UNLOCK BONUS EPISODES, PREMIUM PODCASTS & MORE Join The #NerdClan
Let’s chat The Handmaid’s Tale episode 4.07 – “Home”. An episode that is a pretty paint-by-the-numbers journey into PTSD until it suddenly isn’t anymore…
Wow. That’s what I’m talkin’ about.
Welcome to the best episode of The Handmaid’s Tale in a long while.
June: “She’s pathological. She’s a sociopath. She’s toxic and abusive. She’s a monster. And by the way, consummate actress. [She is driven by] hatred and rage. And underneath all of that there’s nothing but pure misery. And she’ll do anything not to feel that way. Anything to feel ok. Even just for a second. She’ll do anything to get what she wants. Lie to you. Hurt you. Rape you. So if you feel yourself getting sucked in by her, run. Run for your life.”
Cut to black.
After watching June go back and forth between being caught, freed, caught again, and so on for the last four seasons, we finally get a chance to see what a potential life in Canada is like for her. And, ladies and gents, it ain’t all that it’s cracked up to be.
Sure, there is some pretty common PTSD tropes being used in this episode to help calcify June’s new digs – whether it’s a freak out in the grocery store because she believes she is seeing Alma in another aisle, or it’s the fish out of water feel when Luke and Moira have got this co-parenting thing down better than June and Ward Cleaver (I’m old). We have group therapy, June sleeping for 17 hours, and I honestly felt an actual connection to Luke for the first time in this entire series when he was fiddling with how the plates should be placed for dinner.
But this episode is all about the ending for me. Yes, I absolutely derived more pleasure watching June give Serena a dressing down more than any normal person should. Add in the fact that the “Do you UNDERSTAND ME?!” June screams in Serena’s face echoes Serena’s own usage of the phrase back in season 1 episode 6 “A Woman’s Place”.
In the words of Michael Scott, “oh how the turntables.”
The contrast between Serena and June is spectacular, and it’s life giving to a show that has fallen into a cycle of traps over the past couple of seasons. But I love the dynamic because Serena, back in 1.06 – wanted June to have a baby with every fiber in her being – and she punished June to exert her uneasy power. She was trying to assert her dominance, especially when she follows her anger up with, “things can get a lot worse for you.” Whereas, June, in this episode, is not coming from a place of insecure dominance. Rather, June is asserting her vengeance and complete authority over Serena – a woman she knows is still desperate to have a child and June cuts right down to the very core of what make Serena tick, her desperation.
The emotional math in this entire exchange adds up, and it helps that the direction is superb. Serena on her knees begging for forgiveness, and June towers over her like a harbinger of death. Whats more is that the camera is held right on June’s face the entire time she monologues and it that is exactly what we as an audience needed. This moment is about June taking her life back from Serena, but Serena’s opinion on the matter bears no significance. What matters is June, June’s anger, and June’s agency – so we don’t need ANYTHING from Serena — the same way June doesn’t need anything from her. Yes, I loved this whole scene, and it’s another reminder that the show is at it’s best when they place Elisabeth Moss and Yvonne Strahovsky in the same room and let them go.
While this scene was incredible, and looooooong overdue, it’s the following bits that really impressed me.
June and Luke finally reconnect. Perhaps not in a way where they can chat, but more in a primal physical manner. Considering her trauma in Gilead, this type of re-connection between our title couple is certainly understandable. Luke and June simply don’t know how to talk to each other right now, so how the hell do you even begin a conversation about June’s past, her torture, and finding a way to heal from it? Sometimes though, physical connection can be just as cathartic and it can be the road which bridges the gap between action and emotional paralysis. But then Bruce Miller and co. make an extremely bold choice – this physical connection between Luke and June is not about bridging gaps, or healing.
It’s June raping Luke. That’s it.
After asserting her dominance over Serena, she asserts her total dominion over Luke, taking pleasure only for herself. I’m not one to judge what June should and should not do – I’ve never been in Gilead, nor have I experienced the kind of trauma she has undergone for seven years. But, I can see trouble, and this ENTIRE interaction is troublesome.
For the past number of episodes, I have talked about how you can the person out of Gilead, but you cannot take the Gilead out of the person. Is this who June is now? Will she continue this deep dive into rule and command over the people she loves most? Is she really becoming another version of Serena, as her (BRILLIANT) voiceover at the end of the episode seems to suggest? What makes her any different than Serena – someone who weaponized her insecurity and authority over those whom she believed served her? The larger question June has to face, and I think we have to face as an audience, is can she even come back from this? Is this a confirmation of her character, or just a path her character will undergo if she is not put in check? Making Serena and June two sides of the same coin is probably the best choice this show has made in quite a long time.
UNLOCK BONUS EPISODES, PREMIUM PODCASTS & MORE Join The #NerdClan
So while I contemplated June’s choices, and how this absolutely feels like a natural extension of the character we have watched for the past 3 and half seasons, all I could think of was the poem “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley.
I met a traveller from an antique land, Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand, Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown, And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed; And on the pedestal, these words appear: My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Though I’m not an expert in English literature, I can spot similarities between Ozymandias and June (whom I’ve compared to Walter White MANY times in this series). June has built her character to MYTHIC proportions within and without Gilead. She is enemy of the state #1, her name sparks immediate PTSD in Aunt Lydia, the Waterfords are terrified of her (and even choose to set aside their differences just to combat her in this episode), and she sparks hope in all who followed the miracle of the “Angel’s Flight”. She is revered in group therapy, people hang on her every word and she is provided the top suite in a beautiful downtown Vancouver hotel as the star witness against Gilead.
Part of me believes June has bought in hard on this mythic figure she has created and she has done everything in her power to bring those who wronged the handmaids, and even her country, to justice. She simply can’t adopt the “fuck ’em” attitude like her peers in group therapy, and she can’t sit idly by as Serena harbors a child in her womb. She even lies to Luke about her last interaction with Hannah (this could also be a response to June’s not wanting to hurt Luke’s feelings as well, but she did lie to him nonetheless.)
Ultimately, Ozymandias was a cold leader who bought heavily into his own greatness, and while he was the King Of Kings, his legacy was lost and lifeless due to the passage of time and the transience of power. Once June rapes Luke, and we recognize her as the opposite side of Serena’s coin in the final monologue of the episode, I don’t see how any of this ends well for June. Will the end of The Handmaid’s Tale the series leave us with an isolated June, surrounded by nothing but the destruction of her relationships, her children, her country, and everything that she holds dear? Will she be the cause for her destruction? This ending suggests that could be a very real possibility.
“She’s pathological. She’s a sociopath. She’s toxic and abusive. She’s a monster. And by the way, consummate actress. [She is driven by] hatred and rage. And underneath all of that there’s nothing but pure misery. And she’ll do anything not to feel that way. Anything to feel ok. Even just for a second. She’ll do anything to get what she wants. Lie to you. Hurt you. Rape you. So if you feel yourself getting sucked in by her, run. Run for your life.”
That sounds a lot like:
‘Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown, And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed; And on the pedestal, these words appear: My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
And remember that ending:
“Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away.”