The Handmaid's Tale -- "Sacrifice" - Episode 312 -- Gilead leadership is rocked by losses among their own. Luke and Moira adjust to new arrivals in Canada. June worries about disruptions to her plan, only to have tragedy strike the entire household. Serena (Yvonne Strahovski), shown. (Photo by: Jasper Savage/Hulu)
Credit: Jasper Savage/Hulu

In the penultimate installment of The Handmaid’s Tale’s third season, multiple characters make the most difficult choices we’ve ever seen them make — setting the stage for an explosive finale. Let’s get into the moments that got us most excited.

How to Get Away With Murder (in Gilead)

Well, that was easy. We find June where we left her, having just killed Commander Winslow after his attempt to assault her, back at the Lawrence household in anxious anticipation. She hears vans pull up. “Doors closing, voices, footsteps,” she narrates. “Then, boots on the stairs. Boots, coming.” But it’s only Eleanor who enters her room — with June pointing the gun Joseph gave her, no less — and tells her some “men” have arrived and want coffee and sandwiches. (Eleanor barely flinches, by the way, at this near-death experience.)

It’s Commander Putnam and a few other guys chatting with Lawrence, and suddenly they’re much more cozy with him — they need him again. Lawrence speaks in code to get June up to speed: She learns through the men’s talk that Fred and Serena have been captured in Canada, that they will restore Joseph’s high-security clearance, and that they believe Commander Winslow is merely “missing” — in part because of what happened to the Waterfords. When they leave, Joseph tells June, ““Cheer up. Fred and Serena are toast and you just got away with murder. All in all, not a bad morning.” Even better: June learns from Sienna that Billy, the Jezebels bartender, has agreed to let them use his plane.

Serena’s Betrayal

Fred and Serena are in holding as “Sacrifice” begins, but it soon becomes clear that Serena knew what she was doing all along when deciding to go rogue with Mark — even if at Fred’s expense. He tells her he won’t let anything happen to her, at which point Serena coldly replies, “You have to save yourself. I’ll be fine.” It dawns on Fred that she sold him out. And he doesn’t mince words, the rot of their marriage finally coming to the surface. “It’s always been about you,” he sneers. “What you want. What you need. I pity the child that has you as their mother.”

At least for now, Serena gets what she wants. She’s out of her Gilead garb and in a sleek, ordinary outfit that takes Mark — and viewers — aback. She’s a little bit more at ease. She gets an hour-long visit with Nichole in holding; it’s Moira who brings her. Moira isn’t so warm, however. She reveals to Serena in stark terms that Fred raped her. She chastises her as a “gender traitor.” But she still leaves Serena for her moment. Nichole cries in Serena’s arms — the woman observing calls it “stranger” anxiety — which, even for all of Serena’s horrific behavior this season, remains quietly heartbreaking to see.

Fred Versus Luke

While Moira and Serena face off, an even grimmer confrontation takes place in another room. Luke has asked to speak privately with Fred, and Fred — out of some combination of pride, delusion, and pain over his wife’s betrayal — near-gleefully agrees. It’s not exactly a pleasant interaction. “You’re going to rot in this jail knowing that your wife betrayed you,” Luke rails against him. Fred keeps calm and asks, “What about your wife?” and then, “Gilead has changed her. I’ve changed her.” Luke, quite expectedly, punches him in the face.

June Breaks Bad — Sort Of

In a moment sure to draw comparisons to a climactic moment in Breaking Bad’s second season, June fatefully chooses the cause over a life. Throughout this episode, Eleanor Lawrence has put June and Joseph’s plan on the brink of collapse, implying to visiting wives that they are “going” somewhere and attempting to rush out of the home to rescue children in advance of their departure. She is not well, that much is clear.

And so when June goes to deliver her meal and finds her unconscious in bed, having downed several too many pills, our heroine is faced with a choice: Tell Joseph and surely jeopardize their great escape — the plane is set to leave in a week — or let Eleanor die, and have things progress as planned. Her initial instinct is to rush out of the room and get help, but she stops herself, closes the bedroom door quietly, softly kisses Eleanor on the forehead, and watches her die. She goes back to bed and rests, eyes wide open, as she hears the screams of finding Eleanor’s dead body. Here’s where the “Sacrifice” episode title gets its meaning. And while June has certainly gone down a dark path this season, it’s safe to call this the point of no return.

Mourning and Preparing

Of course, there’s still the risk of Eleanor’s death rocking Joseph enough to derail their plans? He’s broken by his wife’s untimely demise, understandably, and we see June trying to feel him out while trying, at the same time, to be respectful of his loss. There’s also the emerging risk, given the capturing of the Waterfords and the “disappearance” of Winslow, of Gilead closing its borders. Will Lawrence bother fighting that while he’s in mourning?

While preparing for the service, he makes clear to June where he stands. “I kept the border open,” he says. ““It’s hard to argue with a man who’s in mourning — even for them.” That’s full commitment. And so they go to the funeral, grieve their loss, and look toward what’s sure to be a game-changing finale. June comforts Joseph, but we know more. We know she’s made a choice that she’ll be wrestling with for a long time.

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