The Handmaid’s Tale season 3 is hurtling toward its endgame, with today’s episode, “Witness,” putting into motion several story lines that could change the fabric of the show as we know it. Let’s break things down.
“Scones Mean No”
June’s breakthrough last week, finally lulling herself out of an increasingly sadistic (perhaps, as one character mentioned, even suicidal) funk, finds her in greater spirits as “Witness” begins. She’s just returned to the Lawrence house by Aunt Lydia, and already things seem different. We learn in the time June was away, Fred instituted new “regulations” which require houses to live up to “D.C. standards.” (He really loves that Winslow life, huh?) And so the Lawrence home is finally cleaned up. Lydia leaves, confident in the new arrangements. But June is immediately greeted by bad news in the kitchen: Scones have been delivered, which as the Lawrences’ rogue Martha reveals, means “no” — in this case, no new medication for Eleanor. Things are about to get a lot worse in this house, but really, June only knows the start of it. In the meantime, she tells her trusted fellow freedom fighter her new, grand plan: To get kids out of Gilead. “You’re going to get yourself killed,” she tells June in reply.
June finds Lawrence and skirts around the idea of him aiding her in a grand new escape plan, but he mostly ignores it; later, when he’s away, he finds help in Eleanor, who is struggling without mood stabilizers. June sneaks into his study and roots around when Eleanor finds her; June bluntly tells her what she’s looking for, and Eleanor just as bluntly offers help. “That information is in the Red Center dossiers,” she reveals. “Joseph keeps them in the basement.” Down June goes. She finds her own file, in which the births of her two children are described; she sees information on many others’, and the potential for actually pulling this off reveals itself. The Lawrences, it seems clear, are a key ingredient. June floats to Eleanor the idea of getting out of Gilead. But Eleanor lays down the hard truth: “Joseph is a war criminal,” she says. “He can’t cross the border.”
Commander Winslow (Christopher Meloni) is in town and Fred wants to put on a good show; in the time since we’ve seen him last, his obsession with pleasing the D.C. man has only expanded. Outside of the supermarket he has Winslow inspect the handmaids, and there, Fred once more locks eyes with June, which sends him for a quiet loop. Fred hatches a sudden idea: Since it’s clear Joseph is not going through with the “ceremony” as he’s supposed to, why not try and force him a bit, and impress Winslow in the process?
Serena, fairly, views the plot as a little extreme. (She also doesn’t seem to be harboring much resentment toward June despite last week’s feeble murder attempt; such is the nature of their relationship.) But Winslow and Waterford go through with it anyway. Next thing we know they’re in the Lawrence household, Lydia of course by their side, prepared to bear “witness” to the hideous nightmare. Joseph is mortified when he realizes what’s going on, Eleanor even more so. But June is at peace with what they must do, since a doctor is also on-hand to inspect the aftermath. ““You’re not you, I’m not me,” she tells Lawrence. “This is a transaction. And then it’s over.” We don’t watch the actual, horrifying scene, but do check-in on the aftermath. Fred asks June if she’s alright before leaving. “I mean, at least it wasn’t you,” she says. Serena looks on at the two of them.
Back at the Waterfords’ new apartment, Serena once again appears restless by it all. It’s true that her decision to realign with Fred was borne at least partly out of the united effort to “rescue” Nichole from Canada, but that effort seems to have stalled. She says as much when she confronts Fred, calling him “selfish.” She reveals what she encountered when she herself went to Canada, imploring him to “cooperate” in exchange for getting Nichole back. Fred uneasily appears to agree. In any case, we know it’s not in Winslow’s interests, so this is sure to rile up conflict on all sides, whether it’s a successful ploy or not.
“Muffins Mean Yes”
Few things could do more to convince someone to jailbreak out of Gilead than what Fred and Winslow put Lawrence, June, and Eleanor through in “Witness.” And, sure enough, Joseph appears totally broken and humiliated by the experience; his guilt at being Gilead’s architect has never appeared more acute. “I’ll get you a truck,” he tells her. “You get my wife out, safely.” June takes it one step further, riskily but successfully unveiling her plan. She says he can get out too. “You just have to bring them something valuable. Kids. The stolen children of Gilead.” Later, she tells Alma and Janine about this at the grocery store; Alma is hesitant until June reveals the exact situation of her child, having been able to see it in the Red Center dossiers. She says she’ll ask around.
And then, back at the Lawrence household, June walks in to the kitchen which is overflowing with baskets of muffins. “Muffins mean yes,” the Martha tells June. She’d asked around to see who would be open to helping get children out of Gilead; she expected to mostly hear “no,” but received quite the opposite word. Smiling at the display, June says, “We’re going to need a bigger boat.”