The Handmaid's Tale Season 3, Episode 5 Recap: A Seat At The Table

Let the tug-of-war for Baby Nichole’s fate begins. June (Elisabeth Moss) set the battle in motion by successfully smuggling Nichole out of Gilead — but will she be able to do anything to keep her daughter ensconced in that Northern liberal oasis? The baby’s safety is absolutely not guaranteed. Gilead’s reach is far, the Waterfords’ pull significant, and the actual policies protecting Gileadean citizens in Canada still being written (what's this talk of an extradition treaty?).
The worst part? After going to such lengths to help her daughter escape, June’s used as a tool to get her back. For a brief moment, June was on the same page as her former employers, the Waterfords. Fred (Joseph Fiennes) expresses relief that his daughter is “safe” in Canada — yet again proving that when it comes to their individual lives, even high-up Commanders resent Gilead. For the most part, Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) thinks Canada is best for her child.
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Still, there’s a gnawing sensation Serena can’t shake off. Is it longing? Is it her icy protective layer melting off, allowing emotion to seep in, which causes her to glitch? Serena, for reasons I struggle to understand, is desperate to be with Nichole. And so, she arranges a trip to Canada to see Nichole one last time. “I want to be something to her,” Serena says, operating under the deep delusion that she actually is anything to this child.
Serena requires June’s help in getting to Canada. The Waterfords force June to call Luke (O.T. Fagbenle), who is raising Nichole, to arrange the meeting. Two minutes. That’s all she has with Luke – who she loves and craves just like Serena supposedly loves Nichole. Luke’s bewilderment at June’s call, and request, is so apparent. What happened to his wife? Who is this steely, cold woman on the phone? There’s so much that she can’t say. It’s a painful scene.
After June clears the runway to Canada, Serena boards a really uncomfortable plane, changes into civilian clothes, and meets her baby-not-baby. Luke is refreshingly hostile — because he, unlike June, is protected by Canada. When Serena says “God bless you” to Luke, he gets to respond how June always responds in her head: “Fuck you.” Finally, someone treating Serena like the monster she is. Luke refuses to keep Serena in the narrative of baby Nichole’s life. June will be the mother and the hero. Serena will be nothing.
The irony of Serena’s trip astounding. This is the woman who created and mercilessly condoned Gilead, a society based on stealing children from mothers. But when her own “child” is taken, she moves heaven and earth and boards a plane to Canada to meet her. Compare that Janine’s (Madeline Brewer) stunt last episode — when she wanted to see her biological daughter, Aunt Lydia (Ann Downd) literally beat her.
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Clearly, the authorities of Gilead understand the significance of a mother’s bond to her child. They allow Serena to travel to Canada. But Gilead determines who is entitled to that connection to a child. Handmaids like Ofmathew (Ashley LaThrop), who’s pregnant with her fourth child, aren’t allowed to feel ownership over their kids — but Serena is allowed to start a war.
Serena’s meeting with Nichole was supposed to bring her closure. It was supposed to be an ending. Insead, it’s just the start to a new arc in The Handmaid’s Tale. What inspired the change in Serena? Maybe it was Luke’s hostility. Maybe it was realizing she won’t ever have a baby of her own (after all, Fred’s swimmers don’t swim). Either way, Serena returns to Gilead with renewed energy to fight. Yet again, she turns down “terason and coconuts” guy who offers her passage to Hawaii, and goes back to Gilead.
She has a plan. Not long after returning Gilead, June and Fred are in front of the TV, weaving a sob story about how their child has been taken away from them. June, clad in a fancier handmaid’s uniform, has been dragged along. Her fancy handmaid’s uniform indicates that Gilead is concerned with getting the “image” right. It’s a very controlled state. They’re putting the Waterfords forth as a portrait of family bliss, disrupted. But the trinity of Fred, Serena, and June implies that the family bliss once existed.
The crusade for Baby Nichole has the side-effect of uniting Fred and Serena after a rocky patch. In another ironic twist, June had been pushing for the Waterfords to make up for a while now. Her rationale: June wanted Fred to give Serena more power so Serena could work for the resistance. June, unfortunately, was terribly naive. Serena uses her power to uphold Gilead’s order of things — Wives are mothers, handmaids are nothing but a baby tunnel.
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Should she really stay in Gilead for the rest of her life, June should get a side-hustle as Gilead’s foremost couple’s counselor. In addition to helping the Waterfords, she also got the Lawrences to sit and listen to old records together, so that’s nice.
There’s one bright spot in this episode. June didn’t get to talk to her husband on the phone, but she was able to send him a message. She records over some of Commander Lawrence’s (Bradley Whitford) old tapes, then has Serena bring them to him. On the tapes, June delivers a recap of her last few years spent surviving (and challenging, and almost escaping) Gilead.
When he was talking to Serena, Luke swore he’d told Nichole the “real” story of her life. Until listening to June’s tape, he didn’t know the real story. He didn’t even know the baby’s real name: Holly. June needs Luke to understand that she has a life (“of sorts”) in Gilead. That Holly was born of love. And as unpalatable as it sounds, she hopes that he can create a life of his own. While taking care of her kid, of course.
June is trying to liberate the people she loves from herself, and from Gilead. Nichole. Luke. Soon, Hannah. Meanwhile, I’m like — Luke! Wait for her! Knowing The Handmaid's Tale, she'll at least come close to getting out.
Last Thoughts:
Serena turned down the American diplomat's offer to go to Hawaii, but she does take the phone with a direct line to him. That phone will go off, mark my words.
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