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Hope is in short supply in a grim, emotionally taxing episode

May 16, 2018 at 12:38 PM EDT

Unbeknownst to Serena, or Nick, or anyone else for that matter, June is in the midst of a health crisis. Early in the episode, while on the toilet, June sees she’s bleeding. Her face stays blank upon the realization. Later, she’s soaking in a bathtub full of blood. She maintains her routine after, however, carrying on like nothing’s wrong. Rita notices she’s weakening, but June maintains her composure so as not to arouse suspicion. And when she returns from the Prayvaganza, June struggles up the stairs, still evidently bleeding. In a long silent sequence, we watch her move around her room, a little more mentally active, plotting or worrying or mourning Nick’s marriage — it’s not exactly clear.

Nick and the Commander share a “celebratory” drink to close out the night, toasting “to good women.” Nick tries his best to put on a grateful face, but we see his true feelings when he leaves, headed back to his quarters in the pouring rain, smoking a cigarette. The potency of all this isn’t quite what it should be when it moves away from Serena’s perspective; Nick has never been the show’s most well-rounded character, and June as a protagonist simply isn’t as compelling when she’s so brainwashed. The Handmaid’s Tale typically finds ways to cut through the unrelenting, but here, the show simply doesn’t have too much to offer. And things only appear to be getting worse in the episode’s climax: Nick finds June outside, passed out and covered in blood, and screams for help. June’s refusal to acknowledge her problem or ask for help suddenly looks like her giving up, a quiet suicide attempt.

Things are no less despairing in the “Seeds” B-story line, which takes us back to the Colonies — that utterly hopeless, dusty landscape where women are sent to die. On the one hand, it gives us a chance not only to see a little bit more of Emily — and Alexis Bledel’s terrific performance — but we get to spend some time with Janine for the first time this season, too. Unfortunately, it’s mostly a retread of our initial glimpse of the Colonies, as Emily guides Janine through its inhumanity and brutality. A light does shine through eventually, however, in Janine’s unwavering faith in God. She tries to see the good in an unimaginably bad situation, which drives Emily — a hard realist — crazy. “We come here. We work. We die,” Emily tries explaining. But whether it’s a few sparsely growing flowers or a love affair in their midst, Janine still finds a reason to smile. She even throws a wedding for Fiona and Kit, the latter of whom is dying, to give them a moment of happiness before their chance at being together is taken away. It’s a beautiful, understated moment, and Emily’s refusal to accept Janine’s optimism as good makes for an effective (if heavy-handed) contrast.

And the same, at long last, goes for June’s arc this week. It seems Nick found and rescued her just in time: She wakes up in a hospital bed, Serena sleeping in a chair opposite her, and appears stunned by her survival. Even more stunning: the baby’s survival. Serena goes to get the doctor when she wakes up, leaving June alone with her child. “You’re tough, aren’t you?” she says. And then, we see June come back to life — shaken, perhaps, by her own toughness. “I will not let you grow up in this place. I won’t do it. Do you hear me?” June tells the baby. “I’m going to get you out of here. I’m going to get us out of here. I promise you.”

It’s a powerful sentiment — triumphant, even, given the tone of the rest of “Seeds” — but it’s one that also carries a sneaky redundancy. We saw June go through this cycle of resistance before; we can’t know what comes next, but in such a restrictive and oppressive climate, it can’t be too much different. Then again, this seems to be the primary argument this season in Handmaid’s, for better or worse: no matter how terrible things get, we’ve got no choice but to keep hope alive.

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