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The Handmaid's Tale Discussion: 'Unknown Caller' shows June's plans coming undone

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Jun 20, 2019

Just when you think that June might be getting a foothold in Gilead, the rug is pulled out from under her. The Handmaid's Tale has never made things easy on June, but it seems like the third season is determined to take her two steps back for every step forward. As her tenuous truce with Serena Joy implodes, June is left in Gilead without many allies. While she works to protect one of her daughters, another is put even deeper into the path of danger.

The third season of The Handmaid's Tale has been struggling to find its feet, so here's hoping that it sets June on a path of revenge soon. We're Alyssa Fikse and Jessica Toomer and we're here to work through every twist and turn in "Unknown Caller."

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Credit: Hulu

The Call

Alyssa: Alright, are you ready to rage a bit? Because I am ready to rage a bit. For all of her talk about wanting to stay in Gilead in order to change the game and save Hannah, June is trusting the wrong people. I knew that it was going to get worse after it was revealed that the Gilead knew where Nichole was and that she was with Luke, but I could have told you that setting up a meeting with the Waterfords was never going to end well. This whole thing is a little too reminiscent of real-world politics to me: we want to uphold these systems that marginalize women and minorities, but we don’t want our own daughters to live under it. I’ll take Republican Senators Who Oppose Abortion Rights for 500, Alex.

Jessica: More than anything, this plot twist just left me hella confused. We catch up with June who is, understandably, freaking out over the safety of Luke and Nichole but if you were worried about the reach of Gilead, why confirm his identity in the first place? I know eventually they would’ve discovered who he was and why he has Nichole but why are we making things easier for these guys? And June agreeing to this call felt so uncharacteristic and just not well thought out. She’s been so sure of her plan to get Nichole out of Gilead. Now we’re helping those in power take a step closer to getting her back? For what? An IOU from Serena Waterford? Do we really want to bet Nichole’s safety on the unknowable whims of a woman who, above all else, wants that baby back? Where’s the logic in all of this?

Alyssa: Exactly. I am seriously trying to understand June’s reasoning here, but I am coming up empty. I think she was counting on Serena continuing to game the system to her advantage. June got her to go back to her husband in order to have Serena in a position of power, but to what end? Serena sort of helped Emily escape with Nichole by letting June go, apparently because she wanted Nichole to have a different life than the one that women were afforded in Gilead. However, Serena has grown increasingly desperate to see Nichole again. June probably should have picked up on that. So, are you still as anti-Luke after this episode as you were in the past?

Jessica: Luke has certainly redeemed himself with his fatherly instincts towards Nichole, at least for me. Look, he’s a flawed man and he’s made choices, exhibited certain behaviors in the past that really did not sit well with me, but I do feel this season has focused on him learning and trying to atone for all of that. I most definitely admired the way he’s handled everything he’s learned about June and what’s happened to her, and the emotion he showed on that call with June nearly broke me. He’s not perfect, but he’s the best we’ve got right now, which seems to be a real mood on this show. What really stood out to me about his “reunion” with June was how stoic and strong she was through it all. How cruel of these people who’ve spent years brainwashing women into forgetting their pasts to suddenly dredge hers up again for their benefit? It’s like none of these Commanders in Gilead have any kind of common sense or emotional competence.

Alyssa: The Commanders have made it clear that they don’t view the handmaids as people at this point. They are simply walking wombs that they can manipulate for their own purposes. It’s just awful. The fact that June was able to keep it together when she was on the phone with Luke was a testament to her resilience and to Elisabeth Moss’s performance. Even though she was pushing the stoicism to the forefront, you could still see the pain behind her eyes. Devastating. But yes, while I understand that June is in an impossible position, it seems like she’s jeopardizing Nichole’s safety by aiding Gilead. If she was so desperate to stay behind and save one daughter, why would she be risking the safety of the other?

Jessica: Once again, it feels like we’re going in a bit of a circle with June’s story this season and I have to believe it’s because we’re still unclear about her motives. Before this episode I would’ve guessed June’s sole priority was Hannah, either getting her free from Gilead or at the very least, being able to watch over her, become a part of her life in some way. Now, it feels like we’re leaning towards the revolutionary arc the show teased in the first three episodes, the June who wants to burn all this sh*t down. I don’t know if both Junes can exist in this world right now and I’m wondering if that’s the choice she’ll have to make this season. Will she see-saw between these two parts of herself, making choices for Hannah in one episode, then for the greater good in the next, before something terrible happens that forces her to finally land on a clear path? Right now, she’s just treading water surrounded by sharks. I don’t think this uncertainty from her can last much longer.

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Credit: Hulu

The Meeting

Alyssa: As stressed out as I was during June’s call to Luke, it was nothing compared to watching Serena heading out to see Nichole. This whole ordeal just felt like THE WORST IDEA in the world, and that was written all over Serena’s face. I have such a hard time sympathizing with Serena because she ultimately works to maintain a corrupt system, but dammit Yvonne Strahovski does her level best to make us care. In her own twisted way, she truly believes that Nichole is hers and Serena's love for this child is apparent. It’s messy, it’s brutal, but hey, this is The Handmaid’s Tale.

Jessica: I get it. While June knows that Nichole is in the best possible hands with her husband and her best friend looking after her, Serena doesn’t enjoy that same comforting assurance. So to then see the baby with this stranger, it probably brought back all of her doubts and darkest imaginings as to baby Nichole’s fate. You send your child off in the hopes of a better life, but when she’s gone, those what-ifs start creeping in and Serena has given into that paranoia.

I don’t think I’m as shocked by her behavior as I am by Luke’s. I know he’s doing all of this for June, and in a way, his willingness to put himself on the line for her is so beautifully romantic. He’s able to take himself and his feelings out of the equation for her. Still, after that call with June, hearing how changed she was, knowing she wasn’t alone and was probably being used by the Waterfords, I find it so odd that he would be willing to have this meeting. He clearly despises Serena and her husband — I enjoyed the hell out of him delivering her a bit of reality this episode — and he doesn’t trust Gilead’s promises, so going along with their plan, for their benefit, was a real sacrifice on his part. At least he had enough sense to do it in public I guess?

Alyssa: I guess I didn’t have as much of a problem with Luke going along with it because he had the power to control the specifics of the situation. He had it happen in a public place, with the support of the Canadian government. He did what he thought June wanted, or at least went along so June’s life wouldn’t be more difficult (an impossible task, but at least he tried). I have liked seeing Luke’s paternal instinct kick in with Nichole since she first came to him, and you could tell that he really truly loves that baby. Still, this whole meeting just felt so eerie. I’m so used to seeing Serena in her Commander’s wife get-up that it was a shock to see her in normal clothes. And again, Strahovski did such a great job at conveying Serena’s pain over losing Nichole, even if it made me want to rip my hair out.

Jessica: I was worried, and I think rightfully so knowing how this episode ends, that seeing Nichole in the real world, not Gilead, would change things for Serena. This idea of gaining closure with one last goodbye was never something I bought into. Even June warns her it’s not going to be what she thinks it will. I think, as healthy and happy as Nichole seemed, Serena has a sense of narcissism about her that has her convinced she’s the only one that can truly care for and love that baby like she needs. By reopening that wound that she’s spent episodes trying to heal, I think Serena, and even June, created another and I don’t know if either woman is prepared for the fallout.

Alyssa: I agree. I think Serena overestimated her own fortitude in being faced with her baby again. I think she believes in her heart of hearts that there is no way that Nichole would be better off in Gilead, but admitting that would be to admit that her entire life’s work is to uphold an evil system. Of course, she doesn’t want to reckon with that reality. However, I couldn’t help but be deeply frustrated by the fact that she goes back. She could have stayed in Canada, could have stayed near Nichole, but she chooses to go back. She isn’t happy in Gilead, she doesn’t love her husband. Her only purpose in life was her baby, and even that wasn’t enough to keep her from returning to Gilead. Flames! Flames on the sides of my face!

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Credit: Hulu

The Plea

Jessica: One bright spot in all of this was June’s message to Luke by way of Serena. After learning from the Commander’s wife that Commander Joseph used to create mixtapes — how normal of him? — when they were first dating, I thought June just went down to the basement to have a cathartic jam sesh. I nearly broke down when her voice came across Luke’s headphones. What a beautiful way to tell him the truth about Nichole, and let him know she was doing her best for their daughter. It hit me right in the feels, Alyssa.

Alyssa: That tape was a gut punch to my heart, girl. I think this was definitely an instance of telling the truth to ease her conscience instead of giving Luke information that he needed to know, but I think that June did a good thing here. By coming clean and releasing Luke from being stuck in a holding pattern waiting for her, June did her best to ease both of their burdens. It’s a tough world, and she’s just doing what she can to live in it. I do think that Luke still loves her, so I don’t see him running off with someone else immediately, but I am hoping that he understands why June did what she did finding comfort in Nick.

Jessica: It’s a tough truth to hear, but after Luke’s conversation with Serena about telling Nichole the truth of her parentage, it seemed fitting for him to also learn that truth. Who knows, down the line, it might make things a bit easier for Nichole to reckon with where she came from and why she came to be. I think the most shocking part of this episode wasn’t the call or Serena’s trip to Canada, but the result of both. After dressing June up in a TV-approved handmaid’s outfit, we learn that Serena and Fred have concocted a plan to get Canada to give them their baby back — by making an on-air plea accusing Luke of kidnapping Nichole. Call me Boo Boo the Fool because I did not see this coming, especially from Serena.

Alyssa: I had a real sense of dread for the whole episode, but I assumed that it would be Serena trying to snatch Nichole in the airport. I should have assumed that she would take a more elegant track. But yikes on bikes, you guys, this is bad. I do think this opens up an interesting storyline though because I am curious to see more of how other governments deal with Gilead and what it has become. Can they just demand that Canada turn Nichole back over to them? No matter what happens there, I hope June finally finds a way to get a win, because I cannot tell you how many times an episode has ended with June looking grimly determined in the face of some new and awful threat, and I am ready for her to actually succeed, even on a small scale. It can’t just be a constant stream of having her almost get ahead only to be knocked down even worse than before. That’s not a sustainable show model.

Jessica: So true. And what’s worse, while June is entirely blameless for the hell-hole Gilead has become, this latest problem can be laid directly at her feet. She initiated that call, she convinced Luke to have that meeting, she made it possible for Fred to prey on Serena’s weakness when it comes to Nichole. This is her mess to fix, and I think she knows that. I’m just curious to see how (and if) she can straighten this whole thing out or if, yet again, she’ll be forced to quietly manipulate the Waterfords in the hopes of appealing to their humanity. Personally, I’d like to see her take the “smashing sh*t with a sledgehammer” approach.

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Credit: Hulu

What’s Next?

Alyssa: After what the Waterfords pulled at the end of the episode, I am expecting some sh*t to go down between June and Serena. It’s always mesmerizing when those two square off, and I predict that this one will be a doozy. I’m curious to learn a bit more about the Lawrences because I think Mrs. Lawrence is on the verge of collapse at every moment. But mostly I hope we check in with Emily because I missed seeing that family inch towards healing this week.

Jessica: Like you, I’m excited to see how this new play from Serena opens up the storytelling on this show to include a broader look at the world. We know Canada is a place of refuge for those fleeing Gilead, but damn would it be nice to see some people in charge up there and how they react to the atrocities committed by this new nation. I want to see some good guys in power for once. I also want to see Mrs. Lawrence’s backstory, to figure out why she seems to be toeing the line of a mental breakdown. She appears to be a kind woman, so maybe this whole oppression and enslavement of other women thing has really done a number on her? And finally, while I always want more Emily, I’m also curious to see what Nick’s been up to. This season feels very Luke-centric so far, which is completely fine, but last we heard he was going to the front lines. There’s more to his story than just dying out there, right?

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

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