Some really strong moments depicting June's struggles are undermined by a troubling scene toward the end of "Home."
- ▪️Elisabeth Moss plunges to new depths showing June's range of emotions.
- ▪️Effective use of sound to depict June's mental state.
- ▪️Drinks with the Gilead escapees.
- ▪️Hope for Oona and Moira's romance.
- ▪️Mark Tuello's terrible game plan.
- ▪️The scene with Luke after June gets home from seeing Serena.
Stepping off the boat onto Canadian soil was a huge moment for June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss) and after four seasons of watching the handmaid fight for freedom, it has finally become a reality. Adjusting to a world that resembles the one she used to know was never going to be easy and much of “Home” is spent getting used to an environment not being ruled by fear. Matters are made more complicated by the knowledge that the Waterfords are also in the same city and this is the elephant in the room for the first half of the "Home". The “culture shock” that Moira (Samira Wiley) is concerned might be too much for her best friend is what June craves, but disturbing events that occur later in the episode are a reminder that The Handmaid’s Tale is still unbearably grim even after a victory.
June is met by Mark Tuello (Sam Jaeger) at the boat and asylum is granted. This was never in doubt but rather than sneaking her into Canada, it makes June’s arrival official and sets the ball rolling in the case against the Waterfords. But first, she gets a night in a fancy hotel to decompress, and rather than having to deal with Luke’s (O-T Fagbenle) questions, she takes a much-needed shower to wash the Gilead off. There is not enough water in the world to shed what that place did to her, not to mention her myriad physical scars and injuries that form a patchwork across her skin. It is a reminder of how much she has been through this season alone and she cannot be blamed for choosing a comfy bed over room service and conversations with her husband about Hannah.
Rather than get too heavy into a debriefing with Tuello, Luke insists he takes June home to see Nicole. The U.S.Government-in-Exile representative doesn’t put up too much of a fight when Luke insists and while he probably doesn’t want to scare off this amazing new asset, some of his choices this week are confusing at best. Later, he takes June to see Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) after getting a call in the middle of the night, and that doesn’t seem wise either. He also eavesdrops on Serena’s moment of prayer and suggests she sees her husband as it will help with her legal strategy. His game plan is all over the place and by the end of the episode all he has done is push the Waterfords back together, and they will be far more formidable as a united couple. There are too many variables and bottled-up emotions that Tuello doesn’t take into account and while he has an engaged June helping with his operation by the end of "Home" — sitting in front of two whiteboards packed with potential leads including Nick — her anger is a ticking timebomb.
At her new home she gets a window into the world she has been missing and there are moments she stands on the edge observing and struggling to assimilate. One extremely effective choice made during "Home" is how June’s POV shifts depending on the environment. At the hotel, Mark Tuello’s dialogue is drowned out to give the impression of June being too preoccupied with everything she is seeing, whereas, in the kitchen, the dialogue is turned all the way up. Last week’s flashback served as a reminder that Moira was reluctant to embrace June’s choice of husband and this breakfast scene only heightens the bizarro world aspect. They now lobby “love yous” at each other and have the co-parenting in the chaos routine down. Later as she steels herself for an emotional reunion with Rita (Amanda Brugel) and meeting Emily’s (Alexis Bledel) son Oliver for the first time we hear every line so clearly and small moments like these reflect some of the best moments of “Home.” Tightly shot close-ups on June’s face give us a front-row seat to her shifting emotions throughout the episode and the range Elisabeth Moss covers in a short time reminds us why she is one of the best actresses of her generation.
June’s stubborn streak helped her survive (and made her a pain in the ass), but it also means she pushes herself to try normal things too quickly. This includes a trip to the supermarket and the parallels to her Gilead market excursions are emphasized through the visual repetition. One major difference is the plentiful options and she is overwhelmed by the amount of choice on offer. A girl wearing a pink knitted hat (but a regular outfit) and a lesbian couple outwardly showing affection holding hands are another reminder of June’s past and present. Taking the time to select chips by herself leads to the most overt depiction of anxiety and PTSD that begins with a memory of Alma (Nina Kiri) and ends with Serena Joy holding her down during the ceremony. Fred (Joseph Fiennes) was the one who raped her but his wife is equally complicit and June’s loathing is weighted toward Serena. During catch-up drinks with Rita and Emily, she attempts to casually bring up her former imprisoner. Up to this point, they have been talking pretty openly, even if the topics are about how much Gilead has messed them up. However, the mere mention of this name sucks all the oxygen out of the room.
Rita delicately begins to tell her that she visited her at the request of Serena and that she is still her narcissistic self. The big bombshell pregnancy news is met with a flicker of visceral rage on June’s face before she claims not to care. “Is it his?” is her other question before the conversation shifts to discussing how terrible Serena looked in prison. The latter is petty but completely understandable, all things considered. This news fills every part of her being, and she can’t sleep — hence the late-night visit. The last time they saw each other was in last season’s “Heroic” during June’s enforced vigil at the hospital. In an act of desperation, June attacked Serena and begged her to release her from the misery. Serena lied to cover the assault but did not aid June in any way. Now Serena is the one on her hands and knees pleading for June’s forgiveness and this is the last thing June will ever give her. “No one is less worthy of redemption than you,” she remarks causing the white fragile lady tears to flow from her former captor.
The pregnancy is a big part of this conversation and Serena Joy invokes God much to June’s disgust. June thinks God will kill the baby in her womb, grabbing her by the chin before she yells “Do you understand me?” in a terrifying and deep booming voice. June’s rage is justified after the years of sexual, physical, and mental abuse she was subject to but all this does is push Serena back to Fred. This is what I meant when I questioned Tuello’s game plan because this was surely not the outcome he envisioned.
What follows is hard to stomach and the abuses felt by June have a ripple effect that plays into the concept that those who have been abused will then abuse, and I really wish they had opted for a different path to reflect June’s trauma. Going back to the beginning of the episode and the edited retelling of the last time Hannah was seen by her mother. Instead of giving Luke a play-by-play of Hannah in a clear cube, June instead recounts a “happier” memory when their daughter still remembered who her real mother was. The lake house in question occurred in Season 2 and it is understandable why she doesn’t bring up the painful recent encounter. When Luke refers to Nicole as “our daughter” there is a somewhat perplexed look on June’s face, and she later tells Nicole “Your daddy and I love you so much. Your first daddy.” Of course, she is talking about Nick (Max Minghella), whose name is never mentioned in “Home” but his face hovers on Tuello’s whiteboard as a reminder.
The last time June saw Nick was at the end of Episode 3 and this moment was captured in romantic 360 degrees camera spinning. It is hardly surprising that her reunion with Luke has lacked heat and the first time she kisses him it is tentative before she pulls away. Serena is plaguing her mind but after the confrontation, she comes home with adrenaline pumping through her veins and she wakes her husband by straddling him. “We all left that place totally fucked up about sex,” Moira comments earlier, and this particular part of the conversation feels like a script justification of what follows. Luke is into this attention at first but when he senses June’s energy he asks her to wait. She doesn’t and when he protests once more she places her hand over his mouth and grinds away. Even before he said anything there was no kissing or intimacy, instead, it is like she working out her aggression. Gilead fucked them up about sex, but the lack of consent is nauseating. Of course, this is the point of the scene but it could be illustrated without this violation. The next day it is as if nothing happened and they play a version of smiling happy families intercut with footage of June talking to Tuello about how pathological Serena Joy is. It is a disturbing image and one that will linger.
While "Home" does focus on June’s return, Moira gets a chance to plead her case to Oona (Zawe Ashton) about the future of their relationship. Oona has softened since the last time Moira saw her and while her organization cannot enter Gilead at the moment, there is still a chance they will get back to the mission at hand. Oona leaves the door open for a potential reconciliation and it looks like I was wrong when I sensed a connection with Emily. The latter does mention her wife and the absence of Sylvia (Clea DuVall) is because of Covid protocol restrictions.
So far Emily hasn’t had a lot to do so far in Season 4, but one of the highlights of this episode is when June sees her for the first time since she handed Nicole to her and my tears poll during this reunion and later with Rita. For the intensity of those moments, the understanding and shared experience between these women is when The Handmaid’s Tale is at its best. Unfortunately, June’s forced sexual encounter with Luke is meant to illustrate Moira’s point about them being “fucked up about sex.” June has done a lot of misguided things over four seasons in the name of survival but this crosses a line in a way that could have been shown without going as far as the scene did. I am sure there will be lots of interviews conducted about this moment, but oh boy did it feel unnecessary. Surely there are other ways to depict June’s rage at Serena and her intimacy issues with Luke? She might have left Gilead, but it is going to take more than a few days, and the outward image of a happy family to shed this experience.
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