(EDITORS: Contains spoilers.)
– – –
In the Season 4 finale of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” June got her ultimate revenge.
Or did she?
During the past four years of Hulu’s series, based on the Margaret Atwood novel, viewers became accustomed to witnessing gruesome scene after gruesome scene and endless violence against women, leading many to ask themselves: How much longer can we handle watching this? As The Washington Post’s Monica Hesse recently wrote, the show’s first season “was about jolting the political conscience, not kicking viewers in the gut with depictions of sadism. The idea was to force us to confront the hows and whys of its dystopian premise. … The new season seems more interested in the what: What’s another way that women could be terrorized? What are some more ways after that?”
The other issue was that the men in charge of the horrifying Republic of Gilead rarely faced consequences for creating a society where women are sex slaves. Too often, they got away with everything. But one of the final scenes in the fourth season let the viewers know that the commanders might actually start paying for their crimes.
June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss), who made a long overdue escape from Gilead earlier this season and is now residing in Canada, was determined to make this happen. In the penultimate episode, Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes), imprisoned by the Canadian government as a war criminal with his newly pregnant wife, Serena (Yvonne Strahovski), decided to flip on Gilead and spill all of the republic’s dirty secrets to seek his family’s freedom and protect his unborn son. That proved tantalizing enough that the Canadian government opted to drop all charges and use him as an intelligence asset.
June, who was raped, beaten and tortured in the Waterfords’ custody when she was their handmaid known as Offred, was enraged when government representative Mark Tuello (Sam Jaeger) delivered this news. “Sometimes you have to let one fish go to catch a lot of other bigger fish,” he told her sadly.
“That man is a … rapist and you know what he did to me,” June seethed, closing out the second-to-last episode by screaming, “You know what he did to all of us! I will kill you!”
In the finale, June realized it would probably be more effective to have Tuello on her side, and she persuaded him to make a new deal with the government. The Canadians claimed they were pumping Waterford for information so they could save people in Gilead. So why not arrange a trade where Gilead would allow nearly two dozen women to travel to safety in Canada, in exchange for the Canadians to release Waterford into Gilead custody? That way, they would save many women’s lives while the Gilead leaders could do what they wished with their traitorous former commander.
Everyone decided to go along with that deal. When Waterford thought he was being released to go testify for his freedom in Geneva, he was actually shoved into a van and taken away to a place called “no man’s land,” where he was met by Gilead Commander Nick (Max Minghella). Nick is the father of June’s baby Nichole. When Waterford wasn’t able to get June pregnant, Serena demanded that Nick (the Waterfords’ driver at the time) try to impregnate her instead. (This is one of the crimes that eventually sent Serena to Canadian prison.)
So Nick had zero sympathy when Waterford warned him he was making a mistake. “Whatever man sows, so shall he reap,” Nick told Waterford. “You did this to yourself, Commander.”
With that, June appeared with a group of other women, including former handmaid Emily (played by Alexis Bledel). “I have a son. A son!” he said, an extremely ineffectual plea to make to women who had their babies stolen by him and his fellow commanders. After June ordered him to “run,” she and the other women chased him down and beat him, presumably to death. June took great pleasure in this, flashing back in her mind to all the times she was abused by him, at one point leaning over to bite him as hard as she can.
Then they mailed his finger and wedding ring to Serena – and one of the last shots of the episode shows Waterford hanging on the wall where so many women were unjustly sent to their deaths. As Tuello told Waterford: “You helped write those laws (in Gilead), didn’t you? … It worked for these women, now it’s your turn.”
In the closing seconds, June, covered in Waterford’s blood, returned to her home where she went to baby Nichole’s room and picked her up and hugged her. June’s husband, Luke (O.T. Fagbenle) walked in the room and, in an instant, realized what June must have done. He slid to the floor, devastated.
“Just give me five minutes, OK?” June asked. “Just give me five minutes with her, then I’ll go.”
So, where does the show go from here? It was clear as soon as June arrived in Canada that it was unlikely she would be able to quickly move on from the horrors of the past several years, or easily slide back into family life with Luke. The writers have hinted that the next step of her journey may come in the form of revenge, even if Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) warned her that no amount of vengeance will make her feel better. But if that’s what June did to Fred, it’s hard to imagine what she will do to Serena, who was also responsible for her torture.
And if the writers take that path in Season 5, it’s possible some viewers may be able to tune in again: Even if the show remains brutal, at least they won’t be forced to see the handmaids, former and current, losing over and over and over again.
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