This The Handmaid’s Tale review contains spoilers.
That ending was earned. Under ordinary circumstances, the un-ironic use of Coldplay’s ‘Fix You’ over a slo-mo reunion scene would result in disciplinary action from the mawkishness police, but The Handmaid’s Tale gets away with it. This drama has been feel-bad for so long, it’s saved up enough feel-good pennies to splurge on moments just like this one: June and Moira, reunited. Drink it in.
The moment was staged by director Christina Choe with dialled-up emotion and zero edge. A silhouetted Moira emerged from the battlefield smoke like a wartime sweetheart as the love song soared. It couldn’t have been played bigger if Moira had swept a fainting June up in her arms and carried her to safety. And you know what? After what these characters have been through, she’d have been welcome to do just that. This show has paid its debt to pain many times over. It’s time for some joy.
The joy wasn’t uncomplicated. We don’t yet know if Janine survived that air raid, and until that beautiful weirdo is safe and well and eating edamame beans in the Canadian sunshine, there can be no celebration.
Like a bulldog and a butterfly that team up in an animated movie, June and Janine have made such a good dramatic contrast in season four. Their scenes together in ‘Chicago’ were intensely emotional and posed a couple of satisfyingly chewy character questions. Who is better adapted to survival – June, hell-bent on hell-raising, or Janine, who understands that life is short and grabs happiness where she finds it? And who was sounding more like Aunt Lydia in that argument – bossy, judgmental June, or motherhood-glorifying Janine?
Janine’s bright-eyed excitement about Steven – and her audible excitement in that opening sex scene – were challenging developments to watch. Last episode, Omar Maskati’s character represented a symbolic anti-climax in June and Janine’s escape from Gilead. (“You’re not Mayday, are you?, “What’s Mayday?”) When Steven demanded sex for food and shelter, he illustrated the disheartening truth that not all men whose politics should make them allies to women, are allies to women.
That seemed to be the lesson The Handmaid’s Tale was teaching, until Janine fell for Steven and started imagining a future with him. That was another meaty character question from writers Nina Fiore and John Herrera: is Janine so damaged that she can’t tell when she’s being exploited, or in a show filled with high-ranking pragmatists from Commanders Lawrence and Blaine to Aunt Lydia, is Janine “I see fine” Lindo simply the chief pragmatist of them all? Unlike June, she didn’t even give her Handmaid’s cloak a second glance when she gave it up for that Cubs cap.
On the subject of pragmatism, ‘Chicago’ saw an unlikely alliance struck between Commander Lawrence and Aunt Lydia, both of whom reversed their demotions and blackmailed their way back into Gilead’s top ranks. As punishment for her Handmaids’ latest escape, Aunt Lydia had been consigned to the retirement home for a life of jigsaw puzzles and crochet. Removed from the stewardship of the new Handmaids, and thus from what she considers her calling, Lydia was incandescent with rage. Her exchange with the unbending Aunt Ruth was an exhibition in passive aggression. Every “Praise be” and “Godspeed” was really another veiled “Fuck you.” And what about that cheery “Blessed Day” chirped out by the running machine? Branding is everything to a regime as morally bankrupt as Gilead.
Morally bankrupt and soon, financially too, according to Commander Lawrence. “Guns alone will not win a war, we need money as well,” he told the Council in that dramatically lit room. The Sons dismissed his words and lorded it over him like the douchebags they are. Nick betrayed Lawrence by not supporting his ceasefire, then Lawrence betrayed Nick by putting June in direct danger. There’s no honour among Commanders, it seems.
Lawrence remains a slippery customer. When he urged Aunt Lydia to help him “fix this country” and “make things right again”, was he talking about Gilead, or America? He readily agreed to give up June to Aunt Lydia for punishment, and pushed through the military action that saw June bombed, but he was also responsible for the aid mission that saw June reunited with Moira. Who really benefits from his battle plans?
Aunt Lydia’s position on Gilead has to be similarly conflicted. Thanks to her blackmail plan, she’s once again wearing its uniform, but has she really forgiven being side-lined her from her sacred duty in the first place? The new alliance is a fascinating dynamic inside Gilead’s ruling class. With Nick already operating as a double agent of sorts, could another kind of resistance be forming?
Lydia and Lawrence might be back where they started, but June’s journey has finally taken her somewhere new, a development that’s hopefully irreversible. After years apart, she and Moira came back together in one of this series’ most moving moments and tantalising cliff-hangers. Surely this is one plot progression that can’t be rewound and reset, and other reunions will follow. Coldplay songs at the ready…
The Handmaid’s Tale season four is streaming now on Hulu in the US. Season four is airing weekly on Sundays at 9pm on Channel 4 in the UK.