The amount of WTF plot points never fails to shock.
For better or worse, The Handmaid’s Tale just released one of its screamiest episodes of all time.
Season 5 Written by Rachel Shukert and directed by Natalia Leite, “No Man’s Land” focuses on one location and its characters: June (Elisabeth Moss) and Serena (Yvonna Strahovski), who just went into labor somewhere between Gilead and Canada. There’s a lot to scream about in this episode — especially if you’re Serena — from the tense birth sequence to the shifting dynamics between these two women and what it all means. The Handmaid’s Tale is generally a show worth shouting about, where women have no rights and June’s self-righteous heroic complex regularly hurts as many people as he helps.
Here are 22 times I screamed during “No Man’s Land,” in order they occurred.
1. Serena goes into labor very clearly in the intro
Looking back, I don’t know what outcome I could have expected if the de facto protagonist and antagonist of this deeply chaotic show hadn’t been thrown together for a bottle birth episode in the wild. That scream was the result of my own hubris, and I deserve it.
June 2 at Serena’s in the car
June has several opportunities in this episode to just let Serena down, for which no one would blame her. At this point, she’s not sure if Serena is even going into labor, but what she does know for sure is that maybe this woman wanted to kill her, and still might. But it doesn’t take much deduction to look at Serena’s physical condition and realize what’s happening.
“Are you in Fuck Work?” June asks in an appropriately incredulous tone. She asks Serena about her symptoms, which ones I say “Are you Fuck kidding me?” And try not to scream any more (I’ll fail). June takes the wheel and there’s “Thelma & Louise” in the worst possible way as they hit the road, whatever that is.
3. Serena doesn’t want to go to the hospital
My notes just say “that bitch,” which feels appropriate. Serena chose to leave Gilead (which June can’t say at the moment) and its natural birthing movement, and she’s in Canada under very specific restrictions that don’t really allow her to travel freely. What I’m trying to say is that beggars can’t be choosers, and labor evaders can’t decide whether they’d rather give birth in an abandoned shed than in a hospital because they hate needles and modern medicine. THERE IS AN OBVIOUS CHOICE HERE, SERENA.
And that’s just the cold frankly.
4. The flashback sequence
The Handmaid’s Tale has done flashbacks before, but this is the first to really feel reconnected, taking us back to when June was first assigned to the Waterfords as if that were something nostalgic. As another servant delivers on her commander’s wife’s lap, surrounded by a circle of other servants, June and Serena catch their eyes and have a moment that can only be described as a moment. They both seem to be fighting the urge to laugh and have to look away from each other to keep a straight face. It’s scary.
June 5 Coaching Serena through labor
I accept (grudgingly) that she didn’t want to let this woman die, but now June is actively making this woman’s life easier — or maybe she just wants it to be quiet until they both need to sleep.
6. Serena resists
This woman is unable to defend herself. June’s sudden altruism may be disconcerting, but Serena is now experiencing a medical emergency. If there was ever a time to forsake their values and loyalties and turn to the first enemy they came across for help, it is now. Instead, she pushes June away and yells, “You’re trying to kill my baby!” although honestly, that’s a legitimate concern given the story.
7. June’s absolutely incurable hero complex
June leaves, which is totally justified after what Serena has done to her, but eventually returns to help. She may convince herself and us that she’s stuck there with Serena, but June Osborne has been using and killing too many women at this point to serve her own sacred self-image. She may loathe Serena, but any kindness she shows this woman can be used to make her feel superior, as perversely pious as Serena herself pretended to be.
8. Team Birth
With June’s encouragement, Serena gives birth to a baby boy. The sequence includes footage of the two women holding each other, smiling, crying, offering and receiving encouragement. It’s probably meant to be nice, appealing to the viewer’s innate humanity and a secret bond between the obstetricians, but as an outside viewer it’s impossible to break away from the context and a vague “women need to stick together” feeling.
9. The look on June’s face while holding the baby
This entire show revolves around Elisabeth Moss’ dead stare, and that’s exactly the look she gives Serena in the moments immediately following the birth, when June holds the baby with a thinly veiled malicious twinkle in her eyes. But that look quickly fades, replaced by a warm, open smile as she says “he’s perfect” (unnecessary!) and hands the baby over to a crying Serena.
10. The bond of motherhood
The episode has a general tendency to conflate birth with motherhood, substituting true allies for biology. June asks routine questions like latching the baby and shares a story of Hannah’s early struggles. Do I need to remind everyone that Serena used Hannah as bait against June Years and is likely responsible for her child’s upcoming marriage to an old rapist in the immediate future? I think I need!
June 11 admits she didn’t mean to kill Serena
Part of becoming the face of the rebellion is June getting used to being popular. The Waterfords were never among her fans, but they gave her a purpose – a purpose that has shifted and recalibrated since Fred’s death. She didn’t want to kill Serena, because without a living Waterford, she has no face for her enemy, for her mission, for what makes her important.
12. Serena compares herself to a maid
Notes: “Girl What”
13. Serena offers Noah June
Now the change of mind mentioned above occurs. Serena is not the same person she was a few hours ago, her priorities have shifted and she is laser focused on her child. She admits Fred was a monster and June’s husband Luke is a good man. She wants her son to be a good man and raised by people who are not capable of what she and Fred did. Those are solid points, but June is quite capable of murder and specifically wanted to kill Serena until minutes ago. And the feeling was mutual! Don’t give her your baby!
14. Serena compares June to an angel
June’s response to that is “Oh shit,” and that pretty much sums it up.
15. Serena apologizes
To the all? Absolutely unreal.
June 16 monologue
Would it even be The Handmaid’s Tale without a classic June stare and potify? To be fair, these are things she’s wanted and needed to say to Serena for years, but let’s not pretend it makes a difference. “Who we were, where we came from, what we wanted – none of that mattered to you,” she tells Serena. “I don’t care that you’re sorry. We mattered. We were – we are Persons. We have life.”
17 June’s complacency wins
She saves Serena because “This isn’t Gilead and I’m not you” – even claims she’s doing it for Noah – but acts selfish as always! June will seize this moment going forward, whether to elicit mercy from Serena or expose her wavering beliefs to the rest of Gilead.
18. Serena thanks June
Because there’s never a bad time for MannersLadies!
19. Luke is miraculously doing well
Wheeler’s troops apprehended June and Luke, then severely beat him before separating them — but none of that matters. The triumphant hospital reunion is another example of June’s imperviousness to harm and consequences while others around her aren’t so lucky.
June 20 Outrage over Serena’s arrest
SHE IS A WAR CRIMINAL. YOU TESTIFIED AGAINST YOU.
21. Serena screams at June for help
At the hospital, Serena is arrested for violating the terms of her stay in Canada (told you so!). At this point, she is imprisoned and told that Noah will be taken from her. She’s understandably shaken to hear this, and cries out for what’s her closest ally: June. The sequel is a Strahovski feat where Serena’s boldness never fails.
Last but not least, The Handmaid’s Tale seems poised to radicalize Serena Joy, but let’s not confuse reform with redemption. Serena, Fred, and everyone else who runs Gilead have been into non-stop shitty shit for years, and they deserve no mercy for finally realizing it. Serena and June were not high school rivals who reconnected and reconciled years later. They wanted to kill themselves HOURS AGO. Even as they move forward with new shared experiences, they will have a hard time forgetting the past — and even if they don’t, everyone around them will.
New episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale air Wednesdays on Hulu.
https://www.indiewire.com/2022/10/handmaids-tale-season-5-episode-7-screamed-deranged-1234771557/ I screamed 21 times in Season 5 Episode 7 of The Handmaid’s Tale