What to Watch Verdict
Another strong episode that effectively pushes the story forward and questions June's popularity from all sides.
*A long-awaited reunion.
*June is not popular with the resistance thanks to how many people have died (and this stance makes sense).
*Some very fun dynamics and temporary loyalties occurring within Gilead's power structure.
*Elisabeth Moss and Madeline Brewer's emotional scene.
*"Fix You" is an overplayed soundtrack choice (even a cover version).
*June's choice of mustard yellow hoodie makes her stand out when she is trying to go incognito.
In a totalitarian state like Gilead, loyalty is hard to come by and leverage is a valuable commodity. Despite the hurtful words volleyed at each other in last week’s on-the-run episode, June (Elisabeth Moss) and Janine (Madeline Brewer) are bound to each other by more than their shared handmaid origin. The latter is still upset that their companions didn’t make it across the train tracks, but she is making the best of their new approximation of freedom while the battle rages in Chicago. June is looking at the next steps because this is not what she was expecting from the resistance on the frontline. They are not shooting every Gilead soldier on sight because it isn’t the smart thing to do, however, a rage-fueled June is no longer applying rational thinking. Whereas, Janine wants to put down roots and this set-up with Steven (Omar Maskati) is one she can envision calling home. The pair ditched their red handmaid cloaks last week so what does this mean for their future?
Impatience is a thread coursing through “Chicago” with several major players struggling to take a backseat. June bristles whether it is Steven refusing to give her a weapon or being told that they need to hold off. Meanwhile, Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) has effectively been retired after she “lost” her handmaids, but she is not one for joining the other Aunts at the card-playing table when there is still so much work to be done. Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) is not used to his strategic plans getting rebuffed so quickly, and even though Nick (Max Minghella) found a way to save him from the wall, he still lacks his former title. While they are all cogs in a system that withholds control, June, Lydia, and Lawrence have all found ways to lead, and they are uncomfortable when this position is challenged or removed.
Janine wants June to soften her approach because while she is used to her brand of prickliness, she is concerned that her friend is alienating herself. Likeability is a tricksy word in TV narratives because it is often unfairly used to malign female characters. However, Janine has a point here, as it is frustrating as a viewer to watch June admonish these fighters for their lack of inaction when she has literally just arrived. When she hears about the Nighthawk faction who are less inclined to think about the risks to personal safety, June knows that her time with Steven et al is coming to an end. Janine can’t get on board with this form of suicide mission and despite all the carnage, Janine thinks she can become a mother again here. Instead of offering her friend support, June cruelly refers to her as Ofsteven, and they each refer to the other as sounding like Aunt Lydia. For a handmaid this is the biggest insult of all — I am on Team Janine during this argument as while her notions are fantastical, June does sound bossy and judgmental.
Earlier, Janine explains the relationship is consensual, which doubles as the writers’ room justifying why she has been sleeping with Steven, and while I still don’t love this narrative choice, it is important that the consent factor is outlined. As with last week’s episode, the strongest moment comes during an emotional scene between June and Janine but instead of hurling hurtful barbs at each other, it is a tearful goodbye filled with love and compassion. “I think you’re beautiful,” June says to her friend through misty eyes and Moss is an expert at hovering between tears streaming and simply pooling (and I am in awe every time she has a moment like this). Janine gifts her the Chicago Cubs baseball cap she was going to give to Steven and theirs is a bond far stronger. Both have been through so much together and despite how hardened her exterior is, June’s vulnerability pokes through during this farewell. But they won’t be parted for long as Janine realizes she feels safer when she is with June. This scene comes directly after Lydia has told the new red-cloaked recruits that a handmaid never walks alone, and the transition to this conversation is very on the nose. Also lacking subtly is June walking down the middle of the street in a mustard yellow hoodie. Sure, this garment isn’t as bright as a sunflower, but she also stands out in the grey war-torn city landscape.
It isn’t long before they are separated again when the bombs rain down from above, but as we don’t see Janine get hit directly or a dead body, I have a feeling we will see her again. Meanwhile, in the dusty confusion surrounded by rubble, June can barely believe her eyes when she sees Moira (Samira Wiley) and it would’ve been much better without the “Fix You” cover. The original song by Coldplay debuted in The OC’s Season 2 episode “The O. Sea” when Caleb Nichol (Alan Dale) suffered a fatal heart attack in 2005 and this captured the poignancy of the Chris Martin-penned track. This was a bold entry into the world, however, by the time The Newsroom opted to set an emotional montage to this song it had lost its punch. You might think a cover version would circumvent this overused feeling, alas, “Fearless Soul’s” slowed down take is equally distracting. Adam Taylor’s score has been used more effectively this season and while I can understand the desire to use a song to elevate this pivotal sequence, unfortunately, it has the opposite effect. Perhaps other viewers will embrace this soundtrack choice, but for me, its desired impact is lacking.
The reason why the bombs dropped at this particular moment (and why the NGOs are on hand) is thanks to Commander Lawrence. Yes, he has regained his title after a bit of good old-fashioned blackmail and a surprising alliance. No, I am no talking about Nick, who, in attempting to play all the sides is left out in the cold, and with his beloved in the path of danger. He used up his one favor with Lawrence and when he couldn’t outwardly show his support for Lawrence’s ceasefire plan, this alliance weakened. Nick is so convinced that he would know if June was in one of the fighting hotspots — “Would your heart glow or something” Lawrence teases — that he doesn’t take this suggestion seriously. Except when he does get valuable intel from some Marthas, he finds out this is exactly where June has headed. He also learns that while he might be doing everything he can to save her, those who have risked it all for Mayday are no longer enamored with the woman who keeps on getting brave women killed.
Too bad for Nick that he didn’t support Lawrence sooner because his ceasefire plan is suddenly approved but before weapons are put down, one final bombing should suffice. And now Nick knows June is in the worst place possible for this order and he cannot reveal his real reason for wanting to avoid this military tactic. Commander Lawrence has his seat at the table and he isn’t willing to risk it all for Nick and his relationship. How did Lawrence get his Commander title back so fast? He teamed up with the woman who was blackmailing him and there is no loyalty when power is up for grabs in Gilead. Aunt Lydia wants her old position back — particularly after seeing the new handmaid recruits — and a life of leisure is not what she envisioned. She goes to Lawrence to blackmail him into reinstating her, but he lacks authority. Lydia’s seemingly endless supply of intel on everyone comes in handy as the former Commander uses it to regain favor, and gifts Lydia her position back in return.
This unholy alliance includes the promise that Lydia will be in charge of June when she is recaptured, although this looks unlikely now Moira is on the scene with the NGO. She still holds power over Lawrence (including his involvement in High Commander Winslow’s disappearance and aiding June) and the lack of loyalty will likely be an issue later down the line. Being willing to sell people out is a strategy with a finite time limit and there is no loyalty in Gilead — except to Gilead. Lawrence and Lydia are back in control but the landscape has shifted and they are on shaky ground. Reaching this midpoint of the season sees The Handmaid’s Tale hitting its stride as June finally looks like she might be free of this country’s grip.
Emma Fraser spends most of her time writing about TV, fashion, and costume design; Dana Scully is the reason she loves a pantsuit. Words can also be found at Vulture, Elle, Primetimer, Collider, Little White Lies, Observer, and Girls on Tops. Emma has a Master’s in Film and Television, started a (defunct) blog that mainly focused on Mad Men in 2010, and has been getting paid to write about TV since 2015. It goes back way further as she got her big start making observations in her diary about My So-Called Life’s Angela Chase (and her style) at 14.
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