and a storm continues outside. As dawn comes, light slides over June’s face, and Eleanor is discovered. The expression on June’s face never changes. It is determination, resignation – not happiness. Has she gotten away with another “murder?” It is yet one more thing that distances this June from the one that Luke knew and loved.

Tuello visits Serena with pizza and newspapers, asking for her thoughts on current events. I keep feeling like he is drawn to her – does he feel like he’s her knight in shining armor? Is this yet another man to fall under her spell? Serena certainly accepts and encourages his attentions. And as he leaves, she’s clearly thinking about his intentions.

Preparations for Eleanor’s funeral and a gathering after the service are well underway. Lawrence brings up wine from the basement and sends Beth and Sienna down to get all of it. He tells June that it was Eleanor’s favorite and that he was saving it for their anniversary. June then shares that Luke bought her favorite Pinot for their wedding and then left it in the car overnight where it all froze and the bottles all shattered. Lawrence tells her that he kept the border open. It’s hard to argue with a man who is in mourning – even for the Council. June tells Lawrence that she’s very sorry – and it’s clear that she is.

Whitford is simply brilliant in this scene as Lawrence is consumed with guilt. Eleanor was fragile and he knew it, yet he let her go to her room. June tells him not to blame himself. He says he could have checked on her. June says she could have checked on her too. June maintains eye contact – and then adds that Eleanor was a very kind woman. Lawrence agrees. June clearly regrets what she did – even if it was necessary. And it’s clear that June no longer thinks of herself as a “kind” woman. What lasting effects will this have on her?

We get another cinematically beautiful ceremony as everyone takes their prescribed place at the funeral. The black of the commanders surrounding the coffin, the wives standing in rows of blue and the Marthas in grey – and June in black at the back. Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) is there as well and gives June permission to go to Lawrence. She is buried in the graveyard, though apart – so is he buried in hallow ground even though she committed suicide?

June joins Lawrence who is now alone beside the grave with his head bowed and hands clasped in front of himself. June asks if he’d rather be alone, and when he doesn’t respond, she steps beside him and mirrors his position. Lawrences looks at her sideways, thoughtfully. June looks back at him, still clearly emotional, but then turns back front. We only see her nose, chin and mouth from the side – what Lawrence would also see.


      But the final shot takes us back to the front and we get yet another close up of June’s eyes under her black cornette. It’s a sinister version of the earlier shots. From this angle June’s eyes again look more animal-like – another motif that has been repeated this season. Her eyes are also clear and hard. She’s done what she’s had to, become what she’s had to, but what will those lasting effects be… and does Lawrence suspect? What are his thoughts about June at this point?

This was another powerful episode that sets us up for the powerful finale. Can you feel any sympathy for Serena? I felt like we got much more of the true evil of both Fred and Serena in this new environment where they are stripped of the rituals and even clothes that they were hiding behind. Fiennes and Whitford really shine in this episode as both deliver terrific performances. I’ll really miss Julie Dretzin who was terrific as Eleanor. And what of June? Has she gone too far? Was this murder or a mercy killing? Was it simply an act of war – necessary to let one die to save the many? Let’s not forget that this act resonates with June saving Serena from the fire – an act she clearly came to regret.

      Is there something between Serena and Tuello brewing? What about between Lawrence and June? What happens to June now that there is no Mrs Lawrence??? What did you think of this episode? Some of these questions are answered in the finale…. But some of them aren’t – let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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