The Handmaid’s Tale just taught us a very important lesson about making deals with the devil.
Warning: this article contains spoilers for Motherland (episode seven, season eight) of The Handmaid’s Tale on Channel 4.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned from William Shakespeare, it’s this: “One may smile, and smile, and still be a villain.”
This week’s episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, however, seemingly proved once and for all that June (Elisabeth Moss) hasn’t read much of The Bard. Or, if she has, she didn’t take that iconic quote on board. Because, in ‘Motherland’, we see her genuinely consider – and it’s a very long, hard consider, too – making a deal with the devil.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, however…
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The episode is an intense one; Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) is forced to become something not unlike – ironically – a Handmaid to the ultimate WASP nightmare that is Alanis Wheeler (Genevieve Angelson). It’s the only way that she can be close to her baby son, Noah. And it is, too, the advice she is given by June when she visits her in Canadian ICE custody.
“You’re going to go back in there, and you are going to act like a Handmaid, but the entire time, you will be plotting against them and planning your revenge,” June informs her.
“You cannot help your child if you’re not with him. I would go back.”
“I had to use religious nut-jobs as a delivery system, and I underestimated their depravity”
Meanwhile, Canada is utterly sick of Gilead’s refugees, as is made apparent by their frequent protests and demonstrations. Their placards might insist that people like June and Luke (OT Fagbenle) should “go home”, but where on earth is home for them?
The states that make up Gilead in complete occupation are Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois (except for Chicago), Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Nyack (former New York state), Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.
Then we have the Colonies – seemingly made up of two large radioactive sites in Arizona and Missouri, where the so-called ‘Unwomen’ are sent to work. And then everywhere else is pretty much either at war, completely uninhabitable, or…
Well, there’s Alaska and Hawaii, both of which are safe(ish) and under US control – for now. And, according to Commander Lawrence, there’s one more option available.
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That’s right, everyone: Lawrence is still trying to make “fetch” happen – although this time, of course, “fetch” is actually “New Bethlehem”. Which sounds a bit like the Diet Coke version of Gilead, but what do we know, eh?
“Everything you value, all the things you’re clinging to: democracy, liberty, justice, all that feel-good crap defined by a bunch of slave-owners talking about how all men are created equal, all of that collapsed under the weight of late-term capitalism and rampant consumerism,” he tells June during his impassioned pitch.
“It broke our pretty little planet and almost ended the human race, and Gilead, for all of our faults, we fixed that particular problem – we’re having babies again. Unfortunately, I had to use religious nut-jobs as a delivery system and I underestimated their depravity, but it was triage, and it worked.”
And there we have it, in a nutshell: June may not have clocked it, but Lawrence – in spite of everything – is proud of all he has achieved in Gilead. He really is. And that, if you ask me (and nobody ever does), should be a big fat red flag. Maybe even a red flag that’s been set on fire, actually, just to really hammer home how fucking dangerous this guy is.
June isn’t into the idea of becoming one of New Bethlehem’s first residents. Until, that is, Lawrence deviously dangles the ultimate carrot before her – a carrot that looks a lot like her long-lost daughter, Hannah (Jordana Blake).
“No Handmaids, no hangings,” he promises blithely. “Somewhere one might visit their grown children running their own houses.”
“You’re saying I can be with my daughter?” asks June tearfully, breaking our hearts with just those few words.
Apparently so. And, Lawrence adds, he would place none other than her erstwhile lover, Nick (Max Minghella), in charge of New Bethlehem, too. Just in case that might, y’know, tempt her back into the fold.
It’s clear that June is very much considering his offer, so Lawrence hands her a phone and asks her to get in touch when she’s made a decision. Oh very dear.
“Look what you did to Serena and her baby”
As we discussed in last week’s episode, Serena lost custody of Noah almost entirely due to Luke’s vengeful interferences. And I did say then, didn’t I, that this decision would come back to haunt him.
I just didn’t expect it to be so soon.
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June rushes home from her meeting with Lawrence to tell her husband all about the deal that the devil is offering her. Naturally, he’s not into the idea – at all – and who can blame him, really?
“I would risk anything to be with her,” June tells him, before insisting that Lawrence “has been my friend.” That he can be trusted. That he wouldn’t knowingly put her in any danger (ha!).
Considering how little the American government has done to help June and Luke rescue their daughter, you can almost see her point. Almost.
Luke, though, absolutely can’t, and the conversation soon blazes into the sort of argument that no couple ever wants to have. Because when he insists that June is letting emotion cloud her judgment, she fires back: “Of course you don’t understand what I feel. Look what you did to Serena and her baby.”
Ouch. The implication is clear: Luke doesn’t know what it’s like to have a child taken away from him. How could he? If he had endured even one millionth of what June has been through, he would never have inflicted the same pain on anyone, even if that ‘anyone’ was their worst enemy.
“Just let me protect you sometimes, please,” he replies, sounding utterly defeated.
“The thing is, I don’t need your protection. I don’t need it,” she says. “Hannah does.”
“You are offering us nothing”
Luke isn’t the only one who hates the idea of New Bethlehem; the woefully inept Mark Tuello (Sam Jaeger) pops by to inform her that it’s a terrible idea, too.
“Lawrence’s goal is to kill off America, once and for all. You’re a get for them,” he says, pointing out that, if June joins forces with Lawrence, she will be lending her tacit support to Gilead. That she will spark something of a “domino” effect on all those refugees who feel as if they have nowhere to go. That she will drive hundreds of men, women and children back into the clutches of their former captors.
Even if Diet Gilead does uphold its promise to respect the bodily autonomy of these individuals (and do we really think it will?), Tuello adds, the same cannot be said of all those Handmaids still enslaved in the OG Gilead. And so, if June publicly declares that one is fine, she will be simultaneously lending her approval (and her approval means a lot to people, considering she is now upheld as a symbol of the resistance) to all of those ceremonial rapes, mutilations, particutions, and more, too.
Tuello goes on to claim that the US is working on “something big,” some sort of military action against Gilead, but he’s unable to share the top secret details of the operation. “It’s classified,” he bluffs.
“Lawrence is offering us Hannah,” replies June. “You are offering us nothing.”
“Gilead’s gonna Gilead”
June returns to “the architect of Gilead” and tells him that she’s up for the New Bethlehem idea. There’s a catch, though: he has to promise that Hannah won’t be married off like the rest of Gilead’s child brides.
Lawrence shrugs, exuding major “whaddaya gonna do?” energy as he does so, and then proceeds to try and bluff his way through an “arranged marriage isn’t so bad” bit.
“Gilead’s gonna Gilead,” he quips.
Big mistake, Lawrence. Big. Huge.
Now, we’ve seen June make plenty of terrible decisions throughout the course of the Channel 4 series so far. Joining forces with Lawrence, though, would have taken the metaphorical biscuit.
You can imagine how hard this writer cheered, then, when our eponymous Handmaid turns on Commander ‘Shady AF’ Lawrence and reminds him of all of the women who have been raped, tortured, mutilated, and abused “in a world you created, you sick fuck.”
Lawrence at least has the grace to look ashamed of himself.
“You think I don’t know? You think I don’t know the misery that I’ve caused?” he replies. “You think I’m unaware?”
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“I was trying to save humanity,” Lawrence continues. “I did. I fucking did it. And it got away. It got away from me. It went septic.
“You think I wouldn’t take it back? I’d take it all back. I’d let the whole fucking human race just die out, just so I wouldn’t have Gilead on my conscience.”
It’s an outstanding performance by Whitford, and one which helps us to understand his character just that little bit more: his plans for New Bethlehem are, essentially, the result of a truly toxic concoction – one made up of pride and guilt. Perhaps more the latter than the former, but still… the pride is there. And that’s a very big problem.
“Let’s make the rising fascist power a little more humane”
Speaking to EW about his frighteningly complex character, Whitford says: “There’s a guy, Robert McNamara. He was Secretary of Defense, and escalated the Vietnam War, and a brilliant economist, who streamlined auto production in the United States, and then used those same ideas to incinerate about a million people on the other side of the planet.
“He’s one of these guys that I always thought Lawrence was, someone whose huge brain obliterates his humanity. [Now] I think Lawrence feels like he has an opportunity – and it may be naive, and it may be misguided – to some path of redemption.”
Whitford continues: “Basically democracy and freedom, an open society that we take for granted, mistakenly, almost destroyed everybody. And I think that what Lawrence is trying to do with New Bethlehem is… well, it’s basically an argument.
“If he can gain power, and I’m not saying I, Brad Whitford, agree with this, but in a world where democracy just doesn’t work and is going to fall to fascism, [Lawrence says] ‘Let’s make the rising fascist power a little more humane. So let’s turn North Korea into China. Help me do that. That’ll save more people than doing these sort of misguided guerrilla tactics.’”
While I have Lawrence pegged as this season’s potential Big Bad, Whitford insists that this isn’t necessarily the case.
“Do I think he just is seeking power for the sake of having power?” he ponders. “No, I think that was what he did before you met him. I think he enjoyed the status as a Commander and I think it ruined him and it killed his wife… this is something different.”
He adds: “I think that part of what [Lawrence is] saying to [June] with the New Bethlehem offer is, ‘You’re in danger. You hear those Canadian trucks honking? That’s the sound of the death of open society in Canada. You’re holding on to something that doesn’t exist anymore. I can keep you safe. I know it’s not ideal. I know it’s a horrible quandary to put you in.’
“But yeah, I think she’s in a lot of danger.”
“A nicer autocracy”
Whatever we may make of Lawrence (and I still think he’s bad news), he sends June off with a videotape of Hannah at her Wife School. Again, it’s almost enough to convince her that she belongs in New Bethlehem – although she comes crashing back down to earth again when Luke informs her, in no uncertain terms, that he will not ever allow Nichole to set foot on Gilead soil.
June doesn’t care; she’ll go anyway, she insists – with or without him. And, just like that, all the fight goes out of Luke.
“We’re never going to be enough for you, are we?” he says, and it seems as if it might finally be the end of an incredibly bumpy road for this long-suffering couple.
Thankfully, though, June decides to do something very un-June, and allows herself to be vulnerable for once.
“She needs me, and I left her behind,” she sobs, as Luke folds her into his arms.
“I abandoned her… I have to go back to her.”
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Luke, clearly energised by this surprisingly positive exchange, takes the tape to Tuello, who takes it to the US government, who us it to track down the location of Hannah’s school.
“We found her,” he tells June over the phone, explaining that they’re going to send in the troops to pull Hannah out and bring her to Canada.
June is overjoyed, Luke is ecstatic, and Tuello is quietly confident. Personally, though, I find this plan incredibly concerning. There are so many things that have the potential to go wrong. Hannah could be caught in the crossfire and injured by a stray bullet, or – worse – killed. The rescue mission could fail and Gilead could whisk Hannah away to some unknown location, never to be seen again. Lawrence could be using Hannah as bait, even. And, sure, the US could succeed in extracting Hannah safely, but even then…
Well, Hannah has been drinking Gilead’s Kool-Aid ever since she was a tiny girl. She’s a teenager now – and let’s not forget that she screamed in abject terror the last time she shared a room with her mother. That she smilingly allowed Serena to kiss her on the head during Fred Waterford’s funeral. That she has been raised to believe that Gilead’s word is law. That she has, quite frankly, endured trauma after trauma after countless trauma.
Best case scenario? Our girl spends weeks, months, years in therapy. Worst case scenario? That she has been utterly radicalised and bringing her across the border will prove itself to be an incredibly dangerous move by June and co.
What do I know, eh? I’m sure it will be absolutely fine.
Roll on next week…
The Handmaid’s Tale continues on Channel 4 this Sunday 11 December at 9pm.
Images: Channel 4
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