Hope! Actual hope in the The Handmaid’s Tale! Episode 11 was by far the spiciest episode this season, so much so that it could easily have been the season finale.
Gilead has been decapitated: High Commander Winslow (essentially the president? I can never quite figure out the hierarchy) being killed by June in self-defence, and Commander Waterford being arrested by the Americans after being lured onto Canadian soil.
Joseph and Serena Waterford’s sub-plot was enjoyable this week, the pair seeming to reconnect as Joseph allowed his wife to drive (such generosity!) on the open roads out in the Gilead countryside. The Handmaid’s Tale is such an interiors-based show, so it was interesting to take things to a more remote area, the aerial shots of Serena and Fred’s journey looking absolutely stunning.
I was surprised by Fred’s decision to accept the American’s help in returning Nichole, and I guess I was being too cynical in believing Fred was only ever entertaining the idea to keep Serena happy. Still, cooperation was a pretty dumb move on his part, as he surely must have realised they were meeting the American only a few miles from the Canadian border where he is unprotected. Fred is facing quite the list of charges, including but not limited to: war crimes, human rights violations, persecution and torture of civilians, cruel and inhuman treatment, kidnapping, slavery and rape. Serena seemed shocked by the ambush, but I’m holding out hope that this was all her doing, that the deal was ‘give us Fred, and we’ll give you Nichole’. The idea of Serena helping the Gilead resistance from Canada is exciting, and perhaps from here she’ll finally do right by June.
June was abandoned by Commander Lawrence this week, only for him to return after an “attack of conscience”. I was hoping Lawrence would play a bigger part in this season, but I think they intentionally held back; June is the hero here. “Keep your fucking shit together,” she told him, having abandoned pleasantries by this point. Heading into the city to meet a barman who moonlights as a freedom fighter, June bartered for a cargo plane with a cache of fine art. I don’t know if the writers made it up on the spot, but I like this idea of Lawrence having raided MoMA for Picassos and Rembrandts – art often being one of the first things to be seized during times of political upheaval.
A chance encounter in the city with High Commander Winslow led to June repeatedly stabbing him and then clobbering him to death with an ornament. She was steeling herself for “just another rape” at the hands of Winslow, but appears to be through with compartmentalising her anguish.
“The sun’s coming out,” Kate Bush sang as Lawrence handed June a gun and the credits rolled. Were this the final episode of the season, it would be ending on quite a positive note – Winslow dead, Fred arrested, Lawrence humbled, June empowered. But with two episodes still to go, there is definitely time for more twists. Fastidious as the Marthas were in disposing of Winslow’s body, it’s hard to imagine the High Commander’s death won’t ultimately be traced back to June, or at least Lawrence, who feels destined to die helping June, a redemptive conclusion to the character given his major part in creating Gilead. With Fred and Winslow out of the picture there’s a power vacuum now, and the stage is set for some kind of coup. But that’s forgetting a major obstacle who was missing in this episode: Aunt Lydia.