Wednesday, June 16, 2021

REVIEW: 'The Handmaid's Tale' - June Decides the Justice She Wants for Commander Waterford in 'The Wilderness'

Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale - Episode 4.10 "The Wilderness"

June draws on all her resources and relationships, risking everything to ensure her own kind of justice.

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 season finale of Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale.

"The Wilderness" was written by Bruce Miller and directed by Liz Garbus

June wields a ton of power. That concept has shifted drastically over time. She was conditioned into accepting such an insulated, small life where she was continually abused in the service of something greater. Nothing could justify the physical and emotional abuse she suffered in Gilead. She found her voice and was able to fight back. She accomplished many things while operating within that power structure. She learned valuable insight into the way these people operate. She faces skeptics who don't believe she can change anything. Moreover, she is still learning what is actually important in Gilead. She managed to get out though. That action was always seen as freeing. She could escape this life. The trauma will stay with her. But now, she had the resources in Canada to treat her life with dignity and respect. She could accept her individuality once more without the government controlling every aspect of who she is. And then, Mark announced that the government was making a deal with Commander Waterford. He would be given immunity for his crimes against June in exchange for sharing everything he knows about Gilead. Mark sees the benefits of this deal. He already knows just how forthcoming Fred has been. The commander loves to talk. It allows him to feel powerful. Most of his words are empty though. He isn't a remarkable man whatsoever. That has always made him a frustrating character within the confines of the show. He is the embodiment of villainy. And yet, it has largely been one note. He never got to widen the range of complexities that fill his world. He was simply a man who saw what he was doing as for the greater good. As such, he could excuse away anything that was done to June. He never acknowledged her humanity. He refers to her as June only when he believes it's in his legal interest to do so. In reality, he always sees her as his handmaid. She is his to own and control. That narrative never changed. It never softened or evolved. She was his property. He wasn't deserving of leniency. And yet, he is given that because he is the first commander given the opportunity to make a deal. He has something new worth fighting for. Serena being pregnant changed everything for the Waterfords. It united them as a family. It also featured them reverting back to the same old roles they have always played. She is certainly a power broker too. She thrives outside Gilead despite her current confinement. She can't prevent June's actions though. June is determined to find justice. That is an ever moving target it seems. She gave her testimony to the International Criminal Court. She was told that nothing she said would change their determination about Fred's deal. And so, she produced another enviable deal. One that was tantalizing to Mark while providing her with the justice she demands.

All of this showcases just how much control June has over the entire narrative. The audience can see and appreciate all the pieces falling into place. Everything is determined based on how June feels in any given moment. When that connection is obvious, everything clicks into place. It doesn't justify the amount of time spent on these characters far away from her though. Nothing that happened in Gilead this season was particularly interesting. It simply showcased the ways in which those still confined as handmaids have to survive. They have to play along until the opportunity for something better comes along. June hasn't always played by those rules. And yet, she is preaching their value here. That's how this finale is structured. It's all about her luring Fred into a trap by playing to his ego and believing that the connection between them is real. He sees her as having no agency. She just serves up the narrative meant to appeal to Luke. She wasn't actually hurt during the Gilead ceremonies. The outside world doesn't know what it's truly like. It's a despicable display of monstrosity. This depraved and twisted individual will be set free because of the information he has. It's all just going through the motions now. Nothing can be changed about that. And yet, June has the means to communicate with both governments. She has allies in Gilead who are willing to negotiate with her and follow her lead. She has also worked her way into getting Mark to go along with her various plans. She was threatening to kill him in the previous episode. Now, she personally invades his life. It's not okay. She recognizes that and apologizes for that. It doesn't change her behavior though. She still goes full steam ahead. She has created a different solution altogether. It's one that makes Mark happy because it brings many of the resistance fighters trapped within Gilead back home. The government thought these people were gone for good. And now, their lives can also be saved. That is tangible evidence instead of the hypothetical appeal of Fred's word. Meanwhile, Gilead retrieves their beloved commander. It's obvious that he will be tried in their justice system. He will certainly suffer as a result. June cannot leave anything to chance though. She wants him to suffer and be afraid. She wants him to feel exactly how she felt. And so, she leads an army through the woods to kill him. It's vicious and brutal. It's the first evidence of the show actually being willing to kill a significant character. Of course, it's more about how the other characters feel about this moment than the resolution this serves for Fred as an overall character. This is a form of justice in June's mind. It's what she believes she needs. Lawrence knows it won't be enough. And yet, she has Nick to make it all happen. She has friends willing to follow her lead. Moira and Rita are conveniently absent in that moment. Meanwhile, June knows this action betrays what she was hoping to start anew with Luke. Her life is still full of turmoil. Commander Fred Waterford also happens to be dead. It's a big action. It's just one with muddled character moments that have been searching for purpose and direction all season long even though this season has also done a better job at explaining the actions of the past in the process. It's terribly conflicted which can be difficult for the viewer to gauge the weight of any particular action.