The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 Episode 8: Testimony Recap

Handmaids Tale S4Ep8 Emily

Episode 8, Testimony, examines how the characters are coping, or not coping, with their trauma. June faces Fred for the first time since S3Ep10, Witness, when he forced Joseph to perform the Ceremony. They meet in international court, when June testifies against Fred. As generally happens when women accuse powerful men of sex crimes, the results are mixed. The women who know June are empowered by her testimony. Luke sends June more mixed messages. Moira is sympathetic, but prefers to keep June’s experiences at a distance. June searches for and finds an outlet for her anger, which also brings out Emily’s repressed anger. Serena Joy and Fred never change.

Aunt Lydia continues to have difficulty dealing with her own anger and trauma, which leads Joseph to reprimand her and then give her a puppy turn over a handmaid captured in Chicago to her for discipline. That’s right, Janine’s survival is finally confirmed! Lawrence says he’s giving Janine to Lydia for her to use as a punching bag, but I’m convinced he knows Lydia actually needs a support handmaid to love and Janine is really good at loving people. Before she became a rebel, she was notorious for kidnapping her baby, jumping off a bridge and then later for bringing Angela back to life. Janine is a miraculous character and now God has brought her back to Lydia to fulfill a new purpose.

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The Handmaid’s Tale Season 3 Episode 9: Heroic Recap

Handmaid's Tale S3Ep9 June & Aunt Lydia

Episode 9, Heroic, is probably one of The Handmaid’s Tale most controversial episodes. Almost the entire episode takes place in Ofmatthew/Natalie’s hospital room, where she is brain dead after being shot by a Guardian in episode 8. Natalie is comatose, but kept alive as an incubator for her baby for as long as possible in order to give the baby the best chance of survival. Little care is given to her comfort and none to her potential wishes. She is now blatantly referred to as a vessel for the baby and nothing more, ultimately the only role that matters for the women of Gilead.

It was shocking enough to watch as a pregnant Black woman was shot by the Handmaid’s Tale version of the police in the previous episode. In this episode, we watch as her body is treated like an inanimate object by almost all of the many people who file through her hospital room. Natalie is reduced to frequently malfunctioning life support for her womb, an obstacle in the way of the healthy baby boy they want to eventually harvest from her, just as they’ve stolen her previous three children.

Season 3 aired in the summer of 2019, long before George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s deaths in May and March of 2020. It’s a reminder of the long history of racism, medical mistreatment and violence in the US; of the continued commodification of women’s bodies, especially those of women of color; and that everything in The Handmaid’s Tale novel/S1 has already happened somewhere in the world/history. It’s all still happening in the US and globally. The series continues to be grounded in reality, no matter how extreme it seems.

It’s a genius move for Aunt Lydia to punish June for her harshness toward Natalie by sentencing her to remain kneeling in the room 24/7 until Natalie gives birth. Natalie was annoying, but after 5 years of Gilead’s abuses, she was also mentally fragile. She did what she hoped would allow her and others to survive, just like the rest of the handmaids. June’s constant presence in Natalie’s hospital room, swathed in handmaid’s red, reminds those who enter that Natalie is a human being, not just a vessel.

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The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 Episode 5: Chicago Recap

Handmaid's Tale S4Ep5 Nick on the Council

In episode 5, the halfway point for season 4, June and Janine acclimate to war-torn Chicago. Janine wants to stay with Steven’s group, which emphasizes survival over fighting, while June wants to find a more proactive group of fighters. In Gilead, Nick, Lawrence and Lydia scheme separately and together, both in the service of Gilead and themselves, leading them to double-cross each other.

While Nick, Joseph and Lydia are all effective agents as individuals, as spy teams they need some training in coordinating objectives. Or to agree on their mutual goals, contingent on certain blackmail arrangements if the goals aren’t achieved. Lydia and Joseph begin to work out their own process for remaking Gilead.

As Fred Waterford once said, “Better doesn’t mean better for everyone.” It’s not clear yet who Joseph and Lydia each want to make things better for, but the carpet bombing at the end of the episode makes it clear that by design, their machinations won’t make the former US better for everyone.

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The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 Episode 3: The Crossing Recap

Handmaid's Tale S4Ep3 June & Nick & Mask

June is off to prison in episode 3, as Nick attempts to keep her alive by forcing her to give up the location of the rest of the handmaids, doing whatever it takes to make her talk. In Gilead, true love means torturing your paramour and killing your friends so that you’ll both live to see each other again someday. It’s a unique twist on Romeo and Juliet’s accidentally on purpose suicides and murders.

Gilead is such a harsh dystopia that sometimes I expect the bodies to turn into zombies, get up and keep going. Most of the living in Gilead are basically zombies anyway.

June acts as a reverse zombie maker. She wakes people up from their psychological numbness, but frequently they die not long afterwards. Sometimes they just symbolically die to Gilead and in reality they become Canadians. That can be fraught with difficulty as well, because June still haunts them.

Luke struggles with June’s choices this week and what they mean for him and Nichole. Joseph and Lydia struggle to regain their former positions in Gilead after June disrupted their lives. As always, June struggles to do the right thing in a world that only offers wrong choices.

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The Handmaid’s Tale Season 3 Episode 4: God Bless the Child Recap

Handmaid's Tale S3Ep4 June & Natalie Square Off

Episode 4 brings the handmaids to a community baptism ceremony for all of the babies born recently, including Janine’s daughter, Angela. Nichole is notedly missing from the ceremony. Later, the handmaids are invited back to the Putnams for a reception, under the supervision of a still recovering Aunt Lydia. The baptism reminds June of her two children and her former life, while the party brings her back into contact with the Waterfords. In Toronto, Emily finally meets with her wife and son in person.

The episode continues this season’s exploration of identity, moving beyond the third episode’s focus on retaining one’s self, despite overwhelming pressure to submit to Gilead’s ideology. This week, the focus turns to Stockholm Syndrome, the psychological phenomenon that occurs when a hostage gives in to their captors’ world view out of exhaustion, despair and fear.

We saw the beginning of a sort of Stockholm Syndrome in June in episode 3, as she accepted that she couldn’t fight Gilead on its own terms and stay the same person she’d always been. Lawrence convinced her that she needed to get her hands dirty in order to be effective, and in this episode she mourns the person she used to be while beginning to explore new possibilities. She’s pulled in a few different directions.

How far is the new version of June willing to go to achieve her goals? Lawrence avidly watches her transformation. He may be helping her, but he’s also still a cat playing with mice.

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The Handmaid’s Tale Season 3 Episode 2: Mary and Martha Recap

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In Season 3, episode 2, Mary and Martha, June begins to find her place in the complicated Lawrence household, Luke and Moira get used to having a new baby to take care of, and Emily tries to find the parts of herself that her wife would recognize. Everyone except Head Gamemaker Commander Lawrence digs deep inside themselves to meet their new challenges. As usual, Lawrence surveys the system he’s put in place and makes minor tweaks to keep it interesting and functioning at a certain level.

Recap

June’s voiceover: “I used to be bad at waiting. ‘They also serve who stand and wait,’ Aunt Lydia said. She also said, ‘Not all of you will make it through. Some of you will fall on dry ground or thorns. Some of you are shallow-rooted. Think of yourselves as seeds. What kind of seed will you be, girls?’ I pretend I’m a tree. And I wait.”

This is a lovely little metaphor, until you realize that the seed is consumed in the creation of the new plant. The baby is all, the mother is nothing. It’s also a story you’d tell to children, as is typical of the infantilization that’s programmed into the women at the Red Center.

But June turns it into a metaphor of empowerment. She doesn’t grow a baby who consumes her, she grows into a strong, immovable tree, who waits for the right time to act. Childbearing is a small part of her. She has a family of trees to help with the baby.

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The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 Episode 4: Other Women Recap

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This week, it’s Aunt Lydia’s turn. June is back under her control at the Red Center, and it’s Lydia’s job to turn willful June into submissive handmaid Offred. Her goal is for Offred and the baby to go back home to the Waterfords, so they can finish the pregnancy in the best environment for the baby. Lydia uses every punitive and manipulative tool at her disposal to break June, and continues once June is back in the Waterford home. Serena Joy and Rita aren’t spared from Lydia’s training either. Lydia is relentless, actively encouraging June toward a mental breakdown and dissociative disorder.

The main themes of this season are motherhood, isolation and loneliness, but other women is another one. Each of the women that we’ve come to know is facing a challenge this season, and they each need to decide who they are as a woman, and how they relate to other women.

Does a woman see herself as an island, only responsible for herself and her own needs? As a sister, mother and daughter, responsible for the well-being of her family? Or as a member of her community, however she defines it- the handmaids, Gilead, the human family?

Janine is doing her best to spread her love for her lost child out to her community, making her world a better place. Emily has tried to live as an emotional island, but Janine is challenging her to rethink that. Serena’s inability to have children has forced her to focus outward, but June’s pregnancy is giving Serena hope that she’ll be able to have a more intimate relationship with a child.

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The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 Episode 1: June Recap

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Welcome back to Gilead! Things are still as much fun as ever, as you can see from the photo above. June is on a roller coaster ride this episode, going from punishment for standing up to Aunt Lydia during last season’s finale, to special treatment because she’s pregnant, to barely being tolerated by Serena (so, back to normal), to a sudden chance at escape. As always, June is never sure where any of this is leading, but she’s not the kind of gal to stay home and knit sweaters, so she jumps into every opportunity, feet first.

“Whether this is my end or a new beginning, I have no way of knowing, and so I step up into the darkness within. Or else the light.”

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The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 Episode 7: After Recap

This episode deals with the aftermath. The aftermath of Ofglen2 Lillie Fuller’s suicide bomb, the aftermath of Commander Pryce’s death and the power vacuum it leaves, the aftermath of Gilead’s tyrannical policies and the resulting reduction in fertile women, the aftermath of Gilead’s purges, the aftermath of Luke and June’s marriage. Sometimes there is a resolution or at least a sense of closure, sometimes there is not. The deaths from the suicide bombing will likely haunt Gilead for a long time to come.

“After” begins with the funeral of the handmaids who died as a result of the bombing. It’s a beautiful spectacle, as the handmaid ceremonies tend to be. The handmaids wear red and black, with red veils completely covering their faces and tucked into their collars, keeping them anonymous and vaguely horrifying. They walk in formation to the cemetery, and surround the caskets, which are laid out in a circular formation. Seriously, if I didn’t know better I would have thought I’d accidentally clicked on a horror movie that includes a cult of creepy young women.

Aunt Lydia says the prayers over the fallen, while the handmaids repeat the phrase “We remember them” after each line. Eventually, the women remove their veils.

Aunt Lydia: I wish I could give you a world without violence. Without pain. That’s all I ever wanted. And in their names, dear lord, we remember them. Of ryan, Ofleo, Ofhal, Ofzev…

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The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 Episode 5: Seeds Recap

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There will be blood.

You’d think an episode called Seeds would be full of metaphors for growth and fertility, especially since the main character is pregnant. Those metaphors are there, to be sure, but only in the most macabre, twisted versions possible, as befits the malignant culture of Gilead, which relentlessly suffocates anything that tries to grow.

Fittingly, the seeds of the title are seeds of destruction and rebellion. The tiny kernels of hate, hope and despair that push characters over the edge into that realm where they have nothing to lose or something worth fighting for. It’s a different motivation for each character, and a deadly rollercoaster ride through the episode to get to the point of resolve. Women’s blood is spilled, and Nick, the one male ally in Gilead, has his heart broken. But the seeds are unwittingly planted by the agents of Gilead itself.

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