June may be the hero of this series, but until now she has toiled in obscurity, murdering Commanders with Bics and smuggling out infants for an audience of one. (Well, for us, too.) But now, Lord help us, she has attained sainthood among the Gileadean population in Toronto’s “Little America” and the clued-in operatives running Mayday underground. This episode sees Rita and Luke suavely turning June’s role in the “Angel Flight” into a fundraising scheme (in a rather sparsely populated event hall, alas), and an enslaved sex worker called Daisy at the rural branch of Jezebel’s exclaiming, “I thought you’d be taller” when she meets June to exchange information about a safe house. Word has gotten out about what Daisy laughingly refers to as “Air Canada,” and it has inspired further rebellion against the state. “People are doing stuff,” she goes on, “slashing tires, cutting power lines.” She implies that June has kickstarted this guerilla warfare (though we know that Mayday and other rebels were operating long before she joined in) and has taken on underground legend status.
This is worrying, mostly because The Handmaid’s Tale has already elevated June to a position so high in the sky that the essential ordinariness of Atwood’s Offred has now entirely evaporated. This isn’t some nitpicking exercise by a book critic irritated that a beloved novel has been thinned down into a “Girl Power” bumper sticker. (Okay, maybe a tiny bit.) It’s that June already saw herself as the savior of female-kind, an unhelpful extreme that shaves down the delightful ambivalence of the original character. And now that she knows she’s hot shit, she is certainly not going to stop doing dumbass stuff that should get her killed but won’t simply because she is the protagonist!
“Nightshade” proves my point. In terms of world-building, I appreciated the expansion, the knowledge that Jezebel’s isn’t the only icky brothel in Gilead. The house’s Federal style is a nice arch touch, a little reminder that these men think of themselves as 21st-century founding fathers. But June’s insistence on staying an extra night at the Keyes’ farm so that she can poison (and kill? that much is unclear) the military commanders staying at the brothel is a ludicrous undermining of her own agenda. June wants to find Hannah and get her out. It’s nearly impossible to square that with her new renegade mission.
In the last episode, “Pigs,” June exercised appropriate caution, telling Mrs. Keyes that they can’t simply stride into the closest command center and start a war. They are confronting a well-organized, well-equipped, tyrannical machine. So even though June’s idea — to poison the Commanders via the booze their sex slaves are pouring down their throats — is brilliant and made me shout “Shots! Shots! Shots, shots, shots!” at my screen, staying that extra night at the Keyes farm is deadly. A suspicious Guardian has already arrived, searching for Johnny, the man Mrs. Keyes slaughtered. If nothing else, why not send the Handmaids on to the next safe house and join them there? This sort of planning shouldn’t be hard. But the writers needed an excuse for June to be captured — AGAIN — and so here we have it. This time with the added bonus of Nick as her unlikely captor, whispering in her ear that he’ll try to keep her alive.
Of course, the central debate in June’s mind is whether to stay and fight on the ground or flee and fight from afar. Moira and Luke’s tepid little fundraiser doesn’t inspire much hope that Americans in exile can do much from their side of the border; she can cause far more damage from the inside. But she also learns of the complications — if that word isn’t too sedate — that follow her revolts. Daisy is slightly in awe of “the handmaid who killed Commander Winslow” (a.k.a. Chris Meloni and his fine glutes), but she adds that after his death they “cleaned house” at Jezebel’s. She was lucky to make it out alive. Without realizing it, June keeps knocking over long lines of dominoes.
(Sidenote: The pairing of Bowie’s “Suffragette City” with scenes of Daisy and other gorgeous women pouring literal belladonna down the throat of a man who looks uncannily like Don Jr. was a wickedly fun idea.)
Up in Canada, the case of Waterford v. Waterford is starting to better resemble Jarndyce v. Jarndyce. If I have this straight, Serena turned on Fred for the promise of a life in Canada that would involve baby Nichole. She did not, however, acquire immunity in this deal, for reasons I cannot fathom. So Fred, motivated by spite — my favorite emotion — turned the tables on Serena and told authorities that she too had committed several war crimes in her Gilead years. Serena was arrested — though there is no marked difference in her locale or situation — and had her baby privileges taken away. Now Joel from Parenthood, who is an agent of the American government in exile but who acts more like a marital counselor for the Waterfords, may be willing to drop those charges against her if she will play the victim and testify against Fred, something she was obviously willing to do a few weeks ago but has now … changed her mind about? As Serena smartly points out, the government has now turned its prime witness — her — into a liability, by arresting her as an accomplice. It’s all very confusing!
Serena, “rusty” at manipulating her absolute Godzilla of a husband, trots out an old memory from their time traveling the world on her book tour in the hope that Fred’s cold, dead heart will feel something for her and recant his testimony against her. She even wears heels and a demure skirt, the ever-abiding wife. To no one’s surprise, this transparent ploy doesn’t work, and why should it? Fred is a political prisoner, facing a life in jail, plucked from the evil empire he so lovingly built. He’ll take his revenge where he can. “Nichole is not your daughter any more than she is mine,” he responds, “and if you think I’m going to let you have her, to walk free and go start some new life, you are delusional.”
Except now there’s a tiny glob of Waterford cells in the mix. Well, perhaps tiny, perhaps not, considering how long Serena has been in Canada (at least several weeks, from winter to spring) and the long period since the last consummation of her marriage. Is this an immaculate conception? It’s certainly a Hail Mary, considering how forcefully the idea was pressed on viewers that Serena absolutely could not, under any circumstances, carry and deliver a child of her own. Nonetheless I admit it intrigues me. A baby changes everything.