It's certain now, whenever Emily appears in The Handmaid's Tale, the episode is going to be gut wrenching. From the moment I saw her blue eyes, I tried to prepare myself but how could anyone prepare themselves for this?
Let's begin with June, who while always important, was overshadowed this episode by Emily, the bringer of doom. This time June is dropped off at the former Boston Globe building. It makes sense that an authoritarian government would shut down the free press because an informed public would be counter to their overall goals but that doesn't mean that it was any less shocking. June walks through the building noticing remnants of a former life: mugs, a single woman's high heel shoe, art work done by children. The headline of what I assume to be the last printed paper reads “The Aftermath … America’s Bloodiest Day”. It is, I assume, the only printed record of the coup which resulted from seizing the capitol and the white house.
What makes June truly lose it is not the remnants but evidence of a clear massacre in the Boston Globe building. June finds a wall littered with bullet holes and covered in blood. Suddenly, it all becomes too much and for the first time since the rise of the Gilead, June breaks down completely; it's the break that we all knew was coming. June can barely process what has happened to herself, let alone others.
In flashbacks we see June ask her husband to sign a form so that she can get birth control. It's familiar because it's not that long ago, that a husband's permission was required for women to take control, or listen to sexist lectures from Doctors before being given a diaphragm. Even though this is clearly a violation of June's rights, its become the new normal and June is quick to move on. The light begins to dawn for June when she is informed that Hannah was taken to the hospital because of a fever. June is questioned about Hannah's fever, called by her husbands name, despite correcting the social worker twice and basically shamed for daring to work and be a mother at the same time. The social worker even threatens to take Hannah away. Now the rules aren't just an inconvenience to her life, they are threatening her life.
In the present, when Nick finally arrives, June is not impressed to learn that they aren't going to get Hannnah and flee to Canada. Junes demands the keys and gets in Nick's truck but when she turns the engine over, she realises the futility of simply attempting to drive away. June and Nick engage in a marathon sex session and when Nick begs relief claiming exhaustion, June simply responds, "try". At this point, the sex isn't about mutual pleasure and is about June taking control over her body and fighting back against Gilead. Sex provides the relief that June needs and when we see her next, she is creating an altar to those who were slaughtered at the Globe, even saying a prayer of her design, thereby reclaiming even God from those who have oppressed her.
Juxtaposed to June's story is that of Emily. When we last saw Emily she was running people over with a stolen car after having had her clitoris removed against her will and watching as her lover was murdered. Emily has been declared an 'unwoman' and has been sentenced to life in the colonies. It's a grueling existence that is only ended by death. Everything about the lives of the women sentenced there is contaminated - even the water they are given to wash with is filled with E Coli. June does her best to minister to her fellow 'unwomen', trading supplies for bandages, and Tylenol. It's a desolate existence because these former handmaidens are just 'unwomen', they're clearly no longer deemed human.
In a previous life, Emily taught biology at a university. Gilead first becomes personal for Emily when she is informed that she won't be teaching next semester because of concerns after a student saw a picture of her family on her phone. Dan, the Dean, tries to assure Emily that they are just being cautious because of their new reality but Emily is determined not to be driven into the closet. Dan points out that he took all of the pictures of his husband out of his office, resulting in being labelled a collaborator by his partner. Dan explains that he thought that he was part of the last generation to have this kind of struggle and had always viewed LGBTQ people of Emily's generation as having an easy life. Sadly, Dan welcomes Emily to the struggle. Emily and Dan commiserate over not knowing whether they should fight or flee. Emily learns that she should flee when Dan is discovered strung up outside the university building with the word "f@ggot" spray painted on the ground at his feet.