Wednesday, June 9, 2021

REVIEW: 'The Handmaid's Tale' - A Family Reunion Provides New Crucial Information for June and Luke in 'Progress'

Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale - Episode 4.09 "Progress"

Serena and Fred greet unexpected visitors from Gilead. Aunt Lydia deals with a hunger strike at the Red Center.

In 2020, the television industry aired 493 scripted shows across numerous outlets. The way people consume content now is different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, it's less necessary to provide ample coverage of each episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site provides shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the next episode of Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale.

"Progress" was written by Aly Monroe & Eric Tuchman and directed by Elisabeth Moss

This season offered a significant shakeup of the formula with June finally escaping Gilead. That character was so centralized in that particular setting. Her escaping that world would fundamentally change everything. As such, it's striking to see how little the show itself has changed how it tells stories. It still largely keeps things segmented. The drama in Canada is happening in its own unique bubble. The story in Gilead is happening in its separate bubble. And then, an episode allows for some of those characters to intermingle. It's not set up to establish something new and challenging. It's mostly just a moment to highlight the humanity across both sides of this conflict. It's significant for June, Nick and Nicole to be together again as a family. June and Luke are fighting to find Hannah and bring her home to them. They want as much information as they can gather. June has resources within Gilead that can now be exploited. Those are connections that Luke and the Canadian government don't have. Lawrence has been helpful to June in the past. They no longer seem like they can be beneficial to each other though. It's important for this conversation to occur. However, it just highlights how their priorities and perspectives have shifted. They still have the same fundamental understanding of each other. Lawrence is a good man. June is a woman on a mission. They respect that. Their time as allies may have simply run its course. The show doesn't offer much complexity beyond that though. It suggests personal turmoil while really just amplifying the drama for as long as possible. That's not inherently bad as a storytelling impulse. However, it's also clear that the show has much more affection for June and Nick as a couple. That was apparent during their last grand reunion in which they said goodbye. The story played it as this sweeping moment when the audience probably didn't care at all. That is a broad generalization for sure. It speaks to some of the problems at the heart of the story though. Luke suggests this meeting because he sees it as the only viable option for information on Hannah. He doesn't want it to happen. He needs it to because Hannah is more important. He knows true feelings are present in this relationship. He is trusting June to be completely honest with him. The audience is probably more concerned that something is going to happen to June when she makes this journey into disputed territory to see Nick. The show explains that this meeting had to happen in person because Nick could be more emotionally manipulated that way. That was never a possibility with Lawrence. As such, it was fine for people to be monitoring the call and trying to work a new asset. That expectation is still thrown onto Nick. He is perceived to be a reliable source on the inside for Canada. But he is mostly just fighting on behalf of June. He happens to already have information on Hannah. So everything works out because they meet in person. It just seems like a risk that could have gone wrong in so many ways. The viewer should probably question the Canadian government and its justice system. Fred and Serena have been treated with so much luxury while in custody. Visitors come and go frequently. It's astonishing. Gilead obviously has a stake in their trial. And yet, it makes no sense for the Putnams to visit when their country made no effort to negotiate for their release up to this point. It's meant to be the breaking point for the Waterfords. Their country turning its back on them propels them to prioritize their own family. Their world contracts. They can no longer focus on building a better world for the future of humanity. Instead, they just have to focus on their family unit. That is a sweet thought. It only works because the audience is aware of the peril that awaits them in Gilead. They would be abused just like every other handmaid or wife who steps out of line. Fred sees himself as enlightened. He has the strength to ensure Serena isn't hurt. He presents himself as a wealth of information. The Canadians are more than happy to accept that gesture. It doesn't matter how June feels. She is a national hero. She has provided a ton of information as well. Fred is prioritized in that regard. June lashes out. She has a right to be angry. It's a feral moment where she pledges to kill Mark. It's haunting because of Elisabeth Moss' performance. But again, it's also a dramatic moment produced by an insane amount of plot devices and complications elsewhere just to keep everyone busy without dramatically changing the core narrative all that much. That impulse should be embraced. Because it isn't now, then it seems like it will never be. As such, the show just feels tired and expected at this point.