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The Handmaid's Tale - Motherland - Review

2 Nov 2022

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  The Handmaid’s Tale “Motherland” was written by Yahlin Chang and was directed by Natalia Leite. The episode features amazing performances from Bradley Whitford (Lawrence) – who is also directing the next episode – Yvonne Strahovski (Serena), Elisabeth Moss (June), and O-T Fagbenle (Luke). I loved the new side of Lawrence that we got to see in this episode, and kudos to Strahovski for making me actually feel sympathy for Serena! I hate myself… I also loved how the title reverberated with the entire episode, reflecting both Serena’s and June’s quests to be reunited with their children AND Lawrence’s plan with New Bethlehem – to bring the refugees home.

As the episode opens, June is cooking and thinking of Hannah. Luke, Moira (Samira Wiley), and Rita (Amanda Brugel) are also helping put the meal together while the loud honking and shouts of protestors can be heard outside. The phone rings and it’s Serena calling from the Detention Centre – and it’s clear that they’ve been ignoring her calls for a while. Rita has also refused to take her calls. Luke is incredulous that Serena thinks they are “buddies” and Moira can’t imagine why Serena would think that they’d advocate for her. June tells them that it was never about saving Serena – but she didn’t think a newborn deserved to die in the woods. June will always be a mother first. 

They go outside when the protesting gets even louder. Luke wonders if it will ever end, and June tells him that it will only get worse. I’m not going to lie. I felt real shame for my country – especially with the Canadian flags and beavers on the placards (ok, that was a little funny – and the picture was taken from an obscure cartoon history of Canada). The last time I felt this much shame about my country was during the truck convoys – those people – like these – are not true Canadians. However, I did like how the show continues to reflect real world issues and problems. Just as resistance and protest fired up in Gilead is now spilling over to copy-cat resistance, so too has many of the right-wing extremist values filtered north…

The chaotic scene is perfectly contrasted with a shift to a beautiful, tranquil, and unpopulated community on the shores of what appears to be the ocean. Lawrence is trying to sell the other Commanders on New Bethlehem by showing them through it and underscoring the benefits it can provide to Gilead, particularly better relations with Canadians by taking the refugees back. Lawrence’s idea is that New Bethlehem will have a more democratic rule – like Hong Kong to China (and I think we all know how well that’s going, right?). Lawrence dangles a seat at the UN in front of them. He tells them it’s time to grow up.

There’s only one Commander who isn’t fully on board. Lawrence points out that there’s no free press in Gilead, so the residents there will have no idea what’s going on in New Bethlehem… of course, the problem with that plan is that the carrot to lure people – like June – back is the promise to be reunited with their loved ones. People will be allowed to visit… and people talk. However, the spectre of Commander Putnam does its job. Lawrence tells them they need to project to the world, their maturity, confidence and moral fortitude. It’s Nick (Max Minghella) who chimes in that moral fortitude is what Putnam lacked. Lawrence’s move against Putnam has clearly solidified his power takeover, and Nick is clearly his righthand man. The single holdout goes after Lawrence and essentially grovels his acceptance of the plan.

In the Detention Centre, Serena is facing a wall and pumping her breast milk. Alanis (Genevieve Angelson) shows up to collect it because Serena insisted that she do so in person. Angelson is a brilliant villain – I absolutely loathe her!!!!!!! She gives Serena barely any information about Noah. Serena apologizes for acting rashly – she didn’t mean to hurt Ezra. She knew he was wearing a vest… ultimately, they both blame it on the pregnancy hormones, which backfires on Serena as Alison insists that she is not fit emotionally to be a mother to Noah. However, Alison is clearly the unfit mother. She tells Serena that Noah is turning the house upside down – not eating and crying all the time. She is clearly annoyed at having the baby disrupt her home. Serena is tortured by Alison’s clear lack of humanity – she clearly enjoys torturing the baby with the ‘cry it out’ method. Serena drops the obsequious act at the mention of a lack of mental toughness, pointing out that she helped found a country and gave birth against all odds to a healthy baby. She has never lacked for mental toughness. Alison is clearly never giving that baby back…

Outside the house, June, Luke, and Moira scrub the graffiti off the sidewalk. Luke complains that they’re better at it than he is. June points out that she’s had practice – scrubbing the blood off the wall in Gilead – and isn’t that a perfect parallel. Luke says they welcomed him with open arms when he got there, but Moira says they were only polite when she came later. Luke suggests that they should leave Toronto – and Canada. They could go to Alaska or Europe – but June is never going that far from Hannah. And then Lawrence calls to ask to meet with June.

June meets with Lawrence, who tells her that America is dying. Lawrence’s speech about the fact that all June’s closely held beliefs are gone is brilliant – and is such a commentary on the world we live in today. “Democracy, liberty, justice – all that feel good crap defined by a bunch of slave owners talking about how all men are created equal. All of that collapsed under the weight of late-term capitalism and rampant consumerism. It broke our pretty little planet and almost ended the human race.” Lawrence points out that they fixed that problem – they’re having babies again. He then laments having “religious nutjobs” as the delivery system. He admits that he underestimated their depravity – but it worked. June looks stunned – Moss’s reactions are perfect and understated.

Lawrence tells her that with their success, they can afford to let up a little. She asks if he’s going to let Hannah out. He says no, but he’ll let her in to New Bethlehem – no Handmaids, she could read a book, keep a diary. It would be a place for refugees to return to the motherland. And where one could visit their grown children – who are running their own household. June asks if he’s serious – but wants to know if Hannah is getting married. He tells her that it’s Gilead – they all do eventually, but he doesn’t give her any concrete information. He just tells her that he can bring her to New Bethlehem and reunite them there. She can bring her family and live a life. June asks again – she can be with her daughter. June asks how he’ll keep her safe, and Lawrence tells her that he’s going to put Nick in charge. He gives her a phone to call him with and tells her to think about it.

Back at the house, June tells Luke, and Luke simply shuts the entire idea down. He doesn’t trust Lawrence or Gilead. June points out that the eyes of the world would be on them – it’s how they’re going to get in the UN. June agrees that she doesn’t trust them, but she’d do anything, risk anything to be with Hannah again. Luke refuses to listen and leaves the room – with June hot on his heels. She points out that the American government – and Tuello (Sam Jaeger) haven’t done anything for them. June tells Luke that Lawrence has come through for her in the past – he got Nicole out, he got Emily out, he let Mayday into his house, and he helped with Angel-flight – AND he got her Fred! He’s been her friend. 

Luke then loses it. He can’t understand her complicated feelings towards Lawrence and Serena. He tells her that he hates all of them – and he clearly does. Fagbenle is excellent in this scene. Luke also says he hates what they’ve done to June… And then he tells her exactly what Alison said to Serena – he tells her that she’s letting her EMOTIONS cloud her judgement. It’s classic gaslighting. June just shakes her head. She tells him that he does not understand her at all – look what he did to Serena and her baby. He’s separated a mother from her child because he fundamentally does not understand that bond. Luke insists that he did it for June to keep her safe. He asks her to let him protect her. June sits by the window, bathed in light from behind and it’s so reminiscent of the many times we saw her sitting in her room at Serena’s. She just shakes her head. He has no idea how strong she is – how she was forged that way. She tells him that she doesn’t need his protection – but Hannah does. 

Lawrence also visits Serena at the Detention Centre, and I can’t help envisioning June and Serena as neighbors in New Bethlehem…. However, Lawrence clearly thinks of Serena as one of those religious nutbags… Serena wants to know if Lawrence is getting her out. He is – into Gilead custody. She complains that it took him long enough and then demands that he get her baby back. He tells her that she’s making a lot of demands for someone who behaved very badly and caused a lot of trouble! She tells him that he has to help her with the Wheelers. He tells her he has – and he’s clearly enjoying this. He's got them to allow her to return to a room in their house – so she can nurse the baby! Serena is appalled and clearly upset – Strahovski is excellent here – as she was in the scene with Alison – going from tough, demanding Serena to utterly vulnerable. It doesn’t feel at all like an act to me (on Serena’s part). Doesn’t some part of us always want to see our villains learn the error of their ways and reform?

Lawrence is clearly interested in the photo op. A new Gilead mother in a beautiful mansion with a wealthy couple… sounds a LOT like a handmaid… Serena tells him that they’re trying to steal her baby. Lawrence suggest that will be hard to do with him attached to her breast… The only way they’ll let her back in is to nurse and reduce the crying – I loved Whitford’s little embarrassment over talking about her breasts. He tells her that they have legal status to care for her baby – and she does not. Serena cries and declares that she won’t live in the same house with her baby’s kidnappers! And Whitford once again gets the best line in the episode – possibly the season: “Do you have an IRONY deficiency?” Oh, yes, he’s LOVING this! She gets is and declares that she’s not a handmaid, but Lawrence’s little smile says otherwise…

The scene shifts to a crying baby, but its June comforting Nicole who has been awakened by the protestors. There’s no cry-it-out bullshit here. June crawls into bed with her and sings to her to comfort her. June sings a song that she used to sing to Hannah – and we have flashbacks to June singing to Hannah too. Luke sneaks up to the door and watches. June tells Nicole that she wants her to know her big sister. Fagbenle is again excellent as he remains quietly in the background with tears on his face.

June awakens the next morning. She finds Tuello in the living room with Luke, but her first question is where is Nicole (music lesson with Moira). Tuello is worried about people taking up Lawrence’s offer, and he knows that June would be a huge “get” for him – he knows it would signal the end of America too. I also loved him comparing Lawrence to Gorbachev – trying to open up the country – but cautioning that a Putin would surely follow. And we may stand at the brink of WWIII because of it… Tuello tells her she could end up trapped there with the end of America, Mayday – democracy! He goads her with – don’t you owe your country anything? LOL! I’m with June – what has America done to help her? She also points out that she and Luke got captured getting him information that he’s done nothing with. 

Tuello tells them they are doing something with the information – but it’s classified. She won’t accept that answer. He tells her they are planning a military action – but won’t give details. He also has no information on Hannah. June is furious – you came all this way to tell us nothing! Lawrence is offering us Hannah. Tuello insists he can’t tell them more and asks that they trust in their country – and June scoffs – what country?

June talks with Rita about Luke thinking she’s crazy for even considering New Bethlehem. Rita doesn’t want to interfere, but eventually says that she’s moving on with her life there… but, she adds, she doesn’t have a child there. June asks her what if she did? Rita admits that if there was a world where her son was still alive, she would do anything to see him again.

June finally goes to see Serena – for information about New Bethlehem. Serena tells her that it’s been an idea for years and that Lawrence seems to have solidified his power, but she doesn’t currently have any real information on Gilead politics. Like Rita, she is trying to move on from Gilead, and that’s why she wanted to see June. She wants June’s help to get a sponsor or lawyer! June looks incredulous and tells her that they aren’t friends. Serena says, but you forgave me – and June sets her straight that she didn’t. Serena insists that she did because June saved her life and Noah’s. Serena insists that they’ve been through so much that they share a bond. June tells her that she just turned the other cheek. I loved her rubbing it in that after everything – June is a better Christian than Serena!

Serena asks what she’s supposed to do now. June’s enjoying this as much as Lawrence as she tells her to go back to the Wheelers. Serena asks her how she’s supposed to live in a house with a woman who is trying to steal her baby. I LOVED the look on Moss’s face as she asks Serena if she’s seriously asking her that. Serena asks her how she lived with her. And June tells her what to do. Go back in and act like a handmaid, but the entire time, you will be plotting against them and planning your revenge. Serena asks if that’s what she did – and June tells her – look at what happened to Fred and look at you now. June tells Serena that you cannot help your child if you are not with them – I would go back. And it’s clear that it also speaks to her own situation.

June goes to Lawrence, who smugly says to her, “See how I make everything work out for you?” Clearly meaning he’s also orchestrated Serena’s punishment for June. Though, of course, it fits his own plans too. June tells him that Luke doesn’t trust him – but Lawrence knows she does. June tells him to stop them from marrying off Hannah. Lawrence flatly and repeatedly refuses. Gilead’s gonna Gilead. June is furious. All the women raped, tortured, abused in a world that he created. And that really does hit home. Whitford is simply brilliant in this scene as Lawrence’s cool demeanor finally crumbles when she calls him a sick fuck. He is clearly tortured by what he’s done (is that enough? No…). He tells her that he was trying to save humanity – and he did – but it got away from him and went septic. If he could do it over, he would have let the human race die out. June tells him to fix it. 

Lawrence tells her that New Bethlehem IS the way that they can create a better future from an unchangeable past. A place without the shame trials and torture and child brides. Hannah might be a child bride but Nicole will not be. Lawrence insists that countries can get better. With the success of New Bethlehem, in 5 or 10 years, the reforms can travel to Gilead to become a place that doesn’t trample on human rights. Lawrence tells June that he needs her – he asks her help to fix it. To make a difference better than Mayday ever could. He tells her that he has no choice but to fix it or kill himself like Eleanor – but let’s not forget that June killed Eleanor – and if Lawrence ever finds that out… June will pay.

June appears to be weeding the garden – under a full moon. Who does that? She hears Hannah’s laughter – and is interrupted by Luke who says she got a package. It’s a CD with a video of Hannah (Jordana Blake) at Wives School! June insists that Hannah needs them and they have to go to her. Luke tells her that he wants to go, but he can’t let her go. How does he get to decide what she does? June loses her temper and asks him what he’s going to do – nothing? Like he has for the last seven years?!!? He clearly feels the same, but it hurts him, and June apologizes immediately. He tells her that he has a feeling that she’s going to go and never come back. She tells him they can go as a family, and he tells her that Nicole is never going to Gilead. June tells him that she’ll have to go without them – and he laughs. She says she knows it sounds crazy. Luke says they’re never going to be enough for her. June is distraught that she abandoned Hannah. As June becomes increasingly distraught, Luke finally takes her into his arms to comfort her. 

Lawrence and Nick walk through New Bethlehem as Lawrence discusses his “400” point plan. Nick asks if June is going to come. Lawrence says he thinks she’s getting to yes – maybe in a year or two. They pause in front of a giant house, and Lawrence asks if Nick could see himself living there with Rose. New Bethlehem will be one of their most important new settlements and he’ll need a close ally as Commander. Nick comments that it’s an intriguing proposal – but full of risks. Lawrence dangles having both the women he loves – and all his children – close…

Tuello meanwhile continues to dangle carrots to try to keep June on their side. He promises that they are going to throw everything they have at getting Hannah, but he also asks for more time.

Serena arrives back at the Wheelers, and I just want to rip their faces off! MR Wheeler (Lucas Neff) tells her that she can speak! Serena apologizes for everything and thanks them for letting her come back to be with the baby. Alison tells her that she can nurse the baby – but that’s it! Alison will be doing all the rest. Serena barely keeps it together, and Alison just keeps pushing, telling her that she’s not fit to be a full-fledged mother – and probably never will be! Serena twists her hands together – and there is a beautiful close-up of her lost finger. Let’s not forget that she lost that finger in trying to get the right for her daughter (Nicole) to be able to read. Would Alison lose a body part for a baby? She can’t even stand the upset in the house!

As in June did in Gilead, Serena also finds allies in the servants. When she hears Noah crying, she runs up the stairs. She pauses before going in to ask permission from the maid (Malaika Hennie-Hamadi) to enter the nursery. The nanny (Dorothy A Atabong) tells her that Noah has been waiting for her and smiles as she hands him to Serena who takes no time in starting to nurse him.

Luke answers the phone – it’s Rita asking about an update. June is reaching a breaking point, and tells Moira she’s going to take a walk to the grocery store for apples. While in the store, June gets a call from Tuello – they’ve found Hannah. There are a lot of moving parts…. And really neither we nor June hear anything else. She’s about to leave the store with the apples and then goes to put them back. The grocer tells her it’s alright as she spills them all over – and she impulsively hugs him before running home to tell the others. 

She bursts in and tells them that they found her and they’re going to do a raid and bring her back. The three hug and cry and laugh. The picture shifts to Hannah, planting flowers and looking up at the sky with a smile on her face. And this is a wonderful parallel to June pulling weeds in the dark. Hannah has a new life – it’s been seven years – and like Jaden the Guardian who lost his leg – she’s unlikely to remember them or her life before. She’s been growing a life and they are going to rip her out of it. I can’t wait to see how this plays out!

Once again this tremendous series delivers. The story is compelling in and of itself, but the commentary it also projects onto current events is really terrific. The acting is always superb, so it is impossible to say who delivered the best performance as the four main leads all did! What did you think of the episode? How long do you think Serena can stand Alison? Will Tuello get Hannah out? If he does will it go well? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!