*Spoiler warning for The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2, Episode 9.
June and Serena are on parallel paths this episode, even as they are hundreds of miles apart. Serena and Commander Waterford go on a diplomatic mission to Canada, while Offred prepares for the birth of her baby as she waits out the third trimester at home. This episode, they each face the challenge of trying to find a way to live under an oppressive regime, and find they must choose whether to accept living under it at all.
Right before they leave for their trip, Serena comes to say goodbye to June. It’s a pivotal moment. After last episode, will Serena be kind to June and show that their bond hasn’t been completely destroyed by the Commander, or will she go back to her old ways? The answer comes when she tells June that she will have to leave immediately after the baby is born. Usually, handmaids are at least allowed to stay until the baby is weened off breast milk, but not this time. The heartbreak is all over June’s face.
June proceeds to spend the rest of the episode trying to find people who will look after the baby once she’s gone. She commissions Rita to be an example of kindness for the baby, as she knows there is very little kindness in that house, and in Gilead. Meanwhile, during a check-up with Aunt Lydia, she tells Aunt Lydia that the baby needs protection. “In my experience,” June says. “Any man who would hurt a woman, would hurt a child.” Aunt Lydia promises to make sure nothing happens to the baby. June calls Rita and Aunt Lydia the baby’s godmothers. With all of this planning, it’s clear Offred has given up on trying to find a way out of Gilead for her and her unborn child, and is now simply trying to set up the best possible life for her baby in this place. Really, who can blame her?
Meanwhile, Serena has to deal with being in Canada – a place of freedom, while needing to be a representative of Gilead. The Commander is met with a mix of indifference and animosity. Serena, on the other hand, has a look of wonder as they pass through Canada. She stares with longing at all the people standing around, scrolling on their phones. The women in this place are completely at ease, and reading is commonplace to them. As Serena is handed her schedule for the day, her face falls when she sees the pictures to illustrate the different events. Even here, she doesn’t have the chance to read.
She is faced with her first real major challenge though, when she’s approached at a bar by a representative of the United States government – it’s not completely gone, just much smaller. He tells her that they can have her on a flight to Hawaii in an hour. She doesn’t have to ever go back to Gilead. He sweetens the pot by telling her that they’ve been doing extensive research on the current infertility problem, and unlike what Gilead believes, they’ve found it’s the men more often than not who are infertile. They’ve made great strides in fertility he tells her, and they may be enough to give her what she most wants – a baby of her own. She tells him that she already has one on the way. “That’s not your baby,” he responds. In the end though, Serena’s tight grip on control wins the day, and she turns down his offer. It was going to take a lot more to make Serena break from Gilead and the Commander, even after he beat her last episode.
Let’s not forget about who else is in Canada – Luke and Moira. Moira recognizes Waterford on TV. They appeal to the government to force the Waterfords to give them back their June, but to no avail. They’re not done though. Luke accosts the Waterfords as they’re getting out of a car. When the Commander asks who he is, Luke responds “You rape my wife.” Luke holds a poster with a picture of him, June, and their daughter Hannah. While the Commander manages to shrug off Luke’s remarks, Serena hears his words, and sees the picture, and is visibly shaken.
Later that night, Nick, who is also on the trip, finds Luke. Aside from telling Luke that June is pregnant (though he lies and says it’s by the Commander, instead of by himself), he gives Luke the batch of letters from the oppressed all over Gilead. That night Luke, Moira, and Erin (their fellow refugee and roommate) decide to upload the letters to the internet. The reaction is immediate and overwhelming. The letters go viral overnight, and the next morning, the Canadian government is forced by public opinion to tell the Waterfords that they are no longer welcome in Canada. Waterford, who was gleeful earlier in the episode about progress he’d made with the Canadians – including possibly putting extradition of illegal immigrants on the table – is furious. As they leave, mobs of people swarm their cars, including a vengeful Moira, who makes sure that the Commander sees her face.
That night, Nick comes to see Offred right after they get back. He tells her about the letters and how they made a difference. He also tells her that he met her husband, and that he and Moira are safe living in Canada. Until this point, June didn’t know that Moira had escaped. As Nick leaves her alone, her thoughts are swirling. She paces the room elated. Her final conclusion, as she stops pacing and faces the camera head on, she tells us and the baby: “I know I should accept the reality of you being born here, make my peace. But fuck that.”
So, the episode ends with Serena renewing her faithfulness to Gilead (but for how long will it hold?), June renewing her mission to escape Gilead – with both of her children, and Gilead and the Commander in worse positions than ever. This could be fun.