The Handmaid's Tale recap: June testifies against the Waterfords, as others face past demons
In last week's episode of The Handmaid's Tale, June began adjusting to life post-Gilead. She was reunited at last with Luke, her friends, and her daughter Nichole. Then she confronted Serena, getting her first taste of revenge against the Waterfords. But June is far from putting Gilead behind her.
In this week's episode, titled "Testimony," she gets to confront Fred — and all her Gilead trauma — by testifying at his criminal charges hearing. That theme of confronting the past pervades throughout the episode for several characters, including Emily, who's forced into an unexpected confrontation. These events, especially June's testimony, have the power to set a new course for everyone's future. The stakes are only rising as we head toward the season finale, so prepare for some stress as we dive into the latest episode.
While back in form overseeing handmaids scrubbing a floor, Aunt Lydia suspects two other Aunts of laughing at her. She takes out her anger on a particular handmaid, yelling at her, then tasing her. In a blind rage, Lydia tases an Aunt, too.
Worried the incident might cost her her job, Lydia visits Commander Lawrence to seek clemency. Their ensuing conversation is multifaceted. First, referencing Lydia's victim, Lawrence notes new handmaids are more compliant than prior handmaids because they've known Gilead for most of their lives. Next, he taunts Lydia by mentioning June's freedom, saying people like June but nobody likes Lydia. Then he says Lydia won't be fired because she's needed for Gilead's future, which "means… everything" to him. (I ask again: does Lawrence want to destroy or remake Gilead?) Next, Lawrence reveals that Janine was recaptured in Chicago. He suggests Lydia use Janine as an outlet for her passion for inflicting pain. Though upset by the latter comment, Lydia's relieved and happy about keeping her job and seeing Janine again.
When Aunt Lydia sees Janine, she subtly tries to break her back down, making cruel comments like that June abandoned her by escaping to Canada. Janine begs Lydia not to make her a handmaid again; she'd rather die. Lydia says Janine is only against it because June corrupted her — June "corrupts [and] destroys everyone." Lydia implies she won't oblige Janine's request but then hugs her lovingly, her delusion that she cares for Janine seemingly stronger than ever. Will Janine ever be free? #JusticeforJanine!
Emily and her Aunt
Early in the episode, after giving herself a haircut, June attends a handmaids/Gilead refugee support group, led by Moira, at a library. Afterward, June tells Moira she's frustrated the group is more about feelings and forgiveness instead of everyone being angry, and then a woman chases Emily, begging to talk to her. June gets the woman to leave, and later that night, she pressures Emily into admitting that the woman was her first Gilead Aunt, Aunt Irene.
Emily doesn't provide more explanation, but when Irene appears outside the next group meeting, June strongarms everyone into hearing Irene out. Irene says that as an Aunt, she physically punished handmaids, but what she did to Emily was worse. She found out that Emily and her Martha were lovers, and when the women continued the affair even after Emily was reassigned to a new household, she informed the Eyes. June coldly summarizes that Irene's actions got the Martha hanged and Emily's genitals mutilated as punishment. Irene wants Emily's forgiveness. June barks that Irene doesn't deserve it. This begs the question: are Aunts soldiers of Gilead or victims in their own right? To Irene's devastation, Emily says there's nothing she can do to make amends.
Afterward, Emily tells Moira she doesn't know how she feels about the encounter. Moira notes that an Aunt, due to her place in Gilead's power structure, would make a helpful witness against Gilead. So, the next day, Emily sets out to visit Irene. But they're too late — Irene has hung herself, presumably over her guilt. If June hadn't pushed Emily and steered things toward castigating Irene, she might still be alive to help bring down Gilead. It's another example of June not playing the long game or considering the consequences of her actions. Her next move is also questionable and arguably supports Lydia's claim that she's a corrupting influence.
June essentially hijacks a group meeting from Moira, delighting in hearing the women lambast Irene. Emily admits she's happy Irene's dead, and the women subsequently share their fantasies of revenge against their own tormentors. Moira tries to counter this negativity, noting that anger is valid and necessary, but the women can't live in it. But June insists they should be able to be as outwardly furious as they feel. Ultimately, Moira finds herself on the outs of the group. June has worked everyone up into a revenge frenzy.
June and the Waterfords
At Fred's confirmation of charges hearing, June plans to read her testimony in court instead of submitting it in writing. Meanwhile, Serena tries to prepare Fred, noting that he must call June by her name and not Offred, and Fred convinces Serena to join him in court to present a united front.
When the time comes, June begins her story by saying that Fred and Serena Joy Waterford imprisoned her, beat her, and raped her. She talks about the Gilead-sanctioned rapes and the unsanctioned rapes, including when Serena made her have sex with Nick to give the Waterfords the child Fred could not. Amid her tale, June throws Serena a bone, noting she did attempt to improve conditions for women and girls in Gilead when she read aloud before the Commanders Council, only to have her finger cut off as punishment. June also notes the kindness of Commander Lawrence and his wife. Later, to close her testimony, June asks the court to confirm the charges against Fred, put him on trial, and give him the maximum sentence.
In response, Fred's lawyer tries to paint June as someone who lies about sex, noting her pre-Gilead affair with Luke, and says June chose to be a handmaid. Soon after, Fred chimes in. He says Gilead's sacrifices work because Gilead is the only place on earth with a rising birth rate. Touching Serena's belly, he says they have been rewarded for their suffering. June asks how she was rewarded, and he mentions Nichole and the fact that he kindly let her see Hannah. At this, June leaves the room, infuriated.
As Fred and Serena leave the courthouse, Serena asks Fred if he believed what he said, as if she liked what she heard. Once outside, the couple is — shockingly, disturbingly — met by protesters supporting them. As they survey their fans, Serena takes Fred's hand. Is Serena playing along to work against him, or did his speech genuinely sway her back to his side?
June and Luke
While that drama unfolds, June and Luke create some of their own. June doesn't want Luke at her testimony session because she thinks it will be too hard for him to hear what she's done and experienced. But Luke doesn't know how they can move on together if he doesn't understand her trauma.
Luke then angers June by revealing he told Mark about the house where she met Hannah and then, against her wishes, attends the hearing. He's agonized by what he hears, but afterward, he tells June he's glad he knows. Still, June won't open up. Instead, she kisses him and again aggressively initiates sex, but Luke firmly stops her this time and demands she talk to him. But June just gets mad and walks away.
But after the support group takeover, June tells Luke she has something to admit about the last time she saw Hannah. She's clearly going to admit that Hannah seemed not to know her anymore when they met amid June's torture. It seems June got her inspiration to be honest from getting the Gilead women to be honest about their feelings. But does she really need to tell Luke the painful truth? Sound off in the comments and tune in next week to see where things go from here.
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