While June stays behind, Nichole and Emily make it to Canada — and meet new friends: Season 2 ended with June giving baby Nichole to Emily as they’re on the verge of fleeing Gilead. June stays behind, awaiting capture and an inevitable reassignment in the Waterford home, but what of Emily and Nichole? They struggle across the border after being taken as far as possible and ultimately make it to Canada. Emily arrives with newfound freedom but is utterly shell-shocked and traumatized. Eventually, she finds Moira and Luke — revealing her connection to June and, more pressingly, the identity of the baby she’s arrived with — and takes up residence with them. This, of course, gives Luke and Moira plenty of complicated new information to grapple with.
June gets a wakeup call: At this point, the Waterfords are as susceptible to serious punishment as June for all of the latter’s successful attempts at defying their control — they’re forced into a pact, essentially, to protect each other, and so after being found near where the van left with her child, June makes it back to her old handmaid role without too much trouble. She’s also immediately back on her mission, the reason she stayed behind: to find and rescue Hannah.
But when she makes her way back to where Hannah lives, she’s faced with a perspective — a challenge — unlike any she’s heard before. The “Serena” in this situation, if you will, played by Amy Landecker (Transparent), meets June for the first time and tries to level with her honestly. She doesn’t spout the Gilead BS. She doesn’t come off as purely self-interested, ignoring June’s role as her birth mother. She tells June flat-out that these rescue attempts will not only fail but damage Hannah more and more as she gets older, confusing her about her mother’s identity. “Stop,” Landecker’s character repeats. June is affected by this. She won’t stop, of course, but now she’s left to more seriously consider the consequences of her turn toward the resistance — sure to be a recurring theme this season.
Burning down the house: Serena, meanwhile, is reeling from the trauma of giving up what she believes to be her baby — and then having to face June again, and more immediately grapple with the guilt and pain and shame of her decision. She’s also back in the house with Fred, to the suffocating life she’d been so subtly but intently rebelling against for much of season 2. In the season 2 finale, he turned on her after she dared to ask for more rights, handing her an unimaginable punishment. So to go back to the way things were? There’s simply no way. Sitting in the room where so many horrific “ceremonies” have occurred, Serena very delicately plans a grand, epic gesture. She sets fire to the bed and watches it burn. Engulfed in flames, Serena just sits, peacefully. From another room, June smells the smoke and feels the heat. She finds Serena surrounded by fire and they stare at each other. June smiles, slightly — recognizing, after a beat, the significance of this destructive moment. She guides Serena out of the room and the house and eventually watches it come crashing down from outside. Strangely if appropriately, it’s as gleeful a moment as Handmaid’s tends to offer.
Emily reunites with her wife: As Emily recovers at Luke and Moira’s home, she’s also avoiding her most immediate connection — Sylvia (Clea DuVall), her wife, from whom she was estranged at the airport when they were attempting to flee what became Gilead. Emily appears numb, much to Luke’s frustration, and seems unable to reconnect with the love of her life. Finally, though, she does, with Sylvia picking up the phone without much care in her car, only to break down at the realization of who’s on the other line.
June moves in with Commander Lawrence: The Waterford home burns down. And who does June get reassigned to but Commander Joseph Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) — the enigmatic figure she encountered at the end of last season as he helped her and Emily flee, but also the man known as Gilead’s architect. He’s as menacingly peculiar as ever, keeping June off-balance. June notices his wife is not well. When a recovering Aunt Lydia — having survived Emily’s push from last season — stops by, she hints at great dysfunction. And yet Lawrence leaves June the space to continue her turn toward radicalization. She quickly gathers that the house’s Martha is part of the underground network she was introduced to at the end of last season, and works with her and others to facilitate another woman’s escape. (This includes her first-ever trip to a laundry.) This does not exactly go as planned, however — and when Lawrence catches that June had to bring the fleeing woman back, his tone changes sharply, even dangerously. It’s hard to predict Lawrence’s behavior on a minute-to-minute basis, and safe to say, we’ve got a whole season of that to prepare for.
Meet Serena’s mother: After the epic conclusion to the season premiere, Serena returns in episode 3 away from home, staying with her mother by the beach and vying to recollect herself and figure out her next move. It becomes increasingly clear that Serena wants to leave Fred — something her mother (played by Laila Robins) adamantly opposes. Here we see the roots of Serena’s inner-turmoil. “It was fun to explore the little girl within Serena, and how her mother makes her feel,” Strahovski told EW before premiere night. “She can never quite get through to her. She makes her feel small, she [feels] controlled.” Of course, Serena eventually returns home to speak with June — more on that in a minute.
June’s fateful decision: In episode 3, Lawrence and June’s twisted dynamic deepens. After their bizarre back-and-forth that followed her initial moving-in, here he tries feeling out what she’s capable of. Again, his motives are hard to gauge. Is he just trolling her? Trying to make her feel terrible? Actually seeing her as an ally in undoing some of what he created? He gives her a choice: She can select a handful of people out of a cage of hundreds to have killed, or choose nothing and leave all of them to die. For which is she more directly responsible? Initially she angrily rejects his pitch, saying she won’t play along. But then the reality of the option settles: Either a few people die, or far more people die. And she succumbs — a major moment in her radicalization, and her development as a fighter this season.
June and Serena reunite: This three-episode opener ends between June and Serena. Serena has come to find her: They reminisce about the baby, reflect on the tenuous plan they executed together, and sit in the ever-uncomfortable tension that still exists between them. But here June makes a stronger, more direct pitch for Serena to join the other side than she ever has before. She tells Serena, point blank, that she has the power to really change things — and that they could make an impact together. Serena is, inevitably, resistant. But the final image of the episode, of her in the water, indicates a kind of rebirth. Might we see a change in Serena beyond what’s already taken place? It’ll be a long road, but stranger things have happened.