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The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 Episode 9 Review: Triumphs & Horrors

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The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 Episode 9, “Progress,” was a roller coaster of emotions. There were moments that felt like triumphs of freedom, and moments that reminded you of just what a high cost that freedom brings. I’m still processing a lot that happened, so let’s analyze it together.

This is a review of The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 Episode 9, so there will be spoilers.

The Ending Was Pure, Raw Emotion

Let’s just jump right into the ending, since that’s what we’re all thinking about.

We learned that Tuello made a deal with Fred to where he gets pardoned for his crimes in exchange for turning on Gilead and providing intel to Canada. The news was unexpected. Luke asks Tuello what’s next and how they can use the information that Nick gave them to get Hannah back. It’s an innocent moment, where everyone is still on the same side for the very last time. But then Tuello drops the bomb and tells them they have a new asset in Toronto.

“He knows how the system operates,” Tuello says. “He could advise us… [It’s] Fred Waterford… He just agreed to share his wealth of knowledge, inside information about Gilead, all its top players, future plans… in exchange for his freedom. The prosecution has dropped his charges.”

As Tuello is leaving, June races after him, calling out that Fred is a rapist and Tuello knows what he did to her and the other women. “I’m going to kill you,” she screams as Luke tries to hold her back. The moment is rife with emotion, and the camera sometimes shifts into a slow motion view as June is yelling, quickly shifting back to a more normal pace, helping us feel as off-balance as June is feeling in that moment.

Many fans have said in online discussions that they can understand both sides in this story. June’s anger is completely understandable and justified. Who wouldn’t feel the same? Fred Waterford is a monster. He should not go free. (I have to wonder just what that freedom even means. He’s no longer being prosecuted. But they can’t just let him roam free or he might go back to Gilead, right?)

At the same time, Tuello has a chance to bring down the monster that is Gilead and free thousands of more women who are being tortured. But that’s only if Fred can be trusted. And that’s a huge question. Tuello is trying to see the big picture and save thousands of lives. And yet, Fred should be punished for his horrific crimes. It’s a terrible situation, either way.

Elisabeth Moss played that scene perfectly, and you could just feel her rage coming out of the screen. But Sam Jaeger, who plays Mark Tuello, also did a phenomenal, understated job with his character. Tuello was clearly uncomfortable and trying to end the conversation as quickly as he could, feeling unhappy with the decision he had to make.

But what is June going to do next? Is she going to make Tuello the focus of her revenge? Is she going after Fred? It’s unclear how she’s going to handle this feeling of unjustice and raw, unbridled anger.

June’s Meeting with Nick Was Full of Symbolism & Longing

Before delving into June’s meeting with Nick, I have to step back and give a moment of appreciation to Luke. Luke knows that June and Nick were in love. He is raising Nichole as his own child, but he knows that Nick is the true father. But he’s also a loving father first and foremost, and he’s going to put aside his own feelings for the sake of Hannah. So even if it breaks his heart (and terrifies him to put June in this situation), he’s suggesting that June meet up with Nick to try to get Hannah back. That was a true act of selflessness.

June’s meeting with Nick, meanwhile, was full of pure longing and symbolism. From the Magdalene school where they met to the pink Gilead daughter colors that Nichole was dressed in… Everything had a deeper, symbolic meaning.

While they met, most of Nick’s attention was on June. He brought a gift for Nichole, but you could tell he’s not as emotionally attached to his daughter, since they’ve been separated for most of her life. But his heart is still deeply entwined with June’s, and he cares for Nichole. He’s been thinking about June so much that he gathered all that information about Hannah already for her. And while June has been mostly tense and uncomfortable reuniting with Luke, she was immediately at ease and smiling with Nick.

Fans debate the healthiness of Nick and June’s love, wondering if it was simply born from trauma and not a true relationship that should be pursued outside of Gilead. And it’s still unclear just what Nick’s motives are, or whose side he is truly on. But whatever your position on their relationship, one can’t deny that they do love each other.

In the end, their meeting appeared to also be a final goodbye. Nick urged June to try be happy (which, without being spoken, included finding happiness with Luke if she can.) But at the same time, he hid his wedding ring from her.

I would think it would be easier for June to move on if she knew he was married again, but for some reason he hid that from her. (And could this mean he has a Handmaid of his own too? Yikes.) There have always been small contradictions like that with Nick. He said he wished he had run away with her, but here he was in Canada with the ability to do just that if he wished. Nick is playing some kind of long game, but it’s unclear what it ultimately will be.

Could Janine Become an Aunt?

Janine is in training to be a Handmaid again 😭, but Aunt Lydia knows she’s not right for the position after all she’s been through. She’s treating Janine with a softer hand than she did in the past, and Janine is using that “freedom” to try to help Esther. The child, heartbreakingly, is also going to be a Handmaid. After all the abuse she’s been through, she was ready to die rather than become one. But Janine was able to reach Esther and convince her to play along, if only so that she can live long enough to see things get better.

The whole thing is heartbreaking. We know that she’s likely in for a world of future hurt. Everything in Gilead is just so unfair. I can only hope that Janine and Esther are secretly plotting something.

And while Aunt Lydia appears to be softening, I can’t help but wonder if it’s going to last. Commander Lawrence gave her permission last week to do whatever she wanted with Janine. I thought she would use that freedom to torture her, but instead she is treating her with more caution than she did the other Handmaids. Does that mean she would be kinder if she were ever truly left to her own devices? Or at the very least, will she learn from Janine that there is a better way besides the horrific things she’s been doing?

There was one interesting scene where the Aunts all sat at a long table in a clear callback to the Last Supper, with Aunt Lydia in the place of Jesus and the two Aunts who doubt her the most at her left and right sides. It was an interesting symbolic choice. Since I still don’t like Aunt Lydia, I’m not sure how I feel about her being put in Jesus’ position at the table. Maybe it’s more about how Aunt Lydia thinks about herself?

As for Janine, I’m still wondering what is going to happen to her. It’s possible that she will become an Aunt, although it’s hard to believe Gilead would do so for someone who is still fertile. Could they bend the rules enough to make her a wife?

Is Tuello, Serena, or Fred the Ultimate Manipulator?

I have so many questions as I think back on this episode. But one that truly bugs me is whose plan is being fulfilled by Fred deciding to flip on Gilead. Is it Tuello’s manipulations behind the scenes that are at work? When the Putnams visited (likely under diplomatic immunity), did Tuello allow it because he assumed it would go badly for Fred? I’ve also always wondered if Serena and Fred were kept in such posh jails so they’d view Canada more as a friend than an enemy, and thus be more likely to turn on Gilead.

Or is Fred’s flipping on Gilead more a result of Serena manipulating him? When she spoke with Naomi, she realized that if Fred is found guilty and she’s raising the baby alone, then Gilead is going to make a play for her child. And she realized that if she’s ever sent back to Gilead, she could be made into a Handmaid. Her only future lies in finding freedom in Canada with Fred. So perhaps she was trying to push Fred to make this decision for her own sake.

However, I can’t help but notice that Tuello spoke only of Fred’s freedom and not Serena’s. Does this mean that Serena’s freedom was always assumed? Or did Fred turn on Serena too and only negotiate his own freedom? I guess only time (and next week) will tell.

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    Stephanie Dwilson started Post Apocalyptic Media with her husband Derek. She's a licensed attorney and has a master's in science and technology journalism. You can reach her at [email protected].

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