The Handmaid's Tale Season 3, Episode 12: Too Many Sacrificial Lambs, Too Little Time

Last episode, we left June as she prepared for an inevitable battle. The Gilead authorities are coming for her, and for the entire Lawrence household. They’ve been bad: June killed Commander Winslow (Chiristopher Meloni) at Jezebels by a thousand cuts (okay, more like 10), and Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) unsuccessfully to sneak out of Gilead.
No way could Lawrence and June get away with these major transgressions. Right?
Wrong. Turns out the Gilead authorities can only keep track of one crisis at a time. And today, the blazing dumpster fire is Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Finnes) and his wife, Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) being apprehended at the Canadian border while trying to fetch their daughter-not-daughter, Nichole. Who knows what secrets of the state Fred might unspool while in captivity. Fred is many things – but strong-willed isn’t one of them.
“Cheer up, Fred and Serena are toast, and you just got away with murder. All in all, not a bad morning,” Lawrence tells June. He doesn’t like her. But he does seem to admire her persistence. June is a dreamer in a society that tries to limit all possibilities, other than the ones it has prescribed.
Now that Fred is otherwise indisposed (and leaning despondently against his glass cell walls), Lawrence is once again in the Commanders' in-crowd. Two Commanders gather in Commander Lawrence’s household for quick “war room” session. Due to miraculous timing (or plot devices!), the strung-out Commanders believe Commander Winslow has been snatched in the same conspiracy that took Waterford. Due to the sudden dearth of the commanders, Lawrence might have his high-level clearance restored, opening up possibilities for the escape plan.
Now that she’s gotten away with murder, most of the episode has to do with June getting her plan off the ground (literally). Billy (Daniel Jun), the bartender from Jezebels, has agreed to transport the kids during his plane shipment. The plane takes off in a week. Lawrence makes sure the border stays open, despite Gilead's recent turmoil.
Now, it’s a matter of bringing those kids to the take-off location. Here’s the plan, as it stands: The muffin-sending Marthas will bring all 50-something kids to the Lawrence house after dark; the Lawrences will drive them to the plane. We have questions, though. The van only has 10 spots! And won’t a convoy of cars attract attention?
June’s most pressing question, however, is whether Eleanor (Julie Dretzin) can keep a secret. Olivia Winslow (Elizabeth Reaser) visits, lamenting her future now that her husband has disappeared. There’s a chance the Winslows’ six kids could be redistributed to other homes, single motherhood being yet another thing that falls into into Gilead’s “unacceptable” category.
Then, and I can’t believe she does this, Eleanor volunteers to help save the Winslows’ kids. She earnestly mentions there’s still “room” left. In doing so, she gives away the whole plan. Luckily, she’s vague enough that Olivia and Naomi Putnam (Ever Carradine), baby Angela’s adoptive mom, dismiss these comments as vaguely helpful ravings. Later on, Eleanor attempts to leave the house to “rescue” more children.
Obviously, June’s concerned: Eleanor’s eagerness is the biggest liability to June’s week-old plan. In Eleanor, June sees a damaged woman who has the potential to cause even more damage. So, when Mrs. Lawrence overdoses on pills, June chooses not to intervene. It’s murder by inaction. In total, June is responsible for four deaths this season. Quite a track record for a former book editor.
How much does Lawrence know about what June did (or, rather, didn’t do)? Certainly more than he says. Lawrence’s face is constantly in motion, flitting from scowl to grimace to mischievous smile. Unlike the women in Gilead, he can actively emote. And grief isn’t the only emotion on his face. Add up all the weird looks he gives June this episode, and it’s obvious he’s feeling some kind of way about June.
But what? Right now, June’s escape plan hinges on Lawrence’s cooperation. With his wife dead, what will he get out of helping her? Eleanor can’t be saved. There is nothing better for Eleanor waiting on the other side of the border, which had been Lawrence’s motivation. Is a better life for 52 children enough for a man that selfish to sacrifice his own safety?
It’s a tough week to be a Commander — and a good week to be a viewer. As we predicted last week, Fred’s arrest was a orchestrated by Serena and Mark Tuello (Sam Jaeger). Serena has sacrificed her entire status quo for 60-minute visitations with Nichole. When the realization of Serena’s betrayal clicks, Fred becomes an angry, angry boy.
Sure, she’s avoided jail time, but Canada’s not easy for Serena either. Serena has dropped so much social status so quickly she probably has vertigo. In Gilead, she’d been a Wife – elite and revered. In Canada, she’s reviled. The authorities won’t allow her to call Nichole her daughter. If Nichole stays in Canada, how will she think of Serena? The criminal who orchestrated her birth? The woman who was complicit in her birth mother’s rape? Talk about dysfunction!
Luke and Moira (Samira Wiley) deserve parades for being the only characters who actually tell the truth to the Waterfords. They remember who the Waterfords are — even when the show seems to forget, and tries to turn them into “sympathetic” figures. Moira meets with Serena; Luke meets with Fred. In these interactions, Moira and Luke speak with the power of the moral high ground.
Moira successfully rattles Serena: “You are still the same woman who held my friend down so your husband could rape her,” Moira says, while laying baby Nichole down before Serena. But unfortunately, Fred does a good job of rattling Luke. “I’ve changed her,” Luke says of June. Luke punches him. Does he deserve the punch? Yes. Did this ruin Luke’s chances of seeing him again? Definitely.
Isn’t it funny how the five or six main characters in The Handmaid’s Tale also happen to be the five or six people responsible for determining the fate of Gilead? The future of Gilad will not be forged by the anonymous fighters on the frontlines of the Chicago war, or by the Econo-families trying to get by with their heads down. Odds are, the future will play out in whatever rooms that Fred and Serena Waterford, June and Luke Bankole, Moira, and Joseph Lawrence — also known as the main characters of The Handmaid’s Tale — are found. How convenient for a TV show, and how far from real life.

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