The Handmaid’s Tale: Season 3, Episode 5 “Unknown Caller” – Recap, Review (with Spoilers)

We’ve come to the point where things might be beyond June’s control, and she may be forced to realize she’s no different than Commander Lawrence’s Marthas.

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June looking directly at the camera.

We’ve come to the point where things might be beyond June’s control, and she may be forced to realize she’s no different than Commander Lawrence’s Marthas.

Director(s) Colin Watkinson
Writer(s) Marissa Jo Cerar
Air Date 6/19/19

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Reminiscing About The Past: Eleanor, June

With Nichole safe in Canada, and June missing her husband, it pushes a bit of nostalgia. However, while she may miss her husband who is far away, Eleanor misses the husband who she met in college. Someone who was into making mixtapes for her, was more charming and fun. Not this man who walks around now who is basically a stranger. One she can live with but isn’t necessarily in love with.

Attempts At Moving On: Luke, June, Serena, Mr. Tuello, Fred

Serena would love to just move on from the Nichole situation and live life, but she can’t. For one, that was the closest thing to a child she had and may have for a long time. On top of that, Fred and the Gilead government will not let that go. So, using June, they arrange a meeting with Luke so Serena could talk to him and Serena’s old friend Mr. Tuello is her Canadian escort. Someone who, once again, offers her asylum and the ability to trade sides – but that is rejected.

As for the meeting with Luke? While contentious in the beginning, Luke mellows out. Maybe not enough to prevent what happens next, however.

Nichole and Serena together in Canada.

Know Your Place: Aunt Lydia, June, Serena, Fred

Being that Gilead is a rebel nation, but one of immense power, it is careful with the international community. Especially since it’ll need trade to survive. However, when it comes to Nichole, it demands her return, and the demand is put on a TV stage. One that has Aunt Lydia coercing June onto the platform, Serena sitting silently, and Fred, naturally, doing the talking.


Will Something Finally Happen Worth Note?

With June noting how Gilead doesn’t like to admit people can and do escape, I wonder how hurt are the egos of the commanders to allow this broadcast? Granted, it is an attempt for sympathy, but there also comes the issue I’m sure many are wondering: What station in Canada is playing this? Like, I’m sure there are Canadians who believe in the Gilead way, but would Canada allow them wide broadcasting rights? Much less, imagine who would advertise for a Gilead supporting network.

But, perhaps the big thing here is the need to question what will Canada’s response be? It’s unlikely Canada will go to war over a child, and Gilead can’t afford a war on multiple fronts. Yet, imagine how unpopular the idea could be to send a child to Gilead, one you know was born of rape, to live a life as a sub-human domestic. Would those from America, Canadians, the international community, support that?

Granted, let’s not pretend there weren’t some nations interested in Handmaids to deal with their own fertility issues. So, it isn’t just everyday resources Gilead has that other countries may want. However, with this season, thus far, not focusing on international politics much, it’s hard to say whether any sense of loyalty to the United States remains and whether Gilead is now accepted. Probably in a similar manner to other resource-rich countries which have disagreeable ideologies.

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  1. I wouldn’t necessarily call Joseph a hypocrite. He definitely isn’t invested in the moral side of Gilead but I do feel, in terms of being opportunistic, he assumed his role because the alternative would be death or worse. After all, as you note, how men operate in Gilead isn’t laid out much and in the early days, I’m sure between the planning and chaos, securing safety in the new world trumped any and all else.

    Pushing me to wonder if, like for the women on the show, minus Rita, will the men get backstories? We have been made aware of some of their lives, Luke and Nick for example, but what about the commanders? Fred’s was wrapped up in Serena’s so he barely got fleshed out. Then with Joseph, while Eleanor gives some hints, as does Fred, he remains a bit of an enigma.

    Switching to Fred’s influence, I honestly don’t understand how he has any – period. He has been embarrassed so many times by June, even by Serena, leading to her finger getting cut off, that him still being a commander is strange. Especially considering everyone sees him as a joke and he was demoted, if I recall right.

    So, when it comes to Serena, I think the only thing which led to her getting to have a seat at the table was because they saw her as useful. As before Gilead’s takeover, they need a woman to appear as a spokesperson. Who better than Serena who, unlike many of the wives, is youthful, still has some charm, and has experience in public speaking? And maybe that is what keeps Fred in power? If Gilead needs personable reps, who better than the young-ish couple who seem content, maybe happy if it calls for it, under Gilead’s regime?

  2. In this episode there’s a scene with June recording her story on cassette tapes and the tapes being smuggled out of the country… the original novel was formatted as the transcript of a bunch of cassette tapes smuggled out of Gilead. The method of camouflage to disguise the tapes as ordinary music compilations (leaving the first minute or so of a song to play and then recording the message) is the same…. one of the audiobook versions has Claire Danes voicing June, and each chapter is bookended by fragments of songs. In the novel, it’s tapes by Twisted Sister, Boy George and Elvis that get recorded over to preserve June’s story for posterity…. the tapes aren’t made out to Luke either, June doesn’t know if he’s alive or dead in the book – the tapes seem to be an appeal to some foreign community or resistance group, but much of what June says is also stream of consciousness rambling.

    As for the implications of this episode…

    I do wonder about the scene where Serena is allowed to sit in on a government meeting. What did Fred say that would convince them to flout conventions in this way? For that matter… what is the extent of Fred’s power and influence anyway? His precise role in government affairs seems rather hazy, sometimes he seems just a small cog in the government machine, and at other times he pulls strings to get things done.

    I would like at some point to see an episode of this show that spells out what exactly the rules of conduct for men are in the different classes of Gilead society, and what religious structures they have to abide by, at least officially… it’s one of the few things that hasn’t been shown in the series thus far…. and it’d also be nice to know what percentage of the ruling council really believe the rhetoric they preach, how many are just power hungry opportunists or moral hypocrites like Joseph and Fred.

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