This week’s episode was written by Rachel Shukert and was directed by Natalia Leite
Episode 507 – No Man’s Land
“June and Serena find themselves in a desperate situation.” (No Man’s Land, Season 5, Episode 7)
We pick up immediately where we left off with June driving wildly with Serena holding her at gun point from the back seat. Suddenly, Serena accidentally fires a shot that goes straight past June and through the windshield. Serena immediately starts apologizing, and June finally says, “You’re fucking sorry?! FUCK THIS!” And brings the car to an abrupt stop, before getting out and storming off. She runs into the woods, but spot Serena has driven after her, but drives into a ditch when her labor pains become too intense. Something compels June to go check on Serena, who still points a gun at June. June looks here over and asks, “Are you in fucking labor?!” We learn that her water has already broken, and she has no cell phone (thanks, Mr. Wheeler). June asks her to get out of the car, and for some reason uses the word “please”. When Serena asks why, what June’s plan is, June gets in the driver’s seat and says she needs to get Serena to a doctor. Serena says, “No hospital. They’re gonna find me there.” June doesn’t know who she’s talking about and realizes that the car won’t budge out of the ditch. She starts to ask Serena about Ezra and who he is, and then spots an old barn in the distance and has an idea. She starts to guide her over to the barn and hilariously says, “Maybe they’ll have a manger.”
We flash back to June and Serena’s first birth ceremony of another handmaid in their district. Serena introduces June to another wife as their brand-new handmaid. The other handmaids have already begun their breathing chants with Aunt Lydia leading. The wife has already taken her place behind the handmaid on the birthing stool, so the handmaid has already begun to push. Aunt Lydia is coaching the other handmaids about how to support their sister in this trial, and June is clearly paying close attention. June and Serena share a small smile with one another from across the room.
We cut from the handmaids chanting “Breathe!” to June yelling at Serena to breathe. June looks around and tries to make Serena comfortable as she relates to her labors while talking about her own labor with both Hannah and Nichole. She stresses how alone she was at the Mackenzies summer home while giving birth to Nichole, and how much she feared for both their lives since they were alone. Serena’s contractions continue to increase in intensity and June tells her that she needs to examine her cervix to see if she can see or feel the baby’s head. When she tries to begin, Serena pushes her off saying that she knows June is trying to kill her and her baby. June finally gives up and says, “Fine, you want to do this on your own, do it the fuck alone!” and storms out to find the abandoned car.
She does everything she can think of to try to get the car to move, reminding me of when she tried to get the sports car out of the garage while she was in labor. June flashes back to the birthing ceremony from earlier in the episode, where the handmaid is profusely bleeding. The wives are all ushered from the room as Aunt Lydia gathers the handmaids around to “be there for Ofclarence in her time of need.” She is barely conscious, as medical staff bring in equipment for some sort of procedure. The handmaids begin to recite a prayer as June hears Aunt Lydia talking to the doctor and says, “It is God’s will.” They move out of the way to allow the doctors to carry her to a gurney and put up a screen. We can see that they’re performing a cesarean as Aunt Lydia tells June, “Offred, pray. Pray for the life of the child.”
Back in the present, June uses whatever she can find and manages to get the car free. But once in the driver’s seat, she can hear Serena wailing from the barn. She has an internal battle with herself about what to do, but ultimately returns to Serena in the barn.
Like me, Serena is surprised that June has come back. She quickly jumps in as Serena’s birthing coach/midwife and coaches her through the agonizing birth. The way they hold onto each other is oddly beautiful as these women who have so much hatred for one another but are also bonded in inexplicable ways help to bring this new life into the world together. It’s so dark inside the barn, but the way the light shines through gaps in the walls is just stunning. Finally, there’s a beautiful overhead shot of June delivering Serena’s son. Serena is overjoyed, but for a moment, June looks a bit sinister, like she might do something terrible. But she looks down at the newborn and beams at Serena with tears in her eyes, “He’s perfect.” It’s the happiest moment these two women have ever shared.
Flashing back again, we see Ofclarence’s lifeless body as Aunt Lydia attempts to comfort the other handmaids by saying she has fulfilled God’s purpose for her. As they walk toward the front door to leave, June sees Serena in a different room where all the wives are celebrating and admiring the baby. She makes prolonged eye contact for a while and share a small, subtle smile.
In the barn, Serena says that she’s naming her son Noah. June comments that it’s a nice name, and Serena says that it means, “savior of humanity”. She is just in awe of her son, and June interrupts to ask, “Was it worth it?”, meaning all the hurt and suffering she’s caused others through her part in creating Gilead, and specifically all of the abuse she’s inflicted on June. Serena thoughtfully considers, and says, “Right now I think it was.” June then pivots to asking how nursing is going and shares her experiences with breastfeeding Hannah and other challenges of motherhood. These women have even more to bond over now.
Serena asks June why she didn’t kill her back at the Gilead Information Center. “Why Fred and not me?” June is choked up but says, “I didn’t want to.” June continues to share her wisdom of being a mother with Serena. We keep seeing that June is the expert and has to help others along: she helps teach Serena about motherhood and has been helping to teach Luke about survival. Serena asks June if she thinks Noah will be like Fred, but June tells her that it depends on who raises him and what type of person she wants him to be, “…and what you tell him is his to take.” Serena says, “I want him to have everything” to which June says, “We all want that for them, Serena.”
As the sun begins to set, June wakes Serena to tell her that they need to get her somewhere where she and the baby can receive medical attention, but Serena insists that she can’t go to a hospital because the Wheelers will find her. “They’ve been controlling me, my every move. They’re everywhere. It’s like I’m their handmaid; it’s like I’m you.” June stresses that they have to get her help or else she will freeze, and she and Noah will both starve. “Do you want to watch your baby slowly starve to death in front of you, while you die of sepsis??” Feeling like there is nothing left for here anywhere and that she has no future, Serena shocks us all and suggests that maybe June should take Noah. “I know that I want what’s best for him, like what you did with Nichole, with your daughter.” She tearfully says that Luke is a good man and that “he could teach Noah to be a good man, the kind of man that would never do the things his father did…the things that I did.” Serena is then convinced that God sent June to her to help her and help her and to save her baby. She thinks that maybe delivering her son was all that is meant for her and “maybe it’s God’s will.” She hands Noah over to June, and as she turns to leave, she stops, whispering “God’s will…A vessel…that’s what you thought I was, we were…what we wanted, none of that mattered to you, to any of you.”
Serena cries, “I’m so sorry” but June doesn’t care that she’s sorry. She says that they were people and had lives.
“And that’s why I’m gonna save yours, Serena. Because this isn’t Gilead, and I am not you…it’s for him. Look at him, look at your baby. You are the only person in the whole world that he knows, you are the only familiar smell, you are the only voice he recognizes. You love him, and you wanted him so much. You’re his mother, and he belongs with you. THAT is God’s will.”
And just when I thought that that was my favorite line of the season, June gently lifts Serena’s chin and whispers, “Do you understand me?” I AM A WEEPING MESS OF TANGLED EMOTIONS. This is the moment when I realized that June has found some bit of healing and peace. She is seeing the bigger picture, rather than being driven by vengeance alone.
She rushes Serena to the ER at a Canadian hospital. As they wheel Serena back, June is comforting her, telling her everything will be okay and telling her to just do whatever the doctors tell her. She is also going to wait for her, which is shocking. She finally uses the front desk’s phone to call Moira who she hasn’t spoken to in days. June later goes to see Serena in her room. The doctors have taken baby Noah to the NICU for test and observation. June continues to reassure Serena that it’s all completely normal to make sure they are both health. Serena is still somewhat living in her Gilead mindset because she is appalled that they gave her antibiotics instead of letting things resolve naturally and is disgusted that they’re giving Noah formula while waiting for them to be fully hydrated again. She says that she just wants to go home, but June says “There is no home, Serena. There’s just wherever you are.” Serena reaches out to June as she turns to leave and reaches out here hand to say thank you. They part on good terms as June walks down the hallway, looking finally at peace.
When she gets back out to the waiting area, Luke is there waiting for her. They rush to each other and kiss. Luke has given Tuello the USB with the information on the wife schools and is working on it already. Luke asks June about Serena, and she gives him the quick version, that they’re just monitoring them both and that they’re fine, but Luke is confused as to why June is speaking of her so positively, and she says she’ll tell him more later. Just then, Canadian police and immigration enter the ER and June is trying to figure out what’s going on. They head to Serena’s room and June follows. They tell Serena that she is being detained. She asks to speak to a lawyer but is handcuffed to the bed as they tell her, “As an undocumented person, you have no immediate right to counsel…The detention facility has no infant care.” Outside the room, June learns that Luke has called immigration about Serena. Immigration tells her that a child protection unit is there to take Noah. They leave her and Serena become understandably hysterical. Luke says, “Finally, she knows what it feels like.” Serena sees June through the window and screams, “June, don’t let them take my baby!!!” June is frozen in shock.
I love that the title for this episode is “No Man’s Land” for so many reasons. For one, the majority of the conflict of this season takes place in this strange space between Gilead and Canada. But it’s also completely new territory for many of our characters, particularly for Luke, June, and Serena. Luke is finally taking action in efforts to fight Gilead and protect his family. June and Serena’s relationship has taken a wild, unpredictable turn. Serena has found herself fleeing captivity, much the way that June has during her time within Gilead. But this is also a very woman focused episode. June and Serena finally face one another without any men involved. After this long, horrible journey, they find some sort of peace between one another, before Luke disrupts it with calling immigration. Where will June go from here, and how will her journey to healing be affected by Serena’s new situation?