‘The Handmaid’s Tale’: June Just Became a Major Predator
Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, has had audiences rooting for June Osborn since it debuted in 2017. The award-winning series doesn’t pull any punches with its dark depiction of the United States torn by civil war and afflicted with pollution and declining birth rates. Recreated as Gilead by a right-wing religious faction called The Sons of Jacob, the conquered nation has become a totalitarian theocracy under which women are stripped of their rights and face harsh punishments, even death if they rebel.
June, played by Elizabeth Moss, is captured trying to escape to Canada with her husband Luke and daughter Hannah. She is sentenced to be a Handmaid, one of the few remaining fertile women tasked with bearing children for the regime’s commanders and their infertile wives. Renamed Offred, after her commander Fred Waterford, she struggles to survive and escape from the horror that is her new reality as a sex slave in a twisted, patriarchal nightmare.
A strained reunion for Luke and June
After cringing through three seasons of stark brutality, audiences were relieved when June finally escaped to Canada and reunited with her husband in episode seven of season four. That sense of relief proved to be short-lived.
During the episode, Luke finds June profoundly changed by her ordeal as a Handmaid in a way that may threaten the future of their relationship. Aware that she’s been traumatized, he gives her space, waiting for her to be comfortable enough to initiate intimacy. When she finally does, it’s anything but loving.
Having just returned from confronting Waterford’s abusive wife, Serena Joy, who is now imprisoned by the remnants of the U. S. government, June returns home to Luke. Energized by the experience, she takes her apparent sense of empowerment to the next level, and out on her husband. Refinery 29 recounted the scene that left some fans and Luke feeling violated.
June wakes Luke with a kiss and begins to make love to him, then things take a dark turn. As he reaches up to touch her, she pins his hand down. At this point Luke wants her to stop, saying “wait” several times. In response, she presses her hand over his mouth and finishes the act that is clearly about control rather than intimacy.
June’s non-consensual act draws harsh reactions
Unfortunately, June’s first sexual encounter with her husband mirrors the sexual abuse she has suffered. Though finally free, June is not the same person she used to be. She’s traumatized, angry, and not doing well mentally or emotionally.
The scene is very disturbing, and it’s supposed to be. Marie Claire published some fan’s reactions of dismay and horror at what several of them termed “rape.”
“Can we talk about how toxic that sex scene between June and Luke was like I don’t even have words for what I just saw,” said one. “I think the writers made a huge mistake in putting that scene with Luke and June in the episode. No one wants to see June r@pe her husband,” said another.
Lead executive producer Bruce Miller said he researched the way people process trauma to present what he hoped would be an accurate depiction. “The UN, in general, has been incredibly helpful, connecting us with people to speak with because this really is a refugee story,” he told Decider. “The sexual trauma that June goes through is at the heads of the state mostly. Her sexual trauma has a political element to it,” he said, adding, “I just didn’t want to screw it up. Because I know that recovery from trauma is not the same for everybody.”
It’s not uncommon that the abused go on to become abusers. Hopefully, this was an awkward step toward healing for June, not a predatory trend. Only time will tell if she will ever be able to have a healthy relationship going forward.
“Totalitarianism will ruin your sex life”
Atwood made that observation at Book Con in 2017 when she and Miller came together to answer questions about the series and the book that spawned it. Naturally, there was plenty of discussion about dictatorial forms of government that require complete submission from their citizens, and the moment in time when they become totalitarian. Miller intentionally incorporated that moment in the first season of the series.
“There’s a scene later where June and Luke are in bed,” Miller said “and they’re, you know, cuddling, and she’s very upset about losing her job and to me, that was just, that was the moment it became a totalitarian state. When it, when the state actually gets into your bedroom, it controls the total person.”
The disturbing sex scene between Luke and June in episode seven underlines the fact that the state is still in their bedroom and that Atwood’s observation is spot on. “We all want a fairy tale ending for June. I really, really do,” said Yahlin Chang, who wrote the episode, to Refinery29. “Is it realistic, given what this particular character has gone through … given her years in Gilead and all the trauma and violence that has infused her life there (and some of which she has been forced to inflict), that on this particular day right after she left Gilead that she could instantly snap into a super healthy and tender intimate relationship with Luke?”