The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 Episode 9: Progress Recap

Episode 9, Progress, includes several surprise visits which bring both good and bad news. June has an unexpected visit with Nick, where she receives new information on Hannah. Fred receives a visit from Warren Putnam, while Naomi pays a call to Serena. The Putnams congratulate the Waterfords on their forthcoming arrival, then inform them that Gilead is no longer in need of their services. Janine visits Esther in the Red Center to explain the reality of how life works for handmaids.

Mark Tuello’s end of episode visit with June and Luke is expected, but he delivers news that shocks June to her core.

Recap

We begin with June and Luke, apparently the morning after episode 8. It appears that they’re wrung out after staying up all night talking about June’s attempts to rescue Hannah. Luke tries to look hopeful. June apologizes again. He puts the blame where it belongs, on Gilead, not on June. June tells him that Nick said Hannah is safe at home now. Luke corrects her- home is in their house in Toronto, with them. June agrees.

Like June, I was so relieved during the scene on the bridge S4Ep3, The Crossing, that I didn’t question Nick’s wording, but Luke is right. Hannah isn’t safe and she isn’t home. She’s back with the MacKenzies, where she’s okay for the moment, but only for a very few more years. Her time is running out. June knows this from the parades of girls she watched in the hospital in S3Ep9, Heroic and from Mrs Keyes’ and Eden’s experiences (S4Ep1, Pigs and S2Ep12, Postpartum).

Luke promises June that together they’ll find Hannah and bring her to Canada. It’s his turn to show her what he’s been up to while she’s been gone. He pulls out his documents folder, which we’ve seen a few times in previous episodes, but we’ve never been told the extent of his work towards bringing his family home. Now, his tireless research and pressure on anyone who might be able to help is revealed.

Luke: “Yeah, I leaned on everyone in the Embassy. They run when they see me now.”

This helps explain what has felt like his sudden friendship with Mark- actually, Luke has been in Mark’s face for years, but we’ve only been shown his interactions with Rachel Tapping.

Luke: “This is our lawsuits that went nowhere. This is info from activists in the underground. These are interviews with people who escaped.”

June: “You did all this?”

Luke: “There’s not a day that went by that I shouldn’t have done more.”

Back up a sec. Tell me more about these activists in the underground he interviewed. Then hook June up with them. More interviews with escapees might be useful as well- June will ask more specific questions than Luke was able to ask.

Moira joins them and asks why they’re looking at Luke’s Hannah file. June explains that she told Luke everything… about Hannah. Not everything-everything. That would be crazy.

Let’s save those hilarious Jezebels stories, from rape to mass murder, for the tenth anniversary of her rescue, eh?

Moira and June seem tentative with each other, but Moira tells June that she’s a hero because of Angels’ Flight. She should use her influence. Luke suggests they start by working their way through his list of contacts again, but he admits that no one in Canada has the resources to do much for them. June suggests they try one of her Gilead contacts.

ProgressHandmaids Tale S4Ep9 June in Colony GrayHandmaids Tale S4Ep9 Little Gilead GirlsHandmaids Tale S4Ep9 June Surrounded by Luke's Research

Tuello sets up a call with Joseph Lawrence and sits in on it with Luke and June. Joseph is expecting the call- he answers with, “Hello, June Osborne and hello, Canada!” June tries a little small talk, but Joseph, who is alone but whose phone is almost certainly monitored, brushes it off and asks what she wants.

June says she wants his help with getting Hannah back. They have the same conversation they’ve had in the past. He feels Hannah is better off where she is, with the loving family he picked out for her, in the healthy, stable Gilead environment. He’s always seen June as a nightmare parent and that hasn’t changed. In his mind, her decision to live in Canada’s polluted environment only further disqualifies her.

June insists that Hannah needs to be with her biological family because no one will love her like they do. Joseph reiterates that her loves ruins people. He makes it worse by telling her that Janine is safe and sound with Aunt Lydia at the Red Center. He pretends that they rescued her.

June is upset about Janine, but returns to Hannah, her priority. She tells him that, “The Americans will push to revise Section 22B in Canada’s Trade Agreement with Gilead if you help me.” Joseph laughs at her and refuses to consider it. Tuello refuses to improve the offer. Joseph offers to trade Hannah in exchange for the return of 10 kids from Angels’ Flight. He’s heard that some of them are having trouble adjusting. June won’t, and can’t, trade other people’s children for her own. Joseph taunts her for giving up so easily, saying he at least expected her to make a counter offer of 5 children. June still says no.

Joseph tells her she’s gone soft in Toronto. Crying, she begs him to reconsider, telling him she knows he’s a good man.

Joseph: “I’ve heard they’re hard to find. Now is not the time for me to stir up any trouble. [June makes an empty promise to protect him from Gilead.] June, you’re free. You’re free. Try to be grateful for that and move on.” He hangs up, then says, “If you can.” He looks at his wedding ring.

These are all complicated characters. Tuello has his own agenda, which we’ll see more of later, but for now I think he was testing her influence. I doubt that he expected his lame offer to work, but he wanted to hear Joseph’s reaction. Joseph took her call, clearly knew her well and was willing to negotiate. He has affection for June, but he also currently holds a grudge against her that will need to be addressed if Tuello’s going to flip him.

Tuello also confirmed that June still has a network she can cultivate within Gilead. Joseph taunted her with Janine, but he also told her Janine is safe, gave her Janine’s location, and added Aunt Lydia’s name as a bonus contact. He swapped out information on Hannah for information on Janine, proving that he’s a reliable source and not unwilling to cooperate. Later, Tuello will thank him, and Gilead, for this call by allowing the Putnams into Canada, which they’ve been requesting for months.

But where did Lawrence hear that the Angels’ Flight kids are having a hard time adjusting? Who is his spy? Or has he already established a relationship with Tuello? That’s my guess. This phone call was an act to appease June, while the real negotiations went on behind closed doors as soon as June gave Tuello Joseph’s name.

Janine, back in her handmaid’s red, scrubs the floor in the Red Center cafeteria as Esther Keyes is brought in by two burly aunts and forcibly planted in a chair. Aunt Lydia forces her to stay seated at the table, where a meal is waiting for her. She tells Esther that God has sent her here as a second chance to atone for the trouble she caused. Then she orders Esther to eat. She understands that it’s difficult to be good after being led astray by the likes of June, but Esther must be strong and cleanse herself of these influences.

Esther looks at Lydia with a small smile. Thinking she’s won, Lydia smiles back. Knowing that Esther is at least as stubborn and willful as Lydia, Janine pulls back a little, waiting to watch where this train wreck lands. Esther shoves the food off the table. The prison guard aunts drag her away and Lydia asks Janine to clean up the mess. “God loves us for our labors.”

Serena and Fred sit in her cell and open baby gifts from her adoring Canadian fans. She shows Fred a tiny Toronto Maple Leafs hockey jersey, then he shows her a tiny Commander’s suit. “For the future Commander.”

If I don’t get to see the Waterfords, toddler Damien Waterford included, in full Gilead regalia for a family portrait in a couple of seasons, I will be extremely put out. I need Fred and 3 year old Damien in their matching creepy smiles and black suits. Serena Joy and Wednesday Waterford, their second child, will obviously wear the teals, even if Wednesday is an infant.

Serena is depressed because she’d hoped to hold her baby shower someplace other than a prison cell. Fred isn’t as fussed. As long as they have supporters who are inspired by them and understand their “mission was pure”, they’ll be okay.

He shows her a note which refers to them as “beacons of hope”, a phrase you can practically take to the bank. You can sense Fred scanning internet articles on how many devoted fans it takes to monetize a following into a substantial income and then counting Serena’s daily pieces of fan mail and comments.

Serena isn’t done wallowing yet though. She asks if she’s allowed to read while nobody’s watching, despite the fact that she read Moira’s testimony out loud to him yesterday and he didn’t cut off so much as her fingernail. In this episode, she’s playing the role of the obedient wife, even in private. (It’s not a role she’s ever played well.)

Fred concedes that he’s made mistakes. He’d like to start over, but Serena shoots that idea down. He can’t bring her missing finger back or the lost years of her life.

Fred: “Yeah. Well, God has a plan for us. You must carry on, raise our boy. Spread the Lord’s word. Yeah, they’re ready to listen. You know, the world should hear your voice again. Write a book. You’ve done it before.”

Serena looks thoughtful but wary.

Now that Fred needs to milk his cash cow again, it’s okay for women to read and especially okay for them to write.

Saw that one coming.

Handmaids Tale S4Ep9 Serena Disrespects the Toronto Maple Leafs Jersey
Serena disrespects a tiny Toronto Maple Leafs jersey.

Handmaids Tale S4Ep9 Fred with Damien's Suit
Fred prepares for his Mini Me.

Handmaids Tale S4Ep9 The Aunts Last Supper

The aunts gather to reenact the Last Supper, with Lydia as Jesus, Ruth as Judas and Elizabeth as Jesus’ beloved disciple John. Moving forward, it’s important to realize that we know John is beloved because in the Bible, he says/believes so. It might also be wise to remember that Judas and Jesus were close before Judas began to question Jesus’ methods.

They’re discussing how they should handle Esther’s continued hunger strike, which could lead to compromised fertility or worse, death. Lydia feels they need to be patient. Ruth feels they should act soon, to make sure her fertility isn’t affected. Elizabeth suggests a “correction”. Lydia begins to give in to their pressure to punish Esther. Ruth pushes for restraints and a feeding tube, so that she gets the nutrition she needs, a relatively benign punishment for Gilead.

Aunt Elizabeth: “I don’t see why she needs her tongue. She won’t use it.”

That sounds more like Gilead.

Janine has been acting as server for the aunts. When she overhears Aunt Elizabeth’s suggestion, she gasps in shock. Elizabeth was one of the original aunts who trained June, Moira and Janine, the one who Moira and June tied up during their escape attempt. After June’s capture, Elizabeth whipped the soles of her feet until they were raw. I think we can guess who suggested taking Janine’s eye to make her an example for the others.

Lydia notices that the conversation is upsetting Janine and sends her back to the kitchen. Once Janine has scurried away, the aunts all agree that she’s become a lovely, cooperative, fruitful girl. But Elizabeth warns that Lydia can’t keep Janine there forever. Lydia says she intends to find a posting for Janine soon and won’t hear any criticism of her. She reminds her companions that Janine has had 2 healthy babies and brought Angela back to life. Ruth doubts the miracle and doesn’t like the idea of setting a precedent of special treatment. Elizabeth thinks Janine should be sent to the breeding colony, as was planned before her escape. Lydia tartly thanks them for their opinions, which she will take into consideration.

When Janine brings her a cup of tea later, Lydia is looking over her placement files. Lydia assures her that she’ll be okay. Janine nods, but then tells Lydia that she came to talk about Esther. Lydia signals that she’s listening. Janine explains that Esther was abused by a lot of men on the farm. She’s acting tough and defiant because she’s scared. Lydia says they’ve tried to be patient with Esther, but she’s “a difficult girl”.

Janine suggests that Esther doesn’t feel safe there. “Like if she’s refusing to eat, maybe if someone told her what would happen if you don’t obey? I just think she deserves a chance before you…”

Janine faces a mirror as she asks Aunt Lydia to warn Esther that they will cut out her tongue if she doesn’t change her behavior. Janine, handmaid and rebel, wasn’t given any warning before her eye was taken. And Ofglen2/Lillie, handmaid and suicide bomber, wasn’t given any warning before her tongue was cut out.

Lydia gets the message and says she’ll put the “correction” aside for now. She asks Janine to bring Esther breakfast tomorrow, so that she can share her “unique perspective” with Esther. They can chat over the meal.

I can’t help but wonder which unique parts of Janine’s perspective Lydia is referring to. Her various escapes, her adventures with losing two children, that time she argued with June in a train car full of milk, the way she got High Commander Warren Putnam’s hand cut off? So many good times to explore.

Just kidding. Aunt Lydia means that Janine should tell Esther the cautionary tale of how she lost her eye. But Janine can still embellish her story as she sees fit.

As June goes through one of Luke’s boxes, she finds the photo of Hannah that she sent north with Nichole and Emily in S2Ep13, The Word, and cries a little. Luke finds her there and sits in a chair across the coffee table from the couch (not next to her). He brings up the call with Lawrence. June says she’s sorry nothing came of it, but Luke accepts that Lawrence is a jerk and there was nothing June could do to change his mind.

The call gave Luke another idea- maybe Nick would help them. He told June what happened to Hannah after she left the prison, so maybe he can find out more. Luke conducts this conversation like a business meeting, as if it’s one of the dozens he’s had before about Hannah, probably to help himself get through it. June is taken aback and not sure how to respond to her husband’s idea that she should contact her lover.

Luke points out that right now Nick is a Commander with some power, but that could change, so they shouldn’t wait. June thinks Nick would probably do anything for her and Nichole. She suggests they get Tuello to set up a call, but Luke thinks it would be better for June to meet him in person.

June: “You want me to meet up with Nick?”

Luke, chuckling in a way tending toward quiet hysteria: “No. No, I don’t want you to to meet with Nick. But you said he’d do anything for you. So this is our best chance to get Hannah. And so… I think you should take Nichole with you. How’s he going to say no to you if you bring him his daughter? So what do you think?”

June agrees that they have to try, for Hannah. Luke kisses her forehead and leaves the room to go have his breakdown reaction in private. June sits there, teary, shell-shocked, hopeful.

This conversation should be part of O-T’s Emmy reel. There are so many emotions going through Luke’s face that I can’t even keep up with them, but it’s safe to say that it’s breaking his heart to make this suggestion. June is his beloved wife and Nichole is his beloved daughter, but he also needs to get Hannah back, out of duty and love, so sacrifices must be made. As a husband and father who loves June and whose own daughter is a hostage in Gilead, he knows exactly how Nick feels.

This show talks a lot about compartmentalization, particularly in S3Ep5, Unknown Caller, the one in which June told Luke that Nick is Nichole’s father, that included Eleanor and June’s conversation about it being okay to love parts of someone when you can’t love the whole person. In a sense, this is the flip side of that conversation- accepting that it’s okay to use people when necessary, even though you love them. Luke loves Nichole, I don’t doubt that at all, but she is also a hostage- Nick’s daughter is safe as long as Luke’s daughter is safe, echoing the “deal” Serena made with June over the two girls in S1Ep10, Night. Whereas Serena made her “deal” out of anger and jealousy, Luke and Nick share an unspoken bond of fatherhood and protection of the woman and children they both love.

Hannah and Nichole are the two nuclear footballs of this series and it seems that won’t change until the end (with the teams being the US and Gilead, not Luke and Nick- I absolutely believe both men have hearts that are big enough to put aside their differences in a world with much bigger problems). I doubt that Nick will leave Gilead completely until Hannah is safe, because someone trustworthy has to protect her and he appointed himself somewhere around season 2, when he realized how much he loves June and that there was no one else in Gilead who would do it. Nick has understood this deal implicitly since he realized Luke has Nichole. Luke understood it the night he accepted Nichole into his family in S3Ep2, Martha and Mary.

Serena Joy, Obedient Wife, is sitting in her sunlit cell making notes for her next bestseller on a pad of paper, as ordered by Fred, when she receives a surprise visit from Naomi Putnam, in full Gilead Wife regalia. The two women hug as Naomi explains that she’s been asking to visit for months. The authorities finally relented since Serena’s baby will be born soon. Her husband is visiting Fred. Serena doesn’t even try to sound enthusiastic about that.

Naomi proceeds to take charge of the visit, now that she’s First Lady of Gilead- or maybe now that she sees Serena as her latest handmaid. She tells Serena that Angela is running and talking now.

Finally out of the stroller after 4 years, good for her!

Naomi: “There’s a bit of an issue with biting, but maybe that’s genetic.”

Angela’s birth mother, Janine, bit Naomi once.

Naomi notices Serena’s book notes, but doesn’t say anything. If Serena wasn’t already doomed to be a handmaid upon her return to Gilead, she is now. Naomi moves on to the baby gifts she brought from their entire circle of friends. Security unwrapped them and their visiting time will be up soon, so she explains each gift quickly and passes it on.

Serena is surprised to receive so many gifts after she betrayed Fred. Naomi tells her she did what she had to as Nichole’s mother. Referring to Serena’s pregnancy, she says, “And if the Good Lord has blessed you with this child, then who am I to judge?” Serena is grateful for her loyal friendship.

Naomi: “I want you to know that if this ordeal isn’t over by the time the baby comes, it would be our honor to raise him in our home.”

Yup. She went there. She just called first dibs on her incarcerated friend’s child.

Serena is speechless for a moment. Naomi continues, trying to convince Serena to choose her. Canadians certainly wouldn’t be an acceptable choice. And if, by some miracle, Serena were ever released, of course Naomi would still consider the baby Serena’s. She might even let Serena visit him once or twice, the way Janine has with Angela. If Serena wanted him back, she would have to legally pry him out of Gilead’s clutches.

Serena, with a clenched jaw: “Although Fred’s prospects are less optimistic, I expect to be free once proceedings are over with. It will be a fresh start with our son.”

Undaunted, Naomi insists that the baby belongs in Gilead- both he and Serena do. Serena would be welcomed home like a hero!

The same way handmaids are treated like heros for approximately 10 seconds after they give birth, then shoved back onto the fertility treadmill. Let’s face it- Serena would be sent straight to the Magdalene Colony.

She came to Canada with an immunity deal, which should be back in place now that Fred has recanted his testimony about her sexual abuse of June. She’s currently being held in something like protective custody while she waits for her legal status to work itself out, just as refugees are in countries around the world. Serena is not currently incarcerated on criminal charges.

Warren brought Fred the traditional Commander’s baby gift of a wooden box of Cuban cigars. He describes them in practically sexual terms and encourages Fred to light one up. Maybe he’s really, really missed Fred. Fred decides to wait until he’s in private, but sends thanks to his brothers back home. Putnam says the Council admires the way Fred has stayed strong and loyal (and quiet) throughout this crisis.

Fred sardonically notes that he’s drawn strength from God, but not his brothers on the Council, who seem to have forgotten him. Warren apologizes for the lack of attention. Fred makes up an excuse for them, but Putnam dismisses it. The oversight was intentional. Gilead won’t negotiate with Canadian terrorists, not even for Fred. Putnam wanted to attack Canada, but the younger members outvoted him. They don’t want to encourage more kidnappings or fight on more fronts. But they’re sending Fred Thoughts and Prayers and will continue to.

Putnam can’t even say it with a straight face. He’s gleeful to have gotten Waterford, his former ally, out of his way so easily. He really owes Serena a gift basket, but I suppose that’s what the baby gifts Naomi brought are for.

Progressthe-handmaids-tale-s04e09-720p-web-h264-ggwp-largeProgress

Janine brings Esther her breakfast tray in the Red Center dungeon, where June was also chained up in isolation after her near escape and capture in S2. Esther assumes that Janine is there to break her out. Janine doesn’t correct her, instead encouraging the younger woman to eat. As Esther gives in, Janine explains that she and June escaped, took a train to Chicago, then got bombed by Gilead. She says it was hard, so she was a little relieved when she was recaptured and brought back to the Red Center.

Esther replies, “Nothing is worse than here.” Janine gives her a wide-eyed look that says she can’t even begin to tell Esther the things she’s seen that are worse. When Esther asks about June, Janine makes her move. She tells Esther to forget about June, because she’s gone. They’re here. “And you have to take care of yourself now.” She tries to explain to Esther what will happen if she doesn’t eat, but she doesn’t get through to her. Esther spits out her food and accuses Janine of being a collaborator. Esther thinks she doesn’t care what the aunts do to her.

Janine: “Yes, you do. They’re not going to let you die. They will keep hurting you, again and again, until you do what they say. That is their job! It’s no big deal. You just have to eat. You need to stay alive so you can be here when things get better. I’ll come back. And I’ll keep coming back until you eat. And when you do, I’ll tell Aunt Lydia and then she’ll let you go outside. It’s a really nice day.”

She leaves Mrs Keyes alone in the dark..

June straps Nichole into her carseat for the ride to visit Nick, just as Luke brings her an incredibly well-stocked diaper bag. Should she and Nick decide to run off together, Nichole won’t starve for a while. Tuello explains that June’s security detail will follow in separate car, then stay in the car nearby, but she should keep the visit short and she shouldn’t try to sneak out the back door with Nick.

Luke follows June to the car, in a combination of hovering and looming, clearly wondering if he can rustle up a security uniform in the next 30 seconds and ride in the other car. June tells him not to worry, but he says of course he’ll worry. He kisses her and reminds her that he’ll be home waiting for her. While she gets in the car, he makes sure Nichole sees him wave goodbye. Then he watches them drive away, heartbroken.

There’s no doubt in my mind about his devotion to June and Nichole or his acceptance that they may end up with Nick in the long run. But he wants his own daughter back, both because of course he doesn’t want her in Gilead and because she may be the only family he has left in the end.

As June leaves the driveway, Nichole says, “Dada.” June smiles as she drives the winding country route to meet Nick at a small Catholic girls school, Maria-Magdalena Academy. At the school, she puts Nichole in her stroller, then wheels her toward the entrance while looking around for Nick. June is turned away when Nick steps out of the building and murmurs her name.

He’s out of focus for us, but for once Nick came out of the closest door, into the daylight, instead of lingering in the shadows. June’s escape to Canada may have meant the beginning of a new era for him as well.

June’s face changes completely when she hears his voice. She smiles and relaxes in a way we almost never see, other than in preGilead flashbacks. At first, they remain 20 or so feet apart. Nick is in his Commander’s suit and black overcoat. There’s a new confidence and maturity in his demeanor. They’ve both changed in the few months since they’ve seen each other. He’s settling into the power he wields in Gilead and she’s begun her recovery. Though she’s still angry, she’s no longer frantic and exhausted.

Nick tells June that freedom looks good on her. She asks how life is in Gilead. He says, “Hanging in there.” June replies, “Poor choice of words,” sounding like the confident editor she once was.

Though June has worn her handmaid’s red coat and Nichole is in Gilead Girl Pink, she acts closer to her original self than we’ve seen since before Nichole was born. The red may be strategic, since it’s familiar to Nick, but it’s also part of June’s familiar resistance uniform and might actually boost her confidence.

When she wears red, she’s part of an army.

Unlike Fred’s disloyal brothers, her sisters are always with her, if only in spirit. She’s carrying their cause forward and they would want this for her.

June moves toward Nick, as they thank each other for showing up. He kneels down to say hi to Nichole, marveling at how much she’s grown. June tells him that she has a security detail with her, so she can’t stay long. He suggests they move inside.

Handmaids Tale S4Ep9 FamilyHandmaids Tale S4Ep9 Nick & June KissingHandmaids Tale S4Ep9 Nick & June Say Goodbye2Handmaids Tale S4Ep9 Nick with Resurrection Painting

Once they’re inside the school, June begins to ask if Nick can help her find information about Hannah. He stops her before she even finishes the sentence, explaining that he anticipated her request as soon as she escaped to Canada and has gathered some intel. He hands her a folder, saying he didn’t think he’d be the one to give it to her.

June is overwhelmed and opens it right up. Hannah lives in the Westward Territory, formerly known as Colorado Springs, Colorado. There’s information about her home and the school for Domestic Arts that she attends. Nick says she’s a good student. The file includes a list of the friendlies in the area who took photos of Hannah.

But the downside is that Hannah is heavily guarded, so getting her out is impossible. Nick says he’ll continue to do what he can and at least she’s not totally lost to June now.

June cries and acknowledges that Nick did this for her. He sits next to her on the thick windowsill.

Nick: “I should have run away with you when I had the chance.”

June agrees that they should have swum for Hawaii. For a minute they kiss, passionately, desperately, hopelessly, then they rest their heads together. June kisses the side of Nick’s head as Nichole makes little noises, breaking the spell.

June brings the baby over to join them in the window and they share a few minutes as a family. Nick gives his daughter a little doll from Gilead and calls her, “My beautiful girl.” The three of them laugh and play in a way we’ve never seen before.

But then it’s time to say goodbye. June puts Nichole in the car, then stands with Nick. He says, “Keep yourself safe.” They touch foreheads and bump noses before she walks away.

Nick: “Hey, June. Try and be happy.”

June: “Yeah. You too.”

June walks through the snow to her car. Nick stands in the open, but under a faded religious painting of Mary Magdalene witnessing Jesus’ resurrection. He puts a wedding ring back on his finger. It’s clear which commitment comes first.

June smiles wistfully as she drives home.

Fred and Serena sit in the prison chapel and complain about the Gilead Commanders’ treatment of them. Fred CAN’T BELIEVE the ingratitude he’s suffered. THEY’VE ERASED HIM. Imagine them erasing someone’s identity like that! Serena, who is back in the teal, assures him that God has watched his every move and will give him what he deserves. Or words to that effect. Baby Waterford’s freedom will sustain Fred while he rots. Or something like that.

But wait, there’s a plot twist- Serena alerts Fred to the fact that Naomi Putnam is plotting to steal their son as soon as he’s born. Serena has finally figured out that under Gilead law, her recent actions make her eligible for the Colonies or to be a handmaid. And none of her former friends will stick up for her if there’s a chance they might win the raffle for her son instead.

Apparently extradition is something Fred and Serena never thought could apply to them or their son, only to Emily, June and Nichole. Oops.

Fred looks troubled. He promises to protect Serena and the baby from Gilead’s lawyers and kidnappers with all of his nonexistent power. Serena points out that his power is currently nonexistent. The wheels in his brain start to turn.

Handmaids Tale S4Ep0 Scenes from a Bad Marriage
Scenes from an unhappy marriage.

Handmaids Tale S4Ep9 Janine & Esther in Hallway

Standing at the top of the stairs, Aunt Lydia instructs Ruth and Elizabeth to get the new trainees ready for another inspection. She stops speaking when they hear doors from the other end of the hall. Janine and Esther, both in their handmaid’s uniforms, march down the hall side by side. They’ve remembered that they’re part of an army, too, no matter where they are. Janine has convinced Esther to proudly wear the uniform..

They come to a stop next to Lydia, who greets them. Esther shyly gives an appropriate response. Lydia asks if she enjoyed her meal. Esther looks to Janine, then gives another polite response. All three women are ready to bust, they’re so pleased with themselves.

Lydia kisses both of her girls on the forehead, gives them each a “praise be” and comments on how lucky they are that Janine was there to save the day. They might have lost their dear Esther without her!! Then she sends them outside for target practice to play. She turns to the two aunts and sternly says, “To dawdle is an affront to God.” They both leave to do their duty.

Aunt Lydia heads down the hall with her swagger back in place. It’s good to be queen.

Handmaids Tale S4Ep9 Esther Greets AuntsHandmaids Tale S4Ep9 Handmaids with AuntsHandmaids Tale S4Ep9 Satisfied Lydia

June gets back home after dark. Luke is still sitting on the porch steps waiting, like someone forgot to let the cat in on a cold winter’s night. She turns off the car and sits there a moment, regrouping. Luke continues to sit on the porch, waiting to see which June will get out of the car. She sees Luke’s face and remembers she’s Hannah’s mom.

They spread the contents of the folder out on the coffee table so they can see everything. Moira and Tuello join them and everyone cries. This is more than they hoped for from this meeting.

Tuello says he’s happy for them. June thanks him for his help. Luke asks what happens next. Moira points out that Nick is a good man to work with. Tuello agrees, then adds that they also have a “new” asset in Toronto who can act as an adviser. Luke asks who it is. Tuello says it’s Fred Waterford. He’s agreed to spill everything in exchange for his freedom. The charges have been dropped.

This is a fairly common situation for powerful men, especially world leaders, which is what Fred is. It’s what I expected would happen. By the time Fred is free and clear, he will have been imprisoned for a year, maybe more. That’s not bad for someone in his situation. Most get off completely. But it doesn’t change that Tuello treated June and her people badly to get Fred to flip because he assumes the powerful man has more to offer.

In the long run, I doubt that’s true. I doubt Tuello cares. He’s in the business of leveraging assets and he did that successfully. He assumes June will get over it and he’ll work out another deal with her. But he doesn’t know her very well. She may poison him and Fred in episode 10, then go underground.

As he speaks, it’s clear Tuello knows he’s in trouble. It’s the first time I’ve ever noticed his voice shaking. He’s standing, ready to run out the door. He delivered the news that Serena was pregnant in a similar way- drop the bomb at the end of a long day and run. He also dropped June herself on Serena in the middle of the night and ran. He likes these drop and run sneak attacks, but he made a serious tactical mistake this time- Moira and June are between him and the door.

Moira reacts first, angry and swearing about the deal with her rapist. Then Luke joins in. June stays deceptively calm. She’s figured out that she was always just a pawn in Mark’s game, not someone he was trying to help or even particularly valued on her own, despite the fancy hotel room and room service. I suspect he thinks Angels’ Flight was a fluke.

His help with Hannah is a literal “So long and thanks for all the fish.”

Handmaids Tale S4Ep9 Tuello Tells Luke & June that Fred Will Be FreedHandmaids Tale S4Ep9 Shocked Moira

June: “So my testimony spooked him. And you knew that. And then you used that to flip him?”

He used her presence in Canada and the Putnam’s visit and Serena’s pregnancy to flip Fred. I imagine Lawrence orchestrated both the Putnam’s visit and the visit with Nick, complete with Hannah intel, in exchange for Tuello theoretically defanging June and keeping Fred, among other things.

Mark, spinning until the end: “You testified so the world could hear the truth.”

Moira comments that this is not justice.

Mark: “Sometimes, you have to let one fish go to catch a lot of other bigger fish.”

Fred, Putnam and Lawrence are equally big fish, but no one who’s still alive is a bigger fish than Fred, as far as we’ve seen. There’s that whole bizarre Commanders’ social scene in Washington DC, but they don’t seem to actually do much and June killed Winslow, probably others from DC when she killed the military Commanders. Lawrence is now Tuello’s ally and he had Putnam right there in his grasp, but let him go. Tuello’s been played, but he doesn’t know it yet.

Then he has the nerve to suggest they bring the intel on Hannah to him tomorrow so he can “help” them with it a little more. Let’s be real- he wants to take a closer look to see if there’s anything there that he can use, not so that he can help them. He literally had no part in acquiring this intel except for setting up a phone call. Nick would have gotten it to June eventually anyway, if it’s really from him and not Lawrence.

Honestly, I had such high hopes that Tuello would be different, but this episode shows that he’s Lawrence’s counterpart. He loves to make promises and gather information, but he’s in it to further his own interests. He’s no better than a cold, dead fish himself. No wonder he’s attracted to Serena, Ice Queen of the Sea.

Tuello walks out the door. Moira swears some more, but Luke is now in tune with this new version of June. She’s scarily quiet and staring at the front door that just closed. Luke starts repeating June’s name, but she mostly ignores it as she races outside after Tuello, with both barrels firing. As she shoves him, hard, she tells him exactly what she thinks of this development. Luke tries to hold her back as the security detail also goes after her.

Hmm, maybe they were instructed to stop her from committing crimes. Has anyone told them that the aunts taught her how to kill with her bare hands or whatever implement is available (he’s lucky there wasn’t a rock handy)? And that it was legal? That’s right, just like James Bond, the handmaids have a license to kill.

And they’re very effective death squads. Wives and Marthas have nothing on the savage anger a handmaid can call to the surface on a moment’s notice. Gilead didn’t think through what they were creating, with the violent continuum of torture, rape and salvagings that are a normal part of the handmaids’ daily lives. It was the perfect incubator for vigilantes.

June becomes increasingly upset as the news sinks in, screaming that she’ll kill Tuello for using and betraying her and all of the women who testified against Fred, their kidnapper, abuser and rapist. Tuello looks angry. He doesn’t like it so much when he’s brought down to the level of a regular player instead of staying above the fray as a gamemaker.

You can see it in his face. This has never happened to him before. How dare June not respect his authority as a white male government official. How dare she make this personal and physical. LOL. Welcome to the real world, Mark, where bodily autonomy is violated on a shockingly regular basis, frequently by guys like you.

I hope June remembers his emotions during this entire sequence. He’s not invulnerable. Tuello knew he’d betrayed her and that she would be furious. He could have found a better way to deliver this news than at the end of a long, emotional day, full of losses pretending to be wins.

But I think delivering the news in a way that would provoke June was part of his plan. It’s another overall loss for her that he tried to make sound like a win, so that she looks like she’s overreacting to the news. He’ll use her outburst against her, just like he uses everyone and everything else. The show highlighted that he wanted to use Serena’s pregnancy. He won’t hesitate to use June’s vulnerabilities to manipulate her as well. She needs to catalog his vulnerabilities (Serena) and be ready to take care of herself.

Handmaids Tale S4Ep9 June Confronts Tuello
Tuello runs the gauntlet he just created.

Handmaids Tale S4Ep9 June's Calm Before the Storm
Be afraid. That look says, “Say goodbye to Normie June forever. I tried to work through the system and it betrayed me, just like it always has. Just like my mother taught me it would. All bets are off.”

Handmaids Tale S4Ep9 June Goes After Tuello
June releases the warrior she’s kept on a leash since Moira found her.

Handmaids Tale S4Ep9 Tuello Gets Attacked
Tuello is shocked to meet this side of June. And he’s not happy to be the target. He had it coming.


Commentary

Elisabeth Moss said in an interview that this episode is about love. It is, but it’s about certain kinds of love, mostly familial love, protection, loyalty, possession and dynasty building, with a splash of romance and friendship. Beyond the real and surrogate parent child relationships explored in this episode, we see relationships between potential allies being formed and tested.

I get the sense that Lydia, Tuello and Lawrence have ultimately masterminded much of this episode. Tuello and Lawrence each have countries they see as the child/family they are ruthlessly fighting for. Lydia is beginning to actually fight fight for women and children after falsely believing she was helping people in the past. I don’t know what will happen with June and Nick’s romance, but I can’t imagine that they’re done working as freedom fighters, together and apart.

They both have connections to every powerful person on the show and the proven ability to act as recruiters, spies and assassins. Neither side will let that go. I actually wonder if Nick prepared the dossier on Hannah with Lawrence’s blessing in order to keep her happy and out of Gilead’s hair for a while. It could even contain fake information, or information that is already outdated.

Janine offered Esther loyal, loving friendship, the thing that kept June’s group of handmaids alive and strong for years. Love and loyalty are things that Esther had only briefly with June. As a child bride whose family sold her to a much older man who then turned out to be a cold rapist and pimp, she may not have ever had a friend or loved one that loved and valued her for herself.

Janine’s oldest child, Caleb, wouldn’t be much younger than Esther is now. There is the potential for a mother-daughter bond between the two, with Lydia as the surrogate grandmother. We know that Lydia’s sister’s baby died when s/he was a few days old, which affected Lydia profoundly.

I feel that she’s come to regret reporting the mother in the flashbacks from S3Ep8, Unfit, as she’s gotten to know some of the handmaids, learning about the indignities they’ve suffered at the hands of men and watching the lengths they’ll go to in order to be reunited with their children. I think she’s realizing that in Gilead, men continue to abuse women and children, affecting their health and safety. Since Lydia is all about protecting the handmaids’ fertility and the safety of the resulting children, she won’t be okay with stories like what happened to Esther.

If you haven’t read Margaret Atwood’s sequel novel to The Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments, and you’re feeling lost this season, you might want to read it between seasons. The book is a deceptively quick, easy read that reveals more information each time you reread it. Since Joseph Lawrence came into June’s life we’ve been in a multi-level chess game, with several opposing players whose motives are obscure.

So much for Moira’s claim on the boat that June could do more to help Hannah from Canada than she could in Gilead, because she’s have better resources. Moira was desperate to save June, so it’s understandable that she’d say anything. It’s always been clear that Hannah will only be saved by physically rescuing/kidnapping her, not through legal means.

Maybe June will pick up some training, weapons, and a team in Canada. There won’t be an effective official government negotiation to bring Hannah home. There’s nothing in it for either government. The Council hates her, Lawrence wants to toy with her and Tuello wants to keep her hungry so he can use her, just like he wanted scared Waterfords. A happy June is a June who stops fighting.

Sadly, Tuello seems to be emerging as a man who forms alliances with powerful men and manipulates women. June will probably seek out Luke’s Underground resistance connections or begin to create her own resistance in episode 10 or early next season.

June continues to chose her clothing carefully since her return from Gilead. She went before the International Court to face Serena and Fred in episode 8 wearing a version of the Commander’s black suit. She’s spent quite a bit of time trying to feel confident in Wife blue, especially when she went to accuse Serena. She wore her handmaid’s army red to see Nick. And when she confessed to Luke about the most recent time she saw Hannah, she wore Colony gray as she awaited the punishment she felt she deserved.

The Waterfords’ cells are like a pair of snowglobes, only the weather in the snowglobes, each with its own sparse, pathetic evergreen tree, is indicative of the mood inside the cell. I could write an entire blog post comparing the weather patterns outside their windows to what happens in the scene, but I won’t bore anyone else with it.

June’s visit with Nick was lovely, but something in me feels like it was way too easy. It seemed like there was something more going on underneath the surface beyond what we were shown. The meandering route June drove to and from meeting Nick was reminiscent of the one Tuello used when he confused Fred into crossing the Canadian border. That earlier trip was a ruse. Eventually we discover that, at best, Tuello helped arrange this trip as a way of throwing June a bone before he told her about Fred. At worst, she was played by Tuello, Lawrence and (maybe) Nick, which could mean that the information in the folder isn’t reliable.

If Lawrence provided the folder to Nick, then Nick might not know if the information in it is fake or outdated, if it is. For the record, I don’t think Nick would willingly hurt June, but he’s a pragmatic character who needs to juggle knives on a daily basis to keep everyone he cares about alive. That now includes a second wife and potentially more children, information we know he withheld from June. His reticence is understandable- sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind or go along to get along. Dead Nick or Runaway Hawaiian Beach Bum Nick is of no use to anyone. (Eventually ending the story with Hawaiian Beach Bum Nick and June and their extended tribes is okay by me, though.)

Hulu’s Inside the Episode, Episode 9, Progress- Max Minghella (Nick): “After June left that house, he’s heartbroken. This is the only love that means anything to him.”

Handmaids Tale S4Ep9 June & Nick Meet
They are awkward at first, but the house made of stone is the one the Big Bad Wolf can’t blow down. They are indestructible.

Handmaids Tale S4Ep9 Maria-Magdalena Academy
Mary Magdalene was the most faithful and loyal of Jesus’ apostles. Some of the male followers were jealous of her closeness with him.

Handmaids Tale S4Ep9 School Shelf
This Academy appears to be abandoned- look at the dust on the shelf. But the presence of textbooks on the American Revolution in a Canadian school are a signal that it has a hidden purpose.

It could be significant that Nick and June meet in a Catholic girls school. In S4Ep4, Milk, Moira told Rita that the Catholics helped refugees escape Gilead with forged passports. Have Catholics in Canada organized to do more than forge passports? Could this school be a resistance hideout?

Mary Magdalene was one of Jesus’ most devoted apostles, known as the apostle to the apostles because Jesus appeared to her first after his resurrection, then sent her to share the news with the rest of his followers. She was wrongfully named as a prostitute by the church for more than a millenia. But there are also ancient legends that she was actually Jesus’ wife, who escaped to France and bore him a child after his death. (The Da Vinci Code didn’t invent the legends.) All of these aspects make her a compelling saint to reference under these circumstances.

As it turns out, some of the new handmaids are 12, or 14 anyway, and Joseph wasn’t off base in episode 8 when he said they’d lived in Gilead most of their lives. However, not all of them are obedient. That was wishful thinking on his part. Instead of being sent to after school detention, misbehaving teenage girls are now sent to the Red Center, where some of them continue their lives of crime.

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Star on What the Penultimate Episode Reveals About a Marriage

That small win is quickly followed by sheer rage, as June and Luke find out that Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) will not face trial, and will instead become a free man after making a deal to work as an asset for the Canadian government. How has everything been building to what will happen next in the season finale?

This is one of my favorite seasons because it’s so unpredictable — it’s kept all the suspense and horror of the initial premise but really expanded out. The writers of this show always invoke strong emotions by the end of the season with really unexpected turns. And the end of this season is probably the most explosive end of all seasons. It’s all leading up to this finale because June is a mysterious one. Her fundamental engine is upturning the existing power structures, and she’s been put into a corner now.

Yikes, that sounds like June will kill Fred then go on the run with the former handmaids’ Underground resistance. She can probably find Esther’s nightshade growing in the Toronto area. Or she’ll kill Fred but be given immunity if she becomes an operative for Tuello. There’s no way Serena and Fred get the happy ending he’s planning, but Serena might get a chance at redemption if Fred isn’t there to lure her back toward ultra-conservatism every time she moves away from it.

Fred’s comments to June about Lawrence in S3Ep3, Useful: “He’s an interesting man. Instrumental in Gilead’s creation. Our visionary… We’ve always found him a bit hard to read… Lawrence is a survivor… He is particularly well-suited to it. He’s not sentimental, not like me.”

She asks if there’s anything else that might help her survive in Lawrence’s house-“He does not like to be bored. But I guess you knew that already.”

Sienna also notes that he’s always been powerful enough to make the other Commanders come to him- they’re dependent on his ideas and a little scared of him.

But he’s a loner and not part of a faction. He trades on his intellect/expertise/mystique to maintain control. This season, with so many of the original founding fathers gone, apparently the younger Commanders don’t give a fig about his intellect or mystique. Gilead’s basic structure is in place and they no longer see a need for their architect. They’re content (and ignorant enough) to tweak it as they see fit.

Joseph is still smarter than any of them and likely has even more of an edge over the younger Commanders than he did over the originals, since they are uneducated products of the Sons ofJacob/Gilead. But he’s also older and had grown complacent until Eleanor died and June made him complicit in a major crime.

So he realizes he can’t work alone in his haunted house anymore. He needs to build a network of allies who’ll have his back, help promote his agenda and act as spies. The network starts with Lydia and Nick, who both realized a while back that it’s easier to survive in Gilead if you have some blackmail material, the ability to hand out punishments and people who owe you favors. Joseph placed himself at the top of their combined networks and created a shadow government, but his position is still fragile. He hasn’t been able to consolidate his power yet.

Images courtesy of Hulu.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.