In an hour packed with more major developments and excitement than the rest of the season combined, "The Handmaid's Tale" heads down an unknown path of renewed danger and hope.
Two interweaving storyines climaxed in shocking developments on "The Handmaid's Tale" this week and suddenly the entire season is subverted into potential chaos and calamity. One thing we can't say anymore is that nothing is happening on this show!
After Serena told Fred she thought her Canadian contact could enact a more expedient solution to bringing Nichole home, they set off on a road trip to meet him and try to negotiate more immediate terms. Meanwhile, June dealt with the aftermath of "muffins mean yes" and what to do with all of those kids the Marthas want to help her smuggle out of Gilead.
All the while, the entire Lawrence household is still reeling from Commanders Waterford and Winslow showing up to both force and witness a ceremony. And yet, the arc of both stories -- June and the Waterfords -- both culminated in surprising turns, exciting twists and the possibility of truly new and fresh stories to come ... after we pick our jaws back up off the ground.
Waterfords on the Road
We're going to go out on a limb and suggest that everything that happened here with the Waterfords was orchestrated in advance by Serena Joy for the purpose of reuniting with Nichole. Only she never had any intentions of subjecting Nichole to the cruelty of life in Gilead. She had far grander plans for her and her daughter.
Much was said by June in the other storyline about amnesty that could be offered to Commander Lawrence if he has something to offer the Canadians. In that case, she's referring to the kids she wants to usher out of Gilead. But the thought of offering up something for amnesty could be exactly what Serena was doing, too.
Perhaps she offered up Fred in exchange for her own freedom in Gilead, as well as likely turning informant on the state the rest of the world is still so eager to learn so much about. If she can corroborate the horror reports Gilead continues to deny about systemic torture, kidnapping, rape, child separation and other human rights travesties, well that goes a long way on the global stage to beginning the process of taking down such a powerful military force.
It's the only reason we can imagine Fred was ushered under armed guard into a vehicle ahead while Serena was put into one behind. Sure, she could well be being arrested, too, but Serena is no dummy. Plus, she was altogether too nice and amorous with Fred throughout the trip, which could have been strategic to take him off his guard.
Serena is single-minded in her devotion to Nichole, but at the same time she is not completely blind to what Gilead has to offer a girl and none of it is good. Just one look at her finger, her lost career as a writer, her fleeting reminder of what it is to drive, and it's clear that second-class citizen doesn't even scratch the surface of life as a woman in this place.
And then there's Fred's seeming self-awareness, apologizing for taking writing away and actually verbally acknowledging that it is more than likely his impotence that has denied them children in their marriage rather than hers, as the state is more than comfortable saying of all women barren of children. Was that genuine growth on his part? If so, it was likely to make his capture sting just a bit more for viewers.
Ultimately, he's still a monster, but if he is a monster who is at least somewhat seeing the atrocities of the world he so glorifies every day due to his own naked ambition and narcissim, he may be a monster who could become useful to Canada and the world at large. Perhaps, he'll see an opportunity to do something different with his life. Or perhaps he'll die.
Either way, he can't go back to the career path he'd been establishing in D.C. Not after the events of this hour.
June took a road trip with unexpected consequences this week as well, only hers was just a return to Jezebel's in an attempt to salvage her rescue mission after Commander Lawrence found out his travel permits had essentially been revoked.
This was a good news/bad news situation for June as Lawrence had tried to flee on his own with his wife when he found this out. Doing so would have left June, Beth and Sienna in a house without a Commander and they likely would have faced punishment for his defection. But in his cowardice and devotion to Eleanor, Lawrence didn't care at this point.
Now, though, he's as stuck as June is and his eyes seem to have finally been opened to just what he'd created her in Gilead. His comment about overlooking "maternal love" is very telling in that he truly thought this would be easy. All you needed to do was not thing of the Marthas and the Handmaids and all the other women as people exactly. Now, however, he's finding that harder and harder to do.
June found her own hurdle when a group of Marthas confronted her to shut down her rescue effort before it had even begun, telling her it interfered with their plans and a huge shipment they had coming in. They were coordinating through a bartender named Billy at Jezebel's, and that's all the intel June needed to make a play of her own.
Cargo ships that can bring in shipments can bring out people, and thus she could rescue the Lawrences -- she has a fondness for Eleanor at this point -- as well as Beth and those 52 kids the muffins declared Marthas were ready to deliver. It's a tall order and a request she needed to make in person.
Going from a woman with no plan to a woman who feasibly has a way to pull off the seemingly impossible in two episodes is impressive, and it's indicative of the fact this show could have been sowing these seeds for weeks now rather than spinning its wheels for so much of the first half of this season. It's been a slog until the death of June's walking partner, and now it's Mach 10 with no sign of letting up.
All of that was enough excitement, but it didn't stop there. June made her contact, enticed Billy with all of Lawrence's priceless original art poached from museums and then ran into one giant roadblock: Commander George Winslow.
Christopher Meloni is a towering presence in any scene, but opposite the diminutive Elisabeth Moss he was positively terrifying. And being discovered while alone and vulnerable at Jezebel's only weakened her stance more. Honestly, they did a great job with internal monologue and performance in convincing us we were about to step into another brutal rape scene, and we just weren't here for it.
We've seen it, we know it happens and if we'd have had to endure another one it would have been the show descending into torture porn. After all we had one -- albeit under drastically different circumstances -- just last week. But that's not what was in store.
When she kicked Winslow off, we cheered. When he punched her right in the face, proving just how little regard he had for her, we got scared for her. This man is twice her size and definitely stronger than she is. But somehow the pen proved mightier than the sword in this case, as she stabbed him over and over and over and over until finally it slowed him down.
It was a beautifully shot scene, so visceral and cathartic at the same time. Winslow is excited about the rings and the silencing of Handmaids. Winslow is the ultimate and literal representation of the patriarchy, of Gilead, of every injustice June has suffered and witnessed others suffer. He is callous and cold and would kill her in an instant if given the opportunity.
And if she let him out of that room, her death would be all but guaranteed. And so she didn't. She didn't let him get up, striking him down with a statue.
In a moment of kismet that was honestly a little too cute, it was one of the very Marthas June had chosen to stay that found her and Winslow and thus orchestrated the perfect cover-up. Or at least we hope it's perfect. His absence will definitely go noticed, though how it will be explained will be a mystery.
Lawrence seems convinced they're going to be killed, so he gave June a gun. Probably his thought was she could use it to kill herself, but she could just as easily take out as many other people as she wanted. But we're not so sure Winslow's death will blow back on them. The Marthas did a pretty good job there, and who's going to want to admit that he was at Jezebel's or even that Jezebel's exists?
No, it might be more expedient for Winslow's death to remain a mystery, or foster some other lie to explain it. The question now is what to do about the void he creates. Waterford would have seemed a likely candidate, but he's slightly detained right now.
Perhaps we'll simply be done with DC at this point, though that seems unlikely. One thing is for sure, though, with Winslow gone and the Waterfords under arrest in Canada, things have definitely changed in June's orbit. How those changes will affect her and her plans is a total mystery, which is about as refreshing as it gets.
We love that we've no idea where it's going. We love that there is hope she can still pull off her stunning rescue of 52 children. We love that the Waterfords are in a dramatically different storyline now and we've no idea how it will play out. And we kind of love that Serena remains as enigmatic as ever. Is she good? Bad? Twisted? May we never get true clarity ... even though we want it so bad!
"The Handmaid's Tale" airs new episodes every Wednesday on Hulu.