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The Handmaid's Tale Discussion: 'Sacrifice' sets up an explosive finale

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Aug 8, 2019

The penultimate episode of The Handmaid's Tale sacrifices everything for a finale that looks to be a game-changer. 

June is stuck in Gilead with the knowledge that the Waterfords are in Canadian custody and Serena Joy has her eye on reuniting with baby Nicole. She's forced to make a terrible choice to see her escape plan through while Serena commits the ultimate betrayal and Fred faces the consequences of his allegiance to Gilead. 

We're Jessica Toomer and Alyssa Fikse and we're here to take you through all of the chaos and heartbreak this show loves to heap on us. 

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Credit: Hulu

Precarious Plans

Alyssa: Well, you would think with, you know, THE MURDER that went down at the end of the last episode, June would be on the run. Luckily, the capture of the Waterfords (and the kindness of the Martha who bleached the sh*t out of that hotel room) overshadows Winslow’s absence, so he is merely a missing person at this point, not presumed dead. Basically, June got lucky as hell. However, a victory for June almost always goes hand-in-hand with her hubris, so I’m worried that she’ll get cocky. And maybe a little sloppy.

Jessica: If I could bottle up just a fraction of June’s luck, I’d be doing pretty damn good. She’s escaped so many bleak situations by the skin of her teeth, but this one takes the cake. Not only are the Waterfords taken care of, but Winslow has basically been forgotten in the chaos, as Lawrence tries to manage increasingly frantic commanders calling for war. It almost feels like June could do anything at this point and it just wouldn’t register on Gilead’s radar … so of course, I’m terrified for her.

Alyssa: Something tells me that smuggling out dozens of children will register if she makes it to that point. June’s got a pretty good poker face, but I wasn’t sure she was going to make it through that prayer meeting with Mrs. Winslow. I couldn’t quite discern whether Mrs. Winslow’s harshness towards June was suspicion or merely her usual treatment of handmaids who haven’t had their mouths sewn shut, but it was tense as all hell. Adding to the tension? Mrs. Lawrence nearly spilling the whole plan to her. If Mrs. Winslow hadn’t been so frazzled, I’m not sure that Commander Lawrence’s cover-up would have sufficed. Mrs. Lawrence has always been a ticking time bomb, but yikes. That was nearly a disaster.

Jessica: For the first time I found myself loathing Mrs. Lawrence, which is just totally unfair. The woman is struggling with mental illness and she’s been tasked with going along with this (probably) doomed plan by entertaining monsters in her own home. Can you imagine? Honestly, I appreciate the show touching on mental illness and how it would fare in a place like Gilead, but watching Mrs. Lawrence spiral this episode left a bad taste in my mouth. Maybe it’s the real-world sh*t we’re dealing with, but I hate to see an unhinged woman pick up a gun and have that action be partially blamed on her mental health struggle. I had hoped Mrs. Lawrence could overcome, or at least manage long enough to make it out of Gilead and find a great therapist, but after this meeting with Mrs. Winslow, it seems unlikely.

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Credit: Hulu

Canadian Proceedings

Alyssa: Uh, yeah, I’d say that’s off the table. While June is trying to keep all of her plates in the air in Gilead, the Waterfords are in deep sh*t in Canada. Or at least Fred is. Yes, Serena did indeed sell out her husband in order to get access to Nichole. As angry as I will be if Serena gets off scot-free, it was pretty satisfying to see the horrified recognition on Fred’s face when he realized that she had made a deal at his expense. It was almost a chef’s kiss kind of moment until I realized that Serena is dangerous on her own as well.

Jessica: Yeah, I would’ve fist-pumped harder if Serena was actually a decent human being but alas, it ain’t so. I loved seeing Fred squirm, especially after the past few episodes of high-rise living and fancy-car driving he’s enjoyed, but in so many ways, Serena Joy is the more dangerous of that pair and I’m worried she’s going to get a slap on the wrist for what she’s done while Fred shoulders most of the blame. They’re equally horrible, they should be equally punished. Fortunately, there’s one person who refuses to feel sorry for Serena and it’s our b*tch, Moira. God, do I love a woman who says it like it is. And the feels that she gave me this episode, fighting for June even now when she has no idea where she is or if she’s even alive. That’s friendship goals right there.

Alyssa: Seeing Moira rip Serena a new one made me even sadder that she’s been so sidelined this season because Good Lord can Samira Wiley throw down. She has as much reason as June to hate the Waterfords and their ilk, so I loved seeing her able to express some of that rage. If Serena does anything to take Nichole away from Moira and Luke, I swear I will lose it. Because that is her ultimate plan, but I feel like Serena’s desperation is making her slightly unhinged here. I understand her desire to be with who she views as her child, but I think her tunnel vision is going to be her undoing. I’m curious what’s going on with the American agent helping her. Is he in love with her? Is it all a game to get information? I just don’t know.

Jessica: Yeah the motives are questionable at best. He seems very invested in Serena Joy for some reason, but it could easily be a ruse, a way to squeeze her for information. But my biggest question is what’s going to happen to Serena? There’s no way she emerges from this thing with a clean rap sheet and a baby, right? I mean, I understand working with her to get as much info as possible on Gilead, but we’re not actually going to let her go free and take Nicole? That would just be too much, to unrealistic, to completely horrible for me to accept. What I wouldn’t mind being treated to is a longer boxing match between Luke and Fred, because their quick brawl ended too quickly and with not enough blood to truly satisfy.

Alyssa: Seriously, that punch felt like an appetizer. Give us the full meal! Waterford really has no sense of shame, does he? Here he is in front of Luke, whose life he helped destroy on the way to making Gilead, and he is basically taunting him with what he’s done to June. Not cool, guy. Not cool. But like Serena, Fred is essentially a caged animal right now, so he’s bound to lash out. This is a man running out of options, so he is going to make someone else feel small by any means necessary. But even when confronted with his crimes, Fred still deeply believes that the world owes him for the “sacrifices” that he made to get Gilead up and running. The delusion of white men of their own grandeur runs hella deep.

Jessica: Praise be. Fred is in need of a reality check and that luxurious prison cell isn’t gonna do it. I want to see this show break him down, strip him of his ego, and make him really contend with what he’s done. I doubt that’ll happen before this season is over, but I need the catharsis of seeing evil men really pay for their actions. In the meantime, it was nice to see Serena struggle with what was not a happy reunion with Nicole. I hate to see a baby cry, but damn, was it nice to see Serena realize she’s practically a stranger to this kid and she really has no claim on her. It’s one of the more troubling aspects of Gilead — ripping babies from their mothers and gifting them to these women with privilege — so to see it in reverse just felt right.

Alyssa: It was definitely satisfied me in the short term, but seriously, a desperate Serena is a dangerous Serena. There were a lot of moments in Canada this week that almost feel like justice, but they honestly just made me more nervous. We’re getting a fourth season for better or for worse, so there has to be plenty of fallout from next week’s finale to keep things going. I really fear the havoc that Serena is going to cause. Never trust that woman.

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Credit: Hulu

June’s Choice

Jessica: Honestly, at this point, I doubt we should fully trust June either. I realize she’s all in on this rescue plan, and Mrs. Lawrence was a threat to that, but I never expected her to make the decision she did this episode. After finding Mrs. Lawrence unconscious in her room after swallowing a bottle of pills, June chooses to leave her, to let her die. We can talk about how it was for the greater good, how she wrestled with that decision, and how it could be viewed as a mercy to Mrs. Lawrence who was so tortured this season, but at the end of the day, June has helped kill two people in the span of just a few days. That does something to a person.

Alyssa: Yeah, that was a rough choice. We’ve seen that June is pretty willing to do whatever to enact her plan, and I respect that to a degree, but leaving a relative innocent like Mrs. Lawrence to die in her own vomit was a pretty Machiavellian decision on June’s part. I understand that tough decisions need to be made in the world of The Handmaid’s Tale, but this one hurt. Mrs. Lawrence didn’t need to die. She seemed like she understood June when she threatened her to keep her quiet, and her deciding that taking her own life was her only option compounds that understanding. She knew that she was a risk, and she couldn’t bear the thought of being the cause of June’s failure to save those kids. Did I ever think I would cry for a Commander’s wife? No, I really didn’t see that coming.

Jessica: Mrs. Lawrence was a real one. Unfortunately, now that she’s gone, I’m even more worried for June’s getaway plan. Lawrence has proven how selfish and self-serving he can be, and the only reason he wanted to contribute to this escape in the first place was to save his wife. With her dead, what incentive does he have to continue? Perhaps he’ll view her death as a consequence of being in Gilead and that’ll steel his resolve to take the bastards down, but I can just as easily see him turning on June and becoming a roadblock to getting these kids out. Lawrence is a loose cannon now more than ever. June should be worried.

Alyssa: I am just not sure how to interpret Lawrence’s meaningful looks at June before and during the funeral. When June said that she should have checked on her as well, there was a part of me that though that she overplayed her hand and that he knew. Knew that she left his wife to die. Lawrence may be a coward, but he’s not a fool. I’m sure he suspects that June knows more than she’s letting on. I also think that he knows that his wife was a real liability. But which side of him will win out? Does he love his wife more than he desires to find a little absolution from his crimes?

Jessica: It really comes down to how self-centered he truly is because you’re right, there’s no way he doesn’t at least suspect June’s involvement, or blame her for Mrs. Lawrence’s choice to commit suicide. Either he’ll prove to be a petty b*tch and ruin June’s plan, or he’ll go along to get along, but I highly doubt he’ll forgive (or forget) how June has upended his life.

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Credit: Hulu/George Kraychyk

What’s Next

Alyssa: We finally reach the end of this messy season next week, and I have my doubts that we’ll get much resolution. I’m sure there will be some awful wrench thrown in June’s plan — Nick returning? — because there is no way those kids are getting out of Gilead if we’re getting another season. I’m curious if June will unearth some information about where Hannah ended up that will throw off her resolve to leave, especially if she finds out that Serena is close to getting her hands on Nichole. Losing both of her children while she’s trying to save them? Classic Handmaid’s Tale heartbreak. Also, to echo what we wish for every single week: can we PLEASE get a check-in with Emily?

Jessica: It’s definitely been a problem this season has had — balancing the action in Gilead with what’s going on in Canada. Now that the Waterfords are up there, there’s more reason to explore what’s happening to these secondary characters, but I’m worried about how season four will balance June’s struggle in Gilead (because she’s definitely not making it out before the finale next week) and the Waterfords’ imprisonment up north. It was difficult enough to see-saw between the two this season, and the Waterfords were only in D.C. I’d like to see a smoother transition next season, more cohesion, and for God’s sake, can we check in with Emily?!

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the authors', and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.

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