After last night’s episode (10 June) of The Handmaid’s Tale, viewers have gone into mourning for the woman formerly known as June Osbourne.
Fair warning: This article contains spoilers for episode four of the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale (and drops some heavy-handed hints about what’s to come later, too).
June’s failed escape attempt has landed her back in Gilead – and into a whole world of trouble.
At first, it seemed as if our brave heroine was untouchable: Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) may have had her chained up at the Red Centre, but June refused to be referred to as Offred.
“It’s June,” she snapped, almost feral in her fury. “You know my f**king name.”
Aunt Lydia, though, was undeterred: instead, she shows June her old red and white uniform hanging from a rail in the corner, and informs her that Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) have agreed to her returning to their home for a “trial run”.
“You see, June will be chained in this room until she gives birth, and then June will be executed,” smiles Aunt Lydia. “Offred has an opportunity. It would be better for the baby.”
June, it seems, senses a very different kind of opportunity: back at the Waterford home, there is still a tiny possibility that she will be able to rekindle her escape plans and flee over the border to Canada. Locked in this room, however, she is sentencing herself to death. So, fury clearly visible in her eyes, she agrees to become a Handmaid once again – and goes along with the story that she had been kidnapped and taken from her “home” against her will.
“Kidnapping is a story everyone can life with,” she notes, noting that the subterfuge allows the Waterfords to a) keep their baby, b) keep their position of authority (the Commander has already seen his position threatened after the previous Handmaid rebellion) and c) maintain Gilead’s glossy veneer of “reach and might.”
Comparing herself to a rat in a cage, June makes a point of attacking anyone and everyone. She bares her teeth, she looks everyone straight in the eye, and, when Serena grabs her by the throat, she taunts her mistress with the same words her oppressor used on her in season one: “As long as my baby is safe, so is yours”.
As the episode progresses, June shows no sign of giving up her newfound sense of freedom. In the midst of a grand baby shower, when Serena informs her fellow Wives that they have not felt the baby quicken yet, the Handmaid loudly announces: “I felt the baby kick for the first time last night.”
The room is silenced, and Serena looks stricken. However, when the fertility ceremony begins, the tone shifts dramatically: while June may have the power to wound her mistress, she has well and truly been drained of her autonomy.
As Wives and Handmaids watch, June is forced to kneel in the middle of the circle in front of Serena and take her hand. Red and blue cord is then bound tightly around their clasped fingers, joining them forever in fertility.
“Let the little children come to me,” says Serena.
“For such is the kingdom of heaven,” replies the room.
Later, June angles for a moment alone with Alma/Ofrobert (Nina Kiri), who helped introduce her to the Mayday movement. The rebellion has gone silent, Alma informs her, and the group is done helping handmaids.
When June tries to speak to Ofglen 2 (Tattiawna Jones), Alma abruptly informs her that their comrade’s tongue was cut out after she stood up for Janine (Madeleine Brewer). A stricken June is horrified, but Alma tells her it wasn’t her fault.
Well, “not that part.”
It’s the beginning of the end for our beloved June: she is forced into corners, ordered to drink disgusting green smoothies and berated by Aunt Lydia – who has moved into the Waterford home – at every given opportunity. Still, she resists. Still, she makes a point of referring to her “own baby shower” in the pre-Gilead era. Still, she continues to stoke the fires of rebellion…
But then Aunt Lydia takes her to the wall.
The hanged man’s face may have been covered, but Aunt Lydia quickly reveals that the body belongs to Omar (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), the kindly truck driver who allowed her to stay in his own home when she needed somewhere to go.
“I believe you know him?” smiles the older woman. “He drove a bread delivery truck.”
As June collapses under the strain of knowing her actions got a man killed, Lydia continues to turn the knife by informing her that Omar’s family have been punished as well. “The wife will redeem herself by serving as a handmaid,” she says. “And the boy will never see his mother again.”
Relishing the impact her words have had upon June, Lydia brands her a “selfish girl” before demanding: “Who killed him? Answer me, please. Whose fault was it?”
June, her voice barely more than a whisper, responds: “My fault.”
Her captor then informs her, solemnly, that the fault is that of June. That it was June who killed Omar, that it is June who has sinned, that it is June who deserves to be punished. Offred, however, has a chance at redemption. Offred can be a ‘good girl’, a valuable asset to society, a better person than June ever was.
All June has to do is relinquish her identity and embrace her role as a Handmaid entirely – an opportunity which she, utterly heartbroken, seizes tearfully, grabbing on to Aunt Lydia and hugging her tightly.
“My fault,” she whispers, the words becoming something like an incantation. “My fault. My fault. My fault. My fault.”
Was it all an act? An attempt to keep herself, and her baby, out of trouble? Sadly, it seems not: June returns to the Waterford mansion a fragile shell of her former self, begging with the Commander and his wife to give her a chance to “be good”. When Serena creeps into her bed late at night and begins speaking to the baby inside her stomach, an unnerved June remains silent. And, when our heroine eventually staggers out of bed and into her wardrobe for a little ‘nolite te bastardes carborundorum’ pick-me-up, she learns that the graffiti has been plastered over.
It is at this point that her spirit crumbles entirely.
“I might as well be dead,” she says, within the confines of her own head. “Please, God, let Hannah forget me. Let me forget me.”
The next morning, it seems as if June truly has killed off her former self: instead, Offred has taken over – and this much becomes clear when her lover Nick (Max Minghella) attempts to grab a few moments alone with her.
“We’ve been sent good weather,” she tells him, a small smile pasted over her face. The bewildered driver does his best to talk to her, to break down her barriers, but June walks primly along the drive and stands impassively in front of the gates.
There, she looks directly down the barrel repeating in her head, “We’ve been sent good weather,” over and over. The regime has finally destroyed her: her eyes are blank, her restraint palpable, her sense of defeat all too real. It’s impossible not to shudder at the fact that June – our beloved, infuriated, exasperated June, who would challenge God himself to explain his f**king actions in her head – is, in many ways, dead. She may be walking, talking and breathing, but she is no longer the person she was: she is, instead, a walking womb – and a valuable national asset, at that.
It makes all too much sense, then, that the track used to close the show this week is Hate by Cat Power.
“Half of it is innocent, the other half is wise,” she sings. “The whole damn thing makes no sense, [but] I wish I could tell you a lie.
“Hey, come here, let me whisper in your ear… I hate myself and I want to die.”
And, just like that, things are more hopeless than ever before. Fingers crossed that something – something big, something bold, something brilliant – knocks the Offred out of June next week, before she fully succumbs to the Gilead machine.
Because, if not, this show may finally have become “too depressing” to watch.