Episode 6 picks up soon after the previous episode left off, with June and Luke in a prison van, on their way to an undisclosed location in No Man’s Land. Serena discovers that her morning doctor’s appointment will take place in the Wheeler’s attic, in a birthing suite they’ve furnished with the latest technology. Just to make sure she and the baby remain completely safe and in their clutches. Aunt Lydia finds out that Esther is three weeks pregnant, revealing Commander Putnam raped her when they were alone together at Fred’s wake. Outraged, Lydia takes the scandal to Commander Lawrence, who brings Nick in help handle the out of control Commander.
June (Elisabeth Moss) and Luke (O-T Fagbenle) are cuffed (should we say “ziptied” now?) for the long van ride to their captors’ detention center. Luke moans in distress and tries to break the zipties. June instructs him that it’s not worth wasting his energy this way, when there’s no chance of escape. When he asks if the kidnappers are from Gilead, she explains that it’s not likely, since the van has a disinfectant smell and Gilead shuns such strong chemicals.
At the detention center, their mugshots are taken, then June asks who they are. The masked kidnappers don’t answer and don’t care that she and Luke have refugee status. They do care about June’s red eartag and ask who she’s “Of-“. June will only give them her legal name, which they don’t appear to recognize. They send June and Luke to holding cells.
Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) is surprised by a house call from her gynecologist, Dr Landers (Jeremy Shamos), who is thrilled to inform her that their scheduled ultrasound appointment will take place in the Wheelers’ attic. He leads her up several flights of stairs to a room Serena didn’t know existed. We get the extended, spinning version of the “Under His eye” stairwell camera angle, never a good sign.
The Wheelers turned an attic bedroom, probably former servants quarters, into a full birthing suite, outfitted with equipment that’s nicer than the one Dr Landers has in his office, just for Serena. They know how valuable and special she is, like a prized breeding mare. Serena tries to appear grateful while being extremely creeped out on the inside. And this appointment is only going to get worse.
The doctor hands her a drape so she can partially undress for the ultrasound, then stays where he is, ready to watch. Serena doesn’t move until he turns around. While he has his hands on her private areas for the ultrasound, he discusses perineal massage in detail. Serena looks ill.
Her blood pressure is a little high, so he wants her to slow down and get extra rest. For context, it’s not unusual for women’s blood pressure to rise a bit toward the end of pregnancy, but it’s also a warning sign that the pregnancy could be in trouble.
While she’s still on the table covered in gel, he sits down next to her and nervously asks her out to dinner, explaining that the Wheelers have given him permission to court her. His Martha will prepare the meal. Serena tries to contain her horror. She’s newly widowed and super pregnant. The last thing she wants is to marry a stranger who enslaves women in Canada and is currently abusing his role as her doctor What more does she need to know about him? If they were in Gilead, this invitation would be the preliminary to a marriage proposal, since he’s already spoken to
her father male guardian, Mr Wheeler (Lucas Neff). Turns out Serena’s prenantal appointments have been dates and she didn’t know it.
Serena tells him, “It’s an interesting proposal.”
Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) is called to the hospital when Esther’s (Mckenna Grace) uterine harvesting is cancelled because she’s been filled with His divine light. My guess is a uterine harvesting is a hysterectomy and Esther was about to be sent to Jezebels. The word harvesting conjures up images of scifi experimentation on disembodied female organs, maybe in labs hidden behind the dry cleaners or stashed in the Colonies with the irradiated Unwomen.
Esther is filled with a pregnancy that’s the result of Warren Putnam’s (Stephen Kunken) rape. As many of us guessed, when he banned Aunt Lydia from the room before the funeral, he did more than force feed her chocolates. Esther, the victim of repeated gang rapes orchestrated by her Commander husband, decided this was her last rape and ate poisoned cookies. She shared them with Janine (Madeline Brewer), as the only person involved in the events that led to this rape who she could get to for revenge. And as a fellow victim of gang rape who cooperated with Gilead, rather than die fighting.
Esther will be transferred to the High Risk Obstetric Hospital and remain there, on bed rest, until she delivers. There’s no discussion about how they think the poison might have affected the fetus.
Lydia visits Esther, who is awake but cuffed to her hospital bed. Unlike her previous visit, she is subdued and gentle this time. But she asks if Esther encouraged Putnam to rape her. Esther says she didn’t encourage him and straight out tells Lydia she was raped. Lydia is shocked and horrified. Esther tells her to stop pretending she’s sorry- she must know that all of the Commanders are rapists.
Lydia keeps pretending. She tells Esther that it’s time to rest. Esther breaks, screaming and writhing, ordering Lydia to get away from her. She’s chained to a bed and pregnant with her rapist’s child. She’s not going to let anyone soften that truth or take it away from her and pretend everything is fine.
For Esther, it’s better to be dead or declared insane by her enemies than to live a lie. We used to admire people with that kind of integrity.
Lydia takes her concerns to Joseph (Bradley Whitford), who doesn’t see the problem. He shares Putnam’s sentiment that it’s no big deal, since Esther would’ve been posted the next day anyway. Must be he was only opposed to committing rape himself, in front of Eleanor and doesn’t much care when he’s not involved.
Lydia argues that the difference between sex within the Ceremony and rape is more than a technicality. She tells him that the Ceremony is sacred and blessed by God. He laughs at her, but he also pays attention.
Aunt Lydia: “You mock God’s name and you defend a rapist? One day, Commander, there will be justice.”
Joseph decides it’s time to reign her in and scolds her for her boldness. He tells her she’s given him a lot to think about. She stares daggers into his heart. He might be realizing she’s a worthy adversary.
We’ve found Lydia’s line in the sand- the rape of her favorite girls outside of sanctioned postings and Ceremony days. As we all know, you don’t want to get on her bad side. The Commanders are now on her list.
During this scene, Joseph eats a meal at his table with his hands, napkin tucked into his collar as if he’s eating alone, while Lydia stands in front of him. He’s showing disrespect to Lydia, but it also feels as if he’s gone a bit feral. In a similar season 3 scene, several Marthas waited on him throughout the meal and he required fastidious cleanliness. Now he’s lost the household of women who kept him civilized.
June and Luke are next to each other in separate large holding pens. June sits still, quietly conserving energy. Luke paces and verbalizes every random thought. When he wonders if Mayday will come for them, she tells him she doesn’t know, then suggests he sit down and save his energy.
Of course Mayday aren’t coming. They never come, and they especially never go into militarized situations. Lily literally told us that at the beginning of the last episode, when they wouldn’t tangle with the Canadian Border Patrol. It’s stealth missions only for them.
Luke borderline panics while insisting he’s not panicking, telling her he’s trying to be a man and get her out. This is finally his chance to prove himself as her savior and it’s another no win situation, damn it. Then he gets upset that June has already spent so much time as a prisoner. She mentions that they’ve been given spacious cages this time, not like that time she was put in a box she barely fit in. I expected her to hum Belinda Carlisle’s Heaven Is a Place on Earth, but maybe she saves it for when she’s alone.
June yells at him to stop ranting. As she gives him yet another pep talk, she finally lets him see just how panicked and triggered she truly is. Now that he can see her need, he has something to do that he understands- comfort her. So he does. They comfort each other. She reminds him that she’s always survived. He explains that he wishes he could have saved her all of the other times she was in trouble. She tells him he was always with her.
Alanis (Genevieve Angelson) has turned an enclosed porch into her own version of Serena’s greenhouse. The two women prune roses into bouquets, happy that some flowers thrive when pruned. Alanis definitely understands the metaphor she’s making. Not sure Serena does yet. Roses were used as a symbol for Serena and June’s relationship.
Serena mentions the doctor’s invitation to dinner and Alanis can’t push them together fast enough. She says Serena can’t stay a single mother. Widowhood doesn’t count as a separate category when it comes to the potential for stealing husbands. That baby needs a father and Serena’s feelings aren’t important in this matter. When Serena tries to go out for a walk to escape the marriage talk, Alanis exerts her authority and orders Serena to her room for bed rest. Serena is not to walk or think- it might hurt the baby.
Serena goes upstairs and cries. We get another classic June shot of her sitting and crying on the bed in the hazy light with a cross over her head.
June and Luke keep calm by doing some flirting and joking until their captors arrive to take June’s fingerprints with an electronic scanner. This time when she asks if they’re taking her to Gilead they confirm it. She tells them to contact Commanders Blaine (Max Minghella) or Lawrence. They shove her as they leave the cage but otherwise don’t hurt her- as a red tag, she’s another man’s property. They enter Luke’s cage next. He fights them and tries to escape. They beat him, while June yells at all of them to stop. They leave him passed out on the floor of the cage. The camera lingers, making sure we understand that Luke has gotten a taste of Gilead’s brutality. At least he proved his manliness by fighting back.
Commanders Lawrence, Blaine and Putnam toast to Putnam’s fertility with cigars and whiskey and barely veiled insults. Putnam is pretty sure that fathering a second child with only one shot at such a young hottie will cement his legend and his reign over Gilead forever. Lawrence lets him think it, for now. Nick quips that he’s learning so much from both of them and rolls his eyes.
Midway through season 4, I wondered if Nick was quietly becoming the Godfather of Gilead. This season, he’s resembling Michael Corleone, the Godfather’s reluctant but talented protege.
Warren makes a jab at Joseph for living like a monk and Joseph replies that he’s busy thinking about the future instead. Then we get a super interesting sequence where Warren is shown reflected in the corner of a mirror as he moves from standing to sitting on a couch and Nick moves to take his previous place in the corner of the mirror. This is probably seen from Joseph’s point of view. Scene change to Serena, as seen by Mr Wheeler through the cut glass window in a door. Nick, Putnam and Serena are all expecting children. Are all three infants in danger? Or is this hinting that Joseph wants to replace Putnam with Nick and Wheeler wants to replace Alanis with Serena?
In the following scene, Ryan Wheeler is also shown through the cut glass for a split second, but for the rest of the scene he’s almost always framed with fire in the shot, sometimes sharing the shot with Serena. As Serena and Alanis become enemies, Serena and Ryan are visually linked.
Ezra (Rossif Sutherland) lets Serena into the study and she joins Ryan next to the fire, behind the cut glass- both symbols can be beautiful but dangerous.. Serena is nervous that she’s in trouble because of her argument with Alanis, but he dismisses that, saying they should work it out between themselves. Doesn’t sound like he thinks Alanis is her boss.
His voice quivers as he tells her that June was captured by his men in No Man’s Land. That roaring fire in the fireplace might as well be his heart burning for her. He reassures her that she’s safe now and can focus on the baby.
But Serena is incapable of becoming a mindless incubator. She asks what their plans are for June. Wheeler doesn’t trust Gilead to dispose of her properly, so he’s sending Ezra in as his hit man. Serena agrees that June requires special attention and pleads with Wheeler to let her go with Ezra. He doesn’t want to risk the baby. She convinces him that she needs to bear witness so she can tell her son that justice was served. He’s moved by her faithfulness and agrees.
When Luke wakes up, June apologizes for not
stroking his manhood enough. not telling the story of her captivity in enough detail so he’d be mored scared or stopping him from going to get the thumb drive. Luke says that he has bodily autonomy and she doesn’t get to make those decisions for him. She doesn’t answer. Not the time to mention the ways he tries to control her.
I don’t know how many more ways she could have tried to tell the story of her time in Gilead to anyone who would listen. If Luke wasn’t sufficiently warned off, it’s his fault for not really listening.
He worries that they won’t get to say goodbye, just like the last time they were captured by Gilead. He’s sure they’ll be executed, but June is in the mood to think positive. She tells him that they can’t give up hope. In the past, they survived by believing they’d find each other again and they need to hold onto that belief again. They hold hands through the cages.
Serena marches out to the car as fast as she can, with Alanis right behind her. She jumps into the back seat of the car, then tries not to show that she’s having a contraction as Ezra pulls out of the driveway.
Wheeler’s fake Guardians remove June and Luke from the cages and take them outside. Since Luke was never a citizen of Gilead, they consider him a legal refugee in Canada. They shove him into an SUV, saying they plan to drop him off at the border. They put June on a bus with other runaways from Gilead, chaining her wrists and ankles to the floor.
She can never, ever tell Luke that they considered her the bigger threat.
June does a voiceover about how death always arrives as a surprise, an enemy who can’t be outwitted, who likes to throw curveballs.
Serena tries to inconspicuously do Lamaze breathing through contractions as they drive out to No Man’s Land.
During brunch, Naomi (Ever Carradine) wonders why everyone else in the restaurant is staring at her and Warren. Warren brushes it off, assuming they’ve heard about the baby he hasn’t told her about yet. He hints that he has a big surprise coming her way.
Yes, Naomi will love knowing the story of this child’s conception. It won’t be embarrassing and humiliating for her at all, as a wife and as a hostess. That man is such a slime.
A squad of Guardians bodily removes Warren from the restaurant and compels him to kneel on the pavement outside in front of Nick and Joseph.. Naomi follows behind, confused and sputtering. Nick and Joseph announce that the High Criminal Court met overnight and found Putnam guilty of raping unassigned property. At Joseph’s signal, Nick pulls out his gun and shoots Warren in the head. Blood splashes onto Nick’s face.
We’ve seen Commanders shot in the street like this before, but it’s been a few seasons and it’s usually part of a chaotic purge. A rape conviction should have led to a salvaging, though maybe the other charges (apostasy and sins of the flesh) called for immediate execution. The blood on Nick and the next shot of Warren’s body lying between angel’s wings in the pavement make me wonder if Nick will eventually be blamed for killing Warren. Warren wasn’t an angel, but Gilead propaganda my turn him into one someday. After he shot Putnam, Joseph gave Nick a look like he’d just figured out who he really is.
When Nick returns home, Rose (Carey Cox) sits on the couch worrying. We get a shot from over the back of the couch, looking from her face to Nick’s shadow two rooms away to emphasize the distance between them. But he’s backlit by 2 windows, so he’s still on the side of right. Except then he’s shown in close up, with half his face in shadow. This is how he appears to Rose, still keeping secrets and starting to scare her. She’s also starting to figure out who he really is under the quiet exterior.
He asks if she’s okay. She’s not. This seems to be an ongoing argument and neither will open up to the other or give any ground. He tells her she shouldn’t worry about Commander business, like that guy he just assassinated in the street. She’s worried about what kind of person this makes him. Nick scoffs and silently repeats that line to himself. This is who he’s always been.
This is the first time we’ve seen him show impatience with her. She doesn’t seem to know much about her husband, the war hero. Her Daddy must have kept her very sheltered from the real Gilead if she finds Commanders killing each other strange. Gilead doesn’t have prisons. They use violence and exile to the Colonies, a slower form of execution, as punishment.
Nick sits down but still keeps his distance and says, “It makes me the kind of person who’ll do whatever it takes to make Gilead a safer place for our child.”
Rose touches her stomach and asks him if he’s sure he did it for them. He says he is. They sit in silence.
So, Rose is pregnant and Nick is now even more torn between Gilead and June.
Let me say it again- this is who he’s always been. He quietly goes about his business until circumstances require extreme measures to protect his loved ones. Then he steps up. He’s not looking for glory and doesn’t ask for recognition. He just does what needs to be done, then returns to his normal routine. He is an unsung hero type, similar to Samwise Gamgee (Lord of the Rings), Neville Longbottom (Harry Potter) or Glenn Rhee (The Walking Dead). Gilead and the Sons of Jacob are Nick’s family just as surely as June, Rose and his children are and he won’t give up on any of them without exhausting every possibility, even if it means dying for them.
Putnam’s hooded body is dragged down the sidewalk then hung on the wall while Aunt Lydia and the handmaids watch. She tells them to take a good look, but this viewing isn’t meant to shame or warn them, as it would have been in the past. She speaks in her normal, deep voice, not her fake sing-song voice. This is real.
Aunt Lydia: “In Gilead, there are consequences for disobeying God, no matter who you are. You are holy vessels and by his word you will be protected. Honor God, and in return, you shall be honored. Commander Putnam was an evil man. He took advantage of his position. This was justice.”
Janine stares up at Putnam with quiet satisfaction. When Lydia finishes, she says, “I wish I could have watched.” She and Lydia pause for a beat- in the past a harsh punishment would have followed that statement.
Instead, Lydia puts on her mother voice again and calls out, “Home now, for warm milk!” She leads her ducklings away from the grisly scene.
Until now, the handmaids have killed rapists via salvagings, making them brutal murderers who had to protect themselves. Shifting the punishment back to the state and enforcing the law more equally means the handmaids have a new layer of protection, a small but significant change.
Ezra flags down June’s bus, telling the driver that he’s picking her up on Wheeler’s orders. As he leads her out to the crossroads, she asks who he is, but he doesn’t answer.
Once June sees Serena, she rolls her eyes and asks Serena and the universe if they’re serious. It’s been a long, crazy couple couple of days without sleep. This started as a quick trip into the forest with Luke to gather information on her missing sugar plum princess. Now it’s days later and she’s standing at the devil’s crossroads with Serena in labor and a man with a gun.
June and Serena are the fairytale witches in each other’s stories, but they’ve also been the fairy godmothers more than once. Serena has a decision to make and needs to know which June she’s looking at this time. June just wants a long nap in her own bed with Luke sleeping next to her.
Serena assures her this is for real and brings up that time June cursed her baby. June, whose survival instinct left with Luke, says, “It was the best day of my life.” Serena tells Ezra to cut June loose so she can get on her knees and pray. Ezra does what she asks without question, because he doesn’t even know what show he’s in anymore.
I have so missed playing truth or dare with soulmates June and Serena.
June is happy to kneel, because it’s a little closer to lying down. Ezra points the gun at her, but Serena begs him to let her shoot June. She invokes God, justice, her dead husband and her cursed child. Poor Ezra probably thinks lightning will strike him if he doesn’t give her the gun.
June watches all this and shakes her head. It’s so rude to be this unprepared at an execution! Once Serena has the gun pointed at her head, she asks for her life to be spared. They both smile and laugh nervously. Serena tells her to pray.
June: “Okay. I pray for our children. I pray that my daughters live a life of peace. A life without all of this hate and violence. Give them a life. Give them a happy life. And Dear God, may they do better than we did.”
Both women are crying. Serena nods her head and says, “Amen.” June smiles peacefully, ready for whatever happens. Serena grunts, turns and shoots Ezra in the clavicle.
He’s knocked over by the force of the bullet hitting his body armor at point blank range, but he’s okay. While he’s checking to see if he’s wounded (no blood), Serena orders June into the driver’s seat. While she’s having a contraction.
No one multitasks like my girl Serena.
June is very confused, but Serena has the gun pointed at her, so she gets in the car. Serena gets in the back seat and yells at June to drive. Serena still has the gun, so June drives, leaving Ezra on the ground in the dust.
I think we can all agree that Ezra is the real victim in all of this. Poor guy didn’t stand a chance up against a June and Serena team up.
I suspect Serena’s original hope was to convince Ezra to help her once she got him alone, with saving June as a backup plan. Her priorities changed when she went into labor. June’s mother was an OB/GYN and June has given birth twice, once completely alone. If you need an amateur midwife, she’s not a bad choice.
If episode 5’s theme was the Prince song “Raspberry Beret”, then the theme for this episode is Let’s Go Crazy. (Sorry, Luke, Al Green was wishful thinking that led to disaster.)
The only thing scarier than being a woman in Gilead is being a pregnant woman. We now have two pregnant characters in Gilead, Rose and Esther. I don’t want to lose either, but both are in tenuous positions. They’re going into pregnancy as recurring characters with pre-existing health conditions that could complicate their pregnancies.
Esther may already be gone, since Mckenna Grace has such a busy career. I hope not. Esther is such a compelling and unique character, I’d love to continue following her story through The Testaments. Now that June is in Canada, the show needs a young fighter who survives and endures in Gilead rather than dying, using June as her inspiration. She’s a contrast to the kids who grew up in Gilead and accept its ways as normal. And to the young people who question Gilead, but stay passive or quickly die because they don’t have the strategic ability or means to fight.
Where are the Marthas in Gilead this season? Lawrence used to be surrounded by them as he ate, now none are in sight. They are also in hiding at Nick’s house.
The further away Joseph gets from Eleanor’s humanizing influence, the faster he descends into viewing people as little more than gears in his social machines. June could get him to see reason and helped him stay in touch with his humanity. He sees her a bit like a daughter because of that and Eleanor’s love for her. A marriage to Serena could have gone either way- they could have saved or further dehumanized each other. Eleanor refused to play games with Joseph, but Serena is more competitive.
I’m worried that Joseph and Nick will bring out the worst in each other in the same way, leaning into their Machiavellian sides and dispensing with more compassionate options in the name of efficiency and cold-hearted justice, as we saw in this episode. Putnam could have been executed in a more private way, but this show put Gilead on notice that Joseph is in charge now, Nick is his henchman and they won’t tolerate dissent.
In Luke’s world, he has bodily autonomy and no one gets to control him, but he has a say in what June does with her life and body. That will be what breaks them up in the long run
and she will be seen by many as selfish for it.
Putnam’s is the only body on the wall. The executions must have slowed down considerably since June left.
Lydia’s speech marks a change in attitude for Gilead as well. Putnam was the last of the corrupt faction of the original founding fathers. Nick’s mentor, Commander Price, was part of the pious faction, who believe in respecting women. Calhoun and MacKenzie are also pious. Some rules may be enforced more strictly in the future, but that may bring benefits for some, such as cracking down on the abuse of handmaids.
The Wheelers and their organization pick and choose which aspects of Gilead they follow. They’re all in on the patriarchal authoritarian structure and violence, but not so interested in the clean living that leads to restored fertility, ostensibly the point of the entire enterprise. They seem to revolve around Mr Wheeler rather than an organization run by committee like the Sons of Jacob and Gilead. And religion seems to be secondary to them, merely a means to an end, whereas many of the original Sons of Jacob were very religious, such as Serena and Commander Price.
Wheeler’s organization may be a cult of personality and as such, even more dangerous. His interest in Serena may stem from her ability to inspire followers, something the repellent Alanis won’t be any help with. If/when Wheeler wants to take his organization public and/or overthrow the government of Canada, having Serena as a spokeswoman/wife for him, not Gilead, would be a huge coup.
Their infrastructure and patrols in No Man’s Land suggest they have taken control of sections and no one is stopping them. Gilead probably thinks they’re allies claiming land to add to the Fatherland. I think they may stay separate but allied, building their own informal nation out of undefended territory, along the lines of ISIS.
Images courtesy of Hulu.