Ever since The Handmaid's Tale Season 3 was first advertised back in February of 2019, fans have known the show would be going to Washington, D.C. as part of this season's plot line. The iconic image of the Mall and the Reflecting Pool graced the trailer, with the Washington Monument now amended to become a giant cross, symbolizing Gilead's theocracy, with thousands of Handmaids standing before it. But the real question was why June would take a trip to the Nation's Capital. It turns out The Handmaid's Tale episode in Washington, D.C. was all about Nichole.
The Handmaid's Tale focuses on the slow erosion of women's rights ahead of the revolution when explaining how Gilead rose, and likes to juxtapose the reassignment of children from "immoral families" to Gilead's wealthy with the real-world border crisis involving children that's happening in the United States today.
This "slippery slope" version of events is affecting, especially with the current political climate, and it is genuinely frightening how timely every season of The Handmaid's Tale feels when it arrives. But this week's trip to D.C. also reminded viewers how violent the take over was at the heart of the government, and how oppressed those who dwell there remain.
June is escorted to D.C. via Aunt Lydia in the Handmaid's carriage of a train. (One of the few things I do appreciate about Gilead, the government seems to have improved the nation's public transportation network. Acela was never so comfy looking.) Upon arrival, the first thing she notices is that all the Handmaids are wearing a slightly different version of the uniform viewers are accustomed to here.
The red gowns and bonnets are present and accounted for, but there's an additional piece to go with them: a mouth covering. The Handmaids in D.C. are not allowed to speak to one another, or to anyone else in public. Even Aunt Lydia seems a little surprised by this addition, and when she checks under one, she discovers the girl's mouth is wired shut. One of the few ways June has been able to communicate and rebel, through word of mouth with the Ritas, and her fellow Handmaids, does not exist here.
Then there's the city itself, stripped of the imagery of freedom, replaced by Christian sculptures at every turn. The Washington Monument is only the beginning. Buildings familiar to tourists no longer contain George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, they hold angels.
But the Lincoln Memorial is the most frightening. Unlike in other places, the carving of the Great Emancipator has not been replaced. Instead, his top have had been utterly destroyed, blown to bits. It's one of the few times the series has shown a symbol of the white supremacist rage that helped drive Gilead's creation in the original Margaret Atwood novel. But it also works as a way to once again tie everything that's happening on screen to the real world. The violence done to the statue of Lincoln is a warning. Freedom died here.