It felt good to watch June feel good walking down that hospital corridor in slow-mo after taking the offered hand of her old enemy. Elisabeth Moss’s face showed the same dreamy satisfaction as when she tore Fred to pieces, but this time it was less unhinged, more in control and much more at peace. It showed how June has changed since the start of this season. This time she didn’t enjoy seeing the blood of a Waterford on her hands, the sight of it set her conscience into action and forced her to get out of that car back into the shed.
Of course it made all the difference that the blood came from the delivery. As June told Serena, she wasn’t saving hair, she was rescuing baby Noah. But unlike Gilead in those flashbacks to Ofclarence’s death, June had no intention of treating a recently-incarcerated mother as if she were disposable. Until June, Noah and Serena belong together like all babies and mothers belong together. Taking the child and leaving the mother to die is Gilead’s style, not hers.
That was the culmination of June’s catharsis, similar to her courtroom speech in last season’s “Testimony.” Spurred on by Serena’s ravings about God’s will and vessels, and remembering Aunt Lydia’s gibberish about the same, June confronted her with Gilead’s dehumanization of Handmaids. “We mattered, we were people, we are people, we have lives.” Serena’s apology was irrelevant — this was about reclaiming the personality that had stripped Gilead of Handmaids, as summed up by Ofclarence’s body being wheeled out of that grotesque delivery suite like trash as the women cooed over their new toy.
It was an intense episode, driven by two performances that we now expect to be extraordinary and never to be disappointed. Writer Rachel Shukert found convenient spots to occasionally take the tone off the ceiling. June’s “Maybe they have a manger,” joke was one, while Serena’s “yeah, good” face when mentioning evolution, and June’s eye roll at Serena’s antibiotic protest were others. They are quite double.
It was a thrill to watch these two interact in a scenario where June had all the power and then used it not to punish, but to get better. It all led to that final clapping of hands in the hospital bed—a single gesture that ended years of pain. Until… Luke.
Serena was right that Luke Bankole was a good man, but good doesn’t equal holy. The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5 has allowed Luke’s experience to be absorbed more into this story, presumably for this very moment – a moment when his rightful rage would unwittingly sabotage June’s transcendence.