As June and Janine try to find their place among the resistance in Chicago, Commander Lawrence strikes a dastardly deal with Aunt Lydia to benefit them both -- but at what terrible cost?
In what will go down as one of the most pivotal episodes in the history of "The Handmaid's Tale," nothing can truly ever be the same after this explosive hour of television.
We're still reeling from the episodes final few moments after what we thought was going to be another slow burn of an installment leading toward more exciting developments down the road. It turns out all that building was for what happened at the end of this hour.
In particular, we tuned in to the Council of power in Gilead, where we see Nick has earned himself a spot at the table. In parallel stories, we saw Commander Lawrence trying to seek some compassion among this hard-nosed group of monsters.
It's certainly not lost on us that the narrative here is that these people who espouse their faith as the central tenet of their government have absolutely no human compassion whatsoever. This show has never been subtle, but Lawrence trying to convince them of a temporary ceasefire to render aid and attempt to bolster their economy was particularly nasty.
Even as he argued that it was in their best interest as their economy is faltering over international sanctions levied against them, they would not back down. They could not be seen as weak, even rendering aid to civilians is weakness to them. They would rather jeopardize the future of Gilead than back down an iota.
It's also a rather pointed statement about what happens when the wrong people are in power, people who don't have a grasp of the larger picture, or are fanatically militant, vengeful or otherwise poorly dispositioned to lead a nation. Have we mentioned the lack of subtlety in the social and political commentary on this show?
Opposite Lawrence's failed attempt to both help June out (suspecting she's at one of those fronts) and help secure a future for Gilead was Aunt Lydia's obsessive attempts to get herself reinstated where she can work with the next generation of Handmaids.
Put out to pasture with the other older Aunts, Lydia was in no way ready to lay down her prod and play cards. Her obsession with her "girls" has always been her greatest weakness, as in her own twisted way she does care for them.
And so, her attempt to blackmail Lawrence into reinstating her instead lead to an unlikely alliance. He would use her intel to blackmail the Council into getting himself fully reinstated among them -- as well as his idea of a ceasefire reconsidered -- and Aunt Lydia gets what she wants, the chance to work with her girls.
The two, though, are no inexplicably linked. And while his motives are always a little murky, we're still pretty firmly convinced that Lawrence is more on board with dismantling this nightmare he helped create than Lydia, who's twisted devotion and inhumanity is thriving in this world.
Unfortunately, concessions have to be made when you are dealing with power hungry and cruel people terrified of looking weak. As such, while the Council agreed to Lawrence's 24-hour ceasefire, they did so with a terrible demand of their own.
Just ahead of the ceasefire, they would perform bombing strikes on all of their fronts (Chicago, Texas and California), even knowing that it will likely kill their own soldiers as well as civilians coming to seek the aid that's been promised. Systematically destroying civilians is no way to get sanctions lifted, but Lawrence isn't dealing with reasonable people on the Council. Baby steps.
Unfortunately, as we saw last week, June and Janine had successfully made their way to Chicago and joined up with one of the resistance groups. Much of the hour was spent with Janine falling hopelessly for Steven, the leader who forced her to have sex with them so they could stay, and June trying to get into the fight.
While Steven is more of a cautious raider, June is more inclined to want to kill every soldier she sees, damn the consequences. It's reckless and dangerous and says a lot about how broken she is right now after all she's been through. Janine may be a little off herself, but we're beginning to think June is just as out of her mind, only in a far more dangerous way.
Steven was true to his word in that anyone is free to leave at any time, and so there was no pushback when June decided to seek out a far more ruthless group of rebels mentioned by Steven's crew, the Nighthawks. They're all about killing and that sounds good to June.
While Janine initially insisted she wanted to stay, foolishly fantasizing about a normal life and family and baby with Steven, she ultimately decided to join June, following and catching up with her.
This scene was paired beautifully with a euphoric Lydia again teaching her Handmaids about their glorious duty before God. Right after telling them that they will never again have to walk alone, we cut to June doing just that. So it was even more poignant when Janine joined her, affirming the strength of that bond between Handmaids.
The bond didn't do much to help them when the bombs showed up, setting up a shocking final moment as June recovered in the wreckage and started looking around for Janine, the only familiar and friendly face she could hope to find.
But hope had other plans, as the hour ended with no resolution on whether or not Janine survived the blast. With the somber music playing we certainly feared the worst, which made it even more shocking when we were instead treated to another familiar face emerging through the smoke and dust.
It was Moira, just a few feet from June and clearly stunned. All she could muster was a questioning, "June?" All June could muster was to stare back.
And with this, everything changes. Moira represents Canada and freedom and Luke and June's baby. We've no doubt she won't believe her work is done in Gilead, but perhaps she'll find reason to continue that work from Canada. Hell, even the Waterfords are there, and we're sure she's got something to say to them.
We've been dealing with June in and out of that damned red cloack and Handmaid uniform since the pilot, and now it looks like we finally might be past that phase of the show. With Lawrence and Lydia carrying a plotline on their own, with Nick, we clearly don't need June there to continue that side of the narrative.
It's time to make a huge shift in story and put June into the fight in a whole different way. If they play this development right, "The Handmaid's Tale" could feel fresh and exciting all over again, like a brand new show built on the foundation of the old ... but in the best possible way.
We'll see how it all plays out as each new episode drops Wednesdays on Hulu.