Right now Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale season 3 is, as usual, fairly obsessed with June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss), its unstoppable handmaid. By the end of Wednesday’s “God Bless the Child,” June has taken up the role of Gilead puppet master and proletariat hero. Not only does June place Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) on a path to claim her insurgent power, she also saves poor Janine (Madeline Brewer) from a vicious beating. Now June must turn her attention to her baby daughter Nichole, whom Gilead has tracked down after her season 2 escape.
Although Handmaid’s Tale really wants you to focus on June’s mounting rebellion against Gilead, it’s possible an even greater threat to the abusive regime is hiding in plain sight. Perhaps we should all be paying attention to the war in Chicago, an American city labeled a rebellious terrorist state by Gilead.
The battle in the Midwest is actually the reason Gilead finds Nichole in the first place. As we see towards the end of season 3 premiere “Night,” Emily (Alexis Bledel) makes it to Canada with Nichole and hands the child over to June’s husband, Luke Bankole (O-T Fagbenle). Over the first few episodes of the season, Luke adjusts to caring for a child June shares with someone other than himself — newly promoted commander Nick Blaine (Max Minghella).
As proof Luke has finally embraced Nichole as a member of his family, he takes her to a pro-Chicago protest. While at the patriotic event, a mystery woman shot a cute video of Luke in full dad mode, BabyBjörn-ing a bundled up Nichole throughout the event (you can hear the stranger ask, “What’s her name?” about the baby). The chants of “We stand with Chicago” ring throughout the video, and you can spot a few signs reading those same words. This is a massive protest, and it’s all for Chicago.
That detail matters. Hypothetically, Handmaid’s Tale could have allowed this narratively-necessary protest to be a general movement against Gilead. Considering the timing, those bombshell letters released towards the end of season 2 must still be riling people up. Even the appearance of Emily, an obviously traumatized escaped sex slave, in free Canada could push the opponents of Gilead to protest once again. Instead, the Handmaid’s team went with a Chicago protest because they want us to know people are rallying around the besieged American outpost. The world stands with Chicago.
This isn’t the first time season 3 has mentioned the importance of Chicago. Allegedly pious Ofmatthew (Ashleigh LaThrop) is the first person to bring up the war by hailing Gilead’s supposed imminent victory in second episode “Mary and Martha.” But, the most memorable reference to Chicago arrives near the end of the third episode, “Useful.” Nick, now a commander, shows up at June’s new handmaid residence to announce he’s being deployed to the war front in Chicago. “You’ll get killed,” June says. You can see on her face, she believes that. Whatever is happening in Chicago, it is bad.
While Nick’s sexy exit is the showy Chicago section of “Useful,” an earlier and quieter conversation is much more illuminating. At the top of the episode, the commanders converge on the home of Joseph Lawrence (Bradley Whitford), June’s new commander. “The shipment of females arrived from Chicago yesterday,” says commander Warren Puttnam (Stephen Kunken).
It's a disgusting phrase that reveals a lot. As we learn in the resulting conversation, there is a troop surge in Chicago that may be part of a lengthy period of deployments. The battle may even lead to more insurgents in other cities, a commander theorizes. Remember, the bomb-making Martha in “Mary and Martha” was trying to get to a resistance cell somewhere out West. Who knows how many of those rebel pockets actually exist?
In the face of all this war, Putnam wants the kidnapped women of Chicago executed in front of Gilead's populace as a “salvaging.” Lawrence wants the women sent to the Colonies to work. Lawrence wins out, and gives June the “opportunity” to save five women from the Colonies. Rather than face radiation-heavy death, June's picks will become Marthas. The disturbing pens of women June visits as part of Lawrence’s offer? Those are the abducted women from Chicago. And now June has chosen five recently freed — and likely very angry — women to infiltrate the ranks of Gilead. With just a few choices, the spirit of freedom in Chicago is seeping into the harsh borders of Gilead.
At one point in “Useful,” commander Matthew Calhoun (Jonathan Watton) asks, “We don’t want our own women becoming restless, do we?” It looks like Calhoun’s worst nightmare has already come to roost — he just hasn’t realized it yet.