The Handmaid's Tale: Sacrifice
August 7, 2019 9:53 AM - Season 3, Episode 12 - Subscribe

Gilead leadership is rocked by losses of their own; Luke and Moira adjust to new arrivals in Canada; A tragedy strikes the Lawrence household.
posted by roolya_boolya (32 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Oh dear God, although I totally understand June's rationale for doing what she did, it was hard to watch.

As I thought after last week's episode, now Waterford and Winslow are gone, Lawrence is off the hook and is back on top. I was also wrong about Serena having set Fred up. But although the reward she exacted for that - time with Nichole - is currently forthcoming, I hope it won't be long before Luke and Moira refuse to co-operate because, well, Serena has no actual connection to Nichole. Luke, as her stepfather, has the most valid connection to her.

I loved the finger clasp of June and Rita over the potatoes. Where nobody is allowed to show any emotion, the tiniest gesture can hold so much meaning.

Even though the storyline has decended into melodrama, the performances are so good that it's still holding its grip on me.
posted by essexjan at 10:45 AM on August 7, 2019

At least the writers gave Eleanor enough lucidity and agency that she could choose to sacrifice herself for the children, rather than (as I expected to happen last week) Lawrence shooting her and then himself, but still.
posted by Flannery Culp at 5:02 PM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I liked how complicated June's choice to let Eleanor die was -- yes, Eleanor was going to be a complication to getting the children out (and I think she knew that!) but also it was a mercy. If they had called for medical attention, who knows what would've happened? To all of them?

I'm not really sold on June as a hero and I'm sure it's all going to go badly. It's hard to know how much Lawrence suspects or knows.

I'm glad Luke got to punch Fred, although I wish the guard had just let him pound him a bit more. But it was still satisfying.

I love Moira's "You're the gender traitor" to Serena. I'm not sure where this ends for Serena, honestly (and I'm not sure what the American dude's vague flirting/cozying up to her is going to mean. I'm suspect).

As messy as this season has been, it's done a decent comeback in the past few episodes and it's drawn me back in. I doubt it's going to stick the landing, though. I guess how it ends will determine if I care about next season.

(I want major changes to happen! I'm going to be really bored if they don't.)
posted by darksong at 7:07 PM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I loved the finger clasp of June and Rita over the potatoes.

What a beautiful moment, and I loved the overhead shot of it. I'm so glad that Rita remains a part of this story.

Oh, Eleanor. I wanted a happier ending for her, but as she said to Joseph, "Could we really?"

I would love to have the next season be mostly in Toronto, with June and the Waterfords there together. What a wonderful change in power dynamic that would be. The writing really laid bare what a horrible person Serena is. Everything that Commander Waterford said about her is as true as what Moira said. I am loving the joy in her face as she rediscovers herself outside of Gilead only to have the rug pulled out from under her by the people she oppressed.
posted by gladly at 7:48 PM on August 7, 2019

I thought the writing and performances this week were superb. The deterioration of Eleanor's mental health was palpable. And her ourburst in front of Mrs Winslow and the Putnams was pitched just right for us to know that she was such a loose cannon that she would inadvertently get them all killed. Lawrence was able to deflect it that time, but June knew that Eleanor's involvement was too much of a risk to the safety of so many people.

Elizabeth Moss has the most expressive face of any actress I think I've ever seen. Without words she can convey more emotion than words could ever describe.
posted by essexjan at 4:30 AM on August 8, 2019

Can we talk about the "oh wow" moment of discovering that if a Wife's husband isn't in the picture anymore, her kids get taken away? Layers of fuckeduppery on top of fuckeduppery.

Eleanor's whole arc was heartbreaking and extremely well done, I thought.

Really enjoying watching the complexities of Serena's "escape." There's definitely no going back to Gilead for her now; what even is her future?

Why didn't Luke drop the "it's Nick's baby" bomb on Waterford? I kinda wanted that.
posted by olinerd at 5:56 AM on August 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

My biggest criticism is that I found the scene between Luke and Fred to be just odd and very underwritten. I can't fathom a realistic justification for that meeting. I can fully imagine Luke demanding it, but I don't see any reason why the Canadian or American government would actually allow this unstructured, unsupervised (except for a guard) conversation between a newly-captured war criminal and a refugee.

Also, Luke left behind his big book of whatever that was.
posted by desuetude at 8:46 AM on August 8, 2019 [5 favorites]

So the big reveal is Serena was in on the arrest. Or at least it seems that way, I'm not sure they explicitly said all the words. Anyway it was a big point of debate in last week's thread about whether she was getting arrested to or had made a deal. Looks like she has a deal. OTOH she's not left Fred behind entirely. And she's got this insane obsession with an infant that is not her baby, it seems cruel for the Canadians to indulge her in it. I've never bought the whole "she loves baby Nicole" story; I really enjoyed watching Moira call her on her bullshit.

My favorite scene was the moment where Lawrence and June were standing together by poor Eleanor's grave. And Lawrence stares at June, really probing. And in that moment it's so balanced. I was sure he was going to backhand her and angrily denounce her there, completely ending the escape plot. Instead he just turns back. I think June miscalculated though, Lawrence is way more dangerous now that his wife is gone.

I'm mad for Eleanor. All she needed was some simple psychiatric medication. She would have been fine if she got to Canada. Or if her husband had more avenues to smuggle it in to Gilead for her.
posted by Nelson at 9:03 AM on August 8, 2019 [4 favorites]

There was an interesting parallel between the first scene, where June's gun ends up pointed at Eleanor who comes to her door, and June's final scene with her.
posted by sylvanshine at 7:39 PM on August 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

Also, Luke left behind his big book of whatever that was.

It's his Every Boy's Big Book Of All Of It, It's All In Here.
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:40 PM on August 8, 2019 [6 favorites]

It was a really powerful scene when Serena Joy awakes and the camera puts her severed finger, uncovered from its symbolic sheath in the close up centre of our vision. Her physical maiming as punishment for reading is posed as a way to understand the growing delighted awareness she has of her freedom to read the fat newspaper the American agent gives her. He shrewdly hints at women centered writing in the paper and then leaves her to explore reading again. The previous episode articulated her anger at Fred stealing her writing career. Is Serena going to ‘seize the pen’ and find her former self in the written word again?
posted by honey-barbara at 4:13 AM on August 9, 2019

It's probably too much to hope that Serena would also be tried as complicit in war crimes, since women don't technically have political power in Gilead. But she's not a victim of Gilead, she's a willing enabler of their new world order.
posted by desuetude at 8:11 AM on August 9, 2019 [6 favorites]

I'm with you desuetude, but I think Serena's guilt has been the great weakness of the writing of this show. Serena is a victim of Gilead and the scenes where they show her victimhood or her attempts to overcome it are some of the most powerful in the show. But she's also an enabler and a beneficiary of Gilead and the crimes she personally has committed outweigh the crimes committed against her. There's no possibility for rehabilitation for her. Maybe truth and then some reconciliation, or possibly even forgiveness if her victims choose to give it to her. But she's forever guilty and it makes it hard for me to want to have any sympathy at all for her.

I assume they're setting her up this next season to be an influential writer / policy maker. Maybe she'll finally make things better for all the people she victimized in Gilead. But we have to see her get past her selfishness first. Starting with Nicole, and then Moira, and then Luke. No idea what happens with June, their relationship is so complicated. June seems willing to forgive Serena, or at least act empathetic to her when it suits her purposes.

Moira's line about Serena being the true gender traitor was so sharp.
posted by Nelson at 8:37 AM on August 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

One thing that confuses/irritates me--regarding the extraction of the 52 children--what exactly are the stakes for the Marthas who are carrying out this plan? I feel like this hasn't been articulated on the show at all. Obviously, they are taking a huge risk. But it seems equally obvious to me that they aren't JUST taking a risk; they are pretty clearly sacrificing their lives. How likely is it that 52 children go missing in Gilead, and that the Marthas in the households are not prime suspects, AND that not one of them cracks under questioning? Do the individual Marthas involved know how many others are involved, and that they are putting their lives in the hands not only of June and Lawrence, but also of dozens of other Marthas? If they ARE willingly sacrificing their lives, is that not worth a bit of screen time to explore?

We are going to find out what happens to the Marthas, I know, probably next week. But it bugs me that a show that can devote like 30 minutes per episode to June's agonizing and inner struggles cannot spend one moment explaining what is going on with all these women who are making this heroic rescue possible. The only communication we have heard from them is muffins/scones. I mean, some element of this could even have been covered in the scene in which the resistance-Marthas confront June. But that was all just about how her plans might conflict with theirs--nothing about the possibility/likelihood that she is about to put 52 Marthas on the wall.
posted by torticat at 2:46 PM on August 9, 2019 [12 favorites]

I think the Marthas know they will be executed and that will crack Gilesd much more soundly. It’s too quick to pair Lawrence and commander Winslow’s wife but it is a tidy solution if they don’t get out next week - or even if only the children do. “Commander Lawrence says we are the first shipment “
posted by tilde at 8:56 AM on August 11, 2019

I binged up to this point. Two at a time.

I have concerns with Cmd Lawrence’s desire to get out besides his wife, before his wife died. He keeps saying things like, “we forgot to account for that,” in re: maternal love, the ties that fuel the resistance, etc.

Like he wants a chance to explain and improve.
posted by tilde at 5:49 AM on August 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

I totally called Serena trading Fred away for a chance at the child and feel good about it.

I was surprised June let Eleanor die - I thought that Lawrence not needing Eleanor to get out would jeopardize everything that much more.

I'm also interested in Gilead's leadership; we don't really know the command structure but it seems like there's a council of commanders and obviously there are subtle and not-so-subtle power dynamics going on there - we've seen glimpses of it with the Waterfords risking losing status, and Waterford and Winslow making a move on Lawrence. It's interesting, but I also wish they nailed it down a little bit more. There are a lot of vagaries that the show handwaves away because June doesn't know about them, can't see them from within the household, so anything outside of it could conceivably happen and we don't have to see how it did; but still, I want to know how Gilead works.
posted by entropone at 6:38 AM on August 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

Since the show basically revolves around June, the Waterfords, the Lawrences, and bits of Canada, it's hard to see more of the world unless one of them explores it. We got some of that with Fred around George Winslow, but no more of that now.

The scene of June in the kitchen with Joseph preparing for the funeral should earn Elizabeth Moss an Emmy nomination at least.
posted by numaner at 12:19 PM on August 12, 2019

Apropos of the whole show, not this episode especially: does anyone else ever wonder why nobody has pets in this world? All these women with nowhere to put their maternal instincts didn't think of getting a kitten or something?
posted by MiraK at 6:52 PM on August 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

I wonder if household pets became scarce thanks to food shortages during the height of the war and before the trade sanctions started to be lifted. Even now the grocery stores that cater to the commanders’ households look sparsely stocked. I can only imagine the stores where Utility Wives and unmarried men get their food are even more poorly (and questionably) supplied.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 7:39 PM on August 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

That makes sense, secret sparrow! Though I did kind of assume that the sparse stocks and relative rarity of coffee and chocolate etc were more the result of capitalism having ended and all farming/food-production activities having returned to organic/artisanal methods, rather than due to food being scarce. It doesn't seem as if Gilead has any starving folks! I grew up in a socialist country and this aspect of life in Gilead - and actually several others - seem sort of honey and familiar to me, lol.

I was just watching a Season 2 episode (the one with the diplomatic trip to Canada) and there's a dog barking offscreen when the Waterfords return to their home. That's what made me think of pets. That and Serena's motherliness towards her garden. I was thinking, this is a lady who needs a cat or seven! (Seriously do cats even eat that much?)
posted by MiraK at 10:48 AM on August 13, 2019

I wonder if animals are having reproductive issues as well.
posted by tilde at 8:23 PM on August 13, 2019

Ohhhh MiraK... how do I say this...

I wasn’t suggesting that food shortages resulted in people not keeping pets because pets eat too much. I was suggesting that the existing pets had been a solution for food shortages... leading to a shortage of pets.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 8:53 PM on August 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

I wonder if animals are having reproductive issues as well.

The eyes often have guard dogs.
posted by roolya_boolya at 10:58 PM on August 13, 2019

> Apropos of the whole show, not this episode especially: does anyone else ever wonder why nobody has pets in this world? All these women with nowhere to put their maternal instincts didn't think of getting a kitten or something?

I did wonder this! (And then I had a terrible, terrible image of soldiers just killing all of the pets on some sort of awful invented principle.) But having a dog is such an American Pie Thing To Do, it seems odd that the entire concept of pets just doesn't exist in a show that is so based around household culture.
posted by desuetude at 11:02 PM on August 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

On the one hand, I can see Gileadeans transferring their parental impulses into treating pets like children, a la Children of Men. On the other hand, there was also a war going on that included nuclear exchange, so pet care may have fallen by the wayside for any of the reasons posited above (societal upheaval, low priority, animal breeding issues, need for alternate food sources).
posted by Flannery Culp at 5:08 AM on August 14, 2019

There’s a pet dog in S01E05, ‘Faithful’ - Emily plays fetch with it in her new household (the one with the Wife who shows her a scrap of kindness by offering to cancel that month’s Ceremony by feigning illness). Mrs. MacKenzie mentions getting Hannah a puppy in S03E01, ‘Night’. And I think there was an Overtly Symbolic caged bird at the Winslows’ residence in DC. (That’s all I recall!)
posted by Morfil Ffyrnig at 3:57 PM on August 14, 2019 [2 favorites]

OOh, there's also talk from the McKenzies of getting Hannah a hypoallergenic dog, isn't there?
posted by MiraK at 10:54 PM on August 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

So that manic, crazy-eyes vibe that June has had for the last few episodes... I'm glad they kept it in. I'm glad she's still got it. This is character development and evolution. Ya girl's a stone cold killer. It really underlines the parallel storylines in Canada with both Emily wondering whether she can easily integrate back into her family, and Fred telling Luke outright that June has changed, it's never going to be the same as before.

Damn, meant to post this in the next thread. Sorry!
posted by MiraK at 10:12 AM on August 15, 2019

Episode landed yesterday in the UK. That scene in the bedroom with Eleanor was really something. The only thing is I would have done the opposite, even as a utilitarian calculation: an untimely death is so disruptive, it's rolling the dice more than keeping poor Eleanor away from guests for like 5 days would.

Emotionally, I don't want June to do any more saviour-complex (simplex?) power tripping. I don't really trust the writers to deal with the terrible consequences of June's actions on other people. I'm avoiding all spoilers, but I hope they won't end the season with mass executions of unnamed Marthas while June looks troubled and badass.

Even in cells, the Waterfords are instagram-ready. I really hope the show finally breaks that visual language when consequences hit.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 3:56 PM on August 27, 2019

It's a minor thing, but I found it surprising that the priest at the funeral was so kind about Eleanor's suicide. Gilead had proven itself to be pretty cold and unforgiving about anything that might be regarded as a character weakness, and I guess I just assumed they would treat it as a sin rather than publicly displaying sympathy for her 'troubled mind'.

It was also only this episode that I realised how odd it seems that there haven't been any other suicides so far (as far as I remember). For most people who live in it, Gilead is a bleak, hopeless place where the treatment for mental illness is apparently herbal tea. Not that I would wish for any show to portray more suicides. Just a thought.
posted by AllShoesNoSocks at 12:04 PM on October 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

I wonder if animals are having reproductive issues as well.
Waaay back in the distant past we've seen a flaskback to a presentation (maybe at the Red Centre during June's training? Maybe even pre-Giliad) about the fertility crisis, in which it's explicit that it's only affecting humans, not other animals or plants. Of course, given that the fertility crisis was being spun as god's punishment for for people's sins, this could just be a lie.

That scene in the bedroom with Eleanor was really something. The only thing is I would have done the opposite, even as a utilitarian calculation: an untimely death is so disruptive, it's rolling the dice more than keeping poor Eleanor away from guests for like 5 days would.
Yeah, it struck me as being probably the wrong choice. Commander Lawrence's primary reason for helping the rescue plan is so he can get Elanor out; from his perspective the rescued kids are blood money, delivered to make himself into a hero so he isn't immediately prosecuted for war crimes when he crosses the border. Even ignoring the probably-substantial attention that a suicide could bring to the house, with Elanor dead June loses the main lever she's been using to steer the Commander. Better to just get the commander to lock her in the basement for a week; it's not a bit of reclusion would be out of character for her.

Of course, she only had seconds to think and was under a huge amount of stress, so it's believable as a choice the character would make.
posted by metaBugs at 6:40 AM on March 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

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