‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ recap: June and Luke separated in midseason cliffhanger


As The Handmaid’s Tale hits its mid-season stride, we find June (Elisabeth Moss) fast asleep, peacefully dreaming of the better, before times. But her happy visions of Hannah at the aquarium are literally shaken out of focus by a vibrating cell phone. It’s resistance leader Lily, with urgent word that a Guardian ally is sneaking across the border with intel on Hannah’s teen-bride school. 

June and Luke (O-T Fagbenle) hit the road, navigating a roadblock of anti-immigration protesters – who share a not-very-Canadian “Get the f— out of our country!” – before arriving at the rebel camp. Lily immediately shares the bad news that the friendly can’t make it. Border patrol’s been beefed up, and it’s not safe for him to cross. He’s stuck in No Man’s Land, the between-border stretch uncontrolled by Canada or Gilead.  

Disappointed, but determined to secure whatever info he has, Luke and June decide to make the trek into the dangerous territory. Armed with little more than a map and secret password – “beret” – they  embark on the lengthy journey. But as they enter the moonlit forest, June thinks back to the day she and Hannah were captured and separated from Luke. After a brief pause, they push on, only to find a Guardian swinging from a tree, a “rapist” sign hanging around his contorted neck. 

The next morning, they’re surprised by a young, gun-wielding Guardian. He points his weapon at them and yells “raspberry,” to which June responds, “beret.” The code word exchange deflates the tension, but the kid’s not comfortable rendezvousing in the woods. June and Luke reluctantly follow him to a safer place where they can talk. 

The Handmaid’s Tale

Elisabeth Moss

| Credit: Sophie Giraud/Hulu

Meanwhile, Serena’s (Yvonne Strahovski) day is off to a more subdued start. She’s up early in the Wheeler house, exploring her new safe haven. She asks Ezra if she can meet Mr. Wheeler – so she can thank him for his hospitality – but it seems the mystery man of the house is busy. She instead has breakfast with Mrs. Wheeler, who continues to uncomfortably fawn over her pregnant guest. 

Later in the day, Serena meets with several other wives, who all flock to her baby bump like moths to a flame. As her creepy fan-club closes in, carpet-bombing her with “Praise be” greetings, she flashes back to Gilead’s early days. She and Mrs. Putnam (Ever Carradine) are in the hospital, peering into a room full of playing children, kids who’ve recently been “rescued” from “unfit mothers.”  

As the chilling scene continues, the equally cold Mrs. Putnam shares her concerns about taking in one of the tykes: “You never really know where they came from, or who they came from, do you?” she asks. Serena pivots to getting her friend’s opinion on the Handmaid program. Both agree it’s not for them, with Serena insisting she and Fred (Joseph Fiennes) will continue trying to get pregnant. The flashback concludes with the camera pulling out, revealing a hallway leading to more rooms filled with kidnapped children.

When we catch up with June and Luke, they’re arriving at the Guardian’s secret spot. To their surprise, it’s an old bowling alley/bar, decked out in Christmas lights and a disco ball.  After some awkwardness, the soldier shares what he knows about Hannah’s new school – it’s in a secret location, under heavy guard. Worse than that, its wive-training curriculum is pretty accelerated, as Gilead wants to quickly match Commanders with young mates. 

He says Hannah’s safe as long as she’s still in the school, then gives them a thumb drive containing more details on the program. With business concluded, the Gilead traitor loosens up. He convinces Luke and June to stay until dark, when it’s safer to return to Canada. They grudgingly agree, before letting their guard down a bit and even indulging in some fun. 

Over beers and a few frames of bowling, they learn the Guardian’s name is Jayden. He seems like a  naive, happy-go-lucky kid who was just born at the wrong time. In fact, to Luke and June’s obvious dismay, he doesn’t really remember his life before Gilead, describing it as “foggy, like a dream.” Luke lightens the mood by hopping on a nearby keyboard and crooning Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” to June.

Back at the Wheeler compound, Serena’s anxious to return to work. She has a call with Commanders Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) and Putnam. The latter passive-aggressively blames her for the Gilead Visitor’s Center closure. She shifts the blame to Luke and June, and both agree the pair must be dealt with. In the meantime, Serena wants to reopen the facility as a fertility center, focusing more on conception and the gift of life rather than Gilead’s controversial policies. 

Lawrence likes the idea, but Putnam scoffs before abruptly ending the call. He then tells Lawrence Serena can’t “run amok” and they must “yank her leash” to remind her of her place. Putnam directs his sour mood toward Lawrence, criticizing his “New Bethlehem” initiative, which would apparently forgive those who previously wronged Gilead. Putnam’s all for punishing his enemies and isolating the Republic from the rest of the world, but Lawrence feels Gilead will perish without a more pragmatic, peaceful approach. 

The Handmaid’s Tale

Yvonne Strahovski

| Credit: Sophie Giraud/Hulu

Serena’s shut down by another subjugating male when, while walking the Wheeler grounds, she attempts to meet a woman who’s brought her a lovely bouquet. Serena’s super-fans have, in fact, been leaving piles of flowers at the house’s locked gate, but Ezra won’t let her approach this latest  admirer. The mysterious Mr. Wheeler has given strict instructions not to open the gate.

Feeling more imprisoned than protected, Serena recalls the day she succumbed to picking a Handmaid. She looks extremely uncomfortable as Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) presents files on the “very finest, most respectful, most fertile candidates.” After rejecting Lydia’s top pick – who’d previously “caught the eye of Commander Waterford,” Serena hastily chooses another. “I know you will be very happy with this Handmaid,”Lydia assures with a smile. 

Cut to present-day Serena, who’s praying at her bedside when a silhouetted figure darkens her door. It is, at long last, the enigmatic Mr. Wheeler. The young, well-coiffed Commander brings good tidings: Gilead wants to move forward with her fertility-focused reinvention of the information center. Pleased with the news, Serena talks about getting back to work and spearheading this new initiative. But for the third time this episode, she’s reminded who’s in charge. With a polite smile, Wheeler denies her request and suggests she rest. “Your baby’s needs come before any plans or ambitions,” he says, also denying her access to a cell phone.

Serena’s essentially become a prisoner in the Wheeler home, but she’s living large compared to June and Luke. The couple’s being escorted back to the Canadian border by Jayden, when he suddenly stops them in their tracks. The Guardian has accidentally stepped on a rebel mine, but before he can react, the trap explodes, blowing off one of his legs. 

The blast attracts other Guardians, who quickly begin hunting June and Luke. The soldiers swiftly close in, capture the two, and drag them off in different directions. While they struggle against their captors and desperately call out to each other, Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” gets an ironic encore, playing over the episode’s cliffhanger conclusion. 

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