The Handmaid's Tale Sacrifice Review

“Sacrifice”, the twelfth episode of The Handmaid’s Tale season 3, steadies the viewer into absorbing a shock that contrives character conflict for June (Elisabeth Moss) while devaluing another character under the guise of something nebulously “thematic.”

The previous episode of the Handmaid’s Tale threw two gamechangers: the arrest of the Waterfords (Joseph Fiennes and Yvonne Strahovski) across the Canadian border and the death of High Commander Winslow. The first feels like a thematic outcome, even if the character turns felt hazy, of Serena Joy’s myopic motherhood agenda. The second, cathartic as it is for June to bludgeon a rapist dictator, does feel resulted from wild card happenstance on the writers’ part (and a waste of Christopher Meloni).

Miraculously, June has gotten away with the murder of Winslow, though the consequence of his disappearance echoes throughout Gilead with Commanders assuming he had been captured by Canada too. Gilead is cracking. Gilead Commanders are intent on closing the borders and getting eager to blow things up. June’s most powerful ally, Commander Joseph Lawrence (Bradley Whitford), knows that will close their escape route when they smuggle themselves – and 52 kids – to Canada. 

Meanwhile, the Waterfords are detained by the Americans in Canada. Not only that, Fred is enraged to learn that Serena Joy willingly lured him into the trap to buy immunity from the American law and be closer to the baby she calls Nichole. 

Fuck Civility: Waterfords Pay for War Crimes

Serena Joy, a blonde white woman whose fundamentalist misogynistic convictions and contradictory craving for power is comparable to Tomi Lahren or Ann Coulter, seems immune from any legal punishment and receives scheduled contact with the baby she calls Nichole.

Serena Joy made her choice: not to fix Gilead or ever atone for her ills, but to get “her” baby back in her arms. No regret, no remorse, not even the outrageous yet hollow gesture to burn the bed where she held June down to be raped will ever wipe her slate. She is more resigned to this notion more than ever, not protesting Moira’s rage. 

Moira’s (Samira Wiley) call-out to Serena Joy is Hell-yeah satisfying, especially when she shoots a “fuck off” to Mark Tuello (Sam Jaeger) when he insists, she is being “uncalled for.” No, let Moira shout at the Wife of the rapist. “You are the gender traitor” is the most cutting and satisfactory insult against Serena Joy yet.

June’s husband, Luke (O. T. Fagbenle), also goes face-to-face with Fred Waterford. With impeccable soft-spoken menace by Fiennes, the detained Commander holds the egotistical self-assurance that he “saved lives” in a declining birth-rate globe by designing a world that allowed him to rape and kill. Though Fred’s villainous “”Gilead has changed her; I’ve changed her” line does feel like a comic book villain line, as if wanting to spell out to the audience that Gilead has altered June’s soul in irreversible ways.

A Requiem for Eleanor Lawrence

Speaking of a changed June…

Often on the verge of breakdowns, Eleanor Lawrence (Julie Dretzin) nearly blurts their escape plan in front of Mrs. Putnam (Ever Carradine) and a bereaved Mrs. Winslow (Elizabeth Reaser). Right in front of Joseph and the two Wives, Eleanor thinks of rescuing Winslows’ stolen children.

A frazzled Eleanor doesn’t want to leave anyone behind and she’s high on dreams that she can save everyone she can. She wants to save one more child, she wants to save June’s Hannah, who is too far to reach. Her ideas and her practice aren’t feasible but sympathetic. It’s one of the few times Eleanor feels empowered to make a difference, even as her breakdowns could pose a risk. 

However, June doesn’t find remedies to help Eleanor’s tendencies or give Eleanor other tasks that could keep her safely away from Gilead’s prying Eyes. She judges Eleanor as a liability and leaves the poor woman to her death when she discovers Eleanor is barely conscious in bed after an overdose. 

This is the shock. Not the death of Eleanor, but June committing the titular “sacrifice” and not alerting the household of Eleanor’s pill overdose in the few minutes she could have lived. There is no voiceover, no rationalization, nothing from June’s head. Her traditional voiceover is conspicuous radio silence, but the calculation in Moss’s steadied facial performance as June kisses Eleanor’s forehead makes it all clear. 

To which I ask: Why? Why did Eleanor have to die? Why make a tragedy out of a woman with bipolar disorder who was doing her damndest to save people from the world? This was not June’s sacrifice to make. Could they have found alternatives to help Eleanor work through her discernable and vocal apprehensions? Why is a kiss on the forehead the best sendoff Eleanor can receive? How much will the show flesh out the consequences of leaving Eleanor to die in the future? Because the story hovers around June’s headspace, how much will June’s inaction be deconstructed rather than condoned? It can dangerously be interpreted as June sacrificing for a “greater good” as much as it can be that June made a shitty decision to leave someone behind.

Tidbits

  • “You will pray for his [my Commander husband] safe return,” Elizabeth Reaser says with chilling composure, as if both pleading and giving an order.
  • Samira Wiley does a golden bit where she “ba-ba-baing” at baby Holly’s babbling after reproaching Serena Joy.
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