You know, for a minute there, I thought we had an episode that was actually spotlighting the secondary characters and giving June a bit of a break, especially considering her biggest scene was a courtroom scene where she basically recounted a good bit of the plot from the previous three and a half seasons.
Then something happened and I had a new thought about June.
See, one of the things I think The Handmaid’s Tale has done wrong was to criminally misuse a largely talented cast. That was one of the big problems for me whenever the show went to Canada to check in on Luke, Moira, Emily, or one of the others. They were being played by talented actors, but compared to whatever June was up to in Gilead, it always felt rather pointless. There was June risking her life just to keep her head above water, and we had to see how Emily was doing readjusting to life with her lover or Moira starting a relationship. Given what the characters had gone through, it made sense to show how they were doing, but at the same time, it wasn’t the most interesting of television compared to whatever was happening in Gilead, especially as it was often a relatively minor role in the course of the rest of the episode.
And at least Moira and Emily had recovery to go through as they readjusted to life on the other side. Luke always felt even more superfluous as he got out before everything got really bad. He mostly just wondered what had happened to his wife and daughter.
And sure, this show has always done right by Aunt Lydia, here given a scene or two that shows she’s back to her old ways, ending with a recaptured Janine being brought to her. Yes, Janine survived, and she and Lydia do have a weird bond of some kind as something about Janine brings out the maternal side in Lydia. Granted, this comes after Lydia used her cattleprod on a really meek Handmaid trainee and another Aunt.
Though her reprimand from Lawrence, where he says most of the new Handmaids have lived in Gilead most of their lives and are less inclined to rebel, made me wonder how the hell long has Gilead been active on this show?!?
But really, we got somewhere with Emily. She, June, and Moira all belong to a former Handmaid support group (wait, wasn’t Moira a Jezebel? must be a Gilead survivors support group). Regardless, there’s also a former Aunt trying to gain some level of forgiveness from Emily for her role in getting Emily mutilated. Emily refuses, but later drives by a tree to see the Aunt hung herself.
So, here’s the way the episode is playing; how does Emily feel about all this? Alexis Bledel’s face is enigmatic. She could be feeling guilt. She could be feeling vindication. Her face is a strained neutral, and if there’s one thing The Handmaid’s Tale does best is use close-ups of actor’s faces to express complex emotions.
One thing it doesn’t do well is when we see Wienie Fred, after defending Gilead’s methods like a true believer in court in response to June’s pointing out he was responsible for multiple rapes, has a crowd of Canadian supporters cheering him on the next day. …the hell?
However, there was one weird thing about June this episode in that she was the one to bring the former Aunt to the support group. Um, why? That doesn’t make sense. Since when does June show forgiveness to anyone in a position of power in Gilead? The only reason she let Lydia live during her last escape was because they only had a little bit of time to escape, and the other Handmaids with considerably less plot armor were calling her to make a run for it with them. True, June seems inclined to be better with some like Nick and maybe Lawrence, but why bring…
It comes out that, when the group meets to talk about the dead Aunt that Emily isn’t the slightest bit remorseful or upset about the whole thing. And while Moira points out that the group is there to find peace post-Gildead, June finally weighs in to ask why they can’t feel something else. And then the anger comes out of most of the other women (except Moira from the looks of things), as one by one the other members of the group start to wish death on the people who hurt them.
June, she just smiles a nasty smile over all this.
So…is she a villain here?
I realize that suggests that her victims are heroes, but I don’t think The Handmaid’s Tale is framing it that way. This may be a show where there simply are no heroes, just various levels of villainy and a few bystanders (that would be Luke). Now, Gilead has it coming, but June’s single-minded pursuit of vengeance has already gotten a lot of people killed, and she seems like she just doesn’t care anymore. June doesn’t want justice. She wants to see these people burn, and she is not above changing a support group looking for help into a tool she can use to work towards that goal. Vengeance won’t provide healing. It would be difficult to argue that anything can. Gilead is a blight and an evil, even with more morally ambiguous men like Lawrence in positions of power, men who have some level of decency (more than either of the Waterfords), they still set this whole thing up.
And it is important to remember that, in a society like Gilead or the one depicted in the comic series Bitch Planet, a society like that is bad for everyone aside from maybe the men in charge of it all. Gilead and the men (and women) responsible for it have reaped what they sowed. The only real question when it comes to June is…can she come back from this?