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 4: Milk Recap

Handmaid's Tale S4Ep4 June & Janine in Milk Car

June and Janine are on the run together in episode 4. They catch a ride west in a refrigerated train car filled with milk, which might be the most Handmaid’s Tale thing ever to happen on this show, other than the next thing that happens- they find a group of fighters in Chicago who call them sex slaves and treat them as such. There’s no rest for the wicked, as Aunt Lydia would undoubtedly say.

In Toronto, the Waterfords jockey for custody of Rita and her favorable testimony in their various court cases. To the Waterfords, freedom doesn’t mean they have to give up the wonderful master-slave friendships they forged in Gilead. In this episode, Rita figures out what freedom means to her and how she actually feels about the Waterfords. Spoiler- they’re not besties after all. As we watch Rita figure out her future, we also learn more about Janine’s past and how it informs the decisions she makes in the present.

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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 4 Episode 2: Nightshade Recap

Handmaid's Tale S4Ep2 June & Janine

Episode 2, Nightshade, uses the title as a pun, referring to both the poisonous plant that grows on Mrs Keyes’ farm and the country club version of Jezebels that June visits to make contact with Mayday. It could probably also be used to refer to Nick and his love for hanging back in the shadows, then stepping out into the light at the perfect dramatic moment.

This is an episode of transitions, where fateful choices are made with far reaching, unpredictable consequences. It’s becoming clear that the themes of this season are sacrifice, choice and consequences. Freedom is never really free and even within oppression, there are choices to be made that will eventually affect others. Finding the line where you can live with yourself and with the cost of those choices, whether living in freedom or oppression, is the hard part facing June and the rest.

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The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 Episode 1: Pigs Recap

The Handmaid's Tale S4Ep1 June in Woods

The Handmaid’s Tale season 4 begins where it left off at the end of season 3, with June gravely wounded after the successful takeoff of the flight holding dozens of Gilead’s children and several Marthas, including Rita. After spending several episodes organizing the flight, June and her squad of devoted handmaids further risked their lives, staying behind to distract the Guardians at the airport while the Marthas led the children onto the plane. The plane makes it to Canada as June’s fellow handmaids carry her toward safety.

In season 3, June learned that her own daughter, Hannah, may be out of her reach, but she can still be useful and save other Hannahs. She learned to honor her lost mother and the others she’s lost along the way not just by saving those she can, but also by avenging them when she gets a chance. Her leadership and her goals became more defined in season 3 and as a consequence, Gilead has lost many more children than just her own.

It’s also lost more Commanders. Ofglen took out several with her bomb in season 2. June killed Winslow and influenced Serena into taking Fred with her to Canada as the sweetener in her immunity deal. Lawrence planned to leave with the children, but went to jail instead. The losses caused by MayDay, Gilead’s war on the Western Front (Chicago), and the purges created by sparring between the two Sons of Jacob factions (True Believers, formerly led by Pryce and now maybe by Calhoun, and Career Opportunists, formerly led by Winslow and Waterford, now led by Putnam) have led to a power vacuum at the top in Gilead.

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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 3: Useful Recap

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Previously on The Handmaid’s Tale- Hannah/Agnes: “Did you try to find me?” June: “I tried so hard.” Hannah/Agnes: “Why didn’t you try harder?”

This is what changed between June’s first escape attempt, when she was caught just as the plane was taking off, and her second, when she voluntarily sent Nichole to Canada with Emily. Her own child, who was also speaking for all of the little girls she’d leave behind, asked her to try harder. The H in Hannah is likely a nod to Holly, June’s mother, who is also invoked in this episode. June could hear Grandma Holly, the lifelong women’s rights activist, speaking through Hannah. She knew she had to listen to those words. They’ve become her inner mantra.

In this episode, June continues to search for ways to make a difference in Gilead. Lawrence continues to test June. Serena is bereft after the many self-inflicted changes in her life. All three reach tipping points which will affect their futures.

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The Testaments by Margaret Atwood: Spoilery Discussion

Power of the Pen

My non spoilery review of The Testaments is HERE. This post will comment on the book in detail and assumes readers have already finished reading it.

This is going to be a series of observations and analysis, in no particular order, rather than a straight review. I’d love to hear what everyone else thinks and if you agree or disagree with me. There are minor spoilers for the TV series The Handmaid’s Tale.

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Book Review- The Testaments: The Sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Testaments Cover

“Only dead people are allowed to have statues, but I have been given one while still alive. Already I am petrified.”

These are the opening words of The Testaments, written by one of the book’s three narrators, each of whom is already known to readers of the original book, The Handmaid’s Tale, and the acclaimed Hulu series based on the book. The words were written by the author of books, of course, Margaret Atwood, who once made a cameo appearance in the series as an Aunt.

In Gilead, Aunts are the caste of middle aged women who are in charge of other women, especially the handmaids. They are the only women who are allowed to be educated, including learning to read and write and having access to books.

In the novel, the author of these words reveals herself to be Aunt Lydia, spirited enforcer of the rules with a tendency to play favorites. The self awareness, dry wit and double entendre involved in the comment are indicative of the journey Aunt Lydia and Margaret Atwood are about to take us on. Lydia is honest with herself, if no one else, and has no illusions about what her place in history will be. But, unlike most of the women in Gilead, she chose her own destiny with her eyes wide open.

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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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