The fourth season kicks off with three consecutive episodes as June reveals her biggest weakness as a revolutionary leader -- and it almost costs her everything!
When last we saw June Osborn -- nearly a year and a half ago -- she'd just been shot and left for dead after helping 86 children escape from Gilead, along with Rita. Season 4 of "The Handmaid's Tale" picked up right there, and that wasn't the worst she would endure.
As has become tradition with Hulu launches, the streamer dropped the first three installments of the new season, giving fans a whole whirlwind of experiences, emotions, betrayals and loss to endure and unpack in just three hours. That they dropped the episodes early only hastened the bleakness.
As always "Handmaid's" is one of the darkest and most depressing shows on television, but it is also one of the most artistically shot and beautifully acted. Elisabeth Moss and Ann Dowd alone can leave you breathless with their performances, but they're flanked by so many other incredible actors.
Joseph Fiennes and Yvonne Strahovski continue to bring their slimeball Waterfords to life with incredible effectiveness. And while they did not feature throughout the entirety of these three episodes, their attempts to throw one another under the bus was derailed altogether for a shocking revelation.
Serena Waterford has long been one of the show's most compelling, but she became disappointingly one-note after June's baby (that she'd stolen) Nichole was taken from her -- she gave her up willingly -- and ultimately made her way to Canada.
Serena and June were developing a fascinatingly complex relationship, but it all went out the window and Serena became a sort of obsessed cartoon villain, focused entirely on reuniting with her baby (not-her-baby). Now, there's a chance for nuance and layers to re-emerge with the latest bombshell revelation.
Serena is pregnant.
Her whole identity was wrapped around the idea that she couldn't get pregnant, though it's becoming increasingly clear that Fred is the one who had the problem (and Serena kind of knew that as she had Nick rape June to conceive Nichole).
Will a baby truly her own make her get over her obsession for Nichole, will it make her more willing to just destroy Fred and as much of Gilead as possible? This dystopia she helped create has taken so much from her, it'd be nice to see her help burn it down.
Keyes to Tragedy
Easily one of the most heartbreaking characters in this entire series so far was the introduction of the family that harbored the renegade Handmaids, working in disguise as Marthas. In particular, we found ourselves mesmerized and horrified by 14-year-old McKenna Grace's work as Mrs. Esther Keyes.
That she's a Wife at such a tender age -- and that the actress is that age -- only adds to the horror of what this world is. Grace was incredible in portraying what the experiences her character has had to endure would do to such a young psyche. That she shares a savageness with June is both alarming and comforting.
The scene after Esther -- at June's urging -- killed one of her attackers where she crawled bloody into bed with June and told her she loved her was absolutely haunting. June calling her "Banana," her nickname for Hannah, only added to it.
While we spent these episodes questioning how much of Esther's story was truth and how much was the fantasies of a fractured and broken mind, we found ourselves also starting to wonder if June is starting to crack mentally after all she's endured these past three seasons.
Another twist came when we learned that a Martha taught Esther how to poison her Commander, which freed her from at least some of his horrific behavior. She gave him just enough to keep him sick and doddering, though it's possible she did him in off-screen.
Betrayal Betrayal Betrayal
It was inevitable that things would not go smoothly for the renegade Handmaids, but we didn't expect June to wind up captured so quickly. We did applaud her terrorist move of convincing the Jezebel woman who helped her find a new safehouse to go ahead and poison a bunch of military Commanders on their way to the Chicago front.
June is full on gangster now, ruthless and cold and capable of untold horrors. Is she heading down the dark road of a character like Marvel's "The Punisher" -- the anti-hero? Certainly, she's at least somewhat justified in going as dark as she wants to And yet, when we wanted her to go dark, she couldn't do it.
But we'll get to that later.
Here, she returned to the safehouse only to find everyone gone -- everyone except for Commander Nick and the Guardians sent to bring her in. From here, we were so worried that this was going to be yet another story of June being captured and abused and reintegrated into Gilead society -- like we've seen every season.
Thankfully, the writers had other ideas in store. There was still the torture, both physical and psychological. After Nick's betrayal in capturing her, he even tried to get her to rat out the location where the other Handmaids were. Nick might be trying to keep her alive, but he's also indoctrinated at least somewhat into this system. It makes his motives suspect.
But no one is as suspicious as Commander Lawrence, who also betrays the trust and relationship June had built with him. Lawrence was ready to help her tear it all down and here he is asking her also to betray her friends?
Lawrence did lay out the reality of their situation. Nick negotiated on his behalf to get him out of a certain death sentence. If he doesn't play along, he dies, and he can't tear anything down from the inside with a rope around his neck.
Still, June found herself unable to forgive him. But perhaps she grew a little bit of understanding for Lawrence when Gilead's torturer presented her with her own daughter. Seeing Hannah shrink from her in terror from within a glass cell was all it took, and June became the final betrayer of the night, betraying the true location of her friends.
From there, it was seemingly just moments before they were all captured again, with a new plan of effectively turning them into a work force at a breeding farm. They can perform the ritual (get raped) when the time comes, but otherwise work as slave labor on that farm. It's a disturbing new evolution, that even Aunt Lydia was uncertain about at first.
Aunt Lydia Lives!
Aunt Lydia has experienced plenty of abuse from the patriarchy that rules Gilead, and yet she remains a loyal acolyte. It helps that after her latest round of torture for losing so many Handmaids under her charge, and the fact June freed 86 children, Lydia has someone else to blame.
But June put it right in her face in a powerful scene between the two women, fully blaming Lydia for failing all of the girls under her charge. She says she's there to protect them and care for them, and then she sends them off to be raped and abused over and over again.
It was clear the message was painful for Lydia to hear. Even in her twisted and broken mind, she thinks that she cares for these girls. She even expresses real care for June, despite June's constant verbal abuse ... at least until after she was broken.
With June, you never quite know how much of it is her playing along and how much of it is her being broken down; we've seen her both ways. This time, after betraying her friends, she did seem at least somewhat cowed in a very real way.
And yet, when an incredible opportunity arose on their way to that breeding farm and suddenly June once again had Aunt Lydia's life in her hands, she couldn't do it. We know June is hard enough to kill, she's certainly done it enough, so why can't she kill Lydia?
Is it because Lydia is a woman and she sees her, in some twisted way, as a victim of Gilead, too? There is some truth to it, but Lydia still drank the Kool-Aid and has committed her fair share of atrocities along the way. Every time she doesn't kill Lydia, it comes back to haunt her, and here it did so immediately.
Death by Train
Had June at least knocked Lydia out with the stungun (or killed her), Lydia wouldn't have been out of the transport van immediately and shouting for the girls to stop. Without Lydia shouting, the driver might not have caught on so fast and started firing at them.
At the same time, had June delayed any longer, she would not have made the crossing. The mad decision was made in an instant to go ahead and break free after the driver stepped out to use the bathroom ahead of a long train.
Even more impromptu was the notion to run across the tracks ahead of the train, creating that lengthy separation from Lydia and the driver where they couldn't be chase. Could they get lost in the woods? Clearly, they decided it was worth the danger. And the danger was real, as only two of them survived the crossing.
As June and Janine crossed the tracks, we saw Alma and Brianna right behind. The driver had already gunned down one Handmaid and was taking aim at more when the train took out those two. The final shot showed another Handmaid at the driver's feet, but it's not clear if she was dead or not.
June and Janine, horrified but now separated, needed to keep moving as the driver still had his gun and the train wasn't going to cross forever. And so they fled, off into whatever twisted adventure lies in wait.
And now we're scared what Gilead will do to Hannah to try and bring June to heel. It's just too big of an Achille's Heel for the show's heroine, that she caves every single time Hannah is threatened in anyway. Either Hannah needs to be rescued or killed, so June can get it together and be the consistent leader the resistance needs.