In episode 10, the final installment of season 4, we follow June as she comes to terms with Fred Waterford’s imminent release from prison. We’ve spent the season watching June try to balance the rage from her experiences in Gilead, the need to fight back and her sense of helplessness over Hannah’s situation with her exhaustion from the fight, her desire to return to ordinary life and her efforts to act like the person her loved ones remember. This episode is the culmination of that struggle, as she makes irrevocable choices about who she is and what she’s willing to do to fight for the world she wants for her daughters.
We begin with a flashback to a trip to Jezebels back in the season 1 era. June is in her sparkly gold dress and cheap makeup. Fred pulls her out onto the dance floor. Though June smiles as though she’s enjoying herself, her voiceover tells a different story:
“It has to look like love. That’s what he needs. Pretend you like it. Pretend you love it. Pretend you want him. He is your Commander. Make him your whole world. Your sun, your moon and all your stars. Make him believe. Because your motherf—ing life depends on it. Don’t run. Don’t kick. Don’t scream. Don’t bite it off. Don’t… bite.”
She left out “Don’t punch. Don’t hit. Don’t scratch.” I wonder why she didn’t include her arms as weapons. Maybe because she’s so used to Serena holding them down? I fought off a rapist, once upon a time, and I can assure you that I used my arms, legs, wits and everything else available to me, just as she describes. Though it was decades ago, I still feel the potential to fight for my life in my muscles and bones, as if they are always coiled, ready to spring into action if I need to fight again.
A description as visceral as this one takes me right back there. I can’t imagine how much fight June has stored inside her body that she needs to let loose somehow. 3 Ceremonies a month over 5 years is a minimum of 150 rapes in which she had to remain passive, repeating one of the variations of “lie still and pretend you’re someone else, somewhere else” that we’ve heard at various times. Then there are the rapes she had to pretend to enjoy. We should also include the endless subjugation and humiliation she endured, plus the occasional torture.
June waits in an office building for a government representative who’s late. She rolls her eyes and is barely civil when Tuello shows up, telling him she would prefer to deal with someone else.
Seriously, how many ways can this guy find to show her that he’s done using her and is tossing her aside since she’s served her purpose? Watch the way he treats June vs the treatment Serena gets. He won’t be totally rude to June, in case he needs her again, but she’s now way, way down his list of priorities.
Tuello brings June to an empty room where she’s supposed to give a statement to the court on Fred’s potential release. Her statement will be recorded, shown at his sentencing hearing and then entered into the trial’s permanent record. Tuello apologizes for not being able to arrange an appearance before the court. June understands that judges’ schedules are busy. Then Tuello says that Fred’s deal will almost certainly be approved, and “he’ll be granted immunity in exchange for his cooperation.” He’s essentially telling June that her testimony is pointless.
June asks if Fred is everything they hoped for. Tuello says he is. He’s already rewritten their understanding of Gilead’s command hierarchy and is a valuable intelligence asset. Wow, Tuello even described Fred using the language he used to describe June when she first got off the boat and he was trying to lure her in so he could use her to flip Fred. The man has no shame.
He also hasn’t bothered to interview many of the refugees closely, since much of what he learned from Fred probably could have been gleaned from others- Rita heard what went on in Commanders’ meetings, Moira worked in the same Jezebels as the doctor they will ask about later. How many others have similar experiences? They didn’t even figure out who Aunt Irene actually was and lost the opportunity to interrogate her.
They don’t actually have to work with lying scum like Fred. Tuello made the choice to cultivate powerful men over well placed witnesses of all types. He chose to believe Fred and Serena’s version of Gilead and of the events that take place in it. That’s colored his entire investigation- for example, Fred still characterizes what happened between him and June as an affair that she wanted just as much as he did, which would make her a cheating wife who previously had an affair with a married man. Serena goes along with sharing this version of June, since it frames her in a better light. This is clearly the version of June that Tuello sees, given the amount of respect he gives Serena and the way he set June up for failure.
June: “Weak men. They do make the world go round.”
She says it in a way that makes it clear she includes him and Fred in the statement. I have never loved her more.
Tuello: “I am on your side, Miss Osborne.”
Only in the sense that they once lived in the same country and both wish it still existed. He’s on Serena’s side and likely believes her version of events. More importantly, he’s ambitious and on the side of furthering his own career, so he gravitates toward sources who have the most obvious power. That rarely includes female refugees from Gilead, so he rarely does much for them.
June: “I was a prisoner that Waterford would sometimes take out to f—. And you’re gonna set him free. You don’t have a side.”
Tuello: “Thank you for continuing to participate in the process.”
[Checking again for a middle finger emoji. That was a kiss off and he deserves to be given one in return. He’s letting her know that he now considers her useless to him, rather than an intelligence asset. He assumes her only value to him was her help with landing Fred, his Big Fish.]
Let me be clear about why I’m so angry at Tuello, because this is also part of June’s anger. I understood all along that Fred would get off. What I hate is the way Tuello lied to and manipulated June, instead of treating her like an equal. At a minimum, he could have shown June the same respect he shows Serena.
He pushed June into making her testimony a public presentation so that now everyone knows her face and her story, which makes her vulnerable to the Waterford fan club crazies. He knew her testimony wouldn’t matter, because Fred’s case wouldn’t go to trial. They already have the stories of many handmaids and didn’t need more.
He did this solely to flip Fred and he lied to June about it from the beginning, while flattering her and pretending he respected her and her accomplishments. Right up until the minute he got what he wanted. Then he subtly let her know what he really thinks of her.
At this point in the episode, Tuello is discouraging June from making her statement- someone else seems to have invited her to make a recorded statement and he’s the underling they sent to escort her in. Tuello doesn’t believe her experiences were as bad as she’s making them out to be and he doesn’t want her to interfere with his case any further.
He hasn’t heard Fred’s version of events yet.
June has every right to politely insult him.
They could have sent Rachel Tapping to this meeting. She wouldn’t have had anything more hopeful to say to June, but at least she might have been more understanding and realistic. She could have brought June a persimmon. She’s generally been more honest and less condescending with Luke and the other refugees, whereas Tuello lies and manipulates to coerce them into doing what he wants.
June has done what they want. Why does she still have to deal with Tuello?
Any normal human being in Tuello’s position would have acknowledged June’s suffering and found a way to say that he wished he could do more for her, even though it’s not possible at this time. The cold shoulder Tuello just gave June as he walked out shows her that the US/UN governments aren’t going to be there for her now, anymore than they were when she was essentially a prisoner of war in Gilead. They don’t care about the women and children trapped there. They want their power structures back. That’s the war they’re fighting.
It’s a different war from June’s war.
June sits down and waits patiently for the camera operator to get ready. Handmaids are taught how to wait for the right moment to act. June used to pretend she was a tree, standing strong, while she waited.
When she leaves the office building, June is surrounded by tall city buildings, passersby and vehicles. She’s in her Commanders’ black power coat. It’s a very different scene from the sidewalks we’ve watched her walk along for several seasons. She walks alone now, swallowed by another bureaucracy that promises to take care of her in theory but doesn’t care about the health of her heart or mind.
She looks up at the blue sky and remembers looking at the blue walls of Serena’s bedroom during the Ceremony. She lets the blue calm her and take her away mentally for a moment, the way it used to.
If the world still sees her as a fallen woman and a lowly handmaid, and she still feels like a handmaid, while Fred and Serena are still given priority and respect as a Commander and his Wife, is she actually free of Gilead? Will she ever truly be free?
Will any of the refugees ever be free, if the governments of the world refuse to acknowledge the human rights violations in Gilead after all of the evidence they’ve been presented with over the last 7 years? The photos of Moira’s fiance Odette being slaughtered as she ran through the woods were taken 7 years ago. Odette’s photo was in a room full of similar photos. The world has known about Gilead all along and hasn’t come for the Commanders.
June goes home. Luke is waiting for her, watching the door. He asks how it went. She tells him it was awful, but now it’s over. Rita is cleaning up the kitchen and making tea, while Moira argues with someone on the phone. June and Luke join them, just as Nichole wakes up. Before Luke leaves to get her, he reminds June that it’s a miracle that they are all there together and they should count their blessings. His tone of voice is exactly the voice they used with each other in their preGilead conversations.
This is a template for what June’s life could be, if she lets Hannah and Gilead go. She and Luke could have another baby; everybody could go back to work; and Rita could act as nanny and housekeeper. They could all go to their weekly therapy sessions and play happy family in between primal scream sessions. It could be a good, full life.
Some of them might develop some unhealthy habits and addictions while repressing all of that trauma, but who are we to judge what they do to survive? PreGilead June would have taken this conventional road through Robert Frost’s yellow woods and have been happy with her choice. But the former handmaid who’s sitting in Luke’s kitchen in Toronto has learned a few things since then.
Rita offers June tea or whatever she needs. June asks her to stop acting like the maid. Rita says she’s working on it with her therapist.
Moira gets off the phone and announces that at the end of the week, Fred is being flown to Geneva for his immunity hearing with the ICC. After that he’ll be free. Moira wants June to fly to Switzerland to testify in person and do press, but June and Rita disagree. Moira decides to fundraise for June’s plane fare. She can’t stand the thought of Fred getting out, but she wants June to be the symbolic warrior in this fight.
She wants June to clean up this mess for her.
Moira: “They’ve gotta listen to you! You’re June F—in’ Osborne!”
June: “Maybe he’s more important than I am… Maybe what he’s giving them is more valuable than what he took from me.”
Fred continues to provide information to the UN. He’ll leave for Geneva after they’re satisfied that they’ve gotten as much as they can from him. Serena sits behind him and takes notes. They are both dressed in their Gilead uniforms. Serena has embraced public reading, writing and organizing with enthusiasm, though she’s also maintaining her image as a Gilead Commander’s Wife, a dangerous combination.
A panel of three women interrogate Fred. I assume they work with Rachel, because they are not sympathetic to Fred and Serena AT ALL. 😉 The lead interrogator asks about a former oncologist, Dr Martina Burnell, who Fred knew at Jezebels as Riley. They ask about his history with her and if he can confirm that she’s dead. He tries to lie, but eventually admits that “Riley passed away in an accident.” At Jezebels. Caused by Commander Johnston, though of course he didn’t actually mean to kill her, so he wasn’t punished.
As if a Commander would ever be punished for hurting a Jezebel.
Tuello pulls Serena out of the meeting. She’s upset that he’s kept her waiting. He didn’t realize they had an appointment. Tuello meets the Real Mrs Waterford for the first time. She takes him to task for not treating the Commander with enough respect and gratitude while the Commander is making Tuello look good in front of his bosses.
Serena tells him that Fred’s current interrogator is unacceptable. She’s treating Fred like a criminal!! Tuello points out that Fred is a criminal and Serena was his willing accomplice for many of the crimes he committed. Serena is undeterred and demands that the interrogator call Fred “Commander” or the interview will end.
It’s a gutsy threat, since Fred’s freedom depends on keeping them happy. Serena must be certain that Tuello needs this intelligence win. He did push her extremely hard for it. On the other hand, it sounds like Fred has satisfied the portion of the interrogations that pertained to increasing the US/UN understanding of How Gilead Officially Works, the only information Tuello was interested in.
Now Fred’s being pushed to document his and others’ human rights violations, the portion of his experience that pertains to June’s testimony, which Tuello basically said wouldn’t matter to the court. But we just heard one of the interrogators press Fred to be honest and detailed in his confession so that the family of a deceased sex slave could have closure. And we heard that the interrogators are not blandly trading Fred’s crimes against humanity off for the other intel he brings to the table, the way Tuello is.
Tuello doesn’t respond to Serena’s complaint about the interrogators, which suggests that he has no power over what’s happening right now. Serena moves to the next item on her list- Fred needs faster internet in his cell so that he can answer his fan mail in a timely manner. Tuello has already taken care of it.
My, my. Tuello’s basically Serena’s lap dog now- if he can make her life easier in the smallest way, he will. Meanwhile, he walked out on June earlier, not even bothering to witness her testimony.
Serena demands to set up house hunting tours to find a house that’s big enough to meet her and Fred’s growing family’s needs- she implies that they need a mansion. Tuello implies that they shouldn’t make plans until the deal is done. Serena insults June for getting in the way of her plans- apparently her testimony slowed down the process.
Serena informs Tuello that she and Fred have decided that their son won’t be born in prison. Tuello says he’ll talk to the prosecutor’s office.
Next she’ll order Tuello to roll over and beg. Maybe wear her collar.
Incredulously, he verifies that she intends to live with Fred “as husband and wife” and asks her to explain herself.
Tuello pushed her into getting back together with her husband because he thought it would help Serena convince Fred to take the immunity deal. Which led to the public worshipping them as a conservative religious family, symbols of fertility. If Serena wants to maintain her image and sell books, currently her only potential source of income, she has to stay with Fred.
Tuello created this situation- he doesn’t get to criticize her for it now.
Serena, with just the right touch of vulnerability: “I don’t believe I have to.”
Here’s what I think happened-
It took the camera operator extra time to set up for June’s recorded statement because someone important decided to watch it live. They realized the significance of her testimony and possibly others also watched after that. At some point in the episode, June says that she told them everything. The beauty of sitting alone in a room, talking to a camera, is that she really could talk, uninterrupted, for as long as she wanted, about whatever she wanted, without other people judging her, otherwise making her uncomfortable or redirecting her testimony where they wanted it to go. She actually could name names and tell them EVERYTHING she knows about the abuse of women in Gilead.
Tuello told June when she first came home that it’s better to debrief right away, before anyone interferes with the memories. He didn’t note that he would be one of the people interfering with her testimony, such as by bringing her to Serena right away and allowing Luke into the courtroom the first time she testified. Now that she’s had time to decompress and rest, June is ready to tell her whole story and Tuello accidentally gave her the perfect venue for doing so. She’s not as easily intimidated as he hoped.
Moira’s call saying that Fred needs to fly to Geneva for his final hearing came just as June returned home from that appointment. And now Serena is angry, since Fred’s interrogation is taking longer than expected because of June and is being done by a panel of “disrespectful” women, who are asking about his crimes against women, not about the dry government issues Tuello probably let him drone on about.
Somebody at the ICC/UN finally took June seriously and the Waterfords might be in trouble. Tuello tried to discourage June from giving her statement, and then hoped to bury it, because he wanted the credit for breaking open Gilead’s culture, but he didn’t want to admit his information comes from such a disreputable source.
Plus Tuello simply wasn’t interested in prosecuting sex crimes or ending the enslavement of women. (I’m not saying he doesn’t care about crimes against humanity. But by taking a supposedly neutral stance and prioritizing other matters, he’s also not doing anything about the mass murder, rape and torture in Gilead.) For one thing, if he pursues those crimes, Serena will be implicated. It’s not exactly clear what he wants from her, but he certainly sounds like a jealous lover in the scene above.
As we saw last week, Serena also needs protection from Gilead. Mark can’t protect her from Gilead’s kidnappers or assassins the way being the personal property of a Commander would. It’s clear that Tuello still can’t fathom the danger that Gilead poses to all women, even to a woman of status like Serena. He doesn’t fully believe June and he doesn’t fully believe Serena, despite the loss of her finger. It seems like he’s seen some of the testimony about Fred’s criminal offenses at this point in the episode and has been educated a bit by his female coworkers, because he at least refers to Fred’s terrible crimes, but he’s still mostly thinking about Serena in relation to what he wants from her.
As soon as the deal was done, Tuello expected Serena to drop Fred like a hot potato in favor of acting on her attraction to him. She led Tuello on, similar to the way he led June on, only Serena is even better at this game than he is. June is good at this game too, as she pointed out in the opening voiceover. It just took her awhile to fully understand the game Tuello is playing. She thought she was safe and with allies, even though they’re spies and bureaucrats. Serena is more practiced in dealing with government types like this and understood from the start that he was playing her, not helping her. Even if he might also have real feelings for her, there’s no way to tell where they begin and his careerism ends. Just like with the Waterfords.
June is sitting on the front steps when Emily and her son Oliver come over to visit. June greets Emily with a variation on one of her standard handmaid lines, “We’re enjoying very fine weather,” the blandest greeting they had before they trusted each other. It’s also the line June repeated when she’d been broken by Aunt Lydia in S2. Emily replies by calling June a “Pious little s–t,” which is what they each thought of the other until they got to know each other.
They talk about how different the justice system is in Gilead. An empty courtroom with a camera wouldn’t happen there, because they use public punishments to keep the rest of the population in line. That requires a personal touch, as June says. And as her Mom pointed out, the Sons of Jacob bought the Old Testament, but not much of the New. They believe in “an eye for an eye”, not “turn the other cheek”.
June tears up and tells Emily that she really wants to let Fred and Gilead go. She wants to focus on her family. She feels like a “Good Mother” would be able to let go of the past. Emily doesn’t respond. She doesn’t have any answers, since she hasn’t let go either.
June vs OfLuke
I think June is practically hearing Lydia in her head again, standing in front of the bodies of her friends, telling her what the sinful June is guilty of and what the dutiful OfLuke should do to fix it.
OfLuke needs to meet a definition of “Good Mother” that no longer applies to June’s world and was probably a ridiculously high standard that no real life woman could ever meet to begin with. No one in June’s position could truly let go of the past this quickly- or probably ever. You learn to deal with it, but it’s always part of you.
June is no longer Luke’s Perfect Working Wife and Hannah’s Mommy and she doesn’t need to feel bad about it. June survived and had amazing successes and suffered terrible losses in Gilead. Moving on from those experiences means incorporating them into who she is, as part of her continuing growth and maturation process, not reverting back to who she was before Gilead, as if her experiences there never happened.
Luke is the one with the problem- the way he’s pushing her to pretend that nothing has changed and to convince her that she’s lucky is repressive and controlling. June is not just lucky- she didn’t get to Chicago, where Moira found her, by accident. She did that herself, through her decisions, her strength and her leadership.
She didn’t do it just so she could become OfLuke.
The last time June had to decide between two halves of herself, Lydia pressed the matter in front of Omar’s body hanging on the Wall in S2. Eventually, June chose her true self, not Offred, after a suicide attempt. June doesn’t have to let things get that far this time, since she has more freedom to choose and to be herself rather than playing a role assigned by others. But she does have a score to settle before she lets Offred go.
As June walks toward Fred’s cell, she recalls other times when she approached a meeting with him. Their roles are reversed and this time he is the prisoner. She wears her Commanders’ black overcoat again. Fred is surprised to see her. He asks if he can call her June. She points out that it is and always was her name. He proceeds to use it over and over, trying to make it something he owns.
He asks why she’s there. She says she figured it was her last chance, but doesn’t elaborate. She wanders the room and examines his things, making him nervous.
Fred: “Out of respect, I hold no ill will. Even after those things you said in court.”
June stares at him. He has the nerve to tell her he forgives her for supposedly lying about his serial rapes in court.
She tells the guard to leave. Fred doesn’t have the sense to be afraid. Maybe he doesn’t know that she killed Commander Winslow with a pen the first time he tried to rape her, not the 200th.
June switches into Offred Coquette mode, the persona that works best for manipulating Fred. This is the persona who joined Fred for snacks in the kitchen and played scrabble in the office, not the one who went to Jezebels. She’s actually a real part of June in some ways, because Offred pulled her out when she needed to add a bit of honesty and sincerity to the mix so that Fred would feel they were in a real relationship and agree to do favors for her.
She’s a confusing part of June, because she plays on the real life chemistry between Elisabeth Moss and Joseph Fiennes. And she plays on the fact that before Gilead, June was Fred’s social equal and potential wife material. June has played the role of mistress who becomes the wife before and understands how to dangle that possibility in front of Fred.
Fred dangled possibilities back, but they’ve never been as possible as they are now, with both of them about to be free.
Gilead forced a thick veneer of acting over the top of social skills June already possessed. Both helped hide her repulsion, hatred and terror for 7 years, which allows Fred and Serena to believe the emotions June displayed for them were her actual emotions.
Fred continues his delusions, oblivious to June’s mood, saying he understands she had to make their affair sound like rape in front of the judge and Luke. He realizes that life in his home was difficult for both of them, and worse for her. He deeply regrets that.
Fred: “I don’t know that I was able to fully appreciate your situation until now. As a father, to have my son taken away from me would be unimaginable. You must have experienced such terrible longing for your daughter. And for that, I’m sorry. Truly, deeply sorry.”
June cries and tells him she’s surprised to hear him say that. Then she asks for a drink.
Fred, not knowing when to quit, continues, saying their relationship was vital and necessary for both of them to survive Gilead. “I wouldn’t call it love, but it was something else. Something very strong.”
June agrees that there was something very strong between them.
Hate on one side and delusion on the other? A master-slave dynamic? Stockholm Syndrome? Certainly playing Scrabble stimulated her mind a little, but so did plotting her escape. He didn’t do her any favors. That was all for him. On the other hand, his line about there being something between them that’s akin to love is one of Offred’s thoughts from the book. Onscreen, she thought it in S3 during the Group Christening.
There is meant to be a weird pull between them that neither can let go of. But it’s not a positive energy, it’s more like obsessive frenemies to the death, just like she has with Serena. The Waterfords were unable to to dominate her, which enraged and intrigued them both. It foiled every classist belief they held dear for their handmaid to be their equal in education, intelligence, social class, looks and confidence, and then for her to outsmart them repeatedly.
Fred and June agree that they miss Offred sometimes. June misses her strength. Fred misses the way she couldn’t say no. “She was very special. Inspiring, in a way.”
I don’t think he could say it in a creepier tone of voice. It’s clear he’s dreaming of continuing their “affair” once he’s free.
June looks like she’s skinning him alive in her mind. She toasts to Offred. He joins her.
If someone ever looks at you the way June is currently looking at Fred, reconsider your life choices. Quickly.
On the drive home, Luke tells her, in a matter of fact voice, that there will be police outside of their house from now on to protect them from the Waterford-worshipping crazies. He doesn’t see it as a big deal. To her it likely feels like the Guardians are back.
He suggests they go out for food or a beer, but June is tired and just wants to go home. Luke asks if she means she wants to go home to Boston- they could go to their favorite restaurant, catch a baseball game. Wouldn’t that be fun?
June laughs with him for a minute, then stops. “I’m gonna put Fred on the wall.”
Luke is shocked and tries to snap her out of what he sees as her delusional obsession, proving he doesn’t know his wife at all. He’s the one who brought up memories of a Boston that’s long gone. Her memories of Boston are filled with looking at the wall and trying to figure out if anyone she knew was up there. Many times, she recognized the bodies.
In Boston, killing Fred and putting his body on public display is an appropriate punishment for the crime of endangering a child by raping a woman carrying a high risk pregnancy. Fred was the one who brought that crime to the attention of the state- he admitted that he and Serena were guilty. The UN/US/Canada are shirking their duty to punish him. In Gilead, the handmaids carry out those sentences, as June and Emily noted earlier.
June is just asking for justice.
She doesn’t pay attention to Luke. It’s as if they’re in two different shows.
Moving on- let’s just savor this next scene, shall we? The entire episode is one of the best of the series, but the second half climbs to a new peak.
Tuello returns to his apartment building from his morning run to find June sitting outside on a bench. He treats her like a stalker. It’s okay for him to show up in her life wherever and whenever he wants, but his home is off limits, because he’s A Professional and it’s His Job to stalk potential sources. He’s not a refugee
tramp like her.
She turns the tables beautifully.
June: “Fred’s not gonna get out, Mark.”
Tuello: “I understand how hard this is to accept.”
Lol. Don’t bother to argue with June once she’s made a decision, Mark.
June: “You should probably change. We’re going to need your car.”
She demeans him about his clothing then turns him into her lowly driver. Excellent work, Ms Osborne. He sputters, trying to find the right protest for the situation.
June: “You’re going to help me. We’re not having a discussion.”
She’s realized that he’s into Serena and she needs to use Serena’s dominatrix moves.
He finally catches his breathe and decides the right tone is to speak to her in a condescending manner as if she’s a misbehaving teenager, throwing in a swear word to drive home how wrong she is to harass him this way. She smirks at him, but stays motionless- she’s in control. He remembers he’s speaking to an adult woman and apologizes. She apologizes for showing up like this and blames Gilead for her misbehavior. Then she pulls out her vulnerability, another patented Serena move.
She tearfully explains that she “needs Fred to get what he deserves.” Lucky for her, after his interaction with Serena yesterday, Tuello also really wants Fred to get what he deserves. He just doesn’t know how to make it happen
because he’s so mediocre.
But June does. All he needs to do is give her a ride and then listen. And remember that she’s still June f—in’ Osborne.
He gives in. They drive out to an empty diner on the border with a caravan of black SUVs. Guardians and US border agents are already waiting for them. As they get out of the car, Tuello confirms that June spoke directly to “him”. June says that
her new, more respectful friends at the embassy arranged the call for her. In other words, she made a deal of her own, doing an end run around the original deal made by Tuello and the ICC. Tuello also confirms that “he personally guaranteed safe passage.”
Inside the diner, Joseph Lawrence is there to make a deal to return Fred to Gilead, so his brother can finally come home. Joseph can’t even manage to sound as sincere about rescuing Fred as Putnam did when he promised Thoughts and Prayers. June, Tuello and Joseph exchange pleasantries, of a sort, then begin negotiations. Tuello notes that Fred has been very helpful and forthcoming. Joseph warns him that Fred’s statements may not be entirely accurate.
In addition to the high probability that Fred lied, Gilead’s government is in the midst of an overhaul. Some of Fred’s information is actually outdated. That’s part of why the other Commanders were comfortable leaving him to swing in the wind.
Joseph and Putnam’s agendas aren’t quite the same. Putnam remembers that his buddy Fred, who was also having unsanctioned sex with a handmaid, only put up token resistance when Pryce insisted they amputate Putnam’s arm for his affair with Janine. And Putnam wants Fred’s baby boy.
Joseph remembers that it was Fred who forced him to carry out the Ceremony with June in front of Eleanor, which began the downward spiral that led to Eleanor’s death. Eleanor wanted Joseph to go through with Angels Flight and to reform Gilead. He’s carrying out those wishes. But he would also enjoy hammering some nails into Fred’s coffin.
June’s worth as an asset stems in large part from her understanding of this background knowledge of Gilead- not just the dry seating chart for Commanders’ meetings that Fred gave Tuello, but the connections and motivations that make Gilead tick, which can be used to leverage deals like this one. Fred won’t give Tuello that information. June won’t either, unless he earns her trust. She rightly intends to retain her status as a power broker, not hand it over to Tuello for free.
Joseph’s opening bid for Fred is a range of potential monetary policy changes. Tuello makes a face at him that’s almost identical to the face Joseph made at Tuello’s offer to trade policy changes for Hannah in episode 9. June tells him to make his real offer. He says, “It was worth a shot.”
Then he pulls out dossiers on 22 imprisoned women who worked with the resistance. The US thought most of them were dead.
Colony-Gate, A Scandal (and an Army) in the Making
The fact that the US thought these women were dead when they were probably in the Colonies says something noteworthy about the US intelligence effort- either they aren’t trying very hard to verify these deaths or they’re just crossing off names as soon as they get word of their arrests. When June was arrested in S4Ep3, Rachel told Luke that they’d probably never find out what happened to her. We know that June didn’t have a trial. Someone decided to torture information out of her, then send her to a breeding Colony. We’ve never seen any evidence of a traditional prison system in Gilead. It’s execution or a life sentence in the Colonies, either the radioactive ones that kill you quickly or the work Colonies that kill you slowly.
Declaring imprisoned women MIA and most likely dead gets the US government off the hook with the public for any responsibility to rescue or negotiate for the release of women (and men) who would normally be considered prisoners of war or, at the very least, victims of human rights violations/crimes against humanity.
Remember, these 22 women were working for the resistance. The United States has abandoned its freedom fighters, peeps. It tells the families that their loved ones are dead, then ignores their torture and enslavement/imprisonment by the enemy during a time of war. The officials responsible for this are committing treason. I don’t know how deeply involved Tuello is in that scandal, but it doesn’t make him look good.
These women may not be part of an official US military unit, but they seem to be all that the US has at the moment- all we saw in Chicago were ragtag, unofficial fighters, too, who didn’t even know about the loosely organized resistance going on inside Gilead proper. Maybe if the US government supported the fighters it already has in place, it could make some headway against this enemy. We’ve seen how effective they are.
I doubt the show will follow up on the implications of what Joseph just said. If I were writing it, Moira and Oona would spend next season helping the ICC investigate the Colonies, while June and Emily attempt to find and rescue prisoners from the gulags in the work Colonies. Someone (
June and Nick) would organize that diaspora of resistance fighters into a coherent network who are sharing plans and resources.
The non radioactive Colonies are where prisoners produce food and other staples. Free those prisoners, shut those farms and factories down, and you also cripple Gilead’s supply lines. The breeding Colony is also a work Colony, so that would be a double good location to hit. When enough of those freed prisoners are ready to continue the fight, you’ve built your own scrappy resistance army.
June to Tuello: “And you can save them.”
Joseph: “And we can bring our… brother home.”
Tuello pushes the files back into the center of the table.
June: “I get that Fred Waterford is giving you information that you feel will save lives. I get that. But these are the lives you’re trying to save. And you cannot say that Fred Waterford is worth more than these women, these 22 women. You can’t say that.”
Note June’s use of the verb “feel” rather than simply “will save live lives”. And the implied acknowledgement that Tuello doesn’t “feel” justice for her and her fellow handmaids, the sex slaves, is worth much, but he can’t deny the PR opportunity in saving Marthas, who are seen as innocent grandmas and what he “feels” are legitimate resistance fighters. He doesn’t bother to deny her assessment, saying he’ll take the offer to his boss.
She’s got Tuello’s number and has figured out how to use him the way he used her. If she also proves she’s worth taking seriously by his department, fine. But I doubt that Tuello will ever earn June’s respect in return. He certainly won’t earn mine back. At least Joseph has always been honest about who he is and how he works.
As Joseph subtly pointed out in S3, there’s a difference between a self-serving manipulator and a liar. You can’t trust a liar, but you can understand and work with a self-serving manipulator. In my book, Fred and Tuello cross over into liar territory, while Serena and Joseph are manipulators.
June and Nick are something smoother, more like operators who work every aspect of the system, only turning to manipulation when it’s necessary. It’s not their native language, the way it is for Serena and Joseph. June and Nick are the highest level of survivor, able to recognize and seize whatever type of opportunity comes their way, but also able to stay open-hearted rather than becoming cynical opportunists. That’s a rare thing, and that’s why they are so misunderstood in universe and offscreen.
As Tuello walks away, Joseph congratulates June. Then he says, “It won’t be enough, you know. Whatever happens to him if we get him won’t be enough for you.”
They look each other in the eye for a minute. June says, “God bless you, Joseph,” and leaves.
Back at home in her new kitchen with the postGilead Gang, Luke thinks Gilead will put Fred on trial, then send him to jail. Emily adds that he might go to the Colonies. Rita agrees that giving Fred a trial is the right way to do things. Emily asks if they’ll ever find out what happens. Moira doesn’t care, as long as she never has to think about him again.
It seems like some of them are playing along, pretending this will end in a civilized manner, so as not to scare the others, meaning Luke. Emily, Rita and June know very well that he won’t get a real trial or sent to a prison, at least not in the way Americans think of these things.
Fred might technically get a trial, if you accept that in Gilead the word means Fred would be brought before the other Commanders, who would list his made up crimes, find him guilty and sentence him to death. And prison is also a relative term, which sometimes means public execution with the corpse hung up in the center of town for the education of the public.
Sometimes it means hard labor in a toxic environment for a few months until the prisoner dies. Otherwise, you’re not imprisoned- you continue to be an enslaved worker until you die, like everyone else in Gilead. The work Colonies are probably more harsh than life as an Econoperson but less lethal than shoveling radioactive dirt like Emily and Janine did, but we haven’t been there yet.
*Lodging my request for a season 5 side trip to the work farm where Dr Holly Maddox is still hanging on.*
Emily, quietly to June, while the others are distracted: “What do you want?”
June: “I want him to be afraid. Because I was afraid for so long.”
Luke starts to listen in.
Emily: “How afraid?”
June, eyes gleaming, beginning to dream a dream: “Like in the woods, when I was caught. And they took Hannah.”
June’s eyes become hard. Emily gives her a small nod. Luke becomes concerned.
Emily leans in and smiles a little: “More than that.”
June leans in: “I want him to be scared to death.”
Sounds like a plan. She takes a swallow of her beer. Emily nods again as they stare intensely at each other, remembering their days as walking partners in Boston.
Is it Friday already? Fred, having answered the questions of all interested parties, stops by Serena’s cell on his way to the airport before he flies to Geneva for his immunity hearing. They marvel that he’ll return a free man. He adds that he’ll also be a husband and a father. Serena doesn’t seem completely sincere when she says, “It really is a miracle, Fred. What you’ve done.”
She gives him a thick stack of annotated documents for his court date so he can read them on the plane. Now that she’s allowed to write and organize, it’s all pouring out of her. Fred wishes she could come along, but it’s too close to Serena’s due date for her to travel. She tells him, “We’ll have to divide and conquer for a while.”
That’s not quite how that saying goes. It’ll seem prescient by the end of the episode.
Fred puts on his creepy sad face. Serena backs away from him and tells him to give her a call
never when he lands. He suggests that they Zoom. She reluctantly agrees, then shoves him out the door so she can take another call.
They didn’t touch at all and she didn’t express any kind of affection for him. The closest she came was thanking him for helping her stay out of Gilead. It felt like a break up conversation. Does she know about June’s deal or is she just in a cold mood? Hard to say with Serena.
As Fred walks outside and hands off his suitcase to an aid, Tuello is on a phone call: “Yes, he’s here. Thank you very much, ma’am.” Sounds like they left the decision on extradition vs immunity until the last moment, when they’d gotten everything they could out of Fred and were cognizant of the full extent of his crimes and their impact.
In other words, this is a win-win-win for the UN and US. They got everything they wanted from Fred before they let him go. June and the other women he abused get the justice they wanted, so they’ll leave the UN/ICC alone. And the authorities get credit for saving resistance fighters. There was no downside to June’s deal for them.
Tuello hangs up and approaches Fred, who assumes Tuello is now escorting him to Geneva. Not quite.
Tuello: “You’re not going to Geneva.”
A prisoner transport van pulls up. As Fred complains about rights and lawyers, Tuello signals for him to be handcuffed.
Watching Fred being manhandled and handcuffed for real this time is a beautiful, beautiful sight. So satisfying.👏🏼 💋 💃 🥂
Tuello: “You no longer have a lawyer. Commander Waterford, the ICC Court have ruled you unfit for leniency. They have turned your dispensation over to the American government. You are now in my custody.”
Fred doesn’t take the news well. He hurls all sorts of insults, then yells, “This is insanity! I have rights! I’m a man and I have rights!”
They throw him into the transport van and drive.
June leaves home at dusk, the time of major transitions, when anything can happen. She’s left her black coat at home this time in favor of handmaids’ red. Before she gets in the car, she turns back to the house for a final look at Luke, Moira and Nichole through the window, messing around in the kitchen sink. She’s on the outside of their family unit, as she has been since her rescue. But her face shows determination, not sadness, as she turns back toward the car.
It’s dark by the time the transport van reaches its destination, a bridge crossing the river that forms the border between the former US and Canada. Tuello meets Fred as he’s removed from the van. Fred renews his complaints. Tuello explains that the US is exercising a provision within their agreement and sending him home to Gilead.
Fred assumed they were “taking me to some dark road to be executed.” Not a dark road. And not by Tuello.
Fred should have spent less time planning to overthrow the government and more time watching spy movies. He’s been done in by a series of classic moves, from the household staff who informed on him to the prisoner exchange on the bridge.
Tuello tells one of his aids to start the trade. He wants them to check all 22 names, then get the women on the bus and on the move away from the border as quickly as possible.
As the 22 Marthas and Unwomen cross the bridge to safety, Fred finally understands that this is happening. Tuello explains that as part of the new agreement, Gilead has guaranteed that Fred will be tried under their formal justice system- the laws he helped write, immediately following the war. Fred tells Tuello that he’ll have to face God for his actions, and God knows what he covets (
Serena, another man’s wife). Tuello says goodbye and leaves for the bus, in another of his classic “drop the bomb and run for cover” operations.
The US wants plausible deniability for knowledge of whatever happens next.
Fred is taken across the border, where Joseph Lawrence waits for him. Joseph notes that the nation’s (thoughts and) prayers have been answered. 😉 Fred immediately says that everything he did, he did to protect his family. Joseph gives him a side eye, since Fred took his family, Eleanor, away.
A Gilead prisoner transport van pulls up. Our favorite Eye, Commander Nick Blaine, hops out and approaches the other Commanders. He tells Joseph, “The Eyes will take the prisoner into custody.”
Fred is confused AGAIN. How could his surrogate son treat him this way?
Lawrence: “If I object, will it make a difference?”
Nick, with a barely perceptible, but satisfied smile: “No sir. At the border, I’m afraid the Eyes maintain tactical control.”
Joseph doesn’t even try to look upset. “Go in grace, Fred.”
So many satisfied characters right now, none of them Fred.
Two helmeted Eyes drag Fred into the van, shackling him to the wall at the neck and ankles, as June once was. He complains at Nick, calling him “son” repeatedly and saying Nick will regret this. Spoiler: He won’t. He really, really won’t. I daresay it’s a dream come true.
When the van comes to a stop, Nick drags Fred through a wooded area, lit by vehicle headlights. Fred continues to scream demands at Nick, until Nick pistol whips him in the face, knocking him down. They walk a little further, until Nick tells Fred that they’re in No Man’s Land, just as June appears at the top of a hill. They watch her approach them.
Nick: “Do not be deceived. God is not to be mocked. For whatever man sows, so shall he reap. You did this to yourself, Commander.”
Fred babbles some more. It finally, finally sounds like a man who’s begging for mercy. Too little, too late, too self-serving. As always.
I don’t think Nick and June hear it anyway, because they’re too busy making out next to him. The thought of Fred being permanently out of their lives is the biggest turn on ever
for all of us.
Also, No Man’s Land is an idea that has some promise. It sounds like that place without politics or sides that Tony and Maria were looking for in West Side Story.
Fred is grossed out by Nick kissing June- the hired help is kissing his concubine, ew. June thanks Nick for the lovely gift, then watches him leave with stars in her eyes. I don’t think we’ve ever seen her look this happy, period. Which makes me think she and Nick came to some arrangement off camera regarding their relationship that we aren’t privy to yet. She’s happy to get closure and revenge by delivering #JusticetoFred, but the look in her eyes was way beyond that.
Once Nick is gone, the mood changes abruptly. As June unlocks Fred’s handcuffs, he tells her she’s a kind woman, maybe trying to convince her not to kill him.
He always did depend on Serena to be the brains of the operation.
June gives him a little smile. Then she stands in front of him, all business. She pulls a whistle and a gun out of her pocket and tells him to choose- both are used to signal the start of hunts and races. Misunderstanding, Fred tells her that he knows she’s not capable of shooting him. She assumes that means he chooses the whistle.
She’s most certainly capable of shooting him. It’s way simpler to shoot someone than to bludgeon them to death with a pen and a vase while fighting for your own life. But death by gunshot would be the easy way out for Fred. That’s not happening- unless she intends to shoot him in the leg and then torture him to death slowly.
There’s no scenario in which June Osborne provides Fred Waterford with a quick, easy death.
It’s a false choice, just like the choices women are given in Gilead. Terror and death will follow the signal either way. Most of June’s friends are just as dead now as they would be if they had chosen to go to the Colonies 7 years ago. Some died quickly and some died slowly, but almost all of them died painfully and in terror.
The June who was captured 7 years ago is dead and gone forever, as is the Hannah who was captured back then. Before long, Hannah will also be forced to make false choices between rape and death, just as Esther was at 12 or 13.
Fred has a lot to answer for. One night of torture and pain is still an easy death compared to the thousands of women he condemned to years of rape, torture, ignorance and servitude. No punishment could ever make up for his crimes against women.
But at least June and some of his other victims can give him a taste of what he’s put others through. That’s not nothing.
JUNE blows the whistle. Dozens of women appear out of the shadows, holding flashlights. Fred, who helped devise the punishments for crimes in Gilead, finally understands what’s happening. This is a particicution, a type of salvaging in which the handmaids use their bodies and bare hands to murder a rapist. Men who rape pregnant women and endanger their unborn children receive particular venom. Fred and Serena raped June while she was 9 months pregnant with Nichole, ostensibly to help induce labor, after her doctor had forbidden them to try this method because her pregnancy was high risk after the bleeding she’d suffered earlier on.
Fred calls June “Offred” and begs for his life, using his unborn son as the reason he should be allowed to live. Funny how a son he hasn’t even met yet, who might not survive birth, matters so much more than Nichole, Hannah and all of these other daughters. The women aren’t moved by his pleas.
He doesn’t have to be told twice.
They chase him through the dark woods. June remembers her thoughts from the opening voiceover. She’s no longer bound by the necessity of holding back her need to fight off his attentions. Eventually, Fred trips and doesn’t get up.
June stops in front of Fred, looking down at him. It takes a second for her freedom to attack him to sink in. She savors the feeling. I actually thought they might play “Feelin’ Good” again, but instead they play Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me”, which is equally appropriate.
“You don’t own me, I’m not just one of your many toys.”
June lets loose with a swift kick. She follows him to the ground and pounds on him with her fists. Emily smiles and joins her. The rest of the handmaids follow in a swarm. Someone holds Fred’s face still so that June can reenact the opening, repeating to herself, “Don’t bite,” as she goes in for a kiss
of death. She bites and comes away with pieces of Fred’s flesh.
As she continues, there is pain in her eyes as well as anger. This isn’t who she wanted to be, but this is who he made her. Who he and the others like him made all of them.
In the morning, the former handmaids make their way out of the woods to their cars. June looks tired, her emotions finally spent. She takes a few very deep breaths, the first we’ve seen her take since she arrived in Canada. THIS is the freedom she’s been looking for.
Serena works at her computer and feels her baby kick. She is also free in a way she doesn’t comprehend yet. Outside her cell, a security officer checks a suspicious package that’s addressed to her. Fred’s wedding band and ring finger fall out of the envelope. June has given Serena justice, of a sort- an eye for an eye, a finger for a finger. I see the wedding band as June’s acknowledgement that Fred took much more than a finger from both of them.
June returns home and climbs the stairs to Nichole’s room, where the baby is already awake in her crib. June hasn’t cleaned off the blood and grime from the night before, but she picks up Nichole and cuddles her. Some of the blood on June’s face smears onto Nichole’s face.
Nichole won’t be able to avoid this fight forever. She was born into it and its mess will always spill over onto her. But she shares her parents’ spirit, along with their blood and their fight.
Luke stumbles into the room, still half asleep. When he notices the blood, he says, “No,” and sinks to the floor against the wall, shaking his head in disappointment and disapproval. He understood enough of her conversation with Emily to figure out what just happened, and unlike Nick, he doesn’t think she should continue to be part of the fight for justice.
June and Luke have irreconcilable differences. They each need her to be a different person.
June says she knows and she’s sorry. She asks for 5 more minutes with Nichole, then promises to leave.
She says, “Mommy loves you. Mommy loves you so much.” And holds Nichole close.
Fred’s body hangs from a noose on a ruined brick Wall somewhere in No Man’s Land. Underneath it is spray painted “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum” , a faux Latin saying from season 1, which “translates” as “Don’t let the b-st—ds grind you down,” a message that went from Fred, to Offred1, who hung herself, to June via the closet wall, back to Fred.
Victory belongs to the handmaids.
I mean it. This victory belongs to June and the other handmaids who fought and often died for it. Think about how little help June (and the others) have gotten over the course of the series, no matter where she was, just because someone saw she was in need and decided to help her. Rita, Eleanor, Moira and Nick are the only people who ever showed charity toward her. Everyone else only helped her begrudgingly or because they were also getting something out of it. The handmaids were abandoned by Mayday several times.
We saw June and Emily take part in a particicution in the pilot. This is the appropriate punishment for Fred’s crime under Gilead law. It’s sanctioned and supervised by the Eyes, who have jurisdiction. Nick and Joseph gave June, Emily and the other former handmaids the opportunity to mete out justice themselves, but this execution also meets the terms of Fred’s handover to Gilead, that he be dealt with according to the rules of the formal Gilead justice system.
It looks like vigilante justice, but it’s not. Not in Gilead. And not according to the terms of the deal made for Fred’s return to Gilead. Legally, these women are executioners, not murderers. If Fred’s fan club finds out who killed him they may terrorize June and the others, but the former handmaids won’t face legal consequences.
Nick is correct when he tells Fred that he is reaping what he sowed. Gilead’s system of Ceremonies, handmaids and aunts was created one afternoon not long after the end of the war by Fred, Commander Andrew Pryce, and Commander Guthrie in the back of a limo that Nick was driving. The partition was down and Nick heard the entire meeting, where they debated how to make cheating on their wives and systematic rape seem palatable so that their Wives would accept it. The needs of the handmaids never entered into the conversation. The thought that they were raping these women never occurred to any of them.
Pryce was at least concerned that there be some biblical type of morality involved and that the handmaids not be exploited as mistresses and concubines. He didn’t have an issue with the Ceremony, but he at least wanted the handmaids to be respected and physically left alone otherwise. While he was alive, he tried to keep corruption and exploitation under control, but he died in the Red Center bombing in S2, before he could remove or punish enough of the corrupt power players who pushed women too far. Guthrie was arrested for sleeping with his last two handmaids and embezzling from his department, then probably executed, as shown in a flashback to the era when Offred1 committed suicide and June came to the Waterfords in S1Ep8, Jezebels. Now that Fred is dead, all three of the men who directly created the handmaid system are gone, taken down by their own exploitation of women.
Serena and Lawrence were two of the major architects of Gilead as a country that restricts women’s rights and movements in the hope of increasing their fertility and as a moneyless economic system, respectively, but neither of them envisioned a system as oppressive as the Sons of Jacob built in the real world. They share the blame for Gilead’s creation and oppression, but not the same level of blame that the original group of men who developed the laws and customs do.
Serena and Nick were not part of that process at all and didn’t sign up for the resulting slave-powered society. Joseph’s economic theories haven’t been explained clearly enough for me to understand exactly what he was aiming for, but my impression is that he designed an economy somewhere in the realm of authoritarian communism, in which all major resources and assets are owned and allocated by the government, according to the needs of the population.
Since he was also attempting to clean up the environment and restore fertility, Lawrence’s added twists were extreme environmental restrictions on all sectors of business and society and the removal of equality between the sexes in favor of sending women’s rights back to an earlier time. The Commanders reworked his design into an authoritarian master-slave society.
But we don’t know how restrictive Serena or Joseph would have made their ideal society. For example, Israel’s Utopian, collective Kibbutz movement has evolved and grown over many decades. It now includes hundreds of varied work colonies, but traditionally Kibbutzim were agricultural and egalitarian. Joseph may have based his original idea of single sex work colonies on Kibbutzim and latched onto the Sons of Jacob as a group who would allow him to put his ideas into practice, without fully understanding how far they’d go. Serena certainly made the same mistake. It’s safe to say that neither Serena or Eleanor were in favor of taking away their rights to read, write or have opinions that differ from their husbands.
I don’t feel like Serena or Joseph need to die. Or Nick if you want to include him as a founder, though it seems he wasn’t much more than a foot soldier in the war and that level of revolutionary is rarely punished. Plus Nick has already redeemed himself by delivering Fred for punishment, providing information on Hannah, stopping Fred the night Emily and Nichole escaped and other acts that have helped the resistance. I’d rather watch Serena, Nick and Joseph help bring down or reform Gilead.
Serena may not ever turn toward the light, but she’s also already suffered mightily under the system she helped create, and will likely continue to suffer. She doesn’t know it yet, but she’s lost almost everything and will need to use her wits to survive on her own with her son, with Gilead snapping at her heels. Maybe Tuello will help her, maybe not. He’s not actually much of a loyal ally- he’s as much of a user as anyone in Gilead and she may not be of use to him anymore.
Unlike June, Serena can’t work her contacts in Gilead without risking losing her son. For Tuello, her main value is as a symbol and spokesperson. I doubt he’s recognized the rest of her talents, just like he didn’t see below the surface in June. If I were Serena, I wouldn’t want anything to do with Tuello after he used so much manipulation to scare her and Fred into getting back together and Fred into flipping, but then was angry with her for staying with Fred for the sake of the baby.
Unless Serena can manipulate Tuello into marrying her and getting her Canadian citizenship, immunity, and a protection detail so she’s safe from Gilead assassins- then I say go for it. But Serena can probably land a bigger, richer fish for a husband than Mark Tuello, so why bother with a mid level bureaucrat like him? If anything, he’d be the one who was lucky to nab her, an author who’s probably going places on the world stage. He’s just another Fred who wants to grab onto her coattails because he isn’t creative or smart enough to satisfy his ego and ambition on his own.
Truly, I had such high hopes for Tuello, only for him to turn out to be one of those mediocre men who ignores and underestimates women by default. I should have paid attention to the fact that it was Serena who came up with the brilliant “treason and coconuts” line, not him.
Next season, I demand a raise and promotion for Rachel Tapping. Her pagan green persimmon ritual brought June home when nothing else could and she treats refugees like human beings.
The actual dream teams on this show are: June and Emily or June and Moira or June and Serena or June and Nick. Janine and Esther and Lydia are a team to watch. As are Joseph and Nick. RIP Beth and Alma, two of the best partners in crime a revolutionary could ask for. And Ofmatthew, who showed real promise in her S3 slow melt down/self evaluation leading to her grocery store mayhem. And of course Eleanor, the wisewoman of Gilead, original angel of the Angels’ Flight. Imagine what might have happened if she could have shared her motherly wisdom and haunted house with June for another season.
While it was glorious to watch Fred die, it was horrible to watch Joseph Fiennes die- it made writing parts of this recap a slog, sad to say. I’ve been a fan of his since Shakespeare in Love, through Flash Forward (still okay with a revival of that show anytime), and I’m still a fan. TV Fred is a completely different character from Book Fred. He’s more human and approachable, but he’s still a despicable villain. It was time for Fred to die, but I’m going to miss seeing one of my favorite actors and villains in one of my favorite shows.
Serena, as The Real Mrs Waterford will someday have her own reality show. Possibly Canada will eventually see Real Housewives from Gilead, a show comprised of refugee former Wives who left for political and safety reasons but still agree with many of Gilead’s ideas, pitted against former Econowives, Marthas and handmaids with all of the judginess, catfights and excessive honesty typical of the genre. Think Emily vs Marisa Tomei’s Mrs O’Conner in the Colonies meets GLOW.
Actually, I can’t decide whether season 5 Serena will play the hysterical (in both senses of the word) grieving widow who demands justice for Fred or she’ll accept that justice was served and move on with reviving her writing career, then expanding that into televangelism. Probably both at the same time. Serena is an excellent multitasker.
Fred was somehow completely unaware that June and Nick are an item, beyond having conceived Nichole together, despite them hardly even trying to hide it since she got pregnant. His ego wouldn’t allow him to imagine a low status woman like her preferring a supposedly low status man like Nick over a high ranking Commander like him.
Though Serena seems to have always known that Nick is an Eye, Fred doesn’t seem to have ever known- which says some interesting things about the entire Waterford household and their ability to keep secrets. But also, it reminds us that Nick was there specifically to spy on Fred, but not Serena. Serena probably knew it all along, but she didn’t help her husband.
For a glimpse into one of the real life figures the book version of Serena Joy was based on, y’all should check out the film The Eyes of Tammy Faye this fall. I assure you, nothing in this trailer in an exaggeration. Actually, they toned Tammy Faye down some. The 80s were a sparkly time. Plus, Cherry Jones (Dr Holly Maddox) and Sam Jaeger (Mark Tuello) are in the cast. (I still like Sam; I’m just over Tuello.) I can’t wait to see the whole film.
I suspect Tuello never finishes an argument or stays overnight at a date’s house. After he’s made his best move of the night, he’s out. No follow through with this guy- you might notice his feet of clay.
By the time Tuello loaded Fred into the van, he’d heard all of Fred’s confessions along with his smug lack of remorse. He has no problem with sending Fred off to die instead of to freedom because he knows Fred is guilty of crimes against humanity. But Fred is also right. Tuello wants Fred out of the way to clear a path to Serena. As long as Fred is alive, an ultra-conservative Christian woman like Serena is forced to stay married to him or be seen as a sinner and adulteress, just like June.
Tuello knows now that June was holding back, not exaggerating in her statements. That doesn’t mean his attitude toward her and the other handmaids will change. Some people agree with Fred’s defense lawyer- you weren’t raped if you didn’t fight to the death. They don’t apply that logic to male prisoners of war who are brainwashed. But women who are raised in misogynist societies then forced to choose between death and rape/abuse don’t warrant the same empathy and reason. And for some people, anyone they can label a sex worker also doesn’t warrant respect. They may pretend to respect all women, but in practice, they are classist as well as misogynist.
That’s the legacy the handmaids (and the Jezebels) will be left with for the rest of their lives- the treatment they’ll receive that will range from Chicago Steven’s blatant abuse to Tuello’s subtle disdain.
June made herself useful to Tuello’s career, so he may view her as valuable in that respect. Or he may try to do another end run around her, stealing her contacts so that he doesn’t have to go through her again. But she’s been wise in withholding information so that she controls her contacts and other sources of leverage. I wouldn’t be surprised if Joseph made sure that some of those 22 women know and are now loyal to June. Maybe the bombmaker-chemistry teacher is one, some of the five from Chicago she chose to be Marthas, or some who helped with Angels’ Flight but didn’t get on the plane. There could also be some of Emily’s S1 Mayday connections or women she knew in the Colony.
Was anyone else thinking of Chicago Steven’s aborted BJ when June kept saying, “Don’t bite. Don’t bite”? After this episode, I realized she was probably more afraid of what she’d do to Steven while he was forcing her than afraid of doing the deed. She’s decided that she won’t be raped again, no matter what it takes. The Ceremony Fred forced on her with Joseph was the last time.
Fred was shackled to the wall of the prisoner van and heavily guarded in exactly the way June was on the way to prison in S4Ep3. She was also masked. Nick probably wanted to hear Fred beg. This makes me even more convinced that the lack of security measures when the six rebel handmaids were on their way to the breeding colony at the end of S4Ep3 was on purpose, to allow them the opportunity to escape.
It was up to the handmaids to seize the opportunity or let it pass them by. They all chose to take it, without hesitation, knowing they might be killed in the attempt. They all chose freedom or death over continuing to live as breeding slaves. When Janine was recaptured, she expressed that choice again, this time verbally, to Aunt Lydia. Their choices, along with Esther, Janine and June’s stories and her partnership with Joseph, are all part of what is changing Aunt Lydia. She’s beginning to face how horrible and wrong life is for the handmaids.
The scene in the woods might be my favorite Nick and June scene ever, even though it’s short. For the first time, they are both free and wholly themselves. They’ve both chosen to be here, with no ulterior motives or outside pressure- only a common goal that benefits both of them. It felt so much more authentic to me than the sequence at the school.
In the sequence from episode 9, June wants something from Nick and Luke has pressured her into using Nichole to get it. Nick deliberately hides his 2nd marriage from June to make the visit go more smoothly. They pretend they are happy during the visit, but they know they might never see each other again. Their kisses are goodbyes, not promises.
While I loved watching them with Nichole, in that sequence they were living in a temporary dream world, pretending to be something they’re not and might never be. Their reality is all heartbreak in that moment- losses pretending to be wins, as I said in my episode 9 recap. When they leave, they each go home to someone else, to a life they don’t want to be living. Neither June nor Nick can convince the other that they’ll be happy when they tell each other to try.
Their love has survived their changes in circumstances, a relief to them both. If anything, Nick loves this free, powerful version of June even more. And she still loves him, even though he’s remained in Gilead and is on the Council, because she understands his motivations. As he understands her motivations for continuing to fight instead of staying home, taking care of their baby. That’s not her and it never was.
They are both soldiers and revolutionaries, not an ordinary middle class couple. I think that’s what June’s mother kept trying to tell her before she married Luke- that she is so much more than the life she was choosing. But June needed to try that life out in order to eventually reject it. Now she’s spreading her wings, as foreshadowed in S3 in DC, one of the few times Nick briefly stood beside her last season (and called her a nice girl! ❤️).
In this scene, they are equal partners at last. Partners in crime, as they have always been. And very clearly deeply in love. There’s no misinterpreting the way Nick watches June approach or the way she looks at him when she gets there. He’s still hiding his wedding ring, but now it’s irrelevant, just as his marriage to Eden was irrelevant. He’s simply choosing to wait until a more fitting moment to deal with the issue of his second marriage. She also has a husband who will have to be dealt with before they can be together full time, if they ever are.
That’s not really what this scene is about. This is about their souls meeting again and recognizing that finally they’re both sure of what they want. No more doubts or hesitations. Though it’s episode 6 that’s called Vows, in that episode Moira has to manipulate June to keep her alive and bring her home. In episode 3, The Crossing, Nick thought the best he could do was keep June alive, but lose her.
This scene is another vow, one that’s more all encompassing. Nick and June choose each other and their cause. They see the truth of each other, no matter what happens to them or around them or what either of them do. They are their own country. They don’t need a seal of approval from any corrupt or amoral government to love each other.
If only they could set up a place where they could rendezvous in No Man’s Land. Is that where the Mary Magdalene Catholic girls school that they met in last week is located?
Until season 5 proves me wrong (which it almost certainly will) my headcanon is that they camp out with their growing resistance army at the Mary Magdalene Academy in No Man’s Land, with each making runs back to their respective countries to maintain whatever semblance of a normal life is necessary. Nick helps train the Gilead refugees in military tactics and provides intel to help decide their missions. Tuello owes June, so he kits out her rebel squads with all of the gear they need. And in return Nick shares intel.
Though June seems to be the Chosen One because she’s the point of view character for our story, both Nick and June have elements of Mary Magdalene, who is a complex and disputed figure within Christianity. Depending on who you ask, Nick June or Mary might be described as devoted to their cause, married with a child or willing to prostitute themselves to get what they want.
Nick quotes the Bible correctly, Galatians 6:7-8, from the New Testament, in contrast to most of Fred’s Bible verses, which have been mishmashes of several verses, reconstituted by the Sons of Jacob to say something the Bible doesn’t actually say. In Nick’s flashback episode, he called Andrew Pryce on a misquote of the Bible during their first private meeting together. He’s not the illiterate, uneducated patsy many in Gilead have mistaken him for and he never was. And as June pointed out earlier in the episode, the Sons of Jacob prefer the harsh, violent Old Testament God. Nick just quoted from the more forgiving, gentle New Testament (though he did quote from St Paul, noted male chauvinist).
In a world full of coercive men, Nick is the only one who stops and listens to what June wants, then gives it to her, without imposing his own needs and biases on her. Sometimes it’s for the best if he works within Gilead’s rules, sometimes he breaks their rules. But, like June, he has become one of the few characters who is consistently able to bend governmental power structures to his will and get away with it. Joseph Lawrence, who also took part in this scheme, is the only other character who’s so openly flouted Gilead convention and retained his power. This is the rebel streak they all recognize in each other, which gives Joseph a mild paternal feeling toward June and helps solidify June and Nick’s partnership.
June and Nick hunting Fred down in the woods on the border, combined with them together in the school in the woods, brings the show full circle, as it echoes the way June, Hannah and Luke spent weeks in a cabin near the border before making a run for it and getting caught. June has said in the past that she waited too long to escape as Gilead was taking over and she won’t be that complacent again.
The implication is that Luke tends toward complacency and nonviolence, which is great when you live in a stable, fair society. When your rights are being stolen and your government is being overthrown, a sense of urgency and the ability to act in the moment stop being overreactions and become necessary survival skills.
7 years later, Luke is still a decent fellow who hasn’t developed those survival skills. Just like in the pilot, he probably still can’t load and fire a gun or figure out that he’d be better off quietly running away from the car with June, so that he could carry Hannah. He has no right to criticize June.
My hope is that June is leaving Luke because she has necessary work to do and she realizes that their marriage has been over for a long time, not because he disapproves of her or she feels guilty for something she’s done or some arbitrary standard she doesn’t meet.
There’s nothing wrong with June. She’s a revolutionary.
Nick worked hard to amass power in Gilead so that he could help protect his family and bring the Sons of Jacob down from the inside. I doubt he’ll defect any time soon, but he’s also a revolutionary.
Not everyone’s Happily Ever After involves settling down.
She’s lookin’ at you, kid.
This fight isn’t for the weak. pic.twitter.com/9REzljXAgj
— The Handmaid’s Tale (@HandmaidsOnHulu) June 23, 2021
Images courtesy of Hulu.