We've spent a lot of time getting to know Serena through flashbacks this season. We've learned that as an architect of the Gilead, Serena worked alongside Fred in the hope of bringing about the very same revolution that has trapped her inside the home with her knitting needles. Not only is Serena trapped, she's been isolated, and unable to form any friendships with the other wives of high ranking officers because the women are actually in competition with each other. Because of the extreme misogyny of the Gilead, Serena has released all of her anger at her situation on the supposed fallen woman in her household - June.
With Fred incapacitated because of the bombing and Cushing out of the way, that leaves Serena to run a significant part of the Gilead with June's help. The two work side by side in the office with a steady report building between them. They certainly aren't friends but they have become coworkers after a fashion. Serena writes and June edits, both committing a crime in the eyes of the Gilead. June even goes as far as to tell Serena that she's a good writer when she offers editing suggestions. With a pen in hand, the women have started a quiet revolution. June cannot help but notice how happy Serena seems now that she has become a fallen woman like herself but Serena sees herself as just being the helpmate that God ordained women to be, certain that she will be forgiven for her transgressions. For her part, Serena does admit that she hates knitting and actually, who can blame her? It sounds like torture to be forced to spend hours knitting to pass the time. The unspoken thought is that not only will Fred forgive her, he will thank her and perhaps even desire her again because she will have reminded him of just how capable she is.
It all comes to an end when Serena announces that Fred will be returning home, eliciting the most dry, "praise be", I think that June has ever uttered. June is not pleased to be forced to line up alongside Eden and Rita to welcome the commander home. The commander limps in, clearly still feeling the effects of his ordeal and is greeted with a handkerchief from Eden and promise by Rita that she has prepared his favourite foods for supper. Fred pauses to take note that June is looking healthy. Serena escorts Fred to his study, smiling as she tells him about the work she has prepared for him, as well as a draft of a speech for his trip to Canada. Fred thanks for Serena for the risks that she took for him and explains that the burden never should have fallen on her shoulders, before escorting Serena to the door and firmly closing it in her face. And just like that, Fred has reasserted his power and tyranny over the women of the household.
When June returns to her room, she finds a music box and a white rose which are clearly a gift from Serena. Though no one is in the room, June says, "it was nice working with you too."
Having been forced back into the wife role, Serena decides to visit with the Putnams because baby Angela is deathly ill. Before leaving, Serena does confide in June, promising to update her when she has more information. Rita sends June off to do the shopping to replace some items that Eden borrowed which she doesn't expect to be returned. From Rita's acerbic comments, it seems like Eden is working away on Rita's patience with her attempts to be a good wife to Nick.
June makes her way to the store and runs into Janine who greets were with, "may the force be with you", as a response to June's "Blessed is the fruit". It highlights the absolutely ridiculousness of the Gilead's standard greetings. As they go through their shopping, an excited Janine reveals how happy she is to be here and that at this new assignment, she doesn't have to give blowjobs and only has to do the ceremony. When Emily hears this, she's quick to comment that there's nothing good about being raped and makes it clear that the only good thing to happen in the Gilead is when the bomb went off. As a parting shot, Emily declares that anyone who helps the Gilead is evil and should burn in hell. June now believes that Emily knows what she has been up to with Serena and questions what she should have done. June doesn't get to think long because an alarm goes off as an ambulance drives by. The handmaids get on their knees and begin to pray because the ambulance means that a child is in danger. One of the handmaid's let slip that it's Angela who is sick causing instant panic in Janine.
June walks a freaking out Janine down the street. Janine is desperate to see her baby and June calls her stupid but does promise to tell her whatever information that she learns. A guard tries to intervene between the two women and June raises her hand saying that she's got this. I cannot imagine June making the decision to speak a man, in particular a guard in this fashion before her partnership with Serena. As June tries to calm Janine, once again a guard tries to come between the women and June again asserts her ability to deal with Janine and demand time. June again promises to do what she can before Janine is dragged off by a guard and June is forced to continue her journey home.
An excited Eden has decided to spruce up the home she shares with Nick who naturally seems disinterested in her attempts to be a good stepford wife. Eden explains that her favourite colour is yellow and asks what Nick's is and he barely answers. Nick however does take the time to explain that with the commander back he will be even busier than he was, before walking out and leaving a dejected Eden behind.
That night as June is listening to her music box, Serena enters the room and is pleased to see that she discovered the gift. Showing just how much their relationship has changed, Serena reveals that she is there to get some advice from June. It turns out that there's nothing that can be done for Angela; however, the Gilead does have the top neonatal surgeon in the country. The problem is that the surgeon is a woman and June advises Serena that she would do whatever she had to, to protect her child.
Serena considers June's response and decides to go and see Fred. It's a marker of how much has changed that she now has to knock on the door of the room she once controlled. Serena explains just how sick baby Angela is and brings up the doctor. Fred first question is to ask who the doctor is, using a male pronoun, forcing Serena to reveal that the doctor is a woman and a Martha. Fred is adamant that nothing can be done then and says that Serena is to pray for baby Angela. Given that the Gilead was supposedly a reaction to the fertility crises, Fred's failure to act when told of a sick child affirms that the true mission was really about subjugating women.
Serena however is not to be denied and she forges Fred's signature to get the Martha a temporary transfer to the hospital. With June in tow, the two women head off to the hospital. June takes her chance to pitch Serena on allowing Janine to be brought to the hospital in case it's her last chance to see the baby. When they arrive at the hospital, despite being initially resistant, Serena asks the Putnams about Janine seeing Angela. Unsurprisingly, Mrs. Putnam is against it and she is quick to call Janine a slut, forcing Serena to point out that they would not even have a baby if it wasn't for her. It's Mr. Putnam who makes the decision to allow Janine to be brought to the hospital.
The Martha is brought in and is completely confused as to why she is there. She's ushered into a changing room as the Gilead doctor goes on about how excited he is to see her, that they've met once before and that she trained his mentor. Serena is quick to cut the conversation short and encourage the Doctor to relay to the Martha what is going on. In the change room the Martha removes her clothing and dons clothing that she must have worn in her previous life as Dr. Hodgson. Doctor Hodgson's hands shake as just for a moment she prepares to do what she trained years to do. When Dr.Hodgson leaves the change room, it's Serena who hands her a stethoscope. Dr. Hodgson may have been unsure when she first got there but she's back in her element the minute she walks into the room where Angela is being treated and she begins issuing orders for tests.
Janine is brought in by Aunt Lydia and though she's worried, she's glad to be there for her baby. Aunt Lydia is not at all pleased and is concerned that being her could break Janine for good. Aunt Lydia makes it clear to June that she will be held personally accountable if anything happens to Janine. June responds by saying that she will hold herself accountable. Janine goes to the window where she sees the baby in an incubator.
The doctor returns and tells the Putnams that nothing can be done for the baby. Janine and June are left to infer what the Putnams are being told because no one actually approaches them with an update. A furious Serena chases after Hodgson demanding to know how she could give up so easily. Hodgson says that the tests don't reveal anything and therefore nothing can be done but to make the baby as comfortable as they can. For Serena this is a defeat.
Now that he is back home, Fred wants to go back to raping June and so he sneaks into her room like a snake. Fred is surprised to find June gone and to see the music box and the white rose which Serena gifted June. He's clearly not happy about the relationship between the two women despite whining to anyone who would listen how them not getting along was stressful for his home. It's clear that Fred is angry.
June takes Janine by the hand and guides her into the room so that she can kiss her baby goodbye. It's a bittersweet moment as Janine is finally able to hold her child and kiss her after being seperated from her for so very long. It's telling that a handmaid is only allowed to mother in death despite the push by the Gilead that women are to be valued only for their reproductive abilities. With nothing left to do, Serena and June leave the Putnams and Janine to say their goodbyes to the baby.
When Serena and June return home, though saddned they couldn't do more, they've been brought even closer togeher. June says goodnight and Serena actually thinks June for her help. Before either woman can head to bed, they are informed by Nick that Fred wants to see the both of them in his office. Serena turns to June and tells her to allow her to do all of the talking. When they enter the study, Fred orders them to close the door behind them. It seems that Fred has done some digging and found the document Serena wrote in order to get Hodgson to see the sick baby and he is hella pissed. Serena explains that she did what she thought was best and was only trying to act on behalf of a child which she believes to be the biggest responsibility in Gilead. Fred however retorts that the biggest responsibility is obeying ones husband. Fred sees this as Serena stepping way outside of her limitations as a wife and helpmate because she became his voice, rather than his conduit to the committee. Fred then grabs the speech that Serena wrote and questions whether the editorial notes were written by June, who is clearly terrified. With downcast eyes, June admits that the writing in the margins belongs to her. Fred grabs his bible and reads Ephesians 5:22-33 which is about how husband are to love their wives but of course he twists it to be about making amends and punishment. Tears fill Serena's eyes as she begins to plead and Fred grabs a chair and takes off his belt. Serena walks to the chair and braces herself and Fred whispers for Serena to forgive him before he begins to beat her. June turns and tries to leave the room but she's ordered to stay by Fred. With each of the 13 lashes Fred issues, Serena screams and it hits June in wave of shocks.
Nick returns home to find Eden waiting for him after a day of decorating. She asks him what colour drapes he would like and when he responds yellow, Eden is clearly pleased; yellow is her favourite colour after all. Eden natters on about packing Nick's things in such a way to make room for more and just generally tidying up. Things are going fine until he finds the stack of letters June tried to burn earlier in the season. The letters of course are the ones June got from Mayday that are written by her fellow handmaids. An angry Nick demands to know if Eden read the letters and when she denies doing so, he gets in her face and demand that she tell him the truth. Eden is clearly terrified as Nick yells at her not to touch any of his things ever again. Eden can only quietly responds, "yes sir." In that moment, Nick is a lot closer to being like the commanders he despises than he realises.
Serena has retired to her room and she is clearly in pain from the beating that she received. Very gingerly, Serena undresses and looks at her cut and wounded behind in a mirror, fighting back tears. June knocks on the door and asks if there's anything Serena needs and holding back tears, Serena says that she's fine. June tries again asks if there is something that she can do for Serena personally but Serena puts on her wife voice and orders June to bed before covering her mouth trying to stifle the sounds of her tears.
As June makes her way to Fred's office and reports that Serena has gone to bed for the night. Having witnessed the cruel punishment that Fred dished out, June decides to ask Fred's forgiveness for her part in what happened. At this point, Fred is clearly exhausted from being a tyrant and tells June to go to bed before closing the door in her face. June walks away from the office thinking about how men are afraid that women will laugh at them while women worry that men will kill them. June collapses on the ground crying in the foyer.
The next morning, Janine has stripped off her red dress and is sitting on the window sill with a happy and cooing baby Angela. When the Putnams and Aunt Lydia awake, they are surprised to see that the baby is alive and well. Janine explains that she knew that the baby remembered her. It's an uplifting ending to an extremely brutal episode.
We don't know how long Fred was hospitalized exactly but from what Serena said, it's been months. I don't know about you but it feels like June has been pregnant forever. June must be close to delivering that baby any day now and she's clearly no closer to escape with either that child or with Hannah. I do however believe that while it lasted, working with Serena gave her some hope. Serena didn't suddenly become a friend but working together changed the nature of their relationship from adversarial. The Gilead counts on women to attack each other in order to remain in power and that's why it won't encourage friendships or true partnerships. I wish however that The Handmaid's Tale had given us more time to see this relationship grow and how the trust between the two women had developed. To be clear, Serena went from choking June and humiliating her to entering her room and asking for her opinion on what to do about Angela. Serena even reveals that she hates knitting.
It's because Serena and June had spent months working together that they naturally came together to attempt to help baby Angela. Fred reacted like a spurned lover. I'm not convinced that his rage at Serena was because she forged a document and signed his name but because of her budding relationship with June. The commander sees June as his property and while he is invested in being the tyrant of the house, it wasn't until Serena dared to slip into his shoes and enter June's room with comfort and have her own relationship with June that he reacted.
Everything about that scene was purposeful. It's not an accident that June and Serena were called into the study, a room that they controlled while Fred was hospitalized. Fred sitting at his desk looked like the small insignificant man that he is. The beating signaled to Serena that Fred is in charge, that he will not be allowed to usurp his power and a display for June. It reminded June that no matter what kindness had passed between Serena and June that only he had the power to save her or condemn her. The beating was to assert his power and his masculinity from women who dared to think and act for themselves.
I read a lot about this episode and there seems to be so much satisfaction that Serena was beaten by Fred. No matter how much we despise Serena, no woman deserves what happened to her. Sure, Serena's participation and support of the Gilead eventually led to her being bent over a chair and beaten but it was unequivocally wrong. On some level, Serena has long been dissatisfied with the fact that the horror she envisioned for other women also entrapped her and that's why she was so happy to be back at work. Serena has status because of who she's married to but cannot accept that her gender still very much limits her and what more, she believed in Fred's loyalty and love. Serena doesn't see the way that Fred has been corrupted by the system and the monster he has become. Fred beating Serena was the ultimate betrayal and when she cries alone in her room, her tears aren't just about the physical pain but about Fred's betrayal and the now lasting knowledge that she's just as trapped as the handmaids. It would be easy to say that Serena got what she deserves for her collusion but saying that would mean justifying abuse against a woman and in a perverse way supporting the Gilead.
When Hodgson was checking on Angela I wanted to scream at the television to check for poison. I don't believe for one moment that Mrs. Putnam loves that baby or actually wants to mother. Almost every time Mrs.Putnam talks about the baby it's in a negative fashion. Naomi may have gotten the status that comes with being a mother but that doesn't mean she enjoys the role or even takes to it naturally. When Janine came in and gave the child skin to skin contact and actual love and attention she began to thrive for the first time. It makes me wonder if that will change Gilead's policy about separating mothers from infants?
Eden may be tiresome but she's starting to become interesting to me simply based on what she's in a position to see and hear. At 15, she's just basically playing house with Nick because that's what she's been raised to do. The fact that Nick refuses to play along, Eden internalises as something wrong with her and she's hurt by his rejection. Eden finding the letters does pose an interesting question. If I had found them, I sure as hell would have read them and I cannot see a curious young woman failing to do so. Eden however belongs to the new generation of women in the Gildead and she's been raised to become the perfect stepford wife. Given that women in the Gilead are forbidden from reading and writing, it makes me wonder if Eden can even do that? Was she young enough to get some primary education before the revolution started? Eden now knows about the letters and she was witness to the handmaids exchanging names. One can be certain that there's trouble brewing where she's concerned.
Now Serena and June have one more shared experience. The question is will Serena retreat into herself and hide, or will she further her bond with June? Was a few months enough to establish a strong enough relationship for Serena to turn to June or will she fall back into her old role as a dutiful wife content to wait on the sidelines. I'd like to hope that Serena and June get together to kill the commander and bring the whole thing crashing down but the kind of conditioning that Serena has received is a very hard thing to break.