The Resistance Lives On: A Recap of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 3

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Praise be, we’re only two weeks away from the next season of The Handmaid’s Tale, and after the way season 3 ended, we couldn’t be more excited (and maybe a little on edge) to find out what comes next. But before season 4 premieres, how about a season 3 refresher (and some brief words on seasons 1 and 2) on where we’re at so far.

Season 1 started off relatively mild, introducing viewers to some of the main characters in the show – particularly the main protagonist June, Serena and Fred Waterford, Nick, Rita, and Aunt Lydia, along with a few other key characters. It provided base context on the United States morphing into Gilead. Viewers learn about June’s fighting spirit, as she begins to involve herself in the resistance.

In season 2, the resistance network only continued to grow, along with June’s determination to get both Hannah and her unborn child out of Gilead. Tensions in the Waterford house escalate as Fred learns about June’s child not being his, Serena and June clashing more than ever, and tensions with Canada on the rise as well. June’s baby (referred to as Nichole but born Holly) is born. Both her and Serena making the decision to get Nichole out of Gilead, with the help of the marthas, Emily, and Emily’s commander Joseph Lawrence.

Season 3 picks up right where season 2 ended: Emily has just boarded her ride out of Gilead with Nichole (and makes it to Canada where she meets Luke and Moira), and June stays behind, refusing to leave until she can also escape with Hannah. She later goes to the Mackenzie household where Hannah is, crossing a final line with Mrs. Mackenzie who pleads with June to stop (but we know her better than that).

Meanwhile, Fred has learned that Serena helped with Nichole’s escape to protect her. He eventually decides that he will frame the escape as a kidnapping, which will spell Stress with a capital S for the remainder of the season. Having dealt enough with Fred already, Serena burns down the house. This leads to the household relocating (Serena going to her mother’s), and June gets a new posting with Joseph Lawrence.

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Escape is far from over though, as Commander Lawrence’s marthas, Beth and Cora, plan to help a third martha, Allison, escape. June offers her help, and all goes well … at first. When a martha is fatally injured, she’s brought to Lawrence’s and dies. Lawrence is angry, sending Cora away for lying about it and gaining a new martha named Sienna.

After hosting a group of commanders, Lawrence brings June to where they are holding several women, to prove an earlier point about being useful. He tries to force June to pick five women to become marthas, which would send the rest to their death. June refuses. By the end of the episode (episode 3), June makes her choices, selecting five women who can help the resistance. In the same episode, she also learns that Nick, now a commander, is being deployed to Chicago.

Soon, the Waterfords see a video of a protest happening for Chicago. They show June, who positively identifies Luke – and Nichole. The Waterfords then begin actively working on a way to get Nichole back. They use June as a way to convince Luke to meet with Serena so she can see Nichole again, and he agrees. Serena receives a small package for Luke. He opens it to find a recorded message from June, who ensures him that Nichole was created from love. After Serena returns from her visit, June is brought to another building. Initially unsure of what’s happening, she realizes the Waterfords are putting out a televised plea to the Canadian government to get Nichole back.

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The Waterfords, June, Rita, and Aunt Lydia travel to Washington D.C. (where handmaids are quite literally silenced) to negotiate the terms of Nichole’s release, with planned activities to bolster sympathy. However, Canada has sent the Swiss to act as a neutral party for the negotiations. When June is brought in to talk, she pushes for them to keep Nichole in Canada, but they will only consider it if she can bring them information on the inner workings of Gilead. Cue June asking Nick (who’s also appeared in D.C.) to spill the Gilead beans. He agrees … but then June learns that anything he might have said (along with his allegedly shady past) wasn’t going to help Nichole’s case in the long run.

June returns home, sans the Waterfords, who stay in D.C. Fred and Commander Winslow begin working on their own project. Back home, June makes a plan to go see Hannah at her school. She tricks Mrs. Lawrence into going with her. June eventually reveals her true motives, and Mrs. Lawrence doesn’t object. But then June’s plan falls apart when the Guardian they need isn’t at the school, and Mrs. Lawrence soon becomes confused and upset. As a result, the Mackenzies relocate to an unknown place, their martha Frances is hanged, and we learn that June’s walking partner, Ofmatthew (aka Natalie), was the one who exposed everything. June and the other handmaids shun Natalie, leading to her completely snapping in the following episode. She attacks Janine and attempts to shoot Aunt Lydia but is the one who gets shot instead.

Because June was mostly responsible for what happened to Natalie, she’s relegated to the hospital where she must stay with a brain-dead Natalie until she gives birth to her baby. During her stay, she begins to plot her freedom via homicide, but ultimately doesn’t. Natalie’s baby arrives prematurely, and June is allowed to leave. She chooses to stay with Natalie until she dies completely. As June sits with her, she makes a promise to Natalie to get as many children as possible out of Gilead.

When June finally returns to Lawrence’s she tells Beth her plan, asking her to get word out to the other marthas. Meanwhile, we learn that Fred and Winslow are planning to bring Lawrence down. Serena takes matters into her own hands regarding Nichole, turning to Mark Tuello — who had offered Serena freedom in season 2 – for help.

Jasper Savage/Hulu

June gets Lawrence in on the Free the Children plan, enticing him by saying he can get Eleanor (and himself) out of Gilead as well. He commits to providing a truck, information June uses to bring another handmaid, Alma, more on-board with the plan. It takes a village, right? Beth talks to some of the other marthas about the plan, who send baskets of muffins to the house in response.

“Muffins mean yes.”

Serena convinces Fred to meet with Tuello, claiming he can help both of them with Nichole, heading far out of town to meet with him. They reach their rendezvous point with Tuello, who leads them to another out of the way place … which just so happens to be right across the border into Canada. Fred is officially arrested for his crimes, and Serena is detained. In the following episode (episode 12), Serena reveals that she gave Fred up to protect her and Nichole. She gained immunity, which she then lost in episode 13 due to Tuello learning (presumably from Fred, though it’s not explicitly confirmed on screen) about using June and Nick to conceive Nichole, arresting Serena for the same crimes as Fred.

Back to episode 11, Lawrence and Eleanor briefly disappear. They return and Lawrence tells June that the truck plan won’t work due to a new clearance process. June has Lawrence take her to Jezebels, where Beth has a contact named Billy who can provide a plane for the children instead. While there, Billy commits to considering. June runs into Winslow, whom she gets into an intense altercation with, leading to her killing him to defend herself.

Jasper Savage/Hulu

But June’s actions don’t necessarily spell disaster (yet … maybe this will come back up in season 4). The other commanders believe Winslow is missing, thanks to the marthas at Jezebels cleaning the crime scene and Lawrence not giving him and June away. June also learns that Billy is in, but they aren’t out of the woods yet, as Lawrence finds out the council wants to close the border.

While everyone seems to be taking the hits in stride, Eleanor hasn’t been doing well. Caught up in the adrenaline of wanting to help the children and worsening mental health, she overdoses on her medication. June finds her in her bedroom, barely alive. Rather than call for help, June lets Eleanor die quietly, waiting for Beth or Sienna to find her instead. In his grief, Lawrence is able to convince the council to keep the border open, and Operation Free the Children is still a go.

The season ends with a tense, heart-pounding episode. The Lawrence household is buzzing as June, Beth, and Sienna begin preparations for the escape. A martha and child arrive too early, which creates friction when the martha wants to leave; she does but the child stays behind. The Guardians learn about the martha and child who escaped, bringing them out in full force in a way that makes Lawrence nervous enough to try and shut down the operation. June, Sienna, and Beth continue their preparations regardless.

Jasper Savage/Hulu

Later that night, though, all of the children and a group of marthas, including Rita, show up. The Guardian presence intensifies, and they begin moving the children. They reach the airport without incident. When they arrive, they find a Guardian standing watch right where they need to enter. Junes sends everyone to follow the fence to the plane while she distracts the Guardian. The other handmaids and marthas return to help June, throwing rocks at the Guardian. He begins to shoot at them and June runs, the Guardian following. Soon, he shoots June and June shoots and kills him, but she’s unable to get up. As she lies on the ground, she sees the plane fly away.

We then see a hangar in Canada where the plane heads into, a flurry of activity preparing for its arrival, with help from Luke, Moira, and Emily. When the plane pulls in, Moira goes inside to find all of the children and some of the marthas. As the children exit, one girl is reunited with her father (does anyone have a tissue?), which gives Luke a renewed hope that Hannah is on the plane, and the viewers knowing she’s not makes the moment all the more heartbreaking.

The episode, and the season, ends with the handmaids carrying a fast-fading June out of the woods, which is where season 4 may pick up. Regardless of how the next season begins, we already know June’s fight and the resistance is far from over.

The Handmaid’s Tale returns on Wednesday, April 28 with the first three episodes dropping together and the remainder of the season releasing weekly. Watch the official season 4 trailer below and stay tuned for our recaps.

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By Julia
Julia is a writer/editor/content assistant for Nerds who joined the team in 2019.
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