TV Recap: ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 3, Episode 8 – “Unfit”

Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) gets a backstory in “Unfit” (Hulu)
All of the handmaids shun Ofmatthew after the reveal that she was responsible for Hannah’s martha’s execution and for Hannah being relocated. Janine, ever reluctant to give up being a nice person, no matter how Gilead has tried to beat it out of her, feels sorry for Ofmatthew, but none of the other handmaids share Janine’s compassion. June is on a mission to make Ofmatthew’s life hell now—what else does she have to live for, now that she doesn’t even know where Hannah is, and saving her was the only thing keeping her in Gilead in the first place.

June exacts her revenge at an Aunt Lydia-led confession circle, where the handmaids are instructed to relieve themselves of their sinful burdens—the most twisted group therapy session in history. But it’s clearly aimed at finding out what’s going on between June and Ofmatthew and it doesn’t take long for things to get really nasty. Lydia triggers June by reminding her that it’s her fault Hannah’s martha is dead and that Hannah is gone. June breaks for a moment, realizing that’s technically true, but, in spirit, it’s all Ofmatthew’s fault, so June decides to go for the kill and “confesses” to the group that Ofmatthew admitted that she doesn’t want her baby. When Lydia turns to Ofmatthew, asking if this is true, it’s surprising how quickly she breaks, when all she would have had to do was say “no, I LOVE this baby, it’s a blessing!” But, instead, weakened by all the bullying at the hands of the handmaids, she confesses that she only felt that way for second, but, of course, that’s all Lydia needs to hear. Who knows if there will be consequences, but Lydia seems momentarily grateful to June for spilling the beans on Ofmatthew.

Back at the house, June asks Lawrence if he knows anything about Hannah or the McKenzies. He says no and tells her to not ask him again. This closed door sends June over the edge, as if there were any further she could go. But something really snaps inside her this time. When Ofandy’s baby is stillborn and all the other handmaids are comforting her, June chooses instead to wander over to look at the dead infant. June’s darkness has consumed her, it seems.

Now seemingly unafraid of consequences, June confronts Lawrence, daring him to admit that he is keeping his wife hostage when he could easily get her out, if he wanted to. She reminds him that, for all his supposed compassion, this world that he’s created is the same one that’s slowly killing his own wife. Only slightly moved, Lawrence sneers, “I bet that felt good.” As the camera zooms in on June’s face, we see that it really did. The only thing that feels good to her now is pain.

Meanwhile, three seasons in, we finally get Lydia’s back story. Flashing back to before the war, we are in an elementary school classroom, where Lydia is standing in front of a blackboard that says “Miss Clements’ 4th Grade Class.” Lydia (Miss Clements) is keeping watch over a student who is waiting for his mother to come pick him up. Lydia does not think much of this child’s mother—she judges what she does for a living, that she curses, how tardy she always is, in fact, most everything about her disappoints Lydia. But she becomes friendly with the mother and her boy, even spending Christmas together, where the mother gives her a gift of makeup, encouraging her to try to meet men.

Bolstered by a newfound confidence, Lydia goes out on a date with her school’s principal on New Year’s Eve. Awkward at first, they end up having a lovely time, eventually going back to her place for a nightcap. It quickly turns romantic and they start to kiss. While innocent at first, Lydia accelerates the passion quickly, moving her hand between his legs, causing him to recoil, claiming it’s just going a little too fast for him. Humiliated, she asks him to leave, and we see her crying in her bathroom. The next day at school, we see that she takes out all her humiliation and self-loathing on the young mother who had befriended her, claiming her to be morally inferior and calling children’s services to have her son taken away. “We are required by law to report moral weakness,” she explains, coldly and ironically, to the principal when he asks why she is doing this. The mother is furious and screams at Lydia, telling her she’s ruining her life and calling her a cold-hearted bitch. Lydia, unemotional, simply responds, “I forgive you.” Lydia’s hair is now up in its familiar bun and we know the transformation is complete.

Back in the present, June is sinking into her newfound darkness. First Ofmatthew, then Lawrence, then Ofandy’s dead baby, she’s forcing herself to become immune to pain and is now enjoying inflicting it on others. She confesses in voiceover narration that she now knows what made Ofglen put on that bomb vest.

At Loaves and Fishes, it all boils over as Lydia tells June that she’s going to remove her from the Lawrence household, for her safety. This is the last straw—it’s scorched earth time. She sees Ofmatthew crying, looking at June, begging her to forgive her and call off the dogs, but June coldly looks away, prompting Ofmatthew to finally crack. She lunges at and attacks Janine, who is, of course, trying to be nice. When a guard comes over to break it up, Ofmatthew grabs a bottle, breaking it over the guard’s head. She grabs his gun and points it, at first aimlessly, spinning around, looking for something or someone to threaten, but then she lands on June and stops. June, the only person who hasn’t fled to safety at this point, is just standing firm, staring her down, almost daring her to shoot. But then, seizing the moment, she nods ever so slightly towards Lydia, which prompts Ofmatthew to then turn her gun on her. But before she can pull the trigger, the guards shoot Ofmatthew dead. As they drag her lifeless body out of the shop and everyone is in a panic, June just takes it all in, emotionless, as “Que Sera Sera” plays over the credits. We were waiting for June to have nothing to lose so she can truly start the revolution, and I think (I hope) we might finally be there.

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