A woman leads 52 kids away from their oppressors, through the woods, and to freedom. It could be a myth. Heck, it could be a retelling of Moses — which explains that final passage from Exodus. And that’s how I’ll think of The Handmaid’s Tale from now on, as it continues to mythologize June (Elisabeth Moss) to epic proportions. The Handmaid’s Tale reads like a story that’ll be told years from now, long after Gilead is over. Here’s how June, the superhero of Gilead, came to be. Here’s Exodus, starring women.
Granted, we have to marvel at how far June (Elisabeth Moss) has come in the last five years. “Mayday” starts in the instant after the curtain falls on America, and Gilead assumes the stage. At first, June thinks it’s all some big misunderstanding. But all of the horrors, pulled straight from an account of WWII, should clue her in otherwise. Women are reduced to chattel. The disabled are carted off to unknown locations (likely not good); others are examined for their worth. June, deemed useful, heads off to new reality.
Liberated from the boundaries of “polite society,” the male guards seemed to relish in treating women like livestock. And they haven’t stopped in the last five years. The problem, clearly, is the men.
In “Mayday,” the solution is the women. One woman, in particular, who has spent the last five years studying the men’s ruthlessness — and adopting it to smash a hole in the system that created that attitude: “Victory goes the hardest heart.”
Gilead makes June tough, but it does the opposite to Janine (Madeline Brewer). During that opening sequence, we see a flash of the Old Janine, storming onto the bus and cursing out the men. She will not go gentle into Gilead’s good night. Like some character off Real Housewives of New Jersey, she spews about how she’s going to sue them for money and buy a house in Stone Harbor. Now, she’s a one-eyed stalwart for Gilead, all that fight hollowed out of her and replaced with reverent obedience.
June can’t rely on women like Janine for her plan, unstable and one foot in fantasy. Cause it’s game time, baby. That evening, 52 Marthas will bring 52 children to the Lawrence household. From there, June will transport them to the airplane. June and the Marthas’ preparation is quick and no-nonsense, resembling the murder scene clean-up at Jezebel’s. These women have been forced to get really, really good at the domestic arts. It’s a joy to watch them weaponize those skills.
Meet the women of Mayday. When a handmaid comes with the first child, a little girl, June assumes the title of the secretive resistance group that has been whispered about since Emily (Alexis Bledel) came on the scene. Maybe Mayday is a pre-existing, organized resistance group. Or maybe it was always just a dream of rebellion, one that June now embodies. It’s a dream worth fighting for: Some Marthas actually kill their mistresses to transport the kids.
And yet: Not everyone’s cut out for the bravery Mayday requires. The initial Martha, Maggie (Joanne Boland), returns to her mistress, complicating June’s plan. The mistress had been drugged. When she wakes up, she’s going to be angry and on the prowl. June can’t quite pull the trigger on the runaway Martha. But per Chekov’s rules, the simple act of showing a gun means that later on the episode, it will go off (sure enough, it does!). After the Martha disappears into the suburban wood patch, June aims the pistol at the little girl. I am going to chalk that aberrant behaviour up to June not yet knowing how to compartmentalize the Inner Warrior, and not that June is a monster.
Like Maggie the Martha, Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) isn’t cut out for Mayday. Now that the authorities have caught wind of a Martha travelling out of bounds (that was quick!), Lawrence gets squirmy. Roadblocks and house searches are coming. He wants to call the whole thing off. But June doesn’t let him — literally. “Men. You are not in charge. I am,” she says, before bossing him around. What gives her this preturantural power? Who knows! But I dig it! I’m accepting this as the Superhero Origin Story that it is, because the payoff is amazing.
What an image, to see all these girls together. They’re about to be introduced to a novel concept: Possibility. Breathe a sigh of relief, everyone. The kiddos are not sold on Gilead. June blows the mind of little Rebecca (Kate Moyer) by telling her in Canada, just being herself is enough. She need not be a wife, too.
Before walking out, Papa Lawrence reads the girls an excerpt from Treasure Island (not sure why he starts in the middle). It casts the girls’ upcoming journey in the light of an adventure novel – typically starring boys. Being surrounded by guards? It’s an adventure! Illegally boarding an airplane? It’s an adventure! He makes the girls brave.
When they land in Canada, their time in Gilead — so distant, so hazy — will be a story they tell. How they narrowly escaped, thanks to one woman’s bravery and to Canada’s welcome. It’s hard not to compare the kids’ greeting in Canada with how migrant kids are treated on the border today. Like the kids on the border, Rebecca is cloaked in a Mylar blanket. But it’s a gesture of concern. She’s reunited with her father, not separated from him. Poor Luke (O-T Fagbenle), obviously expecting to Hannah is disappointed — but amazed that June organized the rescue mission.
Looks like the kids are all right. How about June? Does she feel left out of the big reunion of her loved ones happening in Canada, with Rita hugging Emily and Luke? Just like with season 3, June concludes the season stuck in Gilead. But with a gunshot wound and a target on her back, she’s decidedly worse off this time around.
At least she’ll be happy about this one progression. Serena, in a twist that I am downright relishing, has her freedom snatched away just before she’s able to roam around in Canada. Fred rats out Serena’s scheme with June and Nick (Max Minghella). With that, Serena has war criminal status. Looks like The Handmaid’s Tale never forgot Serena’s past misdeeds. She has not been forgiven.
Ding dong, the Waterford Witch is good as dead. We doubt the same can be said for June. She's on her eighth of ninth lives.