The future depends on June Osborne.
It always has, but never quite like this.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5 Episode 8 finds an emerging nation and one on which the sun is setting, placing June front and center in their plans for survival.
June has never wavered in her true goal, which is to reunite with her daughter at all costs.
Now, both Gilead and what remains of the United States see June’s true value. Where she goes, others will follow.
She’s a symbol of the resistance. If she returns to Gilead, even the newly minted Hong Kong of Gilead, New Bethlehem, it will be the final nail in America’s coffin.
Only one nation will win June’s allegiance, and that’s the one that reunites her with Hannah.
June has had a very tough time in Canada because she promised herself and Hannah that she would never leave her daughter behind.
Now that she has two daughters, it’s a little trickier, but one daughter is safe, for now at least, and the other is facing an oppressive life from which she may never escape.
It’s interesting that June’s being tugged in so many different directions as things in Toronto are also falling apart. The refugees are not wanted, and the Canadians aren’t shy in making that known.
Still, June knows that Nichole will be safe with Luke and Moira. That doesn’t mean that it’s not eating away at her that Luke doesn’t have the same urgency that she does regarding Hannah.
Joseph: America is dying. It’s an idea that has outlived its usefulness.
June: You said you had news about Hannah.
Joseph: First, hear me out. You need to understand that everything you value, all the things you’re clinging to, democracy, liberty, justice, all that feel-good crap defined by a bunch of slave owners talking about how all men are created equal, all of that collapsed under the weight of late-term capitalism and rampant consumerism. It broke our pretty little planet and almost ended the human race, and Gilead, for all of our faults, we fixed that particular problem. We’re having babies again. Unfortunately, I had to use religious nutjobs as a delivery system, and I underestimated their depravity, but uh, it was triage, and it worked. So now, with our success, we can afford to let up a little.
June: Are you gonna let Hannah out?
Joseph: Not, I can’t. But I can let you in.
Luke doesn’t understand the kind of animalistic love that June has for her children. Even so, she would be forced to choose between them if she returned to Gilead via New Bethlehem, an offer that’s tempting June because she’d finally be reunited with Hannah.
Luke has not been through what June has, and even his taste in No Man’s Land failed to challenge his mindset. He’s finally gotten a taste of what could happen to Hannah and what has happened to June, and he’d rather remain behind with Nichole.
Nichole isn’t even his biological daughter, but her safety is paramount to him. What Luke isn’t taking into consideration is June’s relationship with Joseph.
Joseph was imperative in June’s endeavor to free children from Gilead, and it was his actions that allowed her to escape north.
Luke cannot let go of the fact that Gilead is Joseph’s baby. What Joseph can’t get over is that he allowed religious fanatics to hijack the worst parts of his plan. If he has his way, and it seems like, thanks to diplomacy, he might finally get there, then New Bethlehem could be the Hong Kong of Gilead.
Can’t we all agree, gentlemen, that it’s embarrassing to be running a country in which people are constantly trying to escape?
The Americans are going to fight tooth and nail to keep that from happening because if they lose any more ground, they’ll cease to exist.
Thus began both nations tugging on June to serve their own purposes. What June will get, regardless of who wins, will be her daughter. And June is done wavering about Hannah’s future. Now that June has seen herself in Serena, she knows that whoever makes that happen will have her allegiance.
Serena finds herself right where June was seven years ago. A mother desperate to hold onto her own child without the capacity to take control. She’s scared, but she’s also holding onto her pride. June’s visit finally got through to her.
Serena: I’m not going to live in the same house as my child’s kidnappers.
Joseph: Do you have an irony deficiency?
Serena: I don’t give a damn. I’m not a handmaid.
There’s so much irony in the situation between them that conversations ooze with it. Joseph was making wisecracks about it, and June was smirking as he soaked it in.
June isn’t friends with Serena, and she hasn’t forgiven her. But she didn’t allow that to get in the way of her very sage advice to the captive woman.
Serena: What am I supposed to do now?
June: Go back to the Wheelers.
Serena: How? How do you go and live in a house with a woman who’s trying to steal your baby?
June: Are you seriously asking me that?
Serena: How did you ever, how did you ever live with me?
June: [laughs] Um, OK. OK, I’ll tell you. Here’s what you’re gonna do. You’re gonna go back in there, and you are going to act like a handmaid, but the entire time, you will be plotting against them and planning your revenge.
Serena: Is that what you did?
June: Look at what happened to Fred, and look at you now. [she gets up to leave]
Serena: Just, what would you do if you were me?
June: Listen to me. You cannot help your child if you’re not with him. I would go back.
You do whatever it takes to remain with your child because you cannot protect them from a distance.
With that conversation, June had made up her mind to return to Gilead via New Bethlehem. If Moira hadn’t thought to scour the disc’s metadata and the Americans hadn’t found Hannah, June would have said goodbye to her family and returned to whatever life she could have with Hannah.
However, nothing about this story is simple. The world has embraced Gilead, and they’ll be more charmed when it no longer punishes its citizens who cannot live under its particular brand of governance. New Bethlehem is a game changer.
The Americans have failed to make any significant moves in the years since half of its citizens were trapped in Gilead, tortured, and forced into horrific situations without hope.
Whether they can pull off freeing Hannah from overlords who have shown very little regard for humanity outside of those who give birth and their curated ruling class remains to be seen.
Change is in the air, and June is at the heart of it. Joseph, though, saved the world by propagating births again. He has that ace in the hole, and more importantly, he wants to course-correct his creation to be more in line with what he originally envisioned.
He needs New Bethlehem to take off so that he can save face and save his soul.
Does every Gorbachov lead to more Putins in their wake? We’ve not seen much to the contrary in our world. But we haven’t been plagued with what plagued The Handmaid’s Tale’s world.
From what we know of Joseph, it’s hard not to root for him to get his chance to right what has gone so terribly wrong. It would be too late for Hannah to benefit, but not necessarily for Nichole.
June, Hannah, and Nichole have been at the mercy of others, and that will not stop until both Gilead and America stabilize. As long as she has something they need, the tugging will continue.
The joyous celebration as June, Luke, and Moira danced in the kitchen as the Americans planned how to infiltrate the wives’ school begs for a happy ending, but this isn’t a show where they come easily, if at all.
There are so many things in this story that I would love to understand better.
How did Joseph initially view Gilead’s creation, and why did he need the religious zealots to bring the plan to fruition? How didn’t he know it would go so poorly?
Why does Gilead’s ruling class think so little of women when they depend on women to bear children? The very hormones that make childbirth possible are used against mothers, making them unfit for motherhood in their eyes. How did they get these ideas?
Alanis: That’s not how cried out works, Serena. It requires a certain amount of mental toughness.
Serena: [whispers] Mental toughness, huh. [out loud] Right. I have overthrown a country, and I have, against all odds, given birth to a very healthy baby, and not once have I lacked for mental toughness.
Alanis: Are you angry with me, Serena?
Serena: Noah is one month old. He is far too young to be crying it out!
Why did America stand idly by as Gilead stole their people, apparently even agents actively working to defend America, from the streets? What have they been doing all this time?
Why has the world allowed it to happen? Sometimes, we see it happening when freedom isn’t a mainstay, and we all turn a blind eye. Is that just the way humanity is, especially if there is a long-term gain on the table, like repopulation through live births?
There is so much that is still unknown.
How do you imagine this season will end?
Is there any hope that the Americans will successfully retrieve Hannah?
What would Gilead’s retaliation look like?
We know to expect the unexpected, and if the final two episodes reach the same threshold as the last three episodes, we’re going to be on the edge of our seats.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.