Since June came to Canada last season, The story of the maid has put motherhood in the spotlight. Did June let Hannah down by fleeing to Toronto? How does she make it up to her daughter from a thousand miles away?
As June says to Serena, who is rotting in immigration detention rather than bowing to Ms Wheeler’s demands, “You can’t help your child if you’re not with him.”
That’s probably not entirely true, but it feels true either way. To challenge her oath to do anything for her children, the series forces her to accept the worst of conditions to prove it. Serena (Yvonne Strahvoski) eventually agrees to return to the Wheeler mansion, albeit in the capacity of Noah’s wet nurse, as she is clearly “unfit” to mother her one-month-old child. She also takes June’s advice, gleaned from tough years living in a house with a woman who tried to steal her child: smile, wait, plan your revenge.
But June (Elisabeth Moss) is asked to make an even more complicated exchange: being close to Hannah for half a lifetime in “New Bethlehem,” an idea Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) has previously teased but never fully explained. The greatest threat to Gilead right now is the enduring spirit of a democratic America. But geopolitics have changed since the revolution, and American refugees in Canada have exhausted their intake. Nichole can’t even sleep through the night because the protesters are screaming outside her bedroom window.
What is New Bethlehem? Imagine a tiny, liberalized enclave within Gilead’s borders where refugees can seek amnesty. To start, Lawrence wants about 100 families to return, starting with June and Luke. They could visit Hannah, who would be living elsewhere under Gilead’s strict rules—including an arranged marriage—but they could see their daughter first-hand. You could touch her. With Commander Nick Blaine at the helm of the semi-independent colony, the citizens of New Bethlehem would be literate. There would be no maids and no hangings.
Knowing that regime change can be rapid, would you risk putting yourself back within reach of your former slave traders to be near your daughter? Would you take Nichole to a country that could make her a woman or a maid or worse?
Who is the maid now?
As “Motherland” – the flashy title of Episode 8 – begins, Serena is in Canadian immigration detention, compulsively calling June and Rita, and probably Mark Tuello as well. Anyone she thinks could help her. But her only regular visitor is Mrs Wheeler, who probably wouldn’t have come if Serena hadn’t been pumping breast milk for her infant son.
The Wheelers agree to take Serena back even though she shot Ezra (it was only in the kevlar vest!) because Noah just won’t sleep. “I’m not a maid,” Serena tells Lawrence as he forces her to accept the offer. But in Gilead there are only two kinds of mothers, and Serena is nobody’s wife. Give in to their demands at the end of the episode, and watching what happens next might just be the most compelling storyline the show is currently on. There has always been tension between Serena and June, stemming from the idea that despite their differences, they share great reserves of willpower. Will Serena take on the Wheelers while June destroys the Waterfords?
Trouble in Little America
So far we haven’t seen too much interaction between the American refugees and the Canadian citizens surrounding them. It turns out that Americans fleeing north are increasingly the target of protests and vandalism. Luke suggests moving to Alaska or Hawaii – the parts of America that are still intact. But those places are far from Hannah. June measures her motherhood in the distance between them. She’s not going anywhere. It’s been almost a year and she still can’t forgive herself for traveling so far to freedom.
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Commander Lawrence’s Great Atonement
New Bethlehem is not just a tool to improve Gilead’s relationship with Canada by stemming the flow of refugees. It’s part of Lawrence’s frigid, grueling plan to wrest control of Gilead from the “religious cranks” he underestimated during the nation’s founding. Since Commander Putnam is conveniently deceased, he can seek reform. New Bethlehem is being offered to the other commanders as a stopover for ex-expats, but secretly, he tells June as he invites her to participate, he hopes it will be a model for a new version of Gilead, free from rape and suffering. This is his chance to make things right.
June doesn’t care. All she hears is that she will see Hannah. She will grow old around Hannah. One day she will meet her grandchildren. But Luke is not tempted. He doesn’t trust Lawrence. How can they even think of taking Nichole, their free daughter, to a place where she could be enslaved like her mother?
Lawrence’s dubious offer is a powerful negotiating tool with Americans, who haven’t really cared about June since Fred’s death. The Americans – represented by Tuello, who appears to be their only official – are desperate to prevent June from returning to Gilead. She is the figurehead of the resistance. It would be a PR nightmare, not to mention a morale blow.
Apparently June doesn’t care either. All she hears is that Mark Tuello has no plans to help her see Hannah. But thanks to a video of Hannah sent by Lawrence June as a goodwill gesture, Americans are able to pinpoint the location of the special women’s school Hannah attends. The Americans are planning a kind of raid. things on The story of the maid have been so bad for so long that a rescue mission seems too good to be true. Honestly? Even New Bethlehem, terrible as it is, seems too good to be true.
But perhaps a mother’s right measure is her willingness to move on—to maintain the belief that she will save her child despite the distance or the threat. If so, June Osborne must be the best mom ever.
The Handmaid’s Tale airs weekly in the US, with episodes following in the UK a few weeks later
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/reviews/the-handmaids-tale-season-5-episode-8-recap-talking-points-b2210766.html The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5: Episode 8 tests the limits of a mother’s love