The Handmaid’s Tale 404 – Milk
Warning: Review contains spoilers!
Living life on the other side of the tracks June and Janine hitch a ride on a train and head west in Milk. Any thoughts surrounding the title of this week’s episode become clear when June and Janine find themselves in a railcar full of milk. June has had a crazy few weeks since the season began and almost drowning in a sea of milk continues the adventure.
Milk is heavy, giving viewers and the characters pause to reflect on the consequences of recent events. June’s growing pains as a freedom fighter are laid bare with Janine pointing out the sacrifices people have made for her. Alma, Brianna and the other handmaids’ deaths are a direct result of June’s actions. Placed in a no-win situation, June chose her daughter over anything else. It’s a decision that Janine takes some time to digest, and she bristles when June argues that she’d have done the same thing if placed in her position. Monday morning quarterbacking is easy, even in a freezing railcar filled with milk especially considering the history surrounding Janine’s children and her subsequent psychological breakdown.
Rita is roped into Serena’s gambit to escape any punishment for June’s mistreatment in Gilead at the hands of the Waterfords. Using a soft sell approach, Serena informs Rita that she’s pregnant but doesn’t want Fred to know about it. Lavishing Rita with praise, Serena is looking for support during her pregnancy and for Rita to reassume the duties she carried out in Gilead. She then has Trullo approach Rita with documents from her lawyer to exonerate her from any of the crimes against June that she was an accomplice to. Serena miscalculates the situation, and badly. Not only does Rita reject her offer, but she also exercises her freedom and newfound power, revealing Serena’s pregnancy and the baby’s gender to Fred. It’s the first time I’ve seen an ultrasound used a mic drop and Rita pulls it off brilliantly.
June and Janine’s milk run ends abruptly when their train is attacked by some freedom fighters. Reluctantly taken in the duo find themselves on the frontlines of the war and quickly discover that there are no heroes on any side of the divide. Steven, the leader of the outfit quickly shatters any illusions surrounding him when he says that either June or Janine must pleasure him sexually for them to stay. Steven’s quip about America and sex slaves hits differently when he propositions them and doesn’t get any better after he reveals that he isn’t going to force them to do anything they don’t want to. June steps in to save Janine from any more harm but is too disgusted to go through with it and is left frustrated and disillusioned.
Janine has been struggling for agency for a long time. A pawn of the system before Gilead she struggled to get proper care and advice for an unwanted pregnancy. Her first visit to a clinic had the embryonic echoes of Gilead filling her with horror stories of what health risks the abortion could bring about. It’s only after Janine gets a second opinion that she’s able to make an informed decision and get the care she needs. Fast forward to the present and Janine makes the choice to do what June wouldn’t. Janine’s actions saved them and the fact that she made the choice on her own allows her to deal with any misgivings she may have.
Milk is a subtle yet thought provoking look at how free will and the choices one makes can have long lasting effects. Janine’s actions make June reflect on her rant in the railcar. Her regret at bringing her along was borne out of frustration but nonetheless shouldn’t have been said. Rita’s mic drop will have interesting ramifications for the Waterfords who now appear to be only looking out for themselves. There is also the curious mystery of Mayday, who we now know isn’t Steven. June’s journey as a rebel leader continues to experience growing pains but with the lessons learned in Milk, she’s a few steps closer to achieving her goal.