The Handmaid’s Tale: Episode One

The season four premiere episode picks up right where we left off in the season three finale, right in the thick of it. June has just been shot, after successfully getting hundreds of kids onto a plane headed to Canada. The other Handmaids carry her to an empty building, where they try to stop the bleeding from her injuries. Gilead is after them, and they have to continue running. After sealing June’s bullet wound with a hot iron pole, the women are able to escape the area through a truck that is part of the Martha Network, a network that helps those seeking refuge in Canada. However, as they are making their journey, the truck gets stopped. The women stay in complete silence as it gets searched, and luckily, they don’t find them, and let the truck go.

Over in Canada, Serena and Fred meet with the journalist, Mark, who had arrested the two of them. There is a divide between the husband and wife. Fred looks at Serena with disdain, and Serena wants to believe his cruelty isn’t the real him. Mark tells them about the plane with the children and that they are being reunited with their families. Fred makes sure to point out that their real families are in Gilead, which is a false truth. It is then mentioned that June was the one to do it, and you can see the hatred Serena has for her in her eyes. 

June and the Handmaids are trekking through the snow-filled woods towards a farmhouse that is supposed to be a place of shelter for them. A lit lantern is supposed to signal that they are safe to approach, however when they arrive at the outskirts of the farm’s land, they don’t see anything. June volunteers to get closer, and walks right up to the farmhouse. A man exits with the lantern, and she deems him trustworthy. She raises a bloody hand to signal to the other women that they can come out into the open. As they make their way over, June, who is visibly unwell, collapses on the ground, and is brought into the house

We are then reunited with Aunt Lydia, who looks beaten and bruised, standing in front of the council. They have decided not to convict her for the mistakes she made that caused a plane full of children to escape from Gilead. She shifts the blame to June, and mentions how it’s been nineteen days and they have yet to find her. But, when they do, that she is to be brought to her for some reeducation. 

At the farmhouse, June wakes up to the sound of chickens outside. She’s still clearly in pain, but doing better. She applies homemade salve and medicine to help heal her wounds, and musters up the strength to venture out of the room and outside into the sun. She makes her way out to the field where

Alma is keeping watch. She asks how June is doing and they discuss the security of where they’ve been staying. June soon after returns to the house and meets the Commander Keyes, and then his wife, who is just a child, probably only in her early teens. The way Mrs. Keyes speaks of June, its like she is a celebrity in her eyes. With vigor, she talks about hurting Gilead and the men in it. June states how she should’t have to be so brave at her age, which triggers something in side Mrs. Keyes, and she lashes out at June, almost instinctively going into the dutiful wife role.

We then see Commander Lawrence, who is locked up. In season three, he had helped June to smuggle out the children and Marthas, and was arrested for his crimes. However, whilst in jail, it seems that he has helped the Council try to find June, as Nick, now Commander Blaine, comes in to thank him for his service to Gilead. Commander Lawrence just asks him if they have readied for an invasion of Canada, as he knows the Council can be reactive and not think things through. He suggests that they let the children stay in Canada as a sign of good will and negotiate a peace treaty with their neighbors up north. Nick doesn’t exactly acknowledge it and leaves, once again thanking him for his service to Gilead.

Back at the farmhouse, June and Janine go into the pig pen, where Janine (a sweet, compassionate, sensitive soul) gives a final blessing to one of the pigs, who she has named Mr. Darcy, before he gets killed. Mrs. Keyes bears witness behind the closed doors of the pig pen. It then transitions to all the Handmaids eating in the barn with Mrs. Keyes. The pig that had been killed is now their source of food. Janine doesn’t want to eat it though, because of the attachment she had made to the animal. Mrs. Keyes once again explodes in a cruel manner, forcing Janine to eat the pig because it would still be alive if she didn’t have to feed her and the other Handmaids. She then storms off in anger, as Janine is left in tears. June goes after her and tells her what she just did was wrong and that she needs to be more compassionate to others. Mrs. Keyes, holding a knife, responds by opening up about her experience as a wife, and how the Commander would bring man after man to rape her since he physically could not. In this moment, we are reminded that this is a kid, and the circumstances she’s in is not by choice. Her role as a wife has its own tools of oppression. June makes sure to tell her that none of this is her fault, and that she thinks god “will make those men pay.” Mrs. Keyes hands over the knife to June and cries in her arms.

This conversation leads June to believe that none of them are free of patriarchal oppression where they are. Yet, another Handmaid says, “Maybe this is as free as we’re gonna get. We should make the best of it.” June doesn’t think that to be true. Even if they’re able to frolic, dance, and enjoy life a bit more, they are still in a country of oppression, and their safety is still under threat.

Returning to Commander Lawrence, we see him being taken by guards to a room with a single chair. Nick enters, telling him that he’s convinced the Council to make him a consultant on the invasion of Canada, and that he is to get cleaned up before he starts his new role. In this moment, we realize that Lawrence will play any side to survive. I hope that he’ll lead the council into making bad tactical decisions so he actually helps June and her cause, but he’s a very gray character, and it’s hard to tell what he’ll do.

June crosses paths with the Commander, who seems to be forgetful, and asks her he named s well as that of the other girl (his wife). Their conversation is cut short though as June hears dogs barking outside. She goes towards the sound as a vehicle approaches. The Handmaids and Mrs. Keyes take out a man who had trespassed on the grounds, and is also one of the men who raped Mrs. Keyes. He tries to run away and knocks June down, while the Handmaids chase after him and quickly catch him. As June comes back to her senses she sees them beating him with shovels. She tells them to stop and hang him in the barn. Once they do that, she stands in front of him, calling him a traitor for betraying the United States, raping a child, and gives him the punishment of death. June has made the decision to be judge, jury, and executioner, which I feel will bring her down a dark path this season. She even sounds eerily similar to Aunt Lydia when she tells Mrs. Keyes to make her proud, handing her a knife to kill the man who hurt her. June walks away, as we hear the man’s screams as Mrs. Keyes stabs him.

June returns to her room, and limps into bed. Mrs. Keyes comes in moments later, covered in blood and lays in bed with her, telling June that she loves her. Their relationship is starting to become a bit mother/daughter-ish, but it’s a strange dynamic given Mrs. Keyes fascination with wanting all men to be dead (I mean, can we blame her?) and June’s willingness to go to great lengths without fearing the consequences. One interesting note I had about this premiere was how the episode opened with Aretha Franklin’s “Say a Little Prayer,” and ended in Carol King’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” I thought those were good bookends for the episode, and really made me excited to see what’s to come. I believe this to be the season we finally see the women take power, and how glorious that will be.

Isabel Maina

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