Episode 8, Testimony, examines how the characters are coping, or not coping, with their trauma. June faces Fred for the first time since S3Ep10, Witness, when he forced Joseph to perform the Ceremony. They meet in international court, when June testifies against Fred. As generally happens when women accuse powerful men of sex crimes, the results are mixed. The women who know June are empowered by her testimony. Luke sends June more mixed messages. Moira is sympathetic, but prefers to keep June’s experiences at a distance. June searches for and finds an outlet for her anger, which also brings out Emily’s repressed anger. Serena Joy and Fred never change.
Aunt Lydia continues to have difficulty dealing with her own anger and trauma, which leads Joseph to reprimand her and then
give her a puppy turn over a handmaid captured in Chicago to her for discipline. That’s right, Janine’s survival is finally confirmed! Lawrence says he’s giving Janine to Lydia for her to use as a punching bag, but I’m convinced he knows Lydia actually needs a support handmaid to love and Janine is really good at loving people. Before she became a rebel, she was notorious for kidnapping her baby, jumping off a bridge and then later for bringing Angela back to life. Janine is a miraculous character and now God has brought her back to Lydia to fulfill a new purpose.
The previously clips give us a rundown of terrible things that happened to both Emily and June in Gilead, including when Hannah was ripped from June’s arms in the pilot, which she used to curse Serena in S4Ep7, Home.
The episode proper begins with June cutting her own hair to the strains of Portishead’s Glory Box. June cut her own hair once before, when Nick tried to help her escape in S2Ep1, June. In that episode, she burned her hair, then cut the livestock tag off her ear. Now, she lets the hair fall on the floor and after several weeks or months in Canada, she still has the tag. Maybe there’s a long wait for reconstructive surgery to go along with removing the tag? Or maybe she’s keeping it until Hannah comes home?
Once her hair is returned to its pre-Gilead state, June attends a support group meeting at a library with Moira, Emily and other survivors. An ex-Handmaid speaks about secretly cutting herself while she was in Gilead, as a way to feel more in control of her life. Then the conversation turns to June’s testimony at Fred’s pretrial hearing tomorrow. The group assumes June is anxious and fearful, almost pressuring her to feel that way. Moira assures her that she doesn’t have to testify in person- she could submit a written statement. That way she’d avoid facing the defense attorney’s questions.
But June knows a written statement doesn’t have the same power as a person telling her story directly to the judge.
The assumption that everyone in the group will conform to the passive victim role and turn their negative feelings inward is suffocating, even as a viewer. Moira, as the leader, is enforcing this point of view. I practically cheer when June announces, “I’m not nervous or worried or scared. I can’t f—ing wait.”
After the meeting, June’s
Guardian bodyguard lets her know that they can leave whenever she’s ready. She privately asks Moira if they’re going to kick her out of the group because she doesn’t fit in. June is referring to the fact that she expressed strong emotions like confidence and anger, while the others expressed internalized emotions like fear. Moira emphasized the need to forgive and move on rather than allowing themselves to actively feel and express their negative emotions. Heaven forbid women inflict their righteous anger on anyone else.
Moira acknowledges that the other women might be angry too. But she also teases June about the rest of the group feeling awkward because June has a bodyguard.
I can’t believe Moira minimized the risks June faces, when they just discussed June’s potential anxiety over her testimony. The bodyguard is there to protect her from assassination attempts by Gilead and was ordered by Tuello, not June. Moira is suggesting that June should turn her negative emotions inward but shouldn’t take the real dangers posed by her enemies seriously because it calls attention to herself.
That’s some heavy duty internalized misogyny, which will never be acknowledged out loud in the episode, but is a major theme running through it and through the season. Gilead teaches women to hate themselves and each other and to need outside validation, especially from men, in order to feel good. In order to beat their internalized misogyny, they need to regain their confidence, trust and love for themselves and each other.
Moira used to have that kind of confidence and self-love, but Gilead took it away from her. June used to have less of it than Moira- we’ve seen her look to Luke for validation in flashbacks. In Gilead, June learned to believe in herself in order to survive the constant gaslighting. One of the current issues between Luke and June is his confusion over this change. She’s no longer interested in building up his ego or responding to his passive aggressive attempts to undermine her. But after years of living with Luke, Moira has picked up some of his tendencies to avoid conflict and minimize others’ pain in order to avoid facing her own difficult feelings.
Moira also stiffened when June’s bodyguard spoke, then whispered her comment about him. I think he reminds her of the Guardians, too, and she needs to minimize the need for them in order to minimize her own fear. Maybe, as I suspected, her trip back to Gilead and confrontation with the Guardians on the boat triggered her.
Moira and June’s conversation is interrupted when Emily and another woman get into an argument. June rushes to Emily’s rescue, placing herself between the middle-aged stranger and her friend. Moira and the bodyguard follow her. The woman says she just wants to talk. Emily isn’t interested. The woman tries to give Emily a paper with her information on it so they can talk at another time, but Emily refuses it. June tells the woman to leave.
After she’s gone, Moira asks if Emily is okay. She says she’s fine. June asks who the woman was, but Emily won’t answer. She leaves with Moira following her. June picks up the paper that the woman dropped on the floor.
Later that evening, Luke, June, Moira and Emily have dinner together. Moira tells them that she’s having a tough time with the refresher coding boot camp she’s taking. The refresher will get her caught up in her field and able to go back to her original career
so she won’t have to fill every role in the refugee center or waste her life cleaning up June’s messes anymore.
Luke asks Emily if she plans to go back into teaching. She says she’s not ready, though her wife encouraged her to go back. Emily is a cellular biologist who taught at the university level, so she also has some catching up to do before she’s ready to get a job at the same level.
June interrupts to ask Emily about Iris Baker, the woman from the library. Luke asks, “What woman?” Emily says, “I knew her as Irene. Aunt Irene.” She was from the district where Emily had her first posting, before she and June met. June asks what she wanted. Moira, clearly annoyed, says that Emily doesn’t want to talk to her, so it doesn’t matter. Emily says she doesn’t know what the Aunt wanted.
June asks if the Aunt hurt Emily.
Luke, in an irritated tone: “Why would you say that?”
June, also irritated: “Because she’s an Aunt.”
Luke has lived with handmaids and researched Gilead for 7 years and he doesn’t know who the aunts are and what they’re capable of? He’s not much of a listener, I guess. Why is he even involving himself in this conversation?
June: “You should face her. Emily, you have to. You need to.”
Luke, trying to get June’s attention so she’ll stop talking: “June. June.”
June: “You have to get out everything you’ve been holding in. I promise you will feel better.”
Emily: “Well, we’re not all like you.”
Except Emily is very much like June. Emily was the handmaid June was closest to, other than Janine. That’s why June feels so strongly about Emily’s recovery. And Emily has been stuck in place for a year- her therapy isn’t working.
June knows that Emily only seems passive on the outside, because she’s a quiet introvert. She’s the fierce warrior who told June about Mayday. She needs to be reminded of that so she can learn to stand up for herself again, not be pushed down into a victim box the way she was when she was a handmaid.
But only Luke is allowed to get pushy in this household, kids. Women will be scolded like children when they get out of line. 🤯
In reality, these women, and the others in their circle, pushed and dragged each other through Gilead, sometimes all the way to Canada, doing whatever it took to keep themselves and each other alive and sane. June wouldn’t be sitting at that table if Moira hadn’t forced her there. Emily wouldn’t be there if she hadn’t stabbed Aunt Lydia then pushed her down the Lawrences’ stairs. Moira wouldn’t be there if she hadn’t stolen a car and killed a Commander. So let’s be clear about who they all are and what they’re capable of (murder).
As Luke and June wash dishes after dinner, he mentions that Aunt Irene must have been brutal to Emily. June thinks she couldn’t have been as bad as Aunt Lydia.
Luke: “Yeah, well, if Emily wanted you to know, I’m sure she would’ve just told you, right?”
If only it were that simple.
Now that Luke has told June to respect Emily’s boundaries, he proceeds to stomp all over hers for the rest of the episode.
Luke: “So you sure you wouldn’t feel better if I was there tomorrow?”
June: “It would just hurt you to hear those things about me, so… I don’t want that.”
She’s not being completely honest here. She also doesn’t want him there because it will make it more difficult for her to concentrate on her testimony. The fact that she doesn’t feel like he’ll accept this as a valid excuse says a lot about their marriage.
Luke wiggles around, being hurt and trying to figure out whether to say more or change the subject. Now that he’s the one who has to accept it when someone he cares about draws a line that shuts him out, it’s not so easy. He goes with changing the subject.
Luke: “So, Mark Tuello was really interested in the, um, the lake house where you saw Hannah. And he said he could find some photos that you could look at.”
June is wary: “Why did you tell him about that?”
Luke: “Because this is the first new information that we’ve had on Hannah in, like, forever. It means that we can restart the search.”
Oh, sweetie, if only you knew how much more information on Hannah June has stored in her brain. Hannah isn’t lost. She’s simply a captive, just like June was.
The fact that Luke assumed June had already told him everything she knows about Hannah is astounding. He treats her like Gilead sucked her brains out and now she has the mind of a golden retriever. He also expects her to obey him as if she’s a golden retriever.
After 7 years of betrayals, June is having difficulty trusting people. But she especially doesn’t trust Tuello, who’s working closely with Serena. I don’t completely trust him either, to be honest. There’s a significant chance that Serena has turned him to her cause rather than the other way around.
June: “Yeah, but I didn’t want…”
Luke: “But don’t you want that?
June:”…to tell him about that. Yet. [Luke: “All right. All right.”] I don’t know why you would’ve told him.”
He won’t even let her finish her sentences.
It should be fairly easy to guess that she wants a minute to recover from her 7 years of sex slavery and torture before she jumps right back into to the fight. She also needs to regroup, assess who her allies are here in Canada and consider whether it’s safe for Hannah if they try to get her back right now, what with the Waterfords’ very public trial and her recent escape. But since the boys aren’t treating June like she’s anything more than the vessel she was in Gilead, she’s not inclined to give them information that will also allow them to take decisions out of her hands.
Moira comes back from putting Nichole to bed. June leaves, saying she’s going to go prep her testimony. Luke complains to Moira that June doesn’t want him to come to court with her. Moira subtly points out that June doesn’t want her there either- this isn’t about him, it’s about what June needs. Luke doesn’t hear what Moira says, and complains that he doesn’t know what June wants.
Which is weird, because 5 minutes ago, June straight up told him what she wants, and why. Maybe if he let her finish a sentence every once in while and then thought about what that sentence means…
Luke: “She is like a stranger half the time. I mean it’s like when we talk about Hannah and in bed…”
He literally just reduced her roles in the marriage to sex slave/handmaid and Wife/mother.
If she’s only like a stranger half the time, then the other half of the time, she’s probably pretending to be the woman he knew before Gilead.
Moira: “Getting over trauma is a bumpy road. You need to be patient until June gets where she’s going. You don’t know what she’s been through.”
What Moira wisely says: Give June some space to recover in her own way and at her own pace.
What Luke hears: Spy on your wife so that you can control her more easily.
Luke decides that he knows a convenient way to learn more about June’s life in Gilead.
When Fred joins Serena in her cell, she greets him by reading from the transcript of Moira’s testimony against him. Since she’s never actually been an obedient Gilead Wife, this isn’t a big change in behavior, except for the reading part. And now Fred can’t physically punish her for it.
Moira said that his sexual tastes were sadly vanilla, and he couldn’t even get it up all the time. When he couldn’t he watched her with another woman.
While I’m always up for poking fun at Fred, shaming him for having conventional sexual tastes is just as bad as slut or kink shaming. However, his erectile dysfunction does call his supposed return to fertility further into question. Joseph Fiennes is only 51, slim and fit. Frequent impotence could indicate that Fred has an underlying health condition beyond having his sperm affected by environmental pollution.
Fred calls Moira a deviant and a liar, but Serena watched the video of her testimony and thinks the judges found her compelling. Fred didn’t help himself by rolling his eyes while she spoke. Fred asks why Serena called him to her cell, since he has a big day in court tomorrow. Serena is concerned that their case isn’t going well, but Fred assures her that his lawyer, Dawn, is prepared for June’s appearance.
Serena is worried about Fred’s performance, not Dawn’s. She warns him to get his act together. And to start calling “her” June instead of Offred. Serena still has a little work to do in that department as well.
He counters that it would help even more for Serena to stand by her man and come to court with him. Serena says she hasn’t felt up to it. Fred sternly tells her that even though the world already knows she’s pregnant, they need to be seen standing together as a family. He asks if she wants June to think she’s afraid of her. Serena tells him she’ll come with him tomorrow.
Fred suggests she wear the teal. He managed to get in a punishment for her insolence after all.
These two may not be a love match anymore, but they keep coming back to each other because no one else is able to push them to the heights that they challenge each other to reach together. Except June- Serena could soar even higher with June.
Aunt Lydia supervises young handmaids as they scrub the floor of the Red Center on their hands and knees. She criticizes them for taking too long and not scrubbing hard enough, then scolds Aunt Ruth (Jeananne Goossen), the aunt who told Lydia she was being retired, and another aunt for gossiping. Ruth speaks condescendingly to Lydia again. Lydia harasses the handmaids some more, even though they are already following her instructions.
She loses control and tases one handmaid repeatedly. When Aunt Ruth tries to stop her, Lydia instinctively turns and tases Ruth as well. Everyone in the room stares at Lydia. She looks stricken and walks out.
The recent loss of 5 of HER handmaids and June’s escape has Lydia off her game again. This handmaid didn’t deserve to be tased, but I can’t blame Lydia for going after Aunt Ruth, her nemesis within the aunts. Just like June, Lydia has been traumatized to the point where she doesn’t trust anyone and she’s always on high alert. She’s having a difficult time finding her way back to a state of relative normalcy. Every time she makes progress, she receives another blow.
June is called to testify in a nearly empty courtroom. She’s sworn in without a Bible, another sign that we’re not in Gilead anymore, Toto. She’s appearing in front of the International Criminal Court, also known as the World Court, headquartered in The Hague, Netherlands, which tries “individuals for genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and aggression.”
I can’t express how excited I am to see Fred brought up on these charges, even though I’m doubtful that they’ll stick. More people need to be made aware that the ICC is an option available in the real world for prosecuting crimes against humanity.
Just as June takes the stand, Tuello escorts Luke into the courtroom, ignoring her wishes.
If Luke felt he had to witness her testimony, he could have watched from the press box, where June couldn’t see him, or he could have watched a video feed, the way Serena watched Moira. This move is about Luke showing June that she can’t control his access to her life, with the side benefit of Luke planting himself in front of Fred and silently declaring that June is his property, not Fred’s. We are seeing the similarities between Fred and Luke here.
June takes the stand. Tuello sits with Rachel Tapping. Luke sits alone on the bride’s side of the aisle. June’s testimony is given in one long take. The camera begins at a medium distance and slowly moves closer throughout her speech until it ends on a close up. She’s in a white marble room, backlit and glowing, with windows and vertical ridges behind her, a play on the noir trope of horizontal bars. June is still trapped, but this time, she’s reaching for her Heaven on Earth. Her angels’ wings are behind her in spirit.
This one is for all of the handmaids, Marthas and Unwomen out there.
June gives her name, then explains the circumstances of her time with the Waterfords, which began in 2017. She describes the Ceremony, which took place 3 nights a month, as legally sanctioned rape. Then she tells the court that Serena coerced her and Nick into having sex in order to create a baby in case Fred was infertile. She stumbles over Nick’s name a little the first time she says it. She smiles when she describes her pregnancy with her daughter, Nichole and emphasizes that Nichole is her daughter, not Serena and Fred’s.
Then she talks about her S2 escape attempt, when she stayed at the Boston Globe office for 2 months. She describes her rape the night before Nichole was born as punishment for going into false labor and embarrassing the Waterfords. She doesn’t mention that the rape was supposedly meant to induce labor, but I’m not sure if she understood that at the time. At any rate, Aunt Lydia made several suggestions for stimulating contractions. They chose rape over mango salad.
June says that after Nichole was born, she wasn’t allowed to see her baby, even though she was still expressing breastmilk. Eventually Serena relented and let June move back into the house. If I remember right, June’s milk was drying up, so it was a necessary step if Nichole was going to keep getting breastmilk.
June acknowledges that Serena tried to help females in Gilead regain the right to read the Bible. After she appeared in front of the Commanders’ Council and read out loud from the Bible, the Council punished her by cutting off a finger, with Fred’s consent. When June confronted Fred about it, he hit her. She hit him back, even though the punishment could be death.
June describes her next opportunity to escape, when Rita and the Marthas arranged for her to take Nichole to Canada. She decided she couldn’t leave without Hannah, so she sent Nichole with Emily. She stayed so that she could bring Hannah back to her father, June’s husband. But she failed.
She was captured again and sent to the Lawrences, who didn’t perform the Ceremony, though they risked their own lives to skip it each month. “But Mr Waterford later arranged for me to be raped by Commander Lawrence as a test of loyalty.” Serena and Fred waited downstairs while Joseph and June were forced to go through with having sex, because a doctor was present to examine her after the Ceremony to make sure it had been properly performed. Eleanor Lawrence was mentally fragile and this was a devastating experience for her.
That was the last time she saw Fred before she walked into the courtroom. “I am grateful to be speaking to you today, but mine is just one voice. Countless others will remain unheard. Imprisoned by men like Fred Waterford. Women… my friends, who lost their lives and can never be heard. It is for those women that I ask the International Criminal Court to confirm the charges against this man and put him on trial. I ask for the maximum possible sentence. I ask for justice.”
I am so F-ing proud of June and Elizabeth Moss. Both women are goddesses.
No matter what they do or say later, every person in that courtroom was moved by her words. There’s a moment of silence after she speaks.
Then the judge gives the defense attorney the chance to question June.
Fred’s lawyer, Dawn (Alexandra Castillo), goes with the standard line of questioning for women who’ve been raped. She pulls out June’s sexual history, her “sin”, and forces June to admit to adultery- the trope that June is a liar who’s said yes to a man before, so she has no right to ever say no again. Then she makes it look like June chose to be raped by
wearing a short skirt getting drunk choosing to be a handmaid instead of dying in the Colonies. “If you don’t fight to the death, you didn’t fight hard enough, so it’s not rape” is a common attitude, which means that essentially a woman can’t live through “real” rape. The choice of Colonies or Handmaid codifies that attitude.
Fred argues that the rape to induce labor was necessary, because it worked and he says so. In other words, he makes the rules and he decides what’s “real” rape. He can find a reason to justify all of it, so none of it is rape. Ever. In Gilead, if the man wants the sex, it’s not rape.
I’m going to print Fred’s speech for future reference, though it sickens me. But it turns out that Canada is full of ignorant right wingers who are desperate to have a baby and to worship Serena, so they’re just as vulnerable to Fred’s BS as the US was several years ago.
In reality, no legitimate court would allow this next sequence to occur. Defendants don’t get to bully witnesses and sermonize unless something is very wrong. June and Nick were fertile before Gilead. Serena probably was, too. Cleaning up pollutants and going green is an excellent idea. It doesn’t require oppression, rape, murder or torture. The Commanders added those aspects of Gilead culture for their own amusement. Women have had babies, worked hard and used their brains since the dawn of time.
Fred: “It was another Holy Ceremony, to bring God’s Gift into the world safely. It was for the health of the child. God tests us. He tests us with a heavy hand. The sacrifices we all made in Gilead were difficult. But where else on Earth is the birth rate rising? Nowhere. Only in Gilead, because it works. It works. We chose God’s path and have been rewarded for our suffering.” He places his hand on Serena’s belly, then removes it.
June leaves the podium to confront Fred face to face. “Tell me, how was I rewarded for my suffering?”
Fred: “Your beautiful baby daughter and your other daughter. I let you see her. I arranged for the two of them to meet, a kindness. She left that out.”
June tells the court she’s done. The rest can wait for the trial. She walks out with her head held high and a side eye to Luke.
Only a sociopath would dare to bring up the 10 minutes he allowed his victim to spend with her kidnapped daughter over the course of 7 years as part of his defense against crimes against humanity charges. 🤯 🤯 🤯
Joseph brings Aunt Lydia in front of him to discuss the taser incident. She tries to make excuses, but he shuts her down, saying he doesn’t care about either her story or Ruth’s. But the handmaid was obedient and shouldn’t have been tased. He notes that the new handmaids usually are obedient, after living in Gilead “most of their lives.” (The math in this show is absurd. Gilead has existed for 7 years [which was fudged up from 5 to skip the pandemic]. Are all of the new handmaids 12?)
Then he muses that Lydia must be fuming over June’s escape to Canada. Lydia doesn’t look like she’s all that fussed, actually. She’s decided to let go and let God handle June. Joseph assumes June will convert God to her way of thinking before long,
just as he would if given the chance.
Joseph: “June won because she knows how to make people like her. People do not like you. [Lydia looks surprised.] They don’t. I can sympathize. People don’t like me either.”
Joseph tells her that he wants the negative reports to stop.
Joseph misses the point- June doesn’t cynically make people like her so that she can use them. She cares about people and actually becomes close to them. Lawrence is smart, but he doesn’t understand people beyond their most basic, selfish motivations. Fortunately for him, manipulating people based on the 7 deadly sins will take you a long way when you’re a genius. But as he’s said himself, he fails at times because he has difficulty taking love and virtue into account.
Lydia is saddened that no one likes her. I suspect she wasn’t always so harsh. It’s what she’s had to become to survive, but she can pull out her buried social skills and dust them off, now that Gilead is changing and a new skill set is required.
Lydia asks if he’s going to “terminate” her. He says he doesn’t want to. He wants her to continue to be part of the work they’ve started.
Joseph: “I want you back in form. The work I’m doing, that we, that we are doing is the future of Gilead. And that means the world to me. Everything to me.”
Lydia understands. She needs to be useful to Joseph in order to live. Luckily, he has an ongoing, important purpose for her. And Lydia loves to be useful.
Which brings us to today’s “situation”- “a fugitive handmaid captured in Chicago.” He opens the file for Lydia to view.
IT’S JANINE!!!!! ❤️ ❤️ ❤️
Lydia is speechless. She thought Janine was dead. While Lydia recovers, Joseph rambles on about how terribly violent and defiant Janine is. He’s winding Lydia up. He has the file. He knows she’s June’s best friend and one of Lydia’s special girls. He knows she saved Baby Angela’s life. This is likely a case where he wants to see what will happen when he puts two people together with a new attitude.
Never forget that most of all, Joseph hates to be bored. He is always the Gamemaker.
By the time he’s done winding her up, Lydia is desperate to get Janine back and save her from whatever she needs saving from. She tells Joseph that June led Janine astray. He still thinks the buck stops with Lydia and the Red Center training.
Violence begets violence, kids. Funny how Joseph forgets that the aunts were trained to be violent by the Sons of Jacob.
Joseph says it’s okay, he knows she enjoys inflicting pain. She protests that she doesn’t. He calls sadism her hobby. She continues to insist that she’s not sadistic in her heart.
Joseph: “But it is counterproductive for you to inflict that pain on your students at the Red Center, let alone on your colleagues. Do you understand?”
Lydia: “I do, yes.”
Joseph: “You need a better outlet. So, do with her what you will.”
And with that, he reins in Aunt Lydia’s temper and turns it back into a protective instinct. He gave her a choice- continue to be a monster, but only in private, or become something more. Remember who you were before Gilead. It’s up to her to make something of herself and Janine now.
Meanwhile, at Moira’s support group, the members grumble about the way Waterford took over the hearing earlier in the day. They cheer for June when she arrives, until they notice that she has Aunt Irene (Carly Street) in tow. She found the other woman waiting outside the library. Moira feels this isn’t the right time or place to confront an Aunt. June asks why not, since it’s their space. Another member, Danielle (Natasha Mumbo), takes a vote on whether Aunt Irene should stay. Several women vote yes, then June softly says to Emily, “I’m trying to help you. But it’s up to you.” Emily agrees.
June pulls a chair into the center of the “Your Fault” circle and Aunt Irene sits down. June tells her to go ahead and talk.
She says she’s done terrible things, like all of the aunts. They’re taught that the
beatings torture physical punishments they deliver will help keep the handmaids alive. Moira scoffs at this idea. But Aunt Irene did something even worse to Emily. During Emily’s first posting, she learned about Emily’s affair with the Martha. When Emily was transferred, becoming Ofglen, and they continued the affair, Aunt Irene turned them in to the Eyes. It’s her fault that the Martha was hung and Emily had a clitorectomy (S1Ep3, Late).
Emily is quietly angry. She asks what Aunt Irene wants. The aunt says that she hasn’t had a moment’s peace since she learned that Emily now lives near her- apparently she slept fine while her victim was still in Gilead. Probably worried Emily would come for her in her bed. She says she wants Emily to forgive her.
June asks why she deserves forgiveness, after everything she’s done, including lying about her role in Gilead when she came to Canada. Irene says, “We are all God’s children.” June doesn’t accept this excuse. It’s used by the religious in a self-serving way to protect themselves.
Aunt Irene falls to her knees in front of Emily and begs for forgiveness. Emily recoils from her. Irene asks what she can do to make things better.
Emily laughs bitterly and tells her, “Nothing.”
Then she walks out. Aunt Irene cries loud crocodile tears.
The aunt is another Gilead sociopath who can’t understand the magnitude of her impact on Emily or that the Martha can’t be brought back. She wants Emily to take away her guilt over hurting people who she now realizes were innocent- she’s not actually trying to make anything better for Emily. And I really think she’s afraid Emily will extract revenge (as an aunt, she may have heard about Emily’s later exploits). The suspense of waiting for Emily to strike is killing her. 😉
Next up, we have an incredibly uncomfortable dinner between two people who have lost the ability to communicate with each other. June knows she’s changed and is trying to protect Luke from the part of her that’s a mass murderer, so, as he’s noticed, she’s vacillating between a fake version of her former self and a quiet, withdrawn version of her new self.
Luke hasn’t admitted to himself that he’s changed too, and is trying to just be his old self as much as possible, but he’s also got 7 years of new wounds and trust issues that affect his ability to communicate with her. He is no longer the successful, upbeat guy who reassured June that he’d love every version of her. He’s now a man who lost everything he held dear and waited helplessly for 7 years while his wife tried to rescue their daughter, had a child with another man and was enslaved by a 3rd. He’s a combination of hurt, territorial, emasculated, confused and desperate along with happy to have her back.
He asks how group was. June puts on her fake smile and says “It was fine.” Luke accepts the answer, but I think he recognized the fake smile too. June puts on an even brighter fake smile and complements his cooking. Luke gets all flustered and thanks her.
He apologizes for ignoring her request to stay out of the courtroom during her testimony. She looks irritated. He says, in a wheedling tone, “But at least now I know everything and maybe we can just move on. I mean, if you want to talk to me about anything to do with Hannah or…”
June looks sick. She says, “I don’t. We’re good.” She lets him off the hook, because he’s made it clear that Hannah is the only part of her time in Gilead that he wants to know about. If I were June, I’d feel like my only value to him since I came back is as Hannah’s mother, which is exactly how she felt on the boat from Canada- as if that was her main value to him before Gilead, too.
Luke says okay and does the head waggle he does when he’s trying not to look hurt. Then he bows his head and rubs and pulls his hair. June cries a little and shakes her head in angry frustration. He shut her story and emotions down while pretending he’s there for her, but now it’s her job as the wife to take care of him.
June goes to him, but she can’t bring herself to baby him or open up to him. He’s been too critical and repressive. He says, “I don’t know what to do. I’m trying.”
I believe he’s trying. I also believe he should get some therapy or read some self-help books and become more self-aware. But I don’t think it matters. Their marriage likely would have ended long before Gilead if they didn’t have Hannah to focus on. She distracted June from his self-absorption and male chauvinism. June doesn’t have the emotional energy or need to ignore the truth about him for much longer.
They make one more attempt at conversation, but I’m not even sure who says what. June gives up and starts kissing him. Sex was a reliable way for her to reconnect with Nick when words weren’t working. Maybe it also worked for her and Luke in the past, but it isn’t working now. When she reaches for his belt, Luke forcibly stops her. He yells at her to stop and tells her to talk to him instead.
June doesn’t say a word. She glares at him defiantly and walks out.
The kitchen feels so much like the Waterford house right now, maybe after one of those times June and Fred shared a late night snack. June didn’t even play the Manipulate the Commander Game in this scene. She refused, so Luke played it by himself. We’ve seen Fred try to manipulate June into performing for him, too. It didn’t always work for him either.
Janine is imprisoned in June’s old cell at the torture dungeon, wearing the handmaids’ prison uniform with the red stripe. Her cool eye patch has been replaced by a blood-smeared bandage and she’s covered in grime. When Lydia enters the room, both women keep their faces carefully neutral. A touch of anger peeks through after a moment.
Lydia tells Janine that she’s a mess, then slowly pulls the blanket off her while trying to convince her that Gilead saved her. Lydia doesn’t put much enthusiasm behind it. Janine ignores that nonsense and asks about June. When Lydia admits that June made it to
Heaven on Earth Canada, that God forsaken place, Janine’s face lights up. “She made it! I always knew she would make it.”
Lydia tries to convince Janine that June purposely left her behind, but Janine doesn’t listen. She tells Lydia that she knows what this place is and that what happens here “will keep happening until she dies.” She asks Lydia not to make her a handmaid again. She’d rather die.
I thought this was the prison, but now I wonder if it’s the Magdalene Colony.
Lydia tries again to blame June for corrupting Janine. When that tactic doesn’t land, she changes direction and expresses sympathy for how much Janine has lost- everyone she’s ever loved, much like Lydia herself. Janine is past caring about any of Lydia’s manipulations and softly repeats that she wants to die instead of returning to service as a handmaid.
Lydia is crying by now. She stands up and tells Janine to buck up, then hugs her and cries some more, saying, “Whatever are we going to do with you?” Janine remains stonefaced. Lydia needs to earn her trust back.
Out of the original group of handmaids, Janine was one of the toughest and the most optimistic. She was chosen early in training to have her eye removed as an example for the others, and responded by dropping her defiance and becoming childlike. Now that she is the last woman standing and doesn’t care what they do to her, she doesn’t need the overly sweet facade any longer. But warmth, caring, optimism and common sense are part of Janine’s true self. As are strength and independence.
Janine has long been Lydia’s weakness. She cried through the ritual to stone her and couldn’t bear to try again when it failed. Even though she lashes out at Janine at times, I believe she also loves her like a daughter. Now that Joseph has given Lydia permission to explore kinder ways of operating, for a while we’re going to see the same sort of contradictory behavior we’re seeing in June as both explore who they are in their new environments.
Lydia, June and Serena have all grown hard shells and learned to use violent words or actions as their first line of defense to survive Gilead. Now that their situations have improved, it will take them each a while to assess their respective new environments and modulate themselves accordingly. None of them is completely safe, but all are safer and more able to develop healthier, lasting relationships with others.
Moira tells Emily that June shouldn’t have ambushed her with the aunt. Emily is okay with what June did, but it wasn’t enough to help her. Moira is surprised and asks if Emily wants to see the aunt again. Emily doesn’t have anything to say to the aunt. Moira acknowledges that all of the refugees are looking for a way to turn their stuff from Gilead into something useful so they can move forward. She realizes that an aunt could be a powerful witness in the ICC’s investigation of Gilead and suggests that Emily talk Aunt Irene into testifying. Emily agrees that could help her move forward.
The next day, she drives out to Aunt Irene’s house, but when she gets there, the woman has hung herself from a tree. First responders, dressed in black and reminiscent of Guardians, are all over the yard. Emily turns around and drives away. She keeps her face blank.
The scene of the hanging was mostly shot through the car windows and out of focus, the way Emily saw both her lover’s hanging and the Guardian she ran over and killed. This was the aunt’s decision, but it’s an eye for an eye, all the same. Earlier in the episode, June asked for justice. Aunt Irene judged herself and exacted that justice.
I wonder if Emily has told Syl about the Martha or Aunt Irene.
Before court the next day, the protesters outside the prison have multiplied. Serena, still dressed in her teals, meets Fred at the door and asks if he believed his speech before the court yesterday. Of course he did. They step outside to the sound of a cheering mob. Canada’s religious nutjobs loved what Fred said and Serena’s princess look, combined with her pregnancy. Serena looks like she’s finally found home again. She puts on her public smile and takes Fred’s hand as they move toward their adoring fans.
The next group meeting is held during the day- maybe it’s an emergency meeting because of the aunt’s death? Moira speaks gently, assuming they are all in shock. The group’s comments quickly evolve- “It’s so sad.” “A trial would have been better.” “Prison.” “B—h took the coward’s way out.” Danielle asks what Moira thinks. She diplomatically states that “We’re all better than the worst thing we’ve done.”
Then the members try to reassure Emily that she shouldn’t feel guilty and it wasn’t her fault. They assume she’s been triggered and might be suicidal. Emily looks confused. June suggests they let Emily speak for herself- “If she wants to.”
Consent requested and obtained. Not an ambush.
This is the moment June has been waiting for. It’s the moment Emily has been waiting for, too. Finally, someone has given her permission to express her real feelings, rather than following along with the group’s predetermined, society-approved feelings of turning everything inward on oneself: from blame, shame and guilt to depression instead of anger, fury and rage leading to action, then justice. The former isn’t Emily’s way and it never has been. Even before Gilead, Emily quietly stood up and took action.
June isn’t weaponizing Emily. Emily weaponized June back in season 1. This story began when these two women stopped pretending with each other. I suspect the rest of these women, who all escaped from Gilead, have histories that are similar to the women we’ve followed. All June does in this conversation is open a door for them to walk through, acknowledging the truth about themselves and their pasts.
Emily: “I feel… amazing. I’m glad she’s dead. And I hope I had something to do with it.”
June gives her a little nod of encouragement, the one that always gets her blamed for killing people. It must have magic powers, like a vampire’s glamor.
Moira looks crushed. All that work toward love and peace, out the window. Once a fighter, always a fighter.
Next June will form a new Red Army and take over Canada and it will be Moira’s fault.
The floodgates open in the rest of the group.
Danielle: “If my Aunt Lisa was here of my F—ing Commander…”
Tyler: “If my Commander were here, I’d cut his dick off. Make him eat it.”
June: “There you go.” They are finally sounding like kidnap/rape/torture victims who are placing the blame where it belongs.
Vicky: “The wife- I’d use a broom handle.”
Moira tells the group that anger is fine as long as you don’t have much of it. Time to put these feelings away now, ladies.
Moira doesn’t have the same experience as a handmaid and has maybe been free for a lot longer than the others. Or maybe she just doesn’t want to face these feelings, in which case maybe she’s not the right person to lead a group like this. I agree, you can’t let anger alone rule your life. But isn’t therapy supposed to be a safe places to express it?
Moira tells them they can’t live in their anger or they won’t heal.
June: “Why not? Why does healing have to be the only goal? Why can’t we be as furious as we feel? Don’t we have that right?”
Not when you’re living with Luke, as Moira has since she returned from Gilead. She pulls a classic passive aggressive move and tells the group that their hour is up. June has a counter move ready- she says she’ll stay and keep talking if anyone else wants to. Her new partner in crime, Danielle, immediately says she’ll stay too. As do Tyler (Victoria Sawal) and Vicky (Amanda Zhou). June gives Moira a look of triumph. Moira is upset. Emily looks miserable- June’s coup forces her to take sides between her two friends. But June and the others need this time to vent. June’s not doing it to hurt Moira or Emily, though the victory clearly feels good after she’s been pushed down for so long.
It’s dark out by the time June gets home. Luke is upstairs, sitting in the bedroom. He turns away from her a little when he sees her coming. She holds him to her chest and kisses the top of his head. Gently, she says, “Luke, I need to tell you something. I need to tell you about the last time I saw Hannah.” He looks up at her and she nods her head, acknowledging that she didn’t tell him before because it’s bad, but now she’s ready to talk about it. They hug again.
June looks sad, but determined. This is the conversation she’s been dreading. She tried to jump ship and go back to Chicago to avoid it, then she lied to Luke in the hotel to put it off. Thanks to the hearing and the support group meeting, she’s processed enough of her emotions over the course of this long day to finally break through everything else that’s inside of her and talk to him honestly about their daughter.
Serena’s pregnancy appears to have advanced several weeks or even a few months, so we’ve had a time jump of somewhere between 6 weeks and 3 months- unless we haven’t. Time flows strangely in this universe.
It would be realistic for Fred to be acquitted of the sex crime charges or to cut a deal. I thought that originally, there were more charges, such as torture and other war crimes. Maybe without Serena’s testimony those are also lost. But the reality is that very few world leaders are ever brought to justice. The powerful don’t want to set a precedent that might someday blowback onto themselves. Even most Nazis escaped justice, though a relative few were very publicly punished. Politics and espionage are dirty businesses.
Unlike Luke, Moira is doing everything right to accommodate June’s needs. June is in such rough shape that it’s not possible to give her exactly what she needs, other than time- as Moira told Luke. But sparks are beginning to fly between the two friends anyway. They’ve both been building up resentments since the Red Center, maybe even since before Gilead. Eventually, they’re going to blow up in an epic argument that will hopefully clear the air rather than end the friendship.
What I see in the final scene is June telling Luke she’s ready to work with him to bring Hannah home, as he’s been asking for since she woke up in the hotel room. Moving forward with the mission to rescue Hannah is a different subject from saving their marriage. They are both mature adults and parenting Nichole and Hannah is their primary goal, whether they break up or work through their issues as romantic partners. Right now, that means bringing Hannah home and protecting Nichole.
June is currently not in a place where she can handle being Luke’s romantic partner- I suspect that by the end of the season they will agree to take a step back from the way they’ve been living, since they rushed into living together as if they’d never been separated, without even getting to know each other again. That could mean a trial separation with June moving out, them sleeping in separate bedrooms in the same house, or just agreeing to cool off their sex life for now. Or June could take her newly formed squad of elite Handmaid Commandos (Danielle, Vicky, Tyler and counting) and head for the Gilead Border to work out more of her anger. It worked for Captain America. 😉
Luke built his refugee identity around being June’s husband. It’ll be hard for him if she eventually rejects him, but June doesn’t owe him an identity. Whatever the state of their relationship, if she continues fighting Gilead, he should be able to understand her need to physically return to the fight to save their daughter and other daughters and her unique qualifications to do so.
No one else in Canada has been as successful against the Commanders as she has. No one else has the will to bring them down that she has. There’s nothing wrong with June’s attitude. In a man it would be called fighting spirit and applauded. On this show, Luke essentially plays the role of the wife who’s left at home while the husband goes off to war, giving June someone to return to.
Moira saved Private Ryan, but maybe Private Ryan wasn’t finished fighting. Maybe June is actually a different Matt Damon character, Jason Bourne, CIA assassin and spy. After some R&R, an update on enemy intelligence and training with a new team, she’ll be ready to head back in to continue her mission.
The Testaments Spoilers: With his wife underground on dangerous missions, continuing as Gilead’s Most Wanted for the foreseeable future, it makes sense for Luke and Nichole to go underground as well. I believe he will change his name and is one of the characters who raises Nichole in The Testaments. That doesn’t doom Luke- deaths are easily faked in the spy v. spy world. All Nichole saw was surveillance video footage of her foster parents’ deaths. She is an unreliable narrator. End Spoilers
Aunt Irene could have found ways to atone for her sins, such as helping women in need or fighting Gilead. Instead, the weight of her own actions drove her to choose to death by her own hand, bringing justice for Emily and her Martha. She wanted Emily to fix her issues for her, when it was up to her to fix them herself. She was the one who owed Emily- Emily owed her nothing. Her guilt and consequent actions suggest that she probably did more terrible things to other people. June may have put her in the middle of a circle, but nothing she said or did was any worse than what Aunt Irene might have faced in a court of law- than what June herself had faced earlier that day when she wasn’t even the defendant.
Try watching how the handmaid’s wings lamps are shown in the library and elsewhere throughout the episode. The changes show how strong the handmaid energy is in the room. It’s reflective of how deep the characters’ despair is at any given moment. At one point, just before they speak to Aunt Irene, the library is full of lamps.
In the final scene in June and Luke’s bedroom, one lamp remains. Luke is full of despair, but June has worked her way through her emotions over the course of the episode. What she’s about to tell him, that the last time she saw Hannah she was in a glass cage and didn’t recognize June, will make things temporarily worse, but it’s also the light at the end of the tunnel for them. June is beginning to communicate and they can pool their information to move forward with the search for Hannah.
Episode 8 is the second of the three episodes Elizabeth Moss directed this season. The cinematography and symbolism was next level. I’ve enjoyed the hair, makeup and costume work all season and the way faces are lit and shot like portraits, but Elizabeth Moss has an exceptionally good eye for using close ups of care worn faces to tell a story. I wish I could comment in even more detail on the work in so many scenes, but then these recaps would be books.
The Battle Between Light and Dark
This episode emphasizes the struggle within each character as several of them reach turning points.
When Janine pleads with Lydia to let her die rather than returning her to service as a handmaid, she makes explicit the unstated choice that Alma, Brianna, Sarah and Ellie made- they could have stopped running at the train crossing, but they chose death or freedom rather than returning to the life of slavery and torture they’d led in Gilead. June had already made this choice when she asked Aunt Lydia to kill her earlier in S4Ep3. I think all 6 of those women choosing death over a return to life as a handmaid will have an impact on Lydia, especially now that she and Janine will have time to talk.
Joseph’s goal is for Lydia to rehumanize herself and then rehumanize others. After that, she can begin to function in more complex roles again. It’s not clear exactly what Lydia chooses for Janine, but it appears she’s considering her options rather than going straight to torture the way she did with June. I’m thinking Janine will become one of the first truly kind aunts and teach singing in one of the girls’ schools. Or maybe she’ll counsel troubled women. While working with the resistance on the side, obviously. 😉
Joseph is morally neutral- he couldn’t care less about light and dark/good and evil, unless another character forces him to take them into account, such as June, Eleanor or Fred. He’s interested in watching the interplay between the two sides and performing human experiments in order to create effective systems.
In some ways, he is President Snow, the ultimate gamemaker from the Hunger Games, and June is Katniss Everdeen. He’s fascinated by June and sees the ways that they’re alike. He enjoys toying with her, but ultimately he won’t let her succeed. He still blames her for Eleanor’s death. And he doesn’t understand her as well as he thinks he does, which causes him to underestimate her.
In addition to reading the two books the TV series is based on, I also recommend reading the entire Hunger Games series, by Suzanne Collins (currently 4 books) and the nonfiction, Pulitzer Prize-winning series of graphic novels Maus, by Art Spiegelman. Both deal with themes of war, oppression, slavery, resistance, collaboration, neutrality, government, escape and survivor’s guilt. They both explore the way heroes and villains think and the gray areas that make determining who is a hero and who is a villain difficult. Joseph had Maus on a table when June moved into his house. We all hoped it meant he was a good guy, but I think now that he reads it as a psychology text to help him understand and control Gilead’s slaves more efficiently.
Joseph won’t help June unless he’s blackmailed or another situation arises where he’s convinced that it will overwhelmingly benefit him. The jury is still out on whether he’ll take part in the resistance. I don’t think he wants a return to the US. He wants a kinder, gentler Gilead, bastion of clean living, oppression, misogynist collectivism, and a high birth rate.
If June continues to be mistreated and controlled by the people around her, she has the potential to have her humanity wrung out of her over time. Gradually, she could become another gamemaker, like Lawrence, who cares about strategy and statistics rather than people. So far, with the help of her loved ones, whenever she’s begun to show those tendencies she’s always turned back toward the light. But left unchecked, she could become an uncaring neutral, like him, or even a dark and cynical tyrant like Fred or Putnam.
Now that they are in Canada, June, Fred and Serena are battling it out within themselves and with each other. June wants to purge the darkness inside her through some form of battle. Moira and her group have focused on paying lip service to the darkness, then burying parts of it in a deep hole. June stormed in and dug that shiz right back up. She knows that demons thrive in darkness and won’t stay buried forever.
Her method is to vomit it all out into the open as quickly as possible and get it over with, which is effective but can also be a new source of trauma if not done carefully. There isn’t anything wrong with taking on trauma/depression/inner darkness slowly- as June is with Luke. But burying and denying the pain and other feelings eventually causes more trouble.
Fred seems incapable of finding any benefit in admitting to his wrongdoing, so he’s run in the other direction and embraced the darkness. Indulging in selfishness, self-aggrandizement and ruthlessness worked for him for so long, even before Gilead, that he can’t see that the jig is up. His allies are dead or they’ve moved past him and won’t let him return to Gilead to disrupt and corrupt the balance of power they have now.
It doesn’t benefit anyone in Gilead to rescue him. Putnam, who was low man on the totem pole in S1, has finally knocked everyone else aside except Lawrence, who owns him because of blackmail material provided by Lydia. Calhoun seems to be something like the minority leader or vice president to Putnam’s prime minister. Lawrence hates Fred for making him go through with the Ceremony and for being one of the group of original founders who corrupted his vision.
They won’t save him but they also won’t rebuke him. He can retire quietly or he can work the crowd that’s forming outside the prison and build a new cult in Canada, then hope the ICC will be too scared to cross his new movement. The final Waterford scene in this episode hints that Fred and Serena will grasp at power and fame wherever they find it.
Serena is a wild card. Unlike Fred, who’s purely an opportunist clinging to her star power, she’s a true believer, who tries to lean toward the light, but gives into temptation too easily. She’s alone in the world, without any true friends. She was moved by both Fred and June in the courtroom. I still think June would be there for her if Serena stopped betraying her and chose to work against Gilead and for women once and for all.
But Serena probably isn’t capable of that, at least not in public. She wants the freedoms she has in Canada, but she also wants to be a member of the ruling class in a religious state the way she’d hoped for in Gilead. Running the Sons of Jacob/Gilead international diaspora with Fred could work for her, as long as she gets to live as a modern western woman while preaching the Gilead way to the world, like she did before the war. Gilead’s success at increasing fertility has increased her earlier fame and acceptance, so she’ll be preaching to larger and more worshipful crowds.
The Testaments Spoilers: And eventually, someone in Canada has to be in charge of the Pearl Girls, the future aunts who spend two years as missionaries (and occasionally spies for Aunt Lydia and the resistance). If Fred and Serena remain Gilead citizens, they can start the International Church of Gilead and run the Pearl Girl program. Fred shouldn’t be allowed near the girls- strictly budgeting and marketing for him. End Spoilers
I’m afraid that Luke and Mark, the names of two apostles who wrote books of the New Testament, will be swayed by Fred’s words to support Gilead and to turn Canada into Gilead-lite. There was even a man who looked a lot like Luke in the crowd that cheered the Waterfords at the end, suggesting that Luke could also become sympathetic to their ideas.
Hopefully they write two books of June’s Bible/oral history, not Fred’s. As I said up in the recap, much of Gilead’s program can be enacted without oppressing women. Gilead wrecked the natural environment of the US even further in the war, so now they use forced labor to clean up nuclear wastelands. Lawrence designed his experimental economy to use cheap, disposable slave labor for certain tasks rather than providing the necessary resources to keep workers safe and healthy.
Otherwise, people just need to be convinced to go along with something like a Green New Deal, all organic food and working toward healthier living, including less exposure to electronics, apparently. Maybe reading paper books will come back into style.
I think that’s what the lamps are about- maybe Gilead realized that LED and fluorescent lights send out electromagnetic waves that are potentially damaging, especially when the cumulative effects of all of the electronics in the environment are taken into account. The lamps are the show’s clumsy way of showing that Gilead, and now Canada, have returned to using incandescent lights, which are a more natural source of light. As if traditional bulbs can’t be put into every kind of fixture, lol.
The issue with power consumption is as much the modern habit of having so many lights on and electronic devices running at all times at it is the type of bulb used. (I have proved this with my own electric bill.)
Interior light may also be dim in Gilead and now in Canada because scientists found that fertility is linked to the natural daily and seasonal light cycles. Too much artificial light completely throws that off.
It’s difficult for characters to exaggerate how awful their experiences have been in this show, yet they are frequently accused of doing so or told to get over it already. If anything, most of the former handmaids will never manage to recount every detail of what happened to them, unless June creates the publishing company I’m hoping for and encourages every Gilead survivor she can find to turn their story into a book for her. The world needs to hear those stories.
I don’t understand why there hasn’t been a tell all Gilead book yet. The dream is for Serena to finally, truly defect and join June at her publishing company, but Serena is very stubborn. Maybe when she realizes that she will most certainly be made a handmaid or sent to the Colonies if she returns to Gilead, she’ll get it.
Images courtesy of Hulu.