The Handmaid’s Tale season 3 episode 10 ‘Bear Witness’ review: Cruel ceremony makes for a compelling episode

A horrific Gileadian scene

You can always rely on The Handmaid’s Tale to come up with supremely messed up situations, but the show outdid itself this week with a rape that was non-consensual in both directions.

Even more twisted, the scene required June to calmly encourage Commander Lawrence to rape her. She is, tragically, somewhat used to the grimness of the Gileadian ‘Ceremony’, and thus had to coach Lawrence and his weeping wife through the process. It was interesting that they chose not to show us the actual ceremony in all its awkwardness, but I guess the lead-up was uncomfortable enough. It all made for a compelling centrepiece to the episode, which was one of this season’s best.

Bradley Whitford and Julie Dretzin have been great additions to the show as Commander and Mrs Lawrence, and here we got to see them undone, their role in creating Gilead coming back to bite them. Someone once said that there’s nothing worse than a properly motivated character, and I like how Lawrence flits between smug disregard and a genuine desire to help the resistance without clear reason.

Fred Waterford is similarly hard to pin down of late. Is it purely careerism and power hunger that’s driving his rise into the higher ranks of Gilead? Does he really care for Serena? What’s behind his continuing obsession with June? Is it a purely sexual thing?

Credit: Hulu

It’s an interesting, subtle dance going on between the show’s main characters right now. Amid the insanity of this week’s ceremony scene it would be easy to overlook Serena putting a foot out of step in this dance: telling Fred about the hunky American and his offer of freedom. Given how seduced Fred seems to be by Gilead politics right now, it was incredibly dangerous for Serena to even mention the idea of cooperating with Canada/America. I fear for her safety – the safety of more than just her pinky finger this time.

The Handmaid’s Tale still somehow manages dark humour, and episode 10 had a delirious ending, the Marthas saying it with muffins (in rebellious Gileadian circles, scones equals ‘no’, muffins equals ‘yes). The sea of muffin baskets in the Lawrence kitchen was an indication that there are plenty of people out there willing to help June in her mission to emancipate children from the state, and she ended the episode emboldened and ready to fight. But she has so many times before, only to have her wrists zip-tied and get marched back to her room, so I can’t share her sense of optimism just yet.

The fundamentally repetitive, attritive nature of the show is setting us up for an incredibly emotional moment if and when June does finally escape, but at the same time the repetitiveness can make it all feel a bit, well, repetitive. This has bogged us down at times in season 3, but these last couple of episodes have gotten things moving again, and we should be in for thrills in the remaining three episodes.