The Handmaid’s Tale 408 – Testimony
Warning: This review contains spoilers!
“We’re not all like you.”
After years of abuse and mistreatment June’s fight for justice is realized in Testimony. A powerful episode that forces several of the players to re-examine their place in the world, Testimony tackles the concept of power and its myriad of facets ahead of June’s testimony against the Waterfords.
Testimony begins with former handmaids in a support group led by Moira sharing their feelings on the eve of June’s appearance in court. A mysterious woman confronts Emily wanting to talk but the encounter is an uneasy one. Moira and June intervene but not before the woman slips Emily her number and leaves. Emily is visibly shaken and some more information comes to light during dinner at the Osborne’s. The woman’s name is Iris Baker and she was Emily’s Aunt Irene in Gilead. Emily’s trauma laced past with Iris is something she’d prefer to let go but June encourages her to face her former Aunt. June has grown increasingly militant since arriving north of the boarder and her combative relationship with Aunt Lydia colors the advice she gives Emily.
June’s impending testimony has everyone on edge. Luke struggles to be supportive while being kept at a distance. At June’s request he won’t be there when she takes the stand and that combined with her mercurial behavior eats away at him. The Waterfords experience choppy waters as well but what is most interesting is the shift in power dynamics between the two. A very pregnant Serena is calling the shots, taking the lead on things much like she did before Gilead came to be. Fred, trying to reclaim some of his power, is a shell of his former self and is reduced to taking petty shots at her when she won’t join him in court.
Aunt Lydia gets her turn in the spotlight but her damaged reputation leads to an explosive outburst. Reinstated as an aunt, Lydia doesn’t take too kindly to a couple of her colleagues laughing at her while she watches some handmaids scrubbing floors. Unable to lash out at the aunts she gets taser happy with a handmaid and even lashes out at one of the giggling aunts. Lydia’s tightly wound persona begins to fray. Her failure to control June stings and Lawrence uses some reverse psychology to rebuild her self esteem. Her new assignment is a surprise especially when he reveals that Janine is alive.
Testimony has some powerful scenes, especially the one involving June’s account of the legally and illegally sanctioned rapes she suffered in Gilead. The shot is done in one take with the camera slowly closing in on June’s face as she stands before the court in what seems like a recap of the series. When the litany of crimes committed against her are revealed all at once it’s almost unbelievable to comprehend what she has gone through. The final moments of June’s testimony, a close up with her eyes locked on the viewer, isn’t just a plea for justice for her. It’s a call for all women who’ve had to face sexual abuse and injustice to be heard. It’s a powerful moment punctuated by Luke nodding silently, understanding in some small way what his wife had to endure. Upon cross examination, the tone in the courtroom shifts. June’s character is questioned and when Fred defends Gilead’s way of life June stops him in his tracks. Refusing to be hurt by them anymore she walks out of the courtroom, defiant and unwilling to let the abuse she suffered define her.
Testimony is about power including the power of forgiveness. June’s decision to bring Iris into the support group at first appears to be a moment of healing. Forgiveness though is the last thing on her mind. June’s fury blinds her to the fact that there are victims on both sides with the system turning women against each other. Emily’s rejection of Iris offers her some solace but the consequences show that any healing will be a long and difficult process.
June’s journey is far from over. A cauldron of repressed rage, the tools she needed to survive in Gilead and then escape it don’t translate well in her new surroundings. She’s not ready and is perhaps incapable of being vulnerable and emotionally available for Luke. He’s a victim as well but June is no different than any prisoner of war who has had to endure endless torture before being dropped back into society.
Janine’s survival is a welcome sight and her scene with Aunt Lydia is an interesting one. The tone is in direct contrast to the one between June and Lydia in The Crossing. The confrontational tone is gone replaced by a muted, understated back and forth between the two. Lydia’s words at first seem to be directed at Janine but in fact they are for her. She realizes the corruption in the system and Janine’s quiet defiance crystalizes that what she’s fighting to protect isn’t as virtuous as she’d like to believe.
Testimony is layered and challenging with more than a few surprises. The fallout from Gilead’s crimes produces several outcomes. The Waterfords, despite their atrocities, get to take a victory lap after their court appearance. Emily is correct. Not everyone is June Osborne and the path she walks isn’t for everyone. Emily realizes this when she has a change of heart and reaches out to Iris only to be too late. June’s anger and influence threatens to spill over and break apart the pillars of what kept her going through her struggles. The battle she wages is now an internal one as she fights to reclaim who she once was.