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The Handmaid's Tale season 5 episode 3: June and Serena deal with new allies, old foes

Serena tries to capitalize on success and June meets a new friend.

Bradley Whitford and Yvonne Strahovski in The Handmaid's Tale
(Image: © Sophie Giraud/Hulu)

Our Verdict

Some strong moments in an episode that suffers from trying to cover too much.

For

  • Introduction of Christine Ko as Lily
  • Finding out more about the resistance
  • A tense dinner
  • Emotional scenes at the hospital

Against

  • There is too much going on
  • Some of Nick's choices remain overly vague while his poker face is too obvious

NOTE: This post contains spoilers for The Handmaid’s Tale season 5 episode 3, "Border." Read our previous recap on The Handmaid’s Tale season 5 episode 2.

Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) is meant to be in mourning, but instead she spends much of "Border" making moves to return to Gilead. She successfully got the funeral she believes her husband deserved, doubling as a PR project to sweeten her plan to come home. This grand procession also allowed her to score points against June (Elisabeth Moss); however, she probably regrets igniting that fuse by the end of the overstuffed third episode.

Showing the world a Gilead that mourns has done wonders for their image, even if shots of the handmaids and wives with their faces covered underscore the repressive regime. Serena thinks this success will give her what she wants, but the commanders have another idea in mind. 

An intimate dinner at Commander Lawrence’s (Bradley Whitford) is an exercise in subtext and subtle offers, including Serena hinting she could become Lawrence’s next wife. Also in attendance are Nick (Max Minghella), his new wife Rose (Carey Cox) and Hannah’s (Jordana Blake) Gilead parents, the Mackenzies. Jason Butler Harner makes his debut as the previously unseen Commander Mackenzie and Amy Landecker returns as Mrs. Mackenzie; this duo has some strong opinions about June’s future.

Before June becomes the hot topic, Lawrence's talking shop leads to comments about remarriage. Lawrence is adamant that a wife is not in his future, which causes the Mackenzies to raise their judgmental eyebrows because there is no place for a single man in leadership. 

Talk of Agnes (who we know as Hannah) naturally leads to their "mutual adversary." In the past, they claim they have shown mercy to June, but it's time to change tactics. If she killed Fred, what would stop her from bringing harm to anyone sitting at this table? Words like devil and cancer are used to describe June and Nick can barely hide his disgust. Obviously, his poker face is pretty terrible, but the flickers of fury are required to reflect his interest. This is intended for the audience, not the Mackenzies sitting across from him.

Serena seems genuinely surprised to meet his new wife Rose, though it's unclear how much she knows about Nick’s ongoing relationship with June. Yes, Serena is aware they were close (not to mention she forced Nick to rape June as part of an unsanctioned ceremony), but it doesn't seem she understands the depths of their union — or that they have been in contact.

Carey Cox, Max Minghella and Yvonne Strahovski in The Handmaid's Tale

Carey Cox, Max Minghella and Yvonne Strahovski in The Handmaid's Tale (Image credit: Sophie Giraud/Hulu)

Nick tells Tuello (Sam Jaeger) after dinner that he wants to be the one to tell June about his marital status, while also passing on Tuello’s proposed of providing Gilead info to see his daughter Nichole. Whether Nick will eventually help deliver intel is unclear, but he is often a man of few words — sometimes too few.

One person who desperately wants to talk to him is June. She is fixated on the color Hannah is wearing as she hasn’t seen purple Gilead attire before and she knows Nick will have the answer. Tuello usually is how she makes contact, and because he is in Gilead, Moira (Samira Wiley) has to share a secret she has been keeping. A group of refugees is running an outpost near the border, and they have contacts inside Gilead. Moira describes these women as traumatized, which is another way of saying they are similar to June.

Here, they meet Lily (Christine Ko), who gives a handy brief history of this outpost and network. Lily is one of the 22 prisoners that Gilead swapped for Fred and she has returned to the kind of work she did in the resistance. When Lily mentions Mayday, June is shocked as she thinks it was something they made up to survive. "Mayday is everywhere," Lily tells June. Rather than one fixed organization, it is whatever shape the rebellion takes. We even see someone getting brought across the border in a tense scene.   

Exploring these small infrastructures that exist beyond June is exciting. In an episode that attempts too many plot points, it's this group the begs for more time. 

Nick eventually gets in contact with June. He reveals Hannah is in purple for her new school, which is a "wives in training" institution. He is rather matter-of-fact about this, whereas June is rightly horrified. 

Samira Wiley, Elisabeth Moss and Christine Ko in The Handmaid's Tale

Samira Wiley, Elisabeth Moss and Christine Ko in The Handmaid's Tale (Image credit: Sophie Giraud/Hulu)

Talk shifts to Nick’s big marital news. He emphasizes that he told Rose about June. June echoes Nick’s words from last season and tells him to "try to be happy;" flashes of them kissing flicker. The signature sun-dappled lighting makes it hard to gauge whether this is a memory or fantasy — it could be both. 

Meanwhile, Serena tries to maneuver herself back into a commander’s home. Lawrence sees through her veiled attempts at making a match and she ends up back on a plane to Canada — despite her best effort to remain. 

The high commanders think she will serve better as an unofficial ambassador to promote their country, as Gilead has no place for an "unusual woman" like her. She makes some demands, including requiring protection. The final scene proves they need to step this up when June threatens Serena as soon as she has landed.

Gilead might be on a PR blitz, but in private, two handmaids lie unconscious in hospital. A tear-stricken Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) visits both Esther (Mckenna Grace) and Janine (Madeline Brewer), letting her emotions pour out. She slaps Esther for the damage she did to herself and her fellow handmaid. By Janine’s bedside, Lydia pleads with God to save her and shoulders the blame for this event. She organizes a visit from Janine’s daughter as she thinks it will help, which leads to an emotional moment. 

Dowd is incredible in these scenes, even if Aunt Lydia’s guilt is overwrought. Janine does wake up and whether this will impact how Lydia behaves is yet to be seen. Like this episode, Lydia is maybe doing too much as the post-Fred world takes shape.

New episodes of The Handmaid's Tale release every Wednesday on Hulu for US audiences.

Emma Fraser spends most of her time writing about TV, fashion, and costume design; Dana Scully is the reason she loves a pantsuit. Words can also be found at Vulture, Elle, Primetimer, Collider, Little White Lies, Observer, and Girls on Tops. Emma has a Master’s in Film and Television, started a (defunct) blog that mainly focused on Mad Men in 2010, and has been getting paid to write about TV since 2015. It goes back way further as she got her big start making observations in her diary about My So-Called Life’s Angela Chase (and her style) at 14.