Let’s chat The Handmaid’s Tale episode 3.12 – “Sacrifice”. No, June is definitely NOT the boss now – no matter how much the writers tell you she is.
The Handmaid’s Tale is currently suffering from a very unique disease. It’s called Turn-itis.
In the medical world*, we use the term “Turn-itis” to describe a very rare affliction – it stems from when a main character slowly evolves into the least interesting character on a particular television show. The name is derived from the television show Turn, when we realized that while the show was good, the main character of Abraham Woodhull took a major back seat as the story grew beyond what he was capable of providing to the narrative. But Turn kept finding ways to inject Abraham into the A-plot to the detriment of the overall product.
Sadly, June’s got the Turn-itis fever and I do not see a vaccine on the horizon.
Here’s why I know June’s got the itis – the show has to tell us that she’s “such a boss, now.”
I know it’s not one hundred percent apropos, but I grew up in a family business that required being the boss and my dad always had sage advice:
If you have to tell someone that you’re the boss, then you ain’t the boss, kid.
Now, I understand that it’s Rita talking to June about all the feats she has accomplished over this past season and it does feel like a natural bit of conversation between two friends.
There is another scene of this vein when Commander Lawrence glibly says to June, “Fred and Serena are toast, and you just got away with murder. All in all not a bad morning.” This is just another indicator of someone trying to pump June’s tires for the sake of trying to tell her how awesome she is.
Here’s the main issue – it’s not just the characters saying it to June because it’s an organic facet of their conversation. No, this is really for us as the viewers. These comments are included by the writers to say one thing about June in particular: BE AWED.
There is one fatal flaw with this logic though: everything that has happened with June this far in the season has happened because that’s what the narrative demands to happen. June gets put with Commander Lawrence because that’s what grants June the freedom to act with more conviction in saving children. Serena doesn’t have June sent to the wall after June murder attempt because that would end the show. June escapes Jezebels after murdering one of the highest ranked commanders because she just happens to be saved by a Martha she freed from captivity in an earlier episode. This is just to name a few of these instances the come to the top of my mind right now – there are far more. In other words, the shows is telling you June is awesome because she has accomplished all this stuff. But her accomplishments are based on nothing but the “theory of narrative causality”, or “narrativium”.
Narrativium is a common trope for story when there is no explanation of why something happens other than, well, that’s what needs to happen for the story to keep going. June’s actions have nothing to do with her awe. The nature of reality is bendable in order to facilitate the will of the plot.
The plot demands that June must escape Jezebels without a scratch so the show can continue to happen. Hey look, it’s that Martha that June saved earlier! Narrativium.
Though the guise of their characters, Bruce Miller and his writer’s room are trying to tell us how AWESOME June is and that’s a big problem. Stop TELLING me how awesome she is, and show me how awesome she is in unique and interesting ways. Remember, if you have to tell someone you’re the boss, then you ain’t the boss, kid.
But, that’s the rub. We’ve already established June isn’t interesting anymore because of that narrativium.
Whatever she’s trying to accomplish is GOING to happen because that’s the bendable rules of reality. Rest assured, these kids are going to be freed. Sure, there may be a couple of speed bumps like Eleanor losing her cool, Commander Lawrence leaving June in the lurch, relying on Fred Waterford to aid the kids escape etc., but the problems are ALWAYS solved in one way or another.
There’s a problem, June is in the middle of it, it’s solved by narrativium, June stares angrily into the camera, catchy pop song plays. Rinse. Lather. Repeat as necessary. BORING.
Ironically enough, (depending on how much you’ve been paying attention) the issue is that it’s not June who is the most interesting character, but, rather, it’s Serena.
This whole season rests on what happens with Serena and her quest to mother with Nichole because there are actual choices her character makes which shape the malleable form of the plot.
Serena has given Fred up for the sake of Nichole. How does this affect her standing in Gilead? How does it affect her standing in Canada? Do we have to look at her like a hero in this story? Does her judgement wash away all of the terrible ideology that she helped calcify into reality?
Either way, Serena has yet to atone for any of her figurative, or literal, sins, and it’s Moira who helps realize this when she drops an atomic-sized truth bomb on Serena by saying: “just because you got some new clothes doesn’t make you any different. You are still the same woman who held my friend down so your husband could rape her.” Wow.
Serena’s actions simply cannot be overlooked by the authorities in Canada, nor should they be dismissed by the writers because it appears like they want us to feel bad for Serena. She just wants to be a mom and she realizes that she made a terrible mistake in aiding the creation of Gilead. She may be in detention in Canada right now, but she was far more of a prisoner in Gilead.
Remember, The Handmaid’s Tale always succeeds when it tackles personal stories of survival and trauma. How will the writers address Serena’s fate, and complicity, in this entire situation? If they allow her reprieve, then that’s BIG problem. This is why the success of the finale, and the success of season three in general, rests heavily on the battered shoulders of Serena. Alright, on the the finale!
Apropos of nothing:
- I love the title for this episode. Because there are MANY sacrifices made by our characters in this episode, but in our entire season.
- I think it’s implied that June sacrifices a bit of herself by going FULL Walter White and allowing Eleanor to die without aid. BUT, I think the sacrifice should be more attributed to Eleanor. She knew that she was a wildcard. She knew that she couldn’t handle the responsibility of knowing the plan to save these children. So she chose to sacrifice herself for the greater good.
- There’s a mirroring here between Serena and Eleanor. Both may be disgusted by their husbands right now, but while Serena put up with Gilead for her stature, Eleanor hated it. Serena throws Fred under the bus, Eleanor sacrifices herself to help save Commander Lawrence. And in the end, rebellion forces Serena into detention with an uncertain fate, while Eleanor is set free.
- LOVE Lawrence’s side eye with June. Does he know June played a role in Eleanor’s death?
- Say what you will about Lawrence’s role in Gilead. But that man loved his wife to the end of the earth and back. He will always have my respect for that.
Mary & Blake Certified: B-
(*definitely NOT a medical term. But it is rather witty.)
Click here for all of our coverage of The Handmaid’s Tale