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The Handmaid's Tale - Home - Review

  The Handmaid’s Tale “Home” was written by Yahlin Chang and was directed by Richard Shepard. As the title suggests, the episode focuses on June’s (Elisabeth Moss) return ‘home’ – or at least to a home with Luke (O-T Fagbenle) and Nicole and Moira (Samira Wiley). Acting kudos for this episode have to go to Moss, Fagbenle and Yvonne Strahovski (Serena), who once again manages to suck everyone in, including the audience, before revealing her true feelings and emotions…

The episode once again begins exactly where we left off, with June stepping off the gangway of the ship that brought her onto the soil of Canada. There is a terrific shot of her breath which you can see in the cold air. Here is this woman, who has been an unseen presence finally becoming manifest. Can she live up to the legend she has become? Could anyone? I love that the show has shown us that June is far from perfect – and has also shown us an outside view of what others think based upon their more limited knowledge. It’s a terrific commentary on the same real world phenomenon with both political figures and celebrities of all kinds.

Mark (Sam Jaeger) and Rachel (Krista Morin) are there to welcome her into Canada on behalf of the American government. Mark tells her that it’s an honor to meet her, and Rachel tells her that she’s safe now – and then they get into the formalities. Mark asks if she returned to Gilead would she be subject to torture or a risk to her life or a risk of cruel or unusual punishment? Um… d’uh? June tells them yes. Rachel asks further if she would be persecuted based on being a woman. June answers yes again. Mark goes on to say that he understands that she’s there to seek asylum and safety as a citizen of the United States. June is clearly still shell-shocked. Part of it is likely the concussion she suffered, but we’ve seen her retreat inside herself at times of extreme stress before. She looks to Moira, who tells her she’s got this. 

June then recites what she’s no doubt been told she needs to say: “My name is June Osborne. I am a citizen of the United States, and I seek asylum in the country of Canada.” Up until this moment, the only sounds have been the background sounds of the pier and the people on it. At this point, the music picks up, and it’s a dreamy ballad: “At Last!” made famous by Etta James. It feels perfect as June is escorted to opulence of the Royal York Hotel in downtown Toronto. She moves in a dreamlike state through the lobby, taking in the women who are all clearly free to do and dress as they will. The lyrics make is sound like it’s a love song, but the song is really about loneliness – June is surrounded by people, but she can’t connect with them yet. She enters the hotel room and doesn’t notice the gigantic cheese tray or the people talking – she just states out the window. Mark and Rachel leave June with Luke and Moira. Moira remarks that the hotel room is much nicer than the refuge center – and it’s a reminder of her own disorientation on arriving, and her much less grand arrival. 

Moira tells June she’s going but will be back tomorrow with Nicole. June hugs Moira. Luke thanks Moira, and she tells him to steal the nice moisturizers from the hotel to bring home! Of course it’s awkward between Luke and June. Luke asks what she wants to do – eat? Drink? Use the bathroom? June is confronted with choices and decisions, and chooses to use the bathroom – primarily to give her a moment alone to regroup? The bathroom has always been a retreat for her. She closes and locks the door. 

June looks at herself in the mirror and raises her chin. She chooses a shower over a bath – a luxury not afforded to her in Gilead – and a far cry from the last time we saw her being hosed off. Her back is still marked by bruises everywhere. When she emerges from the shower, she has on a bathrobe – a RED bathrobe. Her hair is back in the tight bun. She looks out from the bathroom and sees Luke arranging, and rearranging the room service he’s ordered. He’s clearly nervous and wants everything to be perfect. She can’t force herself through the door, and quietly shuts the door to the bedroom. She doesn’t lock the door. She sits on the bed. I loved the way this was shot. We see June in red, sitting on the white bed, but she’s only filling half the shot as it is being shot from within another room.

Meanwhile, the table is set – there are red and white flowers and champagne. Luke waits patiently, clearly wondering what to do – and if she’s alright. It’s another long shot, framed by the window. He goes to check on June – silently. He finds her asleep on the bed. 

When June wakes up, she finds Luke curled up on a sofa, much too small for him. She asks if she dozed off. He tells her that it’s the next day and she slept for seventeen hours! He asks if she remembers when she used to wake up from a long sleep like she’d really achieved something. She says she doesn’t think she ever got to seventeen hours, and Luke agrees, saying it’s a milestone. June replies that everything from here on out is a milestone. Luke can’t supress his joy and tells her that he can’t believe she’s there. 

June doesn’t share his bubbly enthusiasm, but asks him if he wants to come and sit by her. She suddenly realizes that she missed room service and asks if he ate. He tells her that he couldn’t eat for some reason (um… d’uh?) and sent it back. She apologizes. He tells her that she has nothing to apologize for – ever since the boat when she was apologizing – that was crazy. He tells her that he should be the one apologizing. 

It’s clear that they are both burdened by guilt. Luke tells her that he tried to get her out, and he tried to find Hannah – every day. He tells her that he’s sorry and that he failed them. He also tells her that he doesn’t blame her if she doesn’t forgive him – he clearly sees her ‘distance’ or pulling away as blame rather than a defence mechanism on June’s part. Luke tells her that he can’t forgive himself. 

June finally smiles. She tries to comfort Luke by telling him a version of what happened with Hannah. She tells him that Hannah knows that they love her because she told her. She tells him about seeing Hannah in the house in the country. Luke asks how she is, and June tells him that she’s really big and beautiful. And that memory is clearly from the most recent time she saw – but she doesn’t tell Luke anything about this traumatic visit. She tells him that she told Hannah that they had both tried as hard as they could to find her. When June tells him that Hannah asked why she didn’t try harder, Luke immediately recognizes his daughter. Moss and Fagbenle give 110% in this scene. June ends by telling Luke that she told Hannah that she and her daddy would always love her. The two embrace, but it’s also clear that June is still holding back the painful memories and in keeping that from Luke is also keeping a part of herself apart. 

Mark debriefs June about getting the children out. He’s clearly amazed and in awe of the fact that she had so little help to accomplish it. He wants to know what motivated her to risk her life, everything, to do it. She tells him that it was the only thing that she could do to fulfill her promise that they would hurt, the way they hurt them. She calls them the kidnappers, but then June makes it personal. She thought about what Serena deserved. I wish we’d seen her telling Mark about the scenes she only sees in her mind in flashback, so that he’d finally realize what Serena is really like – the farthest thing from a victim that she could be. June tells him that they take everything from you. 

Luke comes in with water for June and suggests a break. June asks if it’s ok, and Mark says of course. Luke sees that June has had enough for one day, though. June asks when Nicole is coming, and Mark says that Moira is bringing her by later. Luke tells her that they can be done now, if she wants. He’s clearly pleased that she’s finally seeming eager to see Nicole. Luke asks if she wants to go home and see her, and June is only looking to him now and smiles. Mark interrupts that it’s best to debrief now, while the memories are fresh – as if any of her memories aren’t seared into her brain! Luke tells him that they can debrief later – at the embassy. Right now, he’s taking his wife home to see their daughter. Mark tells him that he understands. June looks at Luke. She’s still not showing a lot of emotion, but one wonders what she’s thinking about men still making decisions for her…

We get a brief shot of the house, and then a closeup of June in the car as Luke tells her “this is home” – and of course, “Home” is the title of the episode. She looks a little apprehensive. Luke leads her in, and Moira and Emily (Alexis Bledel) are waiting with Nicole. June is overwhelmed to see Emily, who hands her Nicole. It’s a nice bookend to the last time that June held Nicole and gave her to Emily to take to safety.

That night, June sits alone with Nicole, rocking her. She tells her that she’s amazing – because Luke and Moira are raising her. How does she see herself stepping into this relationship? She says that they are both lucky, almost as if she doesn’t see herself as having a role. She then goes on to tell Nicole that she and her “first” daddy love her. Relationships and families are very complicated in Gilead… But is anyone else thinking that if Fred (Joseph Fiennes) could get Serena pregnant, did he also get June pregnant?

Serena is praying in the Chapel. She says that she is thankful for her pregnancy and asks forgiveness for her sins and asks that her sins not weigh on the baby. It’s a very sterile looking church, which is in keeping with Serena, whose humility is hard to believe in. Mark enters the Chapel quietly, as Serena asks for the strength to parent the baby on her own. She’s not happy to see Mark and asks how much he heard. She asks if it satisfies him to hear someone from Gilead express misgivings. She’s clearly abandoned any pretense of abandoning Gilead. He asks her if it satisfies her to express them. 

        She tells him that he’s punchy and asks if he’s seen “her.” Clearly meaning June. Her lawyer has told her June will complicate her case. Mark says he leaves the lawyer-stuff to the lawyers. She asks what he is – just a pot-stirrer? Mark relays that Fred wants to see her. He calls him the father, and Serena calls him a sperm-donor. Mark tells her that Fred doesn’t want to fight a war on two fronts (Serena and June), and he suggests that if she can get Fred to cooperate, it could help both himself and her. 

Serena goes to see Fred. His room is much the same as hers – but his courtyard has a bigger and more upright tree. I love the way this scene is shot as it picks up the echoes of so many others. We get a shot of Fred’s head and shoulders in the lower right corner, reflected in the window behind him which takes up the vast majority of the shot. There are so many shots where the person is only shown partially – people are only seeing a part of the person, often intentionally as the person hides at least part of themselves. The shot then shifts to Serena – she’s now framed by the doorway – she is trapped. 

Fred recites scripture as he approaches her, she tells him coldly to “back off” as colloquial and far from scripture as you can get! She drops the pretense of religious piety in front of him – this was their scam from the beginning, wasn’t it? She tells him nothing has changed, but he’s just as thrilled as she is to be becoming a parent and tells her everything has changed. It’s a sign from God that He wants them to be together. He tells her that he wants to be a good father – and husband if she’ll let him. He reaches to touch her belly and she stops him with the hand missing the finger as she tells him that it’s too late. Um… d’uh! Curiously, he tells her that her baby belongs to him just as much as Offred’s belonged to her. Is he implying that he’s not the father of this baby? Doesn’t he know that he’s not the father of Nicole? Before Serena can leave, Fred turns to more pressing matters. He tells her that with June in Canada, she could put them both away for the maximum sentence. They need to team up to fight together. He tells her he’ll do whatever he has to to ensure a good life for their son, and asks her why she wouldn’t do the same.

June wakes the next day to the sound of birds and the baby gurgling. It clearly takes her a minute to figure out where she is. June still has her hair caught in her “Handmaid’s bun” but she’s wearing a sweater the color of a wife’s dress. She finds a very domestic scene with Luke, Moira, and Nicole in the kitchen. Luke has made pancakes, and June goes immediately to kiss Nicole. I thought it a bit odd that Moira scoops Nicole up to take her to the supermarket with her to get groceries. June says she’d like to come. Moira asks if she’s sure as the culture shock might be a bit overwhelming and looks to Luke. Luke just shrugs, and looks to June. He clearly wants to be guided by her. She then tells them that she’d like to invite Emily and Rita (Amanda Brugel) over that night so she can meet Oliver (Charlie Zeltzer). Luke asks if she’s sure, but again, is clearly ready to do what she wants. 

I loved how the entrance to the supermarket mirrored similar scenes of June going shopping with the other Handmaid’s only this time instead of a sterile environment with barely full shelves, the shelves are bursting with produce and color. June is drinking it in, with Luke in the lead with the stroller and Moira behind. June almost has her mouth hanging open and eyes bugging out. Luke stops and asks if she’s ok, clearly concerned. But she says she’s good and takes the lead. When they get to the chip aisle, June asks what happened to them in the last seven years – reminding us of just how long she was in Gilead. Luke tells her, it’s a travesty – they made them healthy! 

Moira joins them – they’ve been splitting up to fill their list. She tells them Nicole needs to be changed and needs to go home for a nap as she’s about ’10 minutes from a breakdown and that’s not pretty’ – something clearly Luke would know, but not June. When Moira discovers she has no diapers to change Nicole, Luke says “I got you” and throws her one from the bag he’s picked up to buy. It’s like the normal exchange of a couple over their baby – and June is completely on the periphery of it. And isn’t this what a Handmaid does? Has the baby and then gives it to another couple to raise? Luke tells June ‘life with a one year old’ – and June replies “I remember.” 

June tells Luke she needs time to decide on the chips and will meet him at check out. As she stands in the aisle, a mother and daughter fun by and two women – a couple – walk past. All blissfully unaware of their freedom. June turns back to the chips, and we get a clear shot of her ear tag – and that’s not the only thing she’s brought from Gilead with her. As she takes the chips off the shelf, she remembers peering through the shelves in Gilead and sharing information with Alma. And then she sees two Muslim women walking and talking together – dressed in the color of handmaids. She sees a display of water with a wing logo that also reminds her of the statue in Gilead and then her mind is flooded with images of violence. She begins to have a panic attack – and she seems to have herself under control…

The scene shifts to June coming downstairs that night as Moira answers the door. It’s reminiscent of her coming down the stairs at the Waterford’s. Moira and Luke greet Emily and Oliver, but June has to wait a few minutes in the stairwell to gather herself. She puts a smile on her face and forces herself out. She says hi, and asks Oliver for a hug. As she’s hugging him, Rita comes in and asks if she can get “some of that.” June immediately rises and is emotional as she hugs Rita tightly. Rita praises God that June made it and is safe. I like that the show doesn’t have a monolithic approach to religion – clearly Gilead uses it as a weapon, yet there is a place for this faith of Rita. 

The four women sit together. Emily is back living with Sylvia and Oliver, but they aren’t sleeping together. She says that Sylvia is being very patient, and Moira points out that they all left Gilead fucked up about sex – and in Emily’s case, mutilated to prevent her ever enjoying it again. Emily points out that Moira found Oona (Zawe Ashton), but she says she ruined that. June tries to take responsibility for breaking them up, and Moira tells her “don’t bring that Aunt Lydia-shit in here.” I love that Moira clearly knows that it was Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) who brainwashed them all into being guilty for the things they didn’t do or couldn’t control. They laugh, and Emily says she can’t get them there, and Moira says none of them can. June then asks if they ever wonder if they deserve ‘this.’ If you deserve to be here? Emily clearly has regrets about what she did, but Moira tells them that they did what they had to to survive. She’s made peace with what she’s done, but I’m not convinced that even she has completely absolved herself. 

Moira tells them they won. They tried to destroy them, but they won. The others nod. June asks what they know about Serena. Moira clearly doesn’t want to tell June. Rita tells her that she saw her because Serena wanted her help. June presses, wanting to know what Serena wanted. Rita tells her, you know her – “total narcissist.” Rita isn’t stupid. She finally tells June that Serena is pregnant. June is clearly furious, but she stays completely in control. She immediately asks if it’s the Commander’s – and it’s interesting that that is how she refers to him – still brainwashed to be deferential. Rita says it is – but is it??? It’s clear that they are all waiting for what June will do – she’s the loose cannon at this point after all. They all breathe a sigh of relief when she says, “Well fuck her, I don’t care.” Moira immediately says, that’s right! Moira says that Serena looked awful and Rita confirms it. Moira goes to get more beer….

As she passes the door, she sees Oona dropping something at the door for June. Moira asks if she wants to come in, and Oona says no, she’s just on her way home from work – so she still has a job, despite her doom and gloom on the boat. Oona says that they aren’t allowed back into Gilead or anywhere outside of Canada for now. Moira apologizes and asks if it helps that they brought in a major intelligence asset? Oona says it’s likely the only reason that they still have a fighting chance. Moira says it’s nice that Oona brought June a gift as they almost killed her NGO, and Oona concedes she almost left her to die in Gilead, clearly feeling badly that she did want to. Oona says they’re even.

Oona turns to go, and Moira tells her that she thinks the world of her and doesn’t want them to be over. Oona points out that Moira chose her friend over her – and their work. She tells Moira that she knows where she stands with her and it’s fine, but Moira says she doesn’t know. Oona doesn’t want to fight, but Moira points out that if they don’t fight, they can’t move on. Oona tells her that they can’t move on. Moira says she’s been moving on her whole life until she met Odette and she thought that they were forever… but she wasn’t, and Moira feels like Oona could be forever. Oona tells her to call her – they’ll have the fight – but somewhere warmer… I’m still not convinced that Oona completely understands what these women went through in Gilead.

Luke is cleaning up and asks June if she had fun. She’s having another glass of wine and says sure, but she’s clearly still dealing with the rage she feels about Serena. She puts her hand on his and the two turn and face each other. I loved how Luke stared into June’s face, clearly wanting her, but waiting until she very clearly made the first move to kiss him as she stretches up toward him. He goes to put his hand on her head and brushes the ear tag causing her to gasp in pain. He immediately pulls back and apologizes. She tells him it’s ok, and they resume kissing. She pulls back and apologizes. He tells her it’s fine and says it’s his fault. He tries to talk to her and she walks away. He doesn’t follow, clearly at a loss as to what to do.

That night the two are in bed. June is looking at the ceiling, remembering the horrible things Serena has done to her. She meets Mark in a parking lot and he takes her to Serena – which would never actually happen… but ok. Serena is in her pajamas, in her room, and it’s so reminiscent of the times Serena came to June’s room. Serena tells her that she humbly thanks the Lord for June’s visit – that Serena asked him for. June tells her, “you would. You never gave me credit for anything.” Mark, who’s been standing by the open door, closes it and says he’ll be next door.

Serena tells June she aske the Lord to bring June to her so that she could make amends – LOL! June isn’t going to be sucked in this time. June clarifies that she brought herself there so that she could tell Serena how much she hates her. She doesn’t deserve anything but a life of suffering and shame. June tells Serena that she’s destroyed her life, her friends, her country, and her child. Once again this scene is carefully choreographed. As June says this she steps closer to Serena, they are shown in profile, framed by the window to the courtyard, with the very sorry looking tree, looking like it is almost weeping or ill. 

June tells Serena that there is no one less worthy of redemption than Serena. Serena tells her that she’s sorry, and falls to her knees, saying she’s begging for June’s forgiveness and for His understanding. June tells Serena that God only made her pregnant so that when He kills the baby, Serena will feel a fraction of the pain that she caused them when she ripped their children from their arms. And here we get a reversal of June on the floor and Serena yelling at her, as Serena is on the floor and June grips her chin as she screams in her face, “Do you understand me?” June turns and walks away, knocking gently on the door to be let out. 

Now that she’s taken her power back, June returns home, takes off her clothes, and makes love to Luke. Even here, however, she takes complete control. Luke sleepily asks what time it is, and is clearly confused, but lets it play out. She gets on top of him. He tries to speak to her, but she puts her hand over his mouth, silencing him. She reaches climax, but he doesn’t seem to lose himself at all in the act.

The next day, the two play with Nicole outside, smiling, and happy. But are they? Will June really be able to make this transition?

June meets again with Mark in his office. She tells him that Serena is pathological. She’s a sociopath, toxic, and abusive. She’s a monster. June also tells him that Serena is a consummate actor – all those years on the book tour circuit. Mark asks what June thinks drives her, and June replies hatred and rage with no hesitation. I love that Mark has a “murder board” in his office with Fred, Serena, and Nick on it. Does that mean Nick is one of the most wanted too? Under Serena’s section, Mark’s first note is that she betrayed Fred, but it’s followed by puts children first and then can we use the pregnancy. June tells Mark that under the rage and hatred there is nothing but pure misery, and she’ll do anything not to feel that way.

Serena goes to Fred and tells him that she needs him. Clearly, now that she knows June can’t be manipulated any more (or Rita!), Fred is her last hope. Fred kneels to her, praying and pressing his face to her stomach. She looks out the window and smiles – clearly only because here she still has power and control. 

As the picture turns back to the happy family playing, in the show, the voice over of June talking to Mark continues. She tells Mark that Serena will do anything not to feel that way even for a second, to get what she wants, including lie to you, hurt you, rape you. She warns him not to get sucked in by her and if he feels he is? “Run for your life.” And the episode ends with a close up of June’s determined face. She’s figured out her purpose now. She’s got control, and she’s going to use it.

This was definitely a transitional episode as both the audience and June try to figure out what her next chapter is going to be. My fingers are crossed that all of our women, and especially June, can find some kind of happiness. Is Luke too good to be true? I’m hoping not. So far, he’s been patient and smart about how he’s there for support, but only to guide, not lead or force June. I wonder how he is going to relate to this new June, the one who wants to be on top. Will he embrace her? He’s changed too after all. I am really enjoying seeing Serena unmasked – but kudos again to Fagbenle, Moss and Strahovski for wonderful performances – so much of the emotions and thoughts in this show are only conveyed through their body language and facial expressions. And kudos to the cinematographer and director. I just can’t say enough about the imagery in this show! What did you think of the episode? Did you catch all the echoes to past episodes? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!