Warning: This post contains spoilers for The Handmaid’s Tale‘s Season 4 finale. Proceed accordingly.
When Gilead residents say “May the Lord open,” they probably don’t mean “your former commander’s skull,” right?
Well, all religious texts are open to interpretation. Along those lines: In The Handmaid’s Tale‘s Season 4 finale, June kills her rapist/former commander, Fred Waterford.
With the act, the former handmaid thrusts the Hulu drama into a new era — because it seems pretty clear that the idea of a serene life in Canada with Luke and Nichole (and maybe eventually Hannah) is not to be. Make sure to check out our post mortem conversations with series stars Elisabeth Moss, Yvonne Stravhovki and showrunner Bruce Miller to get a sense of what might lie ahead. But for now, let’s recap the highlights of Episode 10, “The Wilderness.”
‘THEY DO MAKE THE WORLD GO AROUND’ | The hour opens with a shot of Fred and June dancing at Jezebel’s. She voiceovers that a handmaid has to make her commander feel like he’s her “whole world: your sun, your moon and all your stars.” After all, she points out, her very existence depends on it.
Then we’re back in present-day Toronto, where June is meeting up with Tuello but — given how the previous episode ended — wishing he weren’t there. She’s going to give her statement to the court, commenting (negatively) on Fred’s potential release. But, per the court’s dictates, she’s not even doing it live; her remarks will be recorded and then shown at his International Criminal Court hearing. Tuello reminds her that Waterford probably will be granted immunity for his cooperation. “So I should just get comfortable with the fact that he’s going to get out, no matter what he did, no matter what I say,” she translates, flatly. Then she asks whether Fred has been spilling Gilead’s secrets like the intelligence piñata they hoped he’d be. Tuello confirms that he has. “Weak men, hm? They do make the world go around,” she muses. Then, while waiting for the court’s camera operator to get ready, she stares up at the ceiling and remembers doing the same thing at the Waterford house while Fred and Serena raped her.
Later, at the house, Luke tries to bolster his wife. “You’re here. Nichole is here. That’s a miracle,” he points out in a way that is positive and sunny and maybe a little too unintentionally dismissive of June’s fury? Rita and Moira are there, too, and the latter is apoplectic to learn that they’re sending Fred to Geneva for his immunity hearing; he’ll be gone by the end of the week, to set up wherever he wants “with his Viking-ass wife,” she grouses. (Side note: I laughed.) Moira wants June to travel to Geneva to testify in person and try to change the court’s mind, but June is resigned. “I got up and told them everything. They know what he was, what he did and how I felt,” she says. “Maybe what he’s giving them is more valuable than what he took from me.”
When Emily and Oliver visit, the two former handmaids engage in a little gallows humor about justice in Gilead. But then June starts to cry. “Emily, I really want to let go of him,” she says of Fred, upset at how she can’t just focus on her family, because “a good mother would be able to let go.” Emily has no response.
‘I’M GONNA PUT FRED ON THE WALL’ | At the detention center, Serena takes Tuello to task for slights she feels Fred is suffering during his questioning. She also demands a house, security and an expedited court ruling, because “We will not have our son born in this place.” Mark is taken aback by the idea that the Waterfords will live as husband and wife, and he asks for an explanation as to why. “I don’t believe I have to,” she says haughtily.
A while later, June shows up at the door to Fred’s room. “What an unexpected pleasure,” he says in that smarmy soft voice he uses when he thinks he’s being charming, kicking off the next few minutes of my hating him at an even higher intensity than I normally do. Their conversation is exaggeratedly cordial. She says she came because it’s her last chance to see him. “To wish me well? That doesn’t sound like our June,” he quips, adding that he bears her no ill-will “even after those things you said in court.”
June dismisses the security guard as Fred goes on about how he understands how she had to “frame things in front of the judge and your husband.” This is where I start surveying the room, trying to figure out which everyday item June is going to use as a weapon when she inevitably does him bodily harm. Is she going to stuff a Bible down his throat? Stab cigars through his eyes? There aren’t a ton of options, but I’ve got faith in our girl’s ability to improvise. Anyway, he goes on to talk about the “discomforts” they both experienced in Gilead — “more for you, of course” — and says he has “deep regrets” about them. And because Fred loves to hear himself talk, he goes on to add that only his impending fatherhood has allowed him to “fully appreciate” the situation in which she found herself all those years ago.
“You must have experienced such terrible longing for your daughter, and for that, I’m sorry,” he says. “Truly.”
June’s eyes have been filling with tears as he talks, and they spill over but she recovers slightly as she (almost to herself) says, “I didn’t think you’d ever say that.” She laughs a little and asks for a drink; he fixes them a nightcap. Emboldened by what he thinks is her ease with him, he recalls that their connection was “vital, a relationship we both needed very badly to survive, in our own ways. I wouldn’t call it ‘love,’ but it was something else. Something very strong.” June’s voice is light as she agrees with his highly delusional recollection of the worst period of her life; they then talk about how much they both miss Offred, and it seems very apparent to me that June is engaging in the practice she talked about at the start of the episode: making him think he’s her entire solar system, but to what end?
Luke drives her home, trying to draw her out with banter-y talk of Boston and the Red Sox, and she seems to be going along with it until she abruptly says, “I’m gonna put Fred on the wall.” Luke, taken aback, says she’s got to let Waterford go. “On the f–king wall,” she repeats, which is this show’s version of DID I STUTTER?
LET’S MAKE A DEAL! | So June finds Mark Tuello and engineers another in-person meeting, this time with Commander Lawrence in an abandoned diner in Gilead. After a bit of droll posturing, Lawrence eventually offers up 22 captured women who worked for the resistance in exchange for Fred Waterford. Tuello had thought most of the women were dead; he’s clearly dazed by the prospect of setting them free. “These are the lives you’re trying to save,” June says. “You cannot say that Fred Waterford is worth more than these 22 women.” Tuello says he’ll take the offer to his boss.
“Well, you haven’t lost your touch,” Lawrence tells June when they have a moment alone, and I adore the look she shoots him in response. But he’s serious when he tells her, “Whatever happens to him, if we get him, won’t be enough for you.” She regards him beatifically. “God bless you, Joseph,” she says.
When she returns home, June, Rita, Moira and Luke discuss Fred and what fate may befall him in Gilead. Moira just wants him out of their lives, but June wants him to be afraid. “How afraid?” Emily wonders. “Like in the woods when I was caught and they took Hannah,” she says. Em is definitely picking up what June is putting down, saying “More than that.”
“I want him to be scared to death,” June says with a little smile. In the background, Luke looks very troubled.
CHANGE OF PLANS | Fred prepares to leave, announcing to Serena that he’ll return “a free man, a husband and a father.” He’s aiming for warmth but getting only businesslike efficiency from her in return. “We could try to Zoom. I’d like to see you,” he offers. “Sure, Fred,” Serena says with exactly the level of enthusiasm with which you’d meet the prospect of abdominal surgery. “We can Zoom.”
He struts outside… where Tuello and some men handcuff him and put him in the back of an armored truck. “You’re not going to Geneva,” Mark says. His boss took the deal! Fred is back in custody and no longer has a lawyer; oh, and the court turned down his leniency plea. “I’m a man, and I have rights!” he yells as the door slams. And something about the delivery is just close enough to Will Ferrell’s “I drive a Dodge Stratus!” that it makes me laugh.
When the truck stops on a bridge and Fred is hauled out, he assumes he’ll be killed at the border. But Tuello informs him that he’s going back to Gilead to be tried under its justice system. “You helped write those laws, didn’t you?” Mark asks, snarky. The freed women shuffle by Fred in a line as he screams at Tuello about “what you covet” and how God knows all. And then Lawrence is there, offering a sarcastic, “Fred, praise be. You’re home safe. A nation’s prayers have been answered.”
NO WAIT NICK IS THERE, TOO. (I’m sorry, wedding ring or no, he gets stuff done!) The Eyes take Waterford as Nick explains that they have tactical control at the border — and Lawrence puts up no fight as Fred is put in another van and spirited away. When that vehicle stops, Nick marches Fred into the woods. Waterford mouths off and Nick hits him right in his stupid beard hole, then tells him they’re in “No Man’s Land.” AND THEN JUNE STEPS INTO VIEW, AND THINGS GET INTERESTING.
NOLITE BASTARDES CARBORUNDORUM, FRED | June kisses Nick and he happily kisses her back while Fred looks on in disgust. She whispers “Thank you” to Nick, then watches as he gives her the keys to Fred’s restraints and then walks away. She’s holding a gun in one hand and a whistle in the other. “Choose,” she instructs him. Fred says she won’t shoot him. “All right,” she says, smiling, and blows the whistle, which summons a group of former handmaids — including Emily — from the woods behind her. “I have a son. A son!” Fred grovels. “Run,” June simply replies.
So he does, and the women chase him. Eventually he falls, and June is right on top of him. (Side note: The use of Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” on the soundtrack here — a callback to the show’s pilot — is perfection.) She starts punching him, then Emily and the others join. June bites Fred’s lip and blood is everywhere. The women’s flashlights are on the ground in a circle around the melee, bringing to mind the perfect formations in which the handmaids are often forced to stand or sit in Gilead.
By dawn, the women emerge from the forest, get in their cars and go home. June has blood on her face and looks wrung out; tears leak out of her eyes as she takes deep breaths in the cool air. She drives back to Toronto and cries as she stands in Nichole’s nursery, holding her daughter close. Some of Fred’s blood gets on the baby’s cheek.
Luke sees her and immediately understands what has happened. “I know,” June whispers. “I’m sorry.” She asks for five minutes with the baby, “then I’ll go.” Luke slides down the wall in shock, crying, while June bounces Nichole and smiles at her. “Mommy loves you,” she tells her. “Mommy loves you so much.”
At the detention center, Serena waits for a Zoom call that isn’t going to come. Someone in the hallway delivering her mail opens a suspicious package and finds a wedding ring and human finger inside.
Elsewhere, Fred’s mangled corpse hangs from a random brick wall, “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum” written underneath it in a spray-painted scrawl.
WHEW, right? Now it’s your turn! Grade the finale and the season via the polls below, then hit the comments with your thoughts!