Today’s episode was written by the incomparable Yahlin Chang and was directed by Natalie Leite
Episode 508 – Motherland
“June considers a tempting but risky offer from a surprise visitor. Serena hits rock bottom and searches for allies.” (Motherland, Season 5, Episode 8)
In my favorite episode of the season, we open with June cooking as she flashes back to making pancakes with Hannah in the cabin right before they were split up and captured. Sounds of angry protesters outside bring her back to the present where Luke, Moira, and Rita are all helping to cook. June’s phone rings and Luke let’s her know that it’s Serena calling from Immigration Detention again. She’s been repeatedly calling both June and Rita, but they don’t answer. They all start to discuss Serena and Luke says, “She did no deserve your help in the first place.” Annoyed, June says, “It wasn’t about what she deserved; it wasn’t about her at all. I didn’t think that her newborn deserved to die in the woods.” Luke just cannot seem to understand why June did what she did. Honking outside draws them all outside where a huge crowd of anti-refugee protestors are chanting with signs. June notes that it will only get worse.
In a picturesque suburb near the ocean, Commander Lawrence and Nick are leading around a group of commanders. We learn that this is the New Bethlehem that has been alluded to throughout the season. Lawrence discusses the amount of people fleeing to Canada from Gilead as his reason for establishing New Bethlehem: “a modernized, strategically liberalized island, where Gilead refugees can come home. Amnesty, and the promise of reuniting with long lost family and friends.” One of the commanders questions this idea, mentioning that it shows weakness. Lawrence continues, “One country, two systems. Gentlemen, I believe that Gilead will replace the United States at the United Nations, but until that day, the greatest threat to our regime is the persistent fantasy of democratic values and the world it almost destroyed. New Bethlehem neutralizes that threat.” The disagreeing commander continues his pushback, and Lawrence says that he plans to speak to some families in Toronto and would like to start with about one hundred families in New Bethlehem. Realizing the power that Lawrence and Nick now hold, the dissenting commander apologizes for his remarks and says that Lawrence is right.
Serena is pumping at the immigration detention center where she has been held since her arrest at the hospital. The scene is meant to be scene as a mirror to June pumping for Nichole at the Red Center back in season two. Alanis Wheeler arrives to collect the breastmilk and we learn that she has been fostering Noah while Serena is being held. Serena tries to apologize about hurting Ezra, but Alanis just does not care about that. Alanis chalks Serena’s behavior up to pregnancy hormones, “Which is why we should be looking after Noah, and you need to get yourself together.” Serena assures her that she’s fine, but Alanis argues that life with a newborn would set Serena back. Alanis starts to complain about the baby (a la Naomi Putnam) and says that he is even resisting the “cry it out” method. Serena says he just needs to be held, and Alanis tells her that’s not how “cry it out” works and that it requires mental toughness. Serena says, “Mental toughness, right. I have overthrown a country, and I have against all odds given birth to a very healthy baby. Not once have I lacked for mental toughness…Noah is one month old; he is far too young to be crying it out. They continue to exchange words, until Alanis finally leaves, and Serena is distraught.
Moira, June, and Luke are outside cleaning graffiti off the sidewalk left by the protesters. Luke notes that the women are better at it than he is and June points out that she’s done it before, remembering back to being forced to clean blood off of The Wall in Gilead as a handmaid. They talk about how Canada’s resistance to Gilead refugees has increased over the years, but it’s never been this bad. Luke asks if they should leave Canada, but June points out that it’s further from Hannah. Just then, Lawrence calls June to meet. On a heavily guarded walk, he talks about America’s downfall being the fault of the values that failed, and that Gilead has fixed that and has figured out how to start having babies again Lawrence tells June about New Bethlehem and asks her to be one of its first residents, promising the opportunity to reunite with Hannah, an offer she cannot immediately refuse. Lawrence knows that getting June to come back would help his case with more refugees. Attempting to ensure the success of his plan, he offers June the one thing she wants and needs more than anything else: to be back with Hannah.
Back at home, June talks about the proposition with Luke, who immediately shuts it down. Luke doesn’t understand why June didn’t shut it down and she says, “because he said ‘Hannah’…I don’t know if I believe it either, but I would risk anything to be with her, wouldn’t you?” They continue to argue, June stating that they need to be with her, but Luke arguing that they need to get her out. June asks Luke how they’ll ever do that when Mark Tuello and the American government haven’t done anything to help, and Luke asks, “So you trust Lawrence? The Nazi?” June lists all the reasons she trusts Lawrence, but Luke can’t seem to understand that or the fact that she helped Serena, and yells “I fucking hate what they’ve done to our family! I hate what they’ve done to you!” They continue to go back and forth, and June is finally able to say to Luke, what we all know, which is that she does not need his protection, “Hannah does.”
Lawrence’s next stop is to visit Serena in the immigration detention center. She asks if he’s getting her out, and he tells her that he’s gotten the Canadian government to release her into Gilead’s custody and has gotten the Wheelers to agree to let her return to a room in their house. She’s horrified and says no, but Lawrence tells her that they need the image of Serena living with her child in a harmonious house. The only reason the Wheelers have agreed is so that Serena can nurse Noah and get the crying to stop. She tries to stand firm and says, “I’m not gonna live in the same house as my child’s kidnappers,” to which Lawrence hilariously replies, “Do you have an irony deficiency?”, and friends, I laughed out loud.
At home, June is trying to get Nichole to sleep, but the protesters are continuing to be loud outside. June uses her phone to play “I’ll Be Your Mirror” covered by Clem Snide, which is the song she used to sing to Hannah to comfort. It’s heartbreakingly beautiful and I just cried my eyes out. Luke watches as she tells Nichole all about her big sister, Hannah. June easily sooths Nichole and gets her right to sleep, but the scene is intercut with memories of Hannah.
The next morning, June wakes up alone in Nichole’s bed and heads downstairs to find Mark Tuello there talking to Luke. He’s there to discuss Lawrence’s proposal to June. He tells her that Lawrence’s goal is to finally erase the United States, and that June would be a big get because she’s a symbol of the resistance. He points out all the dangers of her returning to Gilead and she asks what the American government has even done. He reveals that they are working on something, but it’s classified, and he cannot say exactly what. “We’re launching a military action. We’ve been preparing for it for a long time…I’ve said all I can say.” June is infuriated that Tuello has not helped with Hannah. “…Lawrence is offering us Hannah. You are offering us nothing,” to which Tuello says, “If there was something more I could tell you, I would, I just can’t right now. I ask you to just trust us, please. Just trust in your country.” Outside, June is with Rita on the porch talking about Lawrence’s New Bethlehem invitation. June asks what Rita would do but Rita doesn’t want to interfere. She says that she’s moving forward with her life and would never go back, but that she doesn’t have a child. If her son were still alive, “I would do anything to see him again. I would travel to the ends of the earth.” The two women hold hands and nod at one another. This episode is so much about motherhood and how far mothers will go to protect their children.
June pays a visit to Serena at the immigration detention center. They discuss New Bethlehem. Serena mentions that Lawrence has been pitching it from the beginning. I love that we learn so much about Lawrence in this episode. Over the course of the series, many things were hinted at but this episode reveals so much more detail about who he is and what his goals are. Serena asks June for help finding some sort of advocate. June says they’re not friends. But Serena is convinced that June has forgiven her, but June tells her that no, she hasn’t. Serena still believes that June helped her because she forgave her, but June tells her that she just didn’t want Noah to die in the barn. Serena says, “You and I, we have a bond. We have been through so much together.” June shrugs and says, “I turn the other cheek. Turns out, after all this, I guess I’m a better Christian than you.” And I SCREAMED. Incredible. June advises that Serena just go to live with the Wheelers and Serena laughs and asks, “How? How do you go and live in a house with a woman who’s trying to steal your baby?” When June asks if she is seriously asking her that, Serena asks “How did you ever live with me?” Both women chuckle at this, and it might be the most honest they’ve ever been about the situation. June actually gives her great advice to go back and act like a handmaid but to plot her revenge against the Wheelers the entire time she’s there. Serena asks her if that’s what she did and June says, “Look at what happened to Fred, and look at you now.” As June gets up to leave, Serena asks her what she would do if she were in her position (calling back to the precious scene with Rita), and June tells her that she can’t help her child if she’s not with them. June says, “I would go back”, seemingly making a decision for herself as well.
June then visits Lawrence at the Gilead Information Center. She tries to negotiate with Lawrence to stop Hannah’s potential marriage. HE pushes back and she finally snaps and yells, “Fuck you! All the girls, all the women, raped, tortured, abused; in a world that YOU created. You sick fuck.” Lawrence gets choked up with emotion and asks, “you think I don’t know? You think I don’t know the misery that I’ve caused? You think I’m unaware? I was trying to save humanity. And you know, I did. I fucking did it, and it got away from me. It went septic. You think I wouldn’t take it back? I would take it all back, I’d let the whole fucking human race just die out, just so I wouldn’t have Gilead on my conscious.” I feel like we have all known all this about Lawrence, but it is incredible to hear him express it so explicitly. June urges him to do something about it, but he says that he is, and that is what New Bethlehem is, “a place we wrestle a better future out of an unchangeable past.” He keeps trying to convince her and says, “Come help me make more of a difference in Gilead than Mayday ever will.”
That night, June is outside gardening and thinking about Hannah, when Luke tells her that she’s received a package. It’s a disk, and as Luke and June play it, they see it’s a video of young girls in plum, including Hannah, walking in a line. June and Luke cry and continue to replay it, watching their baby girl and hoping to glean any information they can about where she is. It seems to be footage of one of Nick’s friendlies in the area. June takes the footage as confirmation that they need to go be with her, wherever she is. Luke pushes back and June says, “What are we gonna do? What are you gonna do…the same thing you’ve done for the last seven years, fucking nothing?!” I will never forget the look of betrayal in Luke’s eyes when June points out his biggest insecurity. She immediately regrets saying it and starts to apologize. June suggests they all go as a family, but Luke tells her there is no way she’s taking Nichole back into Gilead. She replies, “Then I’m gonna have to go without you.” And Luke lets out a dark, quiet laugh and says, “we’re never gonna be enough for you, are we?” June cries that Hannah needs her and talks about the guilt she feels for leaving Hannah in Gilead when she left for Canada, “I was never supposed to leave her, I abandoned her. I left her behind, and I have to go back.” Luke just hugs her and holds her while she cries.
Back in New Bethlehem, Lawrence and Nick are talking about its future. Nick asks which way June is leaning, and Lawrence thinks she’ll say yes and bring Nichole. Nick is surprised to hear he thinks so. Lawrence asks Nick if he could see himself and Rose with their child there. He paints a picture of his baby being able to have a sibling, Nichole, there with both women he loves. Nick doesn’t seem convinced just yet.
June enters the living room where Moira and Luke are watching the footage of Hannah on a loop, trying to figure out where she is. Moira wonders aloud if there is meta data hidden in the file that might possibly lead them to Hannah’s location or when the video was taken. She can’t do it but suggests that Mark or the CIA might be able to. The next morning, Tuello is there in the kitchen while they play the video for him. Mark is hopeful that the video could be helpful in finding her. June asks, “If you do find her, then what? What can you do?” to which Tuello says, “whatever we can to keep you here…We are going to throw everything we have at this. I get why you don’t want to give us your faith…but just please, give us some time.” And they agree. Back at the Wheelers house, Serena has arrived. She apologizes to the Wheelers for her actions, similarly to how June was forced to apologize to Fred and Serena in season two, even saying it was all her fault. Alanis tells her that she can nurse Noah, but that she will do all the rest, “all the duties of motherhood…You must agree that you are not fit to be a full-fledged mother.” It takes every ounce of strength in Serena to just say, “not yet.” But Alanis says possibly not ever. Serena somehow gives a “praised be”, before being allowed to head upstairs. She can hear Noah crying and runs up to him as fast as she can. A nanny hands little Noah over to Serena and she has a tearful reunion and is finally able to nurse him.
At home, June, Luke, and Moira are waiting for any news at all from Tuello. The phone rings, but it’s just Rita checking to see if they’ve heard anything. June cannot sit still and decides to go take a walk, saying Nichole needs apples and she needs to run to the corner store. Moira asks if she can go, but June wants to go alone. While she’s at the store, her phone rings and it’s Tuello: “June, I don’t have time to talk but we figured it out. We found her…We found Hannah. We found her Wife School; we know where she is.” June is floored (so am I), as hopeful music begins to swell. June thanks him and hangs up and starts to put her items back and is a bit clumsy; she cannot believe it. She begins to race home on foot as The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” plays. I could viscerally feel the hope, relief, joy, all the above right along with June. After five seasons of being desperate to find her and get her out, there’s finally true hope. I absolutely wept. She bursts through the door and yells for Luke and Moira “We’re gonna get Hannah, Mark called, they found her. They’re gonna do a raid of her school, they’re gonna bring her back to us.” And she rushes to Luke’s arms, and they all freak out, crying and celebrating and hugging. And I just continued to weep. We get one shot of Hannah gardening at her school and looking up towards the sky. No other episode has ended this hopeful. But I don’t trust it.
Will they really do it? Can they actually rescue Hannah and get her back?? I just have this horrible gut feeling that they will try but fail. Or that they will get her, but she won’t want to be with them after so many years in Gilead. I so badly want to be hopeful, but I am so scared of what may happen next. This show is not known for being uplifting. And what about Serena? What does her future hold for her now that she is back with the Wheelers? What will happen to her a little Noah now that they’re stuck in that house? I cannot wait to see what happens next, but I’m terrified, which is what makes this show so incredible. I am not at all surprised that this amazing episode was written by Yahlin Chang. Yahlin has written so many of my favorite episodes, and so many that focus on Hannah. Once again, hats off to you, Yahlin!