The Handmaid's Tale recap: June struggles to adjust to life outside Gilead
Last week on The Handmaid's Tale, thanks to an impassioned but rash decision by Moira, June finally escaped Gilead and made it to Canada. Moira's NGO, led by her then-girlfriend Oona, disguised stowaway June as one of their own as they left Gilead's waters following the aid mission in Chicago. This week's episode, titled "Home," focuses on what the escape means for June and others.
She must adjust to a new world, starkly different from Gilead, and cope with the complex emotions of reuniting with friends connected to her traumatic experiences and the husband she hasn't seen since everything began. And she's not the only one upended by her arrival; it's monumental for Luke and the Waterfords.
Let's break down what happens as June settles into her new home.
Moira and Oona
A small part of the episode involves Moira's relationship with Oona. Last episode, Oona swiftly broke up with Moira for choosing June over the NGO's mission. But the couple has another conversation when Oona drops by June's to leave something at the front door.
Oona tries to go unnoticed, but Moira sees her from inside the house and runs after her. Moira learns Oona's NGO is temporarily not allowed to leave Canada (because saving June defied the ceasefire agreement). Moira suggests it should matter that Oona brought Canada a "major intelligence asset" in June, and Oona admits that's providing some leniency and hope against being completely disbanded. Oona smiles as they chat but still rejects Moira's plea for reconciliation, implying Moira's actions proved Oona isn't important enough to her. Moira insists otherwise and begs Oona to fight with her about it so they can move on and resume their relationship. Eventually, Oona agrees to fight things out — but at another time. Moira delights in this snippet of hope.
June's new life
Most of the episode is naturally focused on June adjusting to life in Canada. As soon as she steps off the boat, she's greeted by Mark and other U.S. government officials and led through the process of requesting asylum in Canada.
She's brought to a hotel, too overwhelmed and awestruck at Canada's normalcy to register anything said along the way. Cue an extra-long version of the show's (overdone) trademark June-staring shots. Eventually, Luke and June are left alone in a hotel room. It's awkward between them; the years apart and June's traumas create a sizeable elephant in the room. She takes a shower while Luke orders food, but instead of joining him after, she sits on the bed and falls asleep for 17 hours.
When she awakes, she and Luke trade apologies — Luke for not having saved June, both for not having saved Hannah. Then, instead of telling Luke about Hannah fearing her during their recent meeting, she tells him about seeing Hannah at the country house (in season 2). She says Hannah remembers her parents, and though she accused them of not trying hard enough to find her, she knows they love her, and she's still their Hannah. Luke is overcome with emotion. Has Hannah truly forgotten them now? Will she return to them?
Soon after, Luke takes June home and, after rejoicing in seeing Emily, who was helping Moira with June's daughter Nichole, June's attention turns fully to her daughter. June holds her for a while that night, alone. She gushes over her and tells her that her first daddy — Nick — loves her.
In the morning, Moira offers to take Nichole grocery shopping to give Luke and June time alone. Luke is ecstatic, but June, seemingly terrified about being alone with him, says she'll go with Moira and that they should have Rita and Emily over for dinner.
Moira worries about June experiencing culture shock at the store, but June welcomes it. Once there, with both Luke and Moira, she notes how potato chips have changed, and seems to note, possibly with jealousy, how domestically in sync Luke and Moira are. Then, she's struck by how normal, and casual people in the store are acting, and when she takes a bag of chips off the shelf, she imagines Alma's face across from her. This triggers confusion and flashbacks to the horrors she endured in Gilead.
Back home later that night, June panics before greeting Emily as she arrives with her son Oliver. After dinner, she kisses Luke for the first time but abruptly cuts off the intimacy. June is clearly struggling to adjust. But three upcoming conversations might help her begin to settle and heal.
June and the Gilead Girls
The first conversation comes that night when June, Moira, Rita, and Emily catch up.
Emily talks about her wife, with whom she'd been reunited after escaping Gilead. Yours truly thought Gilead issues and time apart had prevented them from resuming their relationship, and thus, Emily was single (and ready to mingle with Moira), but that's incorrect. Emily is not yet sharing the same room with her wife, but they are living together, as Emily works toward being able to handle intimacy again. Moira notes all of them left Gilead messed up about sex. In response, Emily mentions Oona, but Moira says that's ruined. June points out it was her fault, but Moira says that's Aunt Lydia talk, and that's not allowed — Aunt Lydia and Gilead can't hurt them anymore.
June then asks if anyone wonders if they deserve to be free. Moira asserts they all did what was necessary to survive, and they beat Gilead. Next, June asks about Serena. Rita tells June about seeing Serena, and about her pregnancy. This seems to infuriate June, but she declares she doesn't care about the Waterfords anymore, and Moira lightens the conversation again by insulting Serena. But June doesn't really get Serena out of her mind. Instead, in the middle of the night, she visits her.
June and the Waterfords and Luke
When June arrives at Serena's room, Serena says she thinks the Lord brought June to her so she could make amends. Serena really is a narcissist, as Rita pointed out earlier. June coldly says she brought herself there to tell Serena how much she hates her and that she doesn't deserve to make amends — the only thing Serena deserves is "a life full of suffering and shame" and "there is no one less worthy of redemption" than her. Serena tearfully gets on her knees to beg forgiveness but invokes the Lord instead of June in her request for mercy and understanding. June says God will kill Serena's baby so she feels a fraction of the pain the handmaids felt when Gilead tore their children from them. Echoing what Serena did to her in the trauma flashback, June grabs Serena and yells at her, bringing her to tearful anguish.
When June gets home, she wakes Luke up with angry, aggressive sex. There's an empowerment aspect to the scene, as it seems she's determined to take back her sexuality from the Waterfords and Gilead, but it's also arguably a little creepy and unsettling. Sound off in the comments about your thoughts on this scene… but regardless, this begs the question: Is this a step toward June's healing or simply a sign of how damaged she is, and how hard it will be to truly reclaim her body and relationship with Luke?
In any case, June takes another big step this episode when she tells Mark about Gilead and Serena.
June and Mark and the Waterfords
In June's first conversation with Mark, back at the hotel room early on, she talks about Angels' Flight. She says orchestrating it was the only thing she could do to fulfill a promise that "they" would hurt the way "we" hurt. Mark asks who she means by "they," and she says, "The kidnappers, the Serenas… they take everything from you."
After this conversation, Mark visits Serena. He mentions Fred's latest request for a visit — Fred has made one every day since learning he's a father. Serena rejects the request, saying Fred's just a sperm donor.
But when Mark implies that the baby and June's arrival in Canada (which Serena knows about) might give Serena leverage to secure cooperation from Fred that will help Serena and Canada, Serena finally agrees to a visit.
Fred thinks the baby is proof God wants them to be together, but Serena rejects the notion. He then notes their only hope at raising their son is to team up. Serena doesn't answer him, but later, after June's visit, she tells Fred she needs him and lets him kiss her belly in acquiescence.
Meanwhile, June tells Mark that Serena is a sociopathic, toxic, abusive monster and an actress. As June talks, we see Mark's team's profile on Serena — they've noted she betrayed Fred, puts children first, and that they may be able to use her pregnancy against her — and profiles for Nick and Fred, too. June says Serena is driven by hatred and rage and she'll do anything to not feel the misery that's behind all that, and to get what she wants. "If you feel yourself getting sucked in by her… run for your life," she warns.
Could this be foreshadowing that Mark will fall under Serena's spell? One thing is certain: the Waterfords' battle is heating up. With that and everything else happening in Canada and Gilead, who or what will get burned in the season's final episodes? To be determined.