*Spoilers for The Handmaid's Tale season two, episode four*
"We've been sent good weather...we've been sent good weather...we've been sent good weather..."
As June barely acknowledges Nick and strolls out of the gate,Â eyes glazed over and internal monologue glitching, it's tempting to wonder just what is going on in the mind of The Handmaid's Tale's heroine.
Is her demure formality at the end of 'Other Women' a sign that Gilead's tactics have won? Has Aunt Lydia's message resulted in some kind of psychological conversion?
Does she, in fact, now love Big Brother?
The answer, of course, is a little more complicated than that. But in an episode that plunged June right back to where she started - and we, the viewing audience came in - you could forgive her previous air of defiance crumbling.
Guilt, fear, and the brink of insanity
As the episode starts, hints of potential madness are already forming.
Having been ripped from her chance at escape to Canada just seconds before taking flight, weÂ find June in the exact same situation as the unfortunate pregnant prisoner with whom she was once threatened. Chained to a bed, with nowhere to go, no one to speak to and nothing to do; counting flowers on her blanket over and over again for some kind - any kind - of mental stimulation.
Who knows how long she'd been there before Lydia dangled her offer? (Photo: MGM/Channel 4)
As Lydia warns her, 'June' will be chained up til she has the baby, then executed. But 'Offred' has a chance at redemption.Â And so, just weeks after we saw June triumphantly shed her Handmaid's identity with fire and blood, she is now forced to resume her submissive role.
The obliteration of hope and progress as she returns to the Waterfords is soul-destroying. And that's before Aunt Lydia wields her most potent weapon yet.
Seeing Omar strung up on the wall, and hearing what has happened to his wife and child, snaps something in June; who endangered them the moment they took her in. The fact that Omar's family was a literal mirror to her own is certainly deliberate. An added layer of twisted, personal irony.
This is an episode about guilt. For Omar and his kin, but also for Luke's wife - who was left disconsolate and despairing when he left her for June, as we see so searingly in flashback. Our protagonist is confronted with the human cost of her actions, and the weight of it threatens to overwhelm her.
The baby shower from hell
Anyone forced to suffer through all of that is bound to be shaken.
Throw in the baby shower from hell that June is compelled to sit through, not to mention those vile vitamin drinks, and it all adds up to a toxic mix.
Sit, watch and smile while the commander's wives present gifts for the baby you'll be forced to give away (Photo: MGM/Channel 4)
What we see at the end of the episode is likely the result of a partial breakdown. But there's also the sense that June - ever the survivor - is really just doing what she needs to in order to get by. 'Comply - or face further cruelty', is a message she gets loud and clear.
When we see that a fellow Handmaid has had her tongue ripped out for daring to question Janine's execution, we and June are reminded that only her pregnancy protects her from physical torment.
In this situation, surrounded by the vile Fred, the resentful Serena, the vigilant Lydia and the vulnerable Nick (whose own fate rests on a knife-edge), June's best chance, for her and those she cares about, is to literally keep her head down for now.
And limit her utterances to the standard, accepted platitudes.
Further talking points:
It's been 92 days since June vanished, as Serena Joy so furiously informs her as she places her hands around her throat. So desperate is Serena to be a mother, her hate for June's attempted flight cannot be overstated.June's comment about her own baby shower, which prompts Serena to lash out at Rita, is for once not meant maliciously. She is simply caught up in her own memories, and innocently blurts it out. Something Lydia seems to understand.
At home with The Waterfords. Oh, the joy (Photo: MGM/Channel 4)
Aunt Lydia continues to be both terrifying and oddly protective, convincing the Waterfords to take June in as it's best for the baby. She appears to somewhat admire June's spirit, despite her previous rebellions.The lie the Waterfords spin has a darkly funny edge. June's 'kidnapping' a story that they and the state of Gilead can live with. Admitting what really happened would shake confidence in their cosy domestic facade, and the competence of the regime.Nick still being at the house is a real relief. Given that, it would appear the authorities don't know of his involvement - yet. You don't imagine Fred or the head of the Eyes would be forgiving if he were to come unstuck.Where the future of June and the drama lies, remains to be seen. We're back to square one in some respects.
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This article originally appeared on our sister site, iNews.
[Main image: MGM/Channel 4]