The Handmaid’s Tale 401 – Pigs
Warning: Review contains spoilers!
The Handmaid’s Tale returns for a fourth season with Pigs, and it doesn’t take long to pull viewers into the events shortly after last season’s finale. June, bleeding profusely from her gunshot wound, has her injuries tended to by her fellow fugitive Handmaids. When June’s wound is cauterized, a scene played out in countless action movies, it reinforces her heroism in not only helping liberate the planeload of children from Gilead but her war against the system.
Word of June’s actions reach across the boarder causing an already prickly meeting to become even more uncomfortable. The tension between Commander Waterford and Serena is evident, bordering on combative, and when U.S. Government-In Exile rep. Mark Tuello informs them of the 86 children now on Canadian soil the ramifications of it immediately sink in. The news is particularly difficult to digest once they learn that June is one of the architects behind it.
The fallout of children escaping Gilead is vast, pulling Aunt Lydia into its vortex. Spared a harsher rebuke than what was expected, the council condemned her failings. Lydia’s physical bruises parallel the beating her ego takes after enduring their stinging criticisms but it is only after the council denigrates the Handmaidens that she rediscovers her backbone. Still loyal to the cause, Lydia spits her venom towards June at the same time throwing shade at the council for their inability to reign her in. Aunt Lydia, like June is battered but not broken and awaits the day she can exact revenge on her nemesis.
June and the other Handmaids find refuge at a farm as her condition deteriorates. Nursed back to health, June slowly regains her strength and Pigs slows down a bit. While the farm is a safe space for June and her fellow Handmaids, it’s also the stage for another battle. June’s hero status ignites hope for a war against Gilead in the uncomfortably young mistress of the farm, Mrs. Esther Keyes. They say never meet your heroes and this applies to Mrs. Keyes. Chain smoking and full of vinegar, her infatuation quickly dissolves into disgust when June isn’t as militant as she is.
Commander Lawrence has a battle on his hands as well. Imprisoned and on trial in absentia, his fate looks bleak. Nick tries to soften what might be the outcome of his trial but Lawrence is no fool. Ever the politician, Lawrence realizes that Gilead’s retaliation for losing the children could result in the loss of millions of lives. Invading Canada and the resulting carnage would negate any chance at a diplomatic solution. It would also destroy June’s legacy and Lawrence tugs at Nick’s heartstrings in a bid to effect change.
The Handmaid’s Tale has always been challenging and at times difficult to watch. Fully embracing horror and dystopia, the series forces you to confront injustice and Gilead’s brutality. The disposability of people is highlighted once again in Pigs. Esther, a tragic figure plucked from childhood and forced into Gilead’s twisted reproductive system, is as physically and emotionally scarred as Janine or June. Her journey is different but the cost to her humanity is the same. Esther’s outbursts and odd behavior are a result of her struggling to gain some control in a world were she essentially has none.
Pigs is bleak, and the episode’s muted palate reflects it. The seeming tranquility of the farm masks the terrors committed there. Esther triggers June but she is quickly brought back to reality by Alma and the Handmaids singing and dancing in the barn. Change is slow and progress is often an uneven journey. Esther’s revenge is not only a coming of age for her but represents an evolution for June as well. Her leadership will have to match the upcoming conflict even if blood needs to be spilled to achieve freedom.