Throughout three seasons of The Handmaid's Tale, June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss), has been a mother, wife, lover, fallen woman, prisoner, Handmaid, member of Mayday, renegade and possibly, martyr.
Based on the novel by Margaret Atwood, the American government is overthrown by dissidents and replaced by a totalitarian regime. Women are stripped of all of their rights and forced into domestic servitude or used as breeding stock. Initially less interested in resistance than maintaining the status quo, book editor turned "breeder" June is now determined to tear Gilead apart from the inside. Her goal: saving future generations, particularly her daughter Hannah, from growing up in a patriarchal society where there are two options: submit or die.
Heroes are not born, they are made, and June has broken a few eggs on her journey from survivor to fighter. Here are five moments when June was a genius and five moments she wasn't.
10 Genius: Cozying Up To Commander Waterford
When Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) summons June to see him privately, she's understandably dubious and slightly terrified. Men as supposedly pious as Fred Waterford aren't above craving female attention, and an accommodating Handmaid is more appealing than a demanding spouse. The offer to play Scrabble isn't a trick or a test, it's a gesture. June could easily refuse his offer, but Fred is all that stands between June and the wrath of a jealous wife. Not to mention he's far easier to read. June's bright enough to understand rejecting him is more dangerous than breaking the rules.
9 Not A Genius: Not Fleeing Gilead With Nichole And Emily
In the Season 2 finale, an entire network of Marthas risks their lives to smuggle June and her newborn daughter Nichole out of this dystopian society. June opts to hand Nichole over to Emily (Alexis Bledel) and remain behind, refusing to leave without her firstborn, Hannah.
June's faith is baffling after she's spent years in a place where God and the Bible are twisted and perverted to justify the whims of men. June chooses one daughter over the other, arguably the one who needs her less.
June eventually strikes a mighty blow against the powers that be, but one of the children she fails to save from Gilead is Hannah, who at the end of Season 3, is even further from her reach than before.
8 Genius: Aligning With Serena
The Waterford home houses many secrets that need to be protected after the Commander is injured during a terrorist attack in Season 2. Death is guaranteed for anyone who is implicated, if not for every member of the household. So when a nosy Commander begins asking questions, June informs Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) who swiftly removes the threat. When there's no man creating friction, it's easier for these women to work together towards a common goal than to be at each other's throats.
7 Not A Genius: Arranging For Serena To Visit Nichole
Knowing Nichole's whereabouts renews Serena's obsession with the child and emboldens her to ask June for a favor. Luke (O.T. Fagbenie), acting as Nichole's caretaker, will be safe if June can arrange a meeting for Serena to see Nichole.
June's every move is transactional, so it turns into a quid pro quo. It isn't entirely clear if Serena repays this debt simply by delivering a tape to Luke that clears June's conscience. June's been burned enough to know better than to trust the Waterfords, but she mistakenly thinks this time will be different. She calls Luke, setting in motion a chain of events that any viewer can see coming.
6 Genius: Reuniting Serena And Fred
Allies are imperative during a revolution, especially those who yield power — like Serena Joy. But Serena's influence is greatly diminished, and her place is Gilead's strict hierarchy is uncertain when she's separated from her husband at the start of Season 3.
June acts as a go-between during a party, negotiating terms of reconciliation that satisfy both husband and wife. It's a tricky business leaving Fred Waterford's ego intact while coaxing Serena into believing she holds all the power. Telling Serena to wear the dress but pull the strings seals the deal. Reuniting the couple turns out to be a huge miscalculation on June's part, but her plan is the wisest move at the time.
5 Not A Genius: Recruiting Eleanor Lawrence
Eleanor Lawrence (Julie Dretzin) is a mentally and emotionally disturbed woman. During her erratic moments of lucidity, she has the ability to be quite duplicitous, but her unpredictability far outweighs her usefulness. As June becomes increasingly manipulative and desperate to see Hannah, she strong-arms the kind-hearted Eleanor to accompany her, providing much-needed legitimacy to the expedition. Eleanor melts down, and it's a disastrous end to an ill-conceived plan.
4 Genius: Letting Eleanor Lawrence Die
June's presence in the Lawrence home doesn't drive Eleanor insane, but June's scheming and plans help push the woman over the edge. Eleanor quickly goes from being an asset to collateral damage. Letting Eleanor die is a calculated risk for June because Commander Lawrence's (Bradley Whitford) wife is his primary motivation for agreeing to help the Handmaid in the first place, and if he could confirm June played a role in the outcome, she would surely suffer his wrath. The mission may have succeeded without Eleanor sacrificing herself, but June's decision not to leave anything to chance is the right one.
3 Not A Genius: Trusting Nick Blaine
Nick (Max Minghella) claims to love June, but when June throws down the gauntlet, demanding the time has come for him to betray Gilead or save Nichole, he chooses ambition over his daughter. It is inconceivable June should trust any man who is a cog in the wheel that keeps Gilead not just intact but increasing in size and global power. Appealing to Nick to be a good father when he's spent a total of 10 minutes with his child is pure hubris on June's part.
2 Genius: Using Eleanor To Enlist Commander Lawrence
As Eleanor's grasp on reality slips, June sees a chance to recruit a powerful ally to help her execute her plan. Lawrence can't be seduced, but he can be convinced. June's motives are transparent, but she strikes when Lawrence is most vulnerable, using the only person he cares about as leverage to enlist him into helping execute her plan to steal back the stolen children of Gilead. Lawrence's shift from misogynistic tyrant to June's puppet is an early sign of weaknesses in Gilead's infrastructure, begging to be exploited.
1 Not A Genius: Smuggling Children Out Of Gilead
Reuniting boys and girls with their families if possible, or at least sending them to a country where they have a shot at a normal life is big-time hero stuff. But that doesn't make it smart, and even though The Handmaid's Tale has been off-book for quite some time, this course of action doesn't seem like something the character would or could do. June white-knuckles her way through, aided by a lot of uncharacteristic good luck.