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The Theory That Has The Handmaid's Tale Fans Looking Twice At June

Spoilers for "The Handmaid's Tale" Season 4 follow.

The fourth season premiere of "The Handmaid's Tale" picks up in the aftermath of June's (Elisabeth Moss) successful gambit to evacuate a planeload of children out of Gilead. Injured and on the run, a wounded June and the Handmaids helping her making their way through the forest until they find shelter in the home of the child bride Esther (Mckenna Grace), who confides in June that her elderly husband has allowed men to sexually assault her in an effort to get her pregnant. But when one of these men is captured by the Handmaids, what June does next puts fans in the mind of one of the show's most horrifying villains, the cruel teacher of Handmaids, Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd.)

In a Reddit post titled "June is the Aunt Lydia of Mayday," user mollygk highlights the parallels in question. "When June said to the child bride wife Esther: 'good girl' and 'make me proud' when handing her the knife to kill the rapist guardian, it was a line straight out of Aunt Lydia's playbook," writes u/mollygk. "She's like the anti-Aunt Lydia — I think we will see more of this surrogate role from June throughout the season. Her fantasizing about Esther being Hannah at the end, with motherly tenderness and 'I love you banana' was such a complex note to end it on."

What do "Handmaid's Tale" fans make of this apparent turn in June's character arc? Let's take a look.

Fans of the show debate the complex nature of June and Esther's relationship

The comments in u/mollygk's Reddit thread agree enthusiastically with this assessment, but differ in their interpretation of what June's encouragement meant, both for June herself and Esther. For some, June's act is akin to giving Esther the permission she was seeking to strike back at an unfair system. "I think what June sees in her is the same rage and helplessness that she herself feels, so she encourages Esther to take back her power (even if through murder)," says u/Kstray1. "Esther is what June would have been had she been raised in Gilead."

Others, however, think June's act was more about what she wanted than what Esther did. "June comes in as someone who Esther believes will save her, so June takes advantage of that by encouraging her to kill," says u/Oopsiforgotmyoldacc. "So while Esther already had those thoughts, June did manipulate her by encouraging her to do it and then somewhat taking her in as a motherly figure."

But the original poster points out that not everything June did seemed as if it was bent on twisting Esther to her ends. "I agree in theory that this could be part of it — but calling her by her daughter's nickname when they were spooning was so peripheral to any manipulation tactic that could possibly be understood by Esther, which leads me to believe that June is genuinely internalizing the role."

How far is June willing to go?

Regardless of June's intentions, fans are coming to terms with what it means that her development as a leader and as a revolutionary might see her embracing the tactics of those she seeks to overthrow. As u/sapphire_rainy writes, "When June said 'good girl' (once to Esther and once to Janine, I think), I kind of felt icky about that because it reminded me of Aunt Lydia, and it makes me feel like June is becoming a leader in different ways than I imagined previously."

The true test of June's character, and of just how far down Aunt Lydia's path she's willing to go, will come if she's in a position in which one of her charges ends up disagreeing with her, or failing to follow through on their plans. Lydia's guidance and reprogramming of the Handmaids was always backed up with an unhealthy dose of threats and torture. June already aimed a gun at her fellow Handmaids in Season 3 to get them to go through with the plan. What punishments will she be willing to mete out to the strong-willed Esther, or others of her followers, if it ever comes to the point where they've stopped making her proud?