In episode 5, the halfway point for season 4, June and Janine acclimate to war-torn Chicago. Janine wants to stay with Steven’s group, which emphasizes survival over fighting, while June wants to find a more proactive group of fighters. In Gilead, Nick, Lawrence and Lydia scheme separately and together, both in the service of Gilead and themselves, leading them to double-cross each other.
While Nick, Joseph and Lydia are all effective agents as individuals, as spy teams they need some training in coordinating objectives. Or to agree on their mutual goals, contingent on certain blackmail arrangements if the goals aren’t achieved. Lydia and Joseph begin to work out their own process for remaking Gilead.
As Fred Waterford once said, “Better doesn’t mean better for everyone.” It’s not clear yet who Joseph and Lydia each want to make things better for, but the carpet bombing at the end of the episode makes it clear that by design, their machinations won’t make the former US better for everyone.
June (Elizabeth Moss) lies in bed in the Chicago group’s hideout, remembering happier, sexier times with Luke (O-T Fagbenle) while Steven (Omar Maskati) and Janine (Madeline Brewer) have public sex a couple beds down from hers in the row. On her other side, another man, Brad (Massey Ahmar) is reading a book but facing toward Steven and Janine, which means he can watch them have sex, since they are fully clothed, but out in the open. When June glances toward the Brad, he smiles at her in invitation. She gives him the smallest of polite smiles back, then turns away.
When she hears bombs and gunfire start in the distance, she takes a lantern upstairs to look outside. The others all become alert, but stay in bed. Steven tells June to get back in bed, because it’s not safe. The artillery sounds get closer, until they could be right outside. When June reaches large factory windows, several floors up, she sees the glow of nearby fires and weapons.
June shouldn’t be carrying a lantern around, because the light will alert the enemy that someone is inside the building. On the other hand, if Gilead bombs the building, I don’t know how much it matters whether June falls with the upper floor rubble or gets buried by it.
The next morning, June washes her handmaid’s robes next to potted plants that are part of the rebels’ indoor food garden. Guys play handball against one of the walls as music plays. This seems like a permanent settlement, a strange phenomenon in such an active war zone. It immediately makes me wonder if a high ranking member of the camp trades information on the other groups in the area in exchange for Gilead leaving their camp alone.
Theresa (Allison Edwards-Crewe) sorts and packs the food stolen from the train. June asks how long it will last. Theresa explains that it depends on how many people it’s divided amongst. They aren’t keeping it. They’re trading it at a nearby trading post, hopefully for batteries and fuel. Theresa says she’ll be angry if they drag all of it across town for nothing.
Wait- weren’t the rebels desperate for this food, complaining that they were starving and couldn’t spare a meal for June and Janine, so their meals had to be paid for with sex? Given the way Theresa is talking about the food from the train, it sounds like they don’t have a shortage at all. If food was dificult to come by and the food from the train was all they were likely to get for the foreseeable future, it would make sense for them to save it for their own people, rather than trade a significant portion away. Now Theresa talks like they have much more than they need.
So the food for sex trade was probably even worse than it seemed at the time- Steven mostly wanted to see what it was like with a sex slave.
June being June, she demands to go on the trading run and is annoyed when Theresa tells her it’s up to Steven. She finds Steven playing happy couple with Janine while he teaches her to shoot a gun (without bullets, so Janine can’t even check her aim).
Another empty gesture. Such a prize, this guy. But Janine plays the flirt and is sure they’re in love.
June walks in and tells Steven that she wants to come on the trading run. Steven says no. “Fresh meat stays here.”
He throws in the comparison to a farm animal just in case she thought he viewed her as a human being now that she’s changed her clothes.
Janine convinces Steven to let them come along by telling him about June’s rebel exploits in Gilead. He tells June that she has to do what he says. June agrees.
Does anyone believe she’ll listen to him? I didn’t think so. Earning respect goes both ways. Theresa appears to be the actual leader, but she has to publicly defer to Steven, because men.
Then we go to Heaven. Oh, it’s only Gilead’s Nursing home and Rehab for Aged Aunts, where Lydia is recovering from the ordeal of watching 4 handmaids die in front of her. The retired aunts sit in beams of sunshine like cats, drinking tea, reading, doing puzzles, having quiet conversation and generally enjoying the retirement they’ve earned.
Frankly, I’m shocked this place exists. I thought used up aunts were sent to the Colonies or executed.
The other aunts are pictures of decorum. Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) trains on a treadmill like she’s prepping for the Olympics. Relaxation is not the Heaven she’s looking for. Like June, she’ll always be a warrior archangel in need of a fight, rather than part of a blissful heavenly choir.
Aunt Ruth (Jeananne Goossen), a statuesque woman who probably comes from Viking stock, approaches Aunt Lydia and notes that the group of handmaids in training outside the window are a promising crop. Aunt Lydia agrees and says she can’t wait to get back to work with them. Aunt Ruth informs her that she’s been retired and the girls are no longer her concern. Aunt Lydia tells this young upstart that the handmaids have always been her concern. Aunt Ruth tells her to take a nap. Aunt Lydia gets back on the treadmill and turns up the speed.
Must be that after the latest escape, the Commanders realized they need at least some of the Aunts to function as prison guards, rather than just authority figures. They are bringing in Aunt Ruth types they assume will be physically capable of the job. As usual, they underestimate the scrappiness of a small but determined woman like Aunt Lydia.
The Commanders’ Council (now including 100% more Nick!!) agrees to let Joseph (Bradley Whitford) speak in front of them, but they give him the mean girl treatment by squeezing him in minutes before lunch, when they all undoubtedly have important manicure appointments scheduled. Before letting him speak, they taunt him about his handmaid’s role in Angels’ Flight and the ongoing saga of the fugitive handmaids.
Unlike Lydia, Joseph’s replies are conciliatory, which is as unusual for him as it would be for her. He wants something and he wants it bad. This is the man who made the Commanders meet at his home for years. Now, he’s complacently taking his lumps at the podium of shame.
Putnam (Stephen Kunken) and Calhoun (Jonathan Watton) were begging for Joseph’s help not too long ago. Now they’re gracelessly lording their power over him. It’s what I’d expect from a weak, petty sycophant like Putnam, but I was hoping for better from Calhoun, the father of Natalie’s baby.
Joseph lays out his thoughts on Gilead’s overall economic needs vs its out of control military spending:
Joseph: “The world fears our military. We can destroy our enemies and they know it. But the sanctions they’ve imposed have put our economy in a chokehold. Guna alone will not win a war. We need money as well. I propose that we declare a temporary ceasefire along our contested borders in Chicago, California and Texas… A few hours for international aid to come in, for food and health care.”
Calhoun: “Those areas are infested with terrorists and you want to send in aid.”
Joseph: “I want to take the moral high ground in order to hasten the end of trade restrictions. A temporary show of mercy in exchange for permanent revenue.”
Calhoun: “By aiding and abetting terrorists?”
Joseph: We could just hit them, hit them harder in Nevada for a few months, couldn’t we? Is there a difference?”
Nick: “I think we can keep up the military pressure on all insurgents in any case.”
Joseph: “Thank you, Commander. Gentlemen, I’m not proposing weakness in any fashion.”
Calhoun: “Commander, wasn’t it your handmaid who kidnapped our children in the first place?”
Joseph: “It was. I was deceived by a faithless woman. But now, we are facing elemental economic truths. And gentlemen, unlike women, numbers don’t lie. If we can end these sanctions, we can prosper. If we can prosper, we can crush this insurgency.”
The Council unanimously votes against Joseph’s proposal. Nick waits to vote last, so that he can see which way the votes go first.
Gilead doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, even the ones it creates. The current council apparently also believes that guns and God will carry the country through all troubles, so they’ll do the reverse of what Joseph suggested- crush all opposition first, then prosper. They don’t need cash to pay for supplies or to keep the supply lines open because God will ensure that their glorious cause succeeds.
Joseph makes a basic economic point, though to be fair his language isn’t as dumbed down as the Commanders clearly need. Gilead inherited the United States’ nuclear arsenal, so it has powerful weapons that will win any hot war, though at the cost of nuclear devastation and mass death. The US/Gilead revolution became so heated that nuclear weapons were used on American soil. Emily and Janine were cleaning up a radioactive site when they were in the Colonies.
The global community has decided to starve Gilead out instead of directly engaging them, using economic sanctions and trade embargoes that amount to siege warfare. Gilead’s closed borders make it just as hard to get supplies in past an enemy blockade as it is to smuggle people out.
The rest of the world uses Gilead’s extensive human rights violations as justification for the sanctions. The sanctions are having an effect, cutting Gilead off from essential supplies. Joseph argues that if Gilead makes a show of humanitarianism at their borders, it could help their global standing, giving them access to needed supplies.
Fred also tried to make a show of humanitarianism in season 2, when he had the UN diplomats visit Gilead and tempted them with trade for handmaids. Then he and Serena went on a diplomatic mission to Canada. Gilead’s cover was blown when June, Nick, Luke and Moira conspired to release the handmaid’s handwritten pleas to the press that Nick delivered to Luke on the same trip.
Joseph assures the Commanders that after their brief humanitarian show, they can quickly return to mass murder, enslavement, rape and mutilation, with no permanent damage done to their culture. It’s all just a marketing ploy. But the idiots on the council don’t understand how diplomacy works and Fred is no longer there to explain it to them. They only understand that they have big guns, so they think they should be able to conquer the world without asking permission. Never mind that in conquering the US they also made much of it unliveable. If they couldn’t have those regions, they think it was right to destroy them.
As the Council leaves, Nick (Max Minghella) explains to Joseph that he couldn’t officially vote for a ceasefire in a battle he’s leading. Joseph points out that June might be in Chicago. Nick is sure that he’d know if she were. Joseph asks Nick if his heart glows when he correctly guesses where June is. He warns Nick that not even the Eyes can keep up with everything that happens in Gilead and the territories it claims.
On the walk to the trading post, June asks Steven when she’ll get to carry a gun. He tells her she has to earn it. She looks confused and drops back behind him.
I think we’re all wondering how he means for her to “earn” it and why that’s even a thing. Is she his property now? Did Janine “earn” beginner gun privileges by sharing Steven’s bed?
Janine tells June to stop being so pushy and try to blend in.
Yeah, why should June want to protect herself in a war zone, anyway? So grabby. The rapists will for sure protect them.
Janine continues, saying she’s used to June’s pushiness, but Steven is used to being in charge. It’s hard for a war leader like him when a woman asks questions.
Still pretty sure Theresa is actually in charge of logistics and she just lets Steven act bossy.
The group find a couple of thoroughly incinerated bodies under a blanket. Steven explains that they were likely killed by the Nighthawks, a rebel group who are dedicated to killing soldiers by any means, even if the rebels die, too. They move camp frequently, so Steven’s group doesn’t trade with them much or even know where they are right now. He says Gilead soldiers will come for the bodies soon, so they need to get moving.
Helicopters appear within moments, sending the group to hide in an abandoned storefront. Soldiers search for rebels on foot, but they don’t come into the store. June gets angry when one pokes his head in the door and Steven doesn’t shoot him. Steven says it would have put them in too much danger when the rest of his patrol came looking for him. When they didn’t finfd him, eventually Gilead would increase the number of patrols in the area, making it harder for the rebels to move around. It’s not worth the cost to kill random patrols this way.
June: “What kind of resistance are you?”
Steven: “The kind that survives.”
Once the coast is clear, the rebels continue to the trading post, which is housed in the Field Museum, along with the skeleton of Sue the T Rex. A few touristy souvenirs remain part of the trading stock along with more practical items such as automatic weapons. Brad (Massey Ahmar), the guy from the night before, formally introduces himself and offers to help June unpack her items for trade. She tells him she’s not interested. He remains friendly, but leaves her alone.
June really doesn’t need another “boyfriend” and Steven’s group doesn’t seem to be offering friendship, not even the other women. But Janine sidles up and says she’s glad June is making friends. She makes noises like June is being ridiculous when June informs her that she’s not.
The expectation that women will “go along to get along” with rape culture is exactly why it persists, Janine. If, after everything, June still has the strength to say no, she’s a hero, not a problem.
Janine notices a Chicago Cubs baseball cap hanging nearby and decides that she has to get it for Steven, because he’s a baseball fanatic and he lost everything in the war!!
OMG, is she for real anymore?
Janine wants to buy favor with her new
abuser “boyfriend”, so she trades away both her and June’s handmaid cloaks for the cap- not a great deal. The cloaks were some of the only things of value they had that were their own and they could use to trade. If they wanted to ditch them, they should have hidden them somewhere with no witnesses to tie the cloaks back to their descriptions.
June is probably tired of fighting with Janine and just doesn’t care anymore. When she tells Janine that she doesn’t want her to get hurt, Janine says she really likes Steven and their relationship is totally consensual.
Aunt Lydia waits for her turn at a Fireside Chat with Professor Lawrence. When he joins her, he notices that something is different about her, but true to form, he can’t quite put his finger on it. (She lost a lot of weight between seasons. Her various physical injuries have all healed, including the cuts and bruises on her face. She has an air of renewed purpose that she’d lost last season.) Lydia doesn’t help him- she’s not a hypocrite about vanity and usually means the speeches she makes to the handmaids. In addition to her torture-induced weight loss, she also got in fighting shape to be ready for her enemies inside and outside Gilead.
Joseph offers Lydia some liquor and a seat, but she’s not there to make friends, so she puts the drink aside and remains standing. She gets straight to the point. She has blackmail material on him, from his role in Commander Winslow’s death to his black market activities and collaborations with his handmaid. He prods her to continue. She does- she will use this material, “Unless you arrange for my immediate reinstatement.”
He’s satisfied with her threat against him. For a minute he thought she wouldn’t go through with it (then she’d be useless to him). She’s confused that he’s not taking her threat more seriously. He asks what other dirt she’s got on the elite of Gilead and nudges her to realize that her blackmail material will have more impact if used on those who, unlike him, haven’t lost their reputations and most of their power.
He asks about Matthew Calhoun in particular. Calhoun must still have an intact, squeaky clean image. As the chief voice of the True Believers on the council, he’ll want to maintain it. Putnam has already been dragged through the mud and risen again, but surely there’s something he’s done that’s so low it could affect his marriage and his standing on the council.
Lydia scoffs that she doesn’t traffic in gossip. She draws a line between frivolous gossip and blackmail material that serves a purpose. This isn’t the first time that Lydia has drawn a line that’s difficult for anyone but her to discern.
Joseph: “You want me to restore your position? I need my seat back at the table. And your information can help me get it. Let’s fix this country. Let’s make things right again. Together.”
Lydia: “I might consider a collaboration, if I have your word that Ofjoseph will be put in my care. To be disciplined. Handled my way.”
Joseph attempts to look uncomfortable for 2 seconds, then says he can live with that terrible sacrifice. Lydia agrees to the deal.
June pulls Janine aside to tell her she wants to leave Steven’s camp the next day to look for the Nighthawks so they can get back in the fight. Janine doesn’t want to leave the camp. She doesn’t care about fighting- she wanted to go to Boston instead of Chicago to begin with. June says there’s nothing for them in Boston.
Janine doesn’t disagree about Boston, even though her daughter, Angela, is there. She has as much right to fight for Angela as June has to fight for Hannah. But she seems to have almost given up on Angela. She suggests that she could stay with Steven and have his baby, a child she’d be able to to keep.
Steven seems like he’s totally up for having a baby with her, now that they’ve known each other for two days.
June tells Janine that it’s not safe to have a baby in a rebel camp where they’re on the edge of starvation, have no medical care and there are nightly bombings. Janine responds by suggesting they could be normal American moms together. They tell each other that they sound like Aunt Lydia and Janine insists that she knows what’s right for her.
Sometimes she knows what’s right for her. And sometimes, she lives in a very dangerous fantasy world. Like now.
Janine tells June that she’s bossy and judgemental and generally cramping her style. Janine doesn’t want June to save her from herself so June should just stop. June says, for about the 1,000th time, that she just doesn’t want to see Janine get hurt.
Janine: “Maybe you should have thought about that with Alma and Brianna.”
That was uncalled for. Like Janine, Alma and Brianna were adults who were actively making choices every step of the way, not infants June forced into following her instructions. Janine needs to get over blaming June for all of her problems and grow up. Honestly, I wish Alma had been the one to survive. Janine’s childish behavior had gotten old for me by the end of season 2. Maybe Lydia would take her back as a consolation prize instead of June.
June: “Okay. Well, I’m leaving tomorrow. Come with me or stay here and be Ofsteven. It’s your choice.”
I believe living as Ofsteven is exactly Janine’s plan, except she sees herself as the dutiful, enslaved wife instead of a handmaid this time, so that she gets to be the one who keeps the babies. Wonder how she plans to rope Steven into this plan.
Of course, June’s plan isn’t exactly sane, either. Someone needs to talk her out of suicide by Nighthawking, then explain that she could find a more organized, fair, strategic group, like maybe an official military unit, who aren’t rapists and looters pretending to be rebels like Steven’s group. But Janine is hardly ever the one to suggest reasonable alternatives.
Nick waits in an alley while a black van delivers the two Marthas who lead Mayday in Boston, Lori (Deidrie Henry) and Reese (Débora Demestre). They’re both angry with him for picking them up without cause or permission and let him know it as they climb out of the van. The way they speak to him is extraordinary, since he could have them sent to the Colonies or executed. They tell him that the Commander’s star on his shoulder doesn’t give him the right to treat them any way he wants.
In fact, it does, as far as Gilead’s social structure is concerned. So what are we missing?
Are they his mothers? Is he secretly deeply embedded in Mayday? Or are they secretly more highly ranked Eyes than he is? They certainly speak to him like they’re his mothers/mentors and they’ve never approved of his choice in women. I bet Beth, the Martha/Cordon Bleu Chef whose death they blame on June, was the only exception. He was seeing her in season 1 when she worked at Jezebels, before she was moved to the Lawrences. Then he broke up when he started seeing June.
When he explains that he’s looking for news about June rather than conducting normal Eye/Mayday business, they get even angrier. Lori tells him, “A lot of brave women died trying to protect her. Everyone that helps her ends up on the f—ing wall.”
Nick: “I know. I’m sorry. I care about her.”
Ok, what? Is he admitting that he turns in anyone associated with June’s missions and escape attempts, even when he’s the one who arranges things, like with Omar and the plane in season 2? I’ve considered this possibility, but haven’t wanted to believe he’d essentially make June a mole without her knowledge. It does basically follow what I thought about the train escape though- he set the conditions so the handmaids could escape, then told the Guardian/Eye to shoot as many as possible, other than June, to make it look good. June gets the blame again, but perhaps Nick is the true puppetmaster, as he makes trade offs to keep her alive and further his career. He may have good intentions toward June overall, but achieving his short term goals might have required him to use her more than once. And he might not like the idea of her escaping to Canada and Luke.
He asks the Marthas if there’s any news about June. One says he’s better off without her. The other tells him that a pair of unidentified handmaids snuck into Chicago last week.
Mixed news for Nick. He should feel hopeful that she’s alive and made it that far. But he wasn’t informed of this information by his own network, and he should have been, no matter who the handmaids were. Plus, he didn’t sense her escape with the heart that beats only for her.
The next morning, Brad gives June directions (he seems like an okay guy), then Janine comes out to say goodbye. June has already guessed that Janine plans to stay. They awkwardly talk about how much they’ve been through together and tell each other how lucky their new friends (and Janine’s baby) will be to have each of them. June makes Janine promise to take care of herself, then turns to leave. Janine stops her and gives her the Cubs baseball cap meant for Steven, saying it’s something to remember her by. June says she’ll never forget her. Janine thinks it’s because of her eye, but June tells her she’s beautiful. Janine returns the compliment. Then June walks away. Janine goes back inside the camp, maybe to tell Steven that June is gone and she’s all his.
As Aunt Lydia suits up again, she clips her taser onto her skirt. Once she’s fully dressed in her Aunt’s uniform, she breathes a sigh of relief that also seems to be mixed with dread. Soon, she’s out in the yard, training handmaids to walk two by two. Her tone and her words to the younger handmaids are quite different from the ceaseless bullying and shaming the first crop of handmaids experienced.
Aunt Lydia, as she pairs up handmaids and shows them how to walk together: “You are the sacred vessels of the Lord. His chosen ones. Your charge will be hard. You will be tested by wicked men, and they will try to lead you astray. And when they do, I will be here to listen. Your bond with each other will be strong. From this day forward, none of you will ever walk alone again.”
Never let it be said that Aunt Lydia doesn’t learn from her mistakes. She’s now encouraging the friendships among handmaids that she couldn’t stop in the first crop. But this time she’s including herself in the list of people handmaids can trust, instead of positioning herself as the enemy. She promises to listen to them when they need help. That means she’ll learn the secrets of so, so many households. She can use that information to make better decisions for the women she works with, but she can also use it to manipulate the Commanders into keeping Gilead on the right track as she sees it.
June walks alone through the empty, broken streets of Chicago, so unlike the beautifully tended, safe streets of Boston- safe as long as you follow the rules of Gilead. This is one of the first times she’s walked down a city street alone since she was captured, maybe the first since she was captured the second time in S2. She hears small sounds that indicate someone may be nearby, so she hides under a wrecked police car.
Janine’s legs soon appear. June looks up to see the rest of her and climbs out. Janine explains that she realized she feels safer when they’re together, since handmaids always walk in twos. Or maybe Steven wasn’t ready to settle down and have babies with her after they’d known each other for such a short time. June doesn’t question her appearance. They continue walking, side by side.
On their way into the next Council meeting, Nick stops Joseph to tell him that June is indeed in Chicago, so he’ll back Joseph’s ceasefire plan. Joseph, who once again has a Commander’s star on his shoulder and a seat at the center of the Council, is glad to have the support. When Nick brings up the plan during the meeting, both Putnam and Calhoun say they’ve already changed their minds and now support Joseph.
Joseph says that the NGOs are ready to move in to offer aid when given the signal. Putnam tells him they can move in at 1600 hours, when the carpet bombing of Chicago that he’s ordering Nick to coordinate is completed. The promise of aid will bring everyone in Chicago out, so it’s a good time to kill as many insurgents as possible. Nick points out that they’ll kill civilians as well. Joseph says that’s “the cost of doing business.”
Nick tries arguing that there’s not enough time to pull out Gilead’s troops before the deadline. Putnam tells him he’d better get started. Nick and Joseph look each other in the eyes. Nick knows Joseph double-crossed him and, at the very least, is okay with June dying. They say, “By His hand” at each other, but Nick is shooting daggers at Joseph with his eyes and Joseph is daring him to make a move.
Joseph really did grow old and out of touch in that big house with Eleanor. People tend to disappear around Nick just as easily as they disappear around June. It was Nick who saved Joseph from death row and helped restore his position just a few epsiodes ago. Joseph is foolish to underestimate Nick’s influence going forward just because Putnam and Calhoun happen to have certain positions on the Council right now. We’ve watched those seats turn over every season, while the Aunts, the Marthas and the Eyes endure.
If you were Lydia, who would you side with long-term? The guy who just got off death row or the guy who got him off?
June and Janine continue walking until they reach a deserted checkpoint. The soldiers left so quickly that they abandoned piles of food. June realizes that in Chicago, food is too precious to waste unless the situation is dire. She figures out that she and Janine are in grave danger.
They hear bombers approaching and run, but there’s no place to hide during a carpet bombing. Bombs explode all around them. The screen goes black and silent.
Sound returns with a roar. People are crying, calling out for help and for each other. June slowly wakes up, moving one body part at a time. She’s still in what’s left of the street, surrounded by rubble. As if to taunt the critics who complain that June is STILL alive at the end of every episode, she’s covered in sexy dirt and has a cut next to her eye, but otherwise she appears uninjured.
June can’t find Janine. Odds are, she met with some bad luck during the bombing. Since this is Janine, a man will rescue her.
Vehicles full of aid workers arrive. June is still focused on finding Janine and doesn’t notice.
Moira is among the aid workers, having said yes to her girlfriend’s offer and tagged along.
She’s drawn straight to June’s side as if they’ve never been apart.
When you’re too in love to let it go
But if you never try, you’ll never know
Just what you’re worth
Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you
Throughout most of the episode, I believed that Joseph really was concerned about Gilead’s economy. But now I think the bombings were the point of the episode, not the ceasefire and potential easing of sanctions. The bombs were the iron fist under the velvet glove of allowing the aid workers in. This was more than just a spanking- it was a display of power to remind the world what Gilead can do to them if pushed too far. Gilead’s new leaders wanted to make sure everyone knows they are not to be trifled with.
And Joseph still wants to kill Janine and June, the last two living witnesses in Gilead who can definitively tie him to Angels’ Flight. He especially wants June, out of revenge for Eleanor’s death. He has nothing left to live for besides his own ambition, so he may not care how much of the world he has to burn down to kill June. He looked Nick in the eye and dared him to make an open challenge. Nick realized that Joseph owns Calhoun and Putnam, so he only tested them a bit to be sure.
I have to wonder if the way Joseph shut Nick out will eventually spur Nick to challenge the government formed by Putnam, Calhoun and Joseph. Putnam is one of those petty tyrants who’s drunk on power now that he’s in charge. Calhoun probably thinks that his power is God-given and thus his decisions are always correct- no self-reflection needed. Joseph has some of Calhoun’s ego and Putnam’s lust for power, but he also specifically wants to leave behind as his legacy a Gilead whose economy and social structure work, using a version of his academic theories.
Joseph would be the more dangerous dictator. Serena, Fred and most of the original founders just wanted a misogynist religious state. An economy based on the oppression and enslavement of almost everyone was Joseph’s idea.
I thought the season might be building toward a showdown between Nick and June, but now I think Joseph is the larger threat to both of them. Maybe Joseph will attempt to extradite June from Canada, forcing Nick to seize more power in Gilead to stop him.
I need Joseph to host a chat with another character in front of the fire every episode from now until the end of the series. With his huge library and mysterious basement full of files, he can counsel anyone on anything, reveal any long-buried secret. Bonus points if Eleanor’s ghost returns to help.
Joseph is the Dumbledore of Gilead, the character who sometimes appears to be good, who people want to believe is good, but who’s actually neutral and will do whatever it takes, no matter how repugnant, to win. His house is now established as the center of his magic.
I love how Lydia STILL uses the ex-handmaids’ slave names when she blackmails Joseph (and for every other purpose), such as “Ofjoseph”, even though it technically makes it impossible to tell which one of Joseph’s devious former handmaids she’s referring to- Emily, her attacker? June, the kidnapper? Fred referred to June as “Offred” recently, also a name given to several women, one of whom is notorious and one of whom was a suicide. Then there’s the two Ofglens, one a suicide bomber (Lilli) and the other murderer who ran a Guardian over with a car (Emily) before going on to even worse exploits. No matter how hard Gilead tries, the handmaids refuse to become interchangeable drones who do what they’re told.
I trust Lydia, the Severus Snape to Joseph’s Dumbledore, more than the latter right now, but hopefully June won’t end up back in the clutches of either of old dragon. Lydia might punish June for show, but I think she’ll try to keep June alive. Joseph, on the other hand, will sacrifice anyone, especially June. Let’s recall that Dumbledore told Snape that Harry had to die- Snape was the one who balked at the idea.
Putting Joseph in charge of the country or individuals would be like letting more efficient Nazis take over after Hitler’s death. He’d show us just what a truly cold-hearted country looks like (it looks like the American Reich in The Man in the High Castle!), but he’ll make sure that on the surface, it meets the standards the outside world looks for. Notice that when he proposed his deal with Lydia, he didn’t define what he meant by fixing the country and Lydia didn’t ask. They’re both already planning to double-cross each other, so the long-term goals don’t matter. For now, they’ll pretend they want to go back to the ideals of Gilead’s founders.
Testaments Spoilers: I wonder if Joseph is being positioned as Lydia’s political foil the way Commander Judd was in the book. Putnam is closer to Judd’s slimy personality- but any of the men could turn into the marital version of Judd, since he supposedly changed his name frequently. Even Fred could return to Gilead, shave his beard and change his name to throw off his international critics. Gilead could say they’ve executed him, which would fit with the original book. End Spoilers
The sex between Steven and Janine is still only dubiously consensual. Steven is in a position of authority over Janine and she likely still feels, deep down, that she has to say yes or she and June will be kicked out of the camp. Janine convinces herself she wants it and that she wants a relationship with Steven, just as she did with Commander Putnam, because that helps her feel like she has more control than she does in the coercive situations she’s in. I have a feeling that most or all of Janine’s relationships have been abusive, which is why she focuses so hard on having babies, the one type of person you can count on to love you unconditionally.
At the beginning of the episode, June remembers making love with Luke rather than more recent times with Nick, even though she told Nick she loved him 2 episodes ago. Why? June’s relationship with Nick started out as rape/coercion and grew into more- their beginning was uncomfortably close to Janine and Steven’s. Though Nick means everything to June now, all of her memories with him are tainted in some way by Gilead. She may also be afraid that their love won’t hold up in the real world, when the constant crises end and she’s his social equal. It’s safer for her to think about Luke right now, since he’s alive and in Canada, rather than dropping bombs on Chicago. I believe she loves both men in different ways and can’t choose between them while she’s on the run anyway. Possibly not until Hannah is safe, the war is over and Gilead has been taken down.
June and the Martha Mafia
Lori tells Nick, “A lot of brave women died trying to protect her. Everyone that helps her ends up on the f—ing wall.”
Since Winslow died, June has gotten 86 children and 9 Marthas out of Gilead. She masterminded the plot that killed another 6 Commanders and put 9 in the hospital. At least 1 Aunt was also affected. It’s interesting that for the Marthas, June’s successes never offset the Mayday deaths that occur during her missions, or even those that occur when she’s just a bystander. That’s not how collateral damage and the deaths of soldiers are usually viewed in military operations.
It makes me question how Mayday views itself. Do they see themselves mainly as black market dealers profiting from Gilead’s prohibitions and shortages, basically a Martha Mafia? Are the overthrow of Gilead or the rescue of its most oppressed victims even goals for them? They could be sending people out of Gilead every week using their well-established, Eye-approved supply chains, but that would threaten the stability of their system. While they outwardly complain about deaths, June has caused a miniscule number compared to how many people Gilead rounds up and puts on the wall. Their real reasons for hating her seem to be based on something else.
Probably at least some of the Mayday Marthas ultimately work for the Eyes and are paid to spread negative rumors about June in order to stop the population from rallying behind her as a folk hero. Some of their problem could also be jealousy that June is more effective than they are. For example, she and Nick got the handmaids’ handwritten confessions out of Gilead, then her network made them a global sensation. Mayday left those confessions with June for months- maybe they were meant to get her caught and take down the entire Waterford household.
But some of the Martha Mafia’s issue with June is probably the same issue that motivates Janine and originally motivated Lilli (Ofglen)- as individuals, they have more power, stability and security in Gilead than they did before the revolution and they aren’t actually interested in going back to the old ways. They aren’t willing to risk their lives any further for those whose lives were made worse by Gilead’s policies. They think their current deals with the Eyes make them untouchable, so harsh punishments like the wall or the Colonies will never affect them, unless someone like June interferes. That would be why they were mad at Nick for treating them like ordinary Marthas.
As the treatment of Commanders and wives, like Joseph and Serena, who were formerly at the top of the food chain shows, they’re mistaken. Gilead doesn’t believe in loyalty to people as a virtue. Anyone can turn on anyone at anytime.
Images courtesy of Hulu.