‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 3, Episode 3 Recap: Decisions, Decisions

*Warning: Spoilers ahead*

In season three, episode two of The Handmaid’s Tale, June/Ofjoseph (Elisabeth Moss) continued her work with the resistance movement within Commander Lawrence’s (Bradley Whitford) home. While he was supportive at first, she pushed things too far. Now, in episode three, the Commander makes her pay.

Follow every moment with this recap of episode three.

june in the kitchen handmaids tale
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We open on June looking up at several hanging bodies in the town center. They’re all Marthas and she can’t help but wonder if Cora (Victoria Fodor) is one of them. June would like to think that Commander Lawrence wouldn’t do that, but she can’t be sure. Janine (Madeline Brewer) and Alma (Nina Kiri) join her and they ponder if this is the end of the hangings or if Gilead will move on to rebellious handmaids now. 

Back at Commander Lawrence’s home, a new Martha named Sienna (Sugenja Sri) arrives. Everyone’s on edge after what happened to Cora and they suddenly feel very disposable. On top of that, Commander Lawrence is hosting a meeting for Gilead officials at home because he hates commuting and is that powerful. While Sienna is in the other room attending to Commander Lawrence, June tells Beth (Kristen Gutoskie) that she doesn’t think Cora was one of the people hanging. Beth retorts that she must be on her way to the Colonies then, where she’ll eventually die.

commander lawrence handmaids tale
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The doorbell rings and June asks the Commander if he’d like her to open the door. Commander Lawrence cryptically says that depends on whether she’s able to make decisions. He then asks her what she thinks the punishment should be for Handmaids who open doors. Before she can respond he says, “Forget it. I guess you aren’t capable of making decisions.” He really is testing them all to see if they’re worth their keep.

commander waterford handmaids tale
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A ton of Commanders descend upon the Lawrence house for the meeting. In the study, they all talk about the arrival of an upcoming shipment of women from Chicago and new things that are happening in Gilead. Commander Waterford enters the dining room where June is, so she inquires about Serena. He responds that he’s not sure how she is after all that June put them through. She asks him what he knows about Commander Lawrence and he says that he’s difficult to read and not sentimental like himself. June retorts that she never found him to be sentimental, just merciful (suuree)—she’s still alive after all. She opens up to Commander Waterford and asks him for anything he knows about Commander Lawrence that can help keep her safe. His reply? He doesn’t like to be bored. 

Just then, Commander Lawrence walks in and points out the fact that Commander Waterford and June know each other (in the biblical sense). Commander Waterford excuses himself and Commander Lawrence asks June if she’s working hard and if so on what. He wants to make her sweat and it’s working.

nick handmaids tale
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Later, Sienna tells June that the Commander wants her to pour drinks because apparently, she isn’t pouring fast enough. When June enters the room, she’s surprised to see Nick (Max Minghella) in a Commander uniform. The Commanders are debating whether they should set off a bomb in an area or do a salvaging and use the fertile and domestically inclined women. As June walks around the room refilling wine, Commander Lawrence decides to involve her in the conversation.

He says that they’re trying to figure out the true use of women and asks if, as a former book editor, she’s familiar with any books on the topic. (Remember: Women aren’t allowed to read in Gilead so this is a dicey conversation topic.) She smartly says a simple “Yes,” and he goes on to say that Darwin’s The Descent of Man is probably what she was thinking of. He asks her to fetch it for him off the shelf. It’s a dangerous endeavor to fetch a book in a room of Commanders, since she would presumably have to read the title on the spine of the book. Thankfully, he guides her with visual cues so she doesn’t entrap herself. She finds it, hands it to him and he jokes, “See? Women can be useful.” The Commanders all laugh.

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While Commander Waterford and company make reprehensible decisions, Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) takes time to recuperate at her mother’s house. Her mom (Laila Robins), a spitting image of Serena, says she’s having some friends over for a prayer group and insists that Serena join. She replies that she’s not in the mood, but her mother says she has a dress for her and everything. 

serena prayer circle
Elly Dassas/Hulu

Later, Serena gets ready and Rita (Amanda Brugel) comes in with something she made for her. It’s a beautiful green leather finger harness that covers the fact that her own finger was cut off. Rita tells Serena that she will get through this by his hand. Serena jokes, “What’s left of it,” and they both share a small laugh. Afterward, Serena goes downstairs and joins her mother’s prayer circle. They invite her to the center of it to pray for her loss and say they hope her marriage survives it. Well, that’s a sore subject.

Meanwhile, Commander Waterford is running through a speech at Jezebels that he hopes to give Serena. He muses about how excited he was when they first married and how if he loses her, he has nothing. In the corner, a fully clothed Jezebel worker tells him it sounds good and asks if he wants to run through it again. So old habits die hard then, don’t they, Fred?

That evening, June knocks on the door of Commander Lawrence’s study to bring him tea and ask how his day went. She suggests that having a lot of people around for those meetings must be exhausting. He quips back that June seems like someone who would be good at making friends and forming intimacy. It’s a heavy moment and their faces are just close enough to kiss. But instead of that, he starts laughing and asks if that’s all it took to make Commander Waterford her lover. She’s frustrated and tries to turn the tables on him. She asks why he helped Emily escape and lets the Marthas run a resistance network out of his house. He responds that sometimes you need to “let the rabble-rousers blow off some steam.” He helped Emily escape because she’s un-naturally smart and could be of use to the world. He says that’s clearly not the case with June because she didn’t take her chance to escape.

She lashes out at him and says he must feel terrible since the books he wrote are the reason everyone is in Gilead. Instead of feeding into her anger, he simply tells her they’re going for a drive.

Soon, they arrive at a detention center full of women who are headed to the Colonies the next day—all except for five. He says he found five spots for Marthas in Gilead so those five will be spared. The catch? June has to choose who will be a Martha and who will die in the Colonies. She says no, but he retorts that unless she chooses five people, everyone will die.

serena handmaids tale copy
Elly Dassas/Hulu

At Serena’s mother’s house, things are still amiss. Serena stands outside in the rain and refuses to change into dry clothes when she comes back inside. She tells her mother it was wrong to tell her friends about the problems in Serena’s marriage. Her mother points out that there’s no place for Serena in this world unless she’s with Commander Waterford. She has no choice.

Later, Nick arrives at Commander Lawrence’s house to see June. He breaks the news that he’s been deployed to the front in Chicago and she tells him he’ll probably die there and gives him a coldhearted goodbye. He leaves the room but thankfully waits outside for her to cool off. When she does, she takes his hand and they share one last night together.  

The following day, Serena arrives at Commander Lawrence’s house to talk to June about Nicole. She asks how June copes with the loss and June pivots, asking Serena what she remembers most about the baby. Serena recalls how Nicole used to raise her hand like she had a point to make. June quips that she was like a politician, which she most likely got from her mama. With a sobering look, Serena points out that Nicole wasn’t really her baby. June insists “only a mother would do what you did.” She says that she and Serena can help each other if they stay brave and recognize that men are not on their side in Gilead.

The next day June gives Commander Lawrence her five selections for Marthas. As she tells Beth later, she chose an engineer, a journalist, a lawyer, an IT tech and a thief. They’ll all make great additions to the resistance.

We close on Serena walking fully clothed into the body of water near her mother’s home as though she’s about to drown herself. But before she goes too deep, she stops and turns back to the shore. There, Commander Waterford is waiting for her, but instead of embracing him she walks right past him.

Will they reconcile when season three, episode four drops on Hulu next Wednesday, June 12? Do we even want them to? TBD.


Cat mom, yogi, brunch enthusiast

Lex is an LA native who's deeply obsessed with picnics, Slim Aarons, rosé, Hollywood history and Joan Didion. She joined PureWow in early 2017.