The Handmaid’s Tale: Episode Four

After the insane way episode three ended, episode four picks up immediately after it. Janine is in utter distress as June takes off her restraints. She attempts to calm her as she tells her they need to follow the tracks and go west. They start to run, and continue until nightfall, when they come across a train station. They find a train that’s going to the front lines to Chicago, and although Janine isn’t sure they should go in that direction, June makes the decision for the two of them to get on that train and head right into the thick of it all. They run to the train and climb up a ladder to one of the train cars to a door on the top. They both jump in to find that it is filled with ice cold milk. In fear of drowning because there is nothing to hold onto as the train begins to move, June looks for a drain, and is able to find one. The milk begins to drain out as the train continues onwards towards Chicago, unaware of the two Handmaid stowaways.

In Canada, Rita and Moira are together, as Rita is making bread and soup for them. Moira gives her an update on her family, letting her know that she can’t find them in the database they have for refugees from Gilead. She also lets her know that Serena wants to see her, to which Rita isn’t sure if she wants to go or not. Ultimately, she does, and visits Serena in her “cell,” where she tells her former Martha that she’s pregnant. Serena tells Rita that she hasn’t told Fred, and doesn’t intend to. She asked Rita to meet her because she wants her to help care for her baby boy. Serena calls her a “friend” and asks her to pray with her. 

Still on the way to Chicago, Janine is falling asleep due to the cold temperatures, and June is trying to keep her awake, otherwise she will get hypothermia. June keeps telling her that they’re “going to be ok,” but Janine doesn’t believe her, because she continues to say that without knowing. Janine asks June if she has a plan, to which June is silent. “I’m not a mushroom, you can’t keep me in the dark and feed me lies and shit, and expect me to just be ok with it!” yells Janine, in an incredible showcase of self-determination and calling June out on her bullshit. She goes on to tell June that when they were at the other farm, she took care of the Handmaids, and that they wanted to wait for her because they loved her. She then confronts June and asks her if she told the Eyes where to find them. June is semi-honest and tells Janine that they had Hannah and didn’t know what they were going to do with her, so that is why she told them. She defends her choice by saying that Janine would have done the same thing, but Janine fights back by saying that she wouldn’t know what she would’ve done. Janine blames the other Handmaids’ deaths on June because of her choices, and June, in a super low blow, tells Janine that she should’ve left her a long time ago.

At this moment, we are brought into a flashback to before Gilead. Janine is getting changed in her car as she’s telling her job that she can’t make it in and her coworker is covering for her. She enters into a building where she has an appointment to get information about getting an abortion. The woman she meets with is odd, though, asking questions about if she’s religious, if the man is in the picture, and more invasive questions. It is then that Janine realizes that it isn’t a real abortion clinic, that she had been tricked into thinking it was one, when instead it was one of those places that try to convince you to not get an abortion. This specific office also seems like one of the beginning practices of Gilead. Janine quickly gets out of there, much to the woman’s dismay.

In present day, Rita gets a visit from Mark, saying that he has questions from Serena’s defense attorney. He wants her to blame the commander for things she did to June, but Rita knows it was also Serena who did awful things to her. She decides to go see Fred to talk to him. He greets her, saying that “it’s nice to see a friendly face.” The Waterfords both seem to thing that their relationship with Rita is that of friendship, when it is far from it—it was more that of master and servant or slave. Rita gives him an envelope, tells him that her needs to deal with his family, and it is not her job anymore. He arrogantly tells her that he was never cruel to her, to which she spills Serena’s secret and tells him that she’ll pray for his son. She walks out, leaving him with the envelope. He opens it to see a photo of his unborn child.

Returning to June and Janine, the train stops and they hear a lot of shooting outside in an apparent confrontation between Gilead soldiers and an unknown party. June has Janine lift her up to the door to open it, and she climbs out, seeing people with guns looting the train. They see her and she makes sure to tell them she’s a friend not a foe, and pulls Janine out. They climb off the train and get searched. June is trying to get on their good side and tells them that they’ll do anything they want or say. The leader of this group tells them to go on the truck, and they drive off towards central Chicago. They are brought into what looks like an abandoned building but is filled with a lot of people. June attempts to plea their case, that they can be useful. The leader asks them which one is staying with him, and June asserts that is not what she meant. He responds by saying that’s all they have and that nothing is free here. Even though this isn’t “Gilead,” there seems to still be archaic ideals and judgements about Handmaids, treating them like a sex object. June refuses to have Janine be subject to this degradation, and stays.

The man then has the audacity to tell her, “I’m not gonna force you, you can just go,” as he unzips his pants. (This is the time where I would say I hate men and the patriarchy—and please know that I’m using this in a general term, and that I don’t actually hate all men. Let’s just end this tangent with, not all men but definitely this fucking guy.) June, on her knees, hesitant and visibly traumatized to do anything, asks him, “You’re not Mayday, are you?” He has no idea what she’s talking about, and June gets up, not able to do sacrifice more of herself. She leaves his little office area and goes back to Janine, who is looking through clothes to change into. June, visibly distressed, tells Janine that they’ll have to find somewhere else to go, and grabs clothes to change into.

We go back into a flashback to Janine at her apartment with her son, Caleb. She is happy, and deeply in love with him, and sings him to sleep. It then moves to her at the doctor’s—the real one— who asks Janine if she wants to be pregnant, to which she responds no. The doctor then asks if she is comfortable with her decision, and Janine says yes. The doctor says that nothing else matters, then, and gives her pills that will induce the abortion.

Returning to present day, June is getting changed out of her Handmaid’s outfit. Once she is in regular clothes, Janine brings over bread, signifying that she went up to the leader and did what he asked her to do so they could stay. All of this is done in silence, and June looks at Janine with a newfound respect, admiration, and also guilt for someone else protecting her, when she normally is the one do be the protector. Suffice it to say, Janine is an underestimated character, and with this episode, us as an audience have even deeper compassion and empathy for her. I’m sure as the season continues that we will see Janine come into her own a lot more.

Isabel Maina

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