The Handmaid’s Tale & A Discovery of Witches Recaps

Links to all of my recaps for The Handmaid’s Tale are available at the tag, including all of Season 4: The Handmaid’s Tale Recaps

Current EpisodeSeason 4 Episode 6: Vows Recap

Links to recaps for the complete series A Discovery of Witches are available at the tag: A Discovery of Witches Recaps

Current EpisodeSeason 2 Episode 6 Recap: In Which More Secrets Are Revealed

I recapped both series out of order, so if you’re looking for an episode other than the current one, scroll through the tag until it shows up. For The Handmaid’s Tale, S2 & S4 are complete. I haven’t started S1 yet and have done about half of S3.

Images courtesy of AMC & Hulu.

The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 Episode 10: The Wilderness Recap

Handmaids Tale S4Ep10 June, Mark, Joseph

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.

Recap

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.

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

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

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

Recap

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

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

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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 7: Home Recap

Handmaids Tale S4Ep7 June & Gilead Gang

In episode 7, June is recognized as a citizen of the United States and is accepted by Canada as an official refugee. This should mean that she’s not subject to extradition by Gilead as one of their citizens, but it doesn’t mean they won’t try to assassinate her in Canada or extradite her as an escaped criminal. In the meantime, Mark Tuello and Rachel Tapping put her up at a fancy hotel for the duration of her initial recovery and debriefing. Luke soon has other ideas and takes her home instead, where she attempts to fast track settling back into normal life, along with catching up with old friends and enemies from Gilead.

It’s a lot for her first 2 days in Canada and eventually it all catches up with her.

Recap

The episode begins where episode 6, Vows, left off, with June stepping onto Canadian soil. No sooner has her foot touched the pavement than Mark Tuello begins speaking. He and Rachel Tapping, the US government official who’s met frequently with Luke, are there to officially welcome June to Canada. But first, a few questions: “If you were returned to Gilead, would you be subject to a danger of torture, a risk to your life, or a risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment?”

June has a hard time keeping up with what they say and is afraid they’re here to send her back, especially after the cold welcome she received from Oona’s crew. She manages to answer, “Yes.” She also answers yes when Rachel asks if she’d be persecuted based on being a woman. Mark reminds her that she’s a citizen of the United States. She finally says, “My name is June Osborn. I am a citizen of the United States and I seek asylum in the country of Canada.”

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The Handmaid’s Tale Season 3 Episode 5: Unknown Caller

Handmaid's Tale S3Ep5 June at Lawrence's Desk
Episode 5 focuses on reunions and espionage, including a callback to the “coconuts and treason” of S2Ep9. Following up on the protest video of Luke and Nichole from the previous episode, Serena makes a deal with June, who then negotiates with Luke, so that Serena can fly to Canada to visit Nichole. Serena’s contact in Toronto is once again Mark Tuello (Sam Jaeger), the US official who offered her asylum during her diplomatic visit to Toronto with Fred in season 2.

Recap

Now that she’s received visual confirmation of Nichole’s successful escape to Canada by way of the video from the previous episode, in voiceover June muses on her gratitude for her daughter’s freedom. She gives credit to God, herself and the resistance network who set up Nichole and Emily’s journey North. Attaining freedom for their children is the dearest hope for handmaids. Rather than resenting her for achieving this dream instead of them, the other handmaids are happy for her. If one child can make it out, perhaps someday the rest can, too.

After seeing him in the video, June’s longing for Luke becomes unbearable. She remembers how strong her sexual desire for him was in the past. Now she dreams of more simple pleasures that remind her of her individual identity, such as hearing his voice say her real name, having his arms hold her and feeling reassured of his love. She’s also confused about exactly what she feels for Luke now. She loves him, but is it the same love that she felt in the past?

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The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 Episode 6: Vows Recap

Handmaid's Tale S4Ep6 Flashback June & Luke1

Episode 6, Vows, follows the adventures of June and Moira, beginning moments after Moira found June wandering in post-bombing Chicago with a head injury at the end of episode 5. Moira’s vow that she won’t leave June behind again conflicts with June’s vow that she won’t leave Gilead without Hannah. Through flashbacks, we’re reminded of how close the friendship is between the two women. We also learn more about what June and Luke expected from each other going into their marriage, versus June’s current worry that he’ll blame her for losing Hannah.

Though June’s insecurities and trauma are at the forefront in this episode, the exploration of her relationships with Luke and Moira are also a reminder that she had an entire life before Gilead. She, and thus the audience, have been more and more consumed with the people and events in Gilead as time has gone on, putting the rest of her life and loved ones on the backburner, as Luke has noted. On the way to Canada, she begins to confront the issues in her life that she’s set aside for five years.

Parallels with episode 2:3, Baggage, the episode when June almost escaped Gilead in a plane, run throughout this episode. But now, June is no longer baggage that Mayday is reluctantly getting out because Nick called in favors. She’s the most important person in the world to Moira, who’s right there, taking risks with her, and that makes all the difference for both of them.

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The Handmaid’s Tale and Its Film Noir Influences

Handmaid's Tale S3Ep11 Femme Fatale June

As The Handmaid’s Tale has shifted away from its season 1 dependence on the original book’s plot line, it’s frequently drawn from the dark, mature themes of the 1940s and 50s films of the Film Noir genre. Nick, June, Fred and Serena in particular tend to be involved in Film Noir plotlines, with an emphasis on mystery, crime, betrayal, murder, loyalty, regret, femmes fatales and sinful excess.

In an old school Film Noir, Nick would be the main character- his role as an Eye is close to the typical role of an investigator. He has connections in the community, a morally ambiguous, mysterious past and is conflicted in the present, making him the perfect Film Noir anti-hero. June would normally serve as the love interest or femme fatale who needs Nick’s help and either saves him or leads him astray- or possibly both.

The other characters frequently treat her as if she is a femme fatale, a seductive woman who leads her admirers into actions they wouldn’t otherwise take.

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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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