The Handmaid’s Tale review, season 3 episode 8: June’s hate campaign against Ofmatthew intensifies

While Ofmatthew feels the wrath of June, we are taken back in time to discover Aunt Lydia’s origin story

Ed Power
Sunday 28 July 2019 22:27 BST
June (Elisabeth Moss) unleashes her wrath against Ofmatthew
June (Elisabeth Moss) unleashes her wrath against Ofmatthew (Channel 4)

Theocratic dystopias are not renowned for their leisurely pace of life. And yet the vibe has been positively breezy in Gilead this season. So it continues in episode eight as the action switches at a languid canter between June (Elisabeth Moss) and her hate campaign against Ofmatthew/ Natalie (Ashleigh LaThrop) and a trip back in time to the origin story of Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd).

June may be the nominal heroine but she’s never quite been a saint. Her ugly side is on full display through an instalment that starts oppressively and then ratchets up the tension past suffocating. A case can, of course, be made that the treacherous Ofmatthew deserves at least some of what’s coming her way.

Her betrayal of June, after all, has resulted in the death of a Martha. It’s nonetheless unnerving to see her fellow Handmaid take her down so ruthlessly. And take her down she does. At a Handmaid hate session led by Aunt Lydia, the “girls” sit around June and point recriminatory fingers.

She flouted the rules trying to see her daughter. So when Ofmatthew then broke her trust and sold out the friendly Martha who had shared details of Hannah’s whereabouts, the blame ultimately lay with June. She takes the punishment with a steely glare – having little inkling that Aunt Lydia is to reassign here away from the Lawrences – and then clears her throat.

June has a bombshell of her own to impart. “I have something else to testify,” she says matter-of-factly. “Ofmatthew doesn’t want her baby.”

This is heresy in Gilead. Grilled about her innermost feelings and thereafter continuously belittled, Mean Girls-style, by the other Handmaids, Ofmatthew eventually snaps. A confrontation at the Supermarket of Despair gets out of hand when Ofmatthew lashes out at Janine. Guardians appear from nowhere. Ofmatthew grabs a gun and suddenly is on the floor bleeding out from a burst of bullets.

“Oh no!” screams Lydia and, as we’ve already flashed back, we know that her horror and despair at the thought of losing the unborn child comes from a genuine place. In the pre-Gilead days, she was Miss Clements, a teacher with a heart of gold. And also had a condescending and superior attitude towards the reckless and borderline neglectful mother of Ryan, an uncared for child in her class.

Ryan’s mother, Noelle (Emily Althaus), is everything Gilead will later stand against: a working woman with a complicated and disastrous romantic history. The tipping point comes as Noelle confides in Lydia her affair with a married man. Lydia’s own love life is meanwhile a flaming wreckage, as we see when her colleague Mr Thorne politely rejects her advances. It isn’t that he’s not interested, he makes clear.

Yet as a widower he just isn’t ready to commit. In private she smashes a mirror and as the reflection splinters we see Miss Clements become Aunt Lydia. Soon afterwards she quietly arranges for Ryan to be taken into care. “You bitch!” shrieks Noelle. The words bounce off Aunt Lydia, as June’s hatred will later on.

Death stalks the episode. A stillbirth attended to by the Handmaids is rendered even crueller when the infant is snatched from its mother and placed, like a discarded possession, in a case. That foreshadows the gunning down of Ofmatthew. All season we’ve been conditioned to disdain June’s walking partner, and her passive submission to the regime.

Her downfall, though, is violent and grisly, and out of proportion with her alleged sins. But that’s Gilead: where everyone, innocent or guilty, gets more than they deserve.

The Handmaid’s Tale airs on Sundays at 9pm on Channel 4

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