The Handmaid’s Tale 410 – The Wilderness
Warning: This review contains spoilers!
The Wilderness explores the many faces of June Osborne and brings a successful and satisfying fourth season of The Handmaid’s Tale to a close. June’s journey from Gilead to Canada has been arduous filled tragedy and inspiration. Along the way viewers have been given a window into June’s inner thoughts and feelings but the opening moments of The Wilderness is perhaps the most insightful of the series. The glitz and glamour surrounding her twirl on the dance floor with Commander Waterford at Jezebels masks the quiet storm raging within her.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend and if the end justifies the means atrocities will be ignored. That’s the reality facing June after all the charges against Fred Waterford have been dropped now that he’s cooperating with the Americans. It’s a betrayal she’s unwilling to accept, and her anger percolating at a slow boil is unleashed in the process.
June’s seething is balanced by Trullo’s cool demeanor. The pre-credit sequence with June and the Commander dancing, and June playing along to save her life, is paralleled on a different dance floor and under different circumstances. June’s mistreatment isn’t being dismissed by the court, but she isn’t as valuable an asset to the Americans as Fred is. While June’s worth to Gilead made her a prisoner, the intel Fred provides on Gilead’s structure and inner workings ironically grants him freedom.
The Wilderness exposes the core motivations for several characters, particularly Serena. She flexes her muscles and makes demands not only concerning how Fred is being interrogated but what their living conditions will be like once he returns from Geneva. Her indignation speaks to her privilege and is an indication that she’s not remorseful for her complicity in the crimes against June. Trullo, chill as ever, hears her out but then throws a curious question her way that causes her to rethink her current strategy.
June’s struggles extend beyond what she sees as a miscarriage of justice. Moira’s push for her to go to Geneva to raise awareness of the Commander’s crimes doesn’t appeal to June. June seeks closure and Fred’s freedom denies her the satisfaction she craves. Her testimony rewinds unpleasant memories and justice denied is a roadblock for her to embrace freedom and move on with her life. The irony is that even though her body may be free her mind remains trapped, and she is being denied what is needed to break those chains.
June gets a chance to face her abuser outside of the court system’s glare. Her face-to-face meeting with Fred is tense. She circles her abuser like a shark and the vulnerability Fred displayed during his interrogation remains. The power dynamic has shifted and although their conversation is unexpectedly cathartic, there’s a look in June’s eyes that layers the scene with suspense and puts Fred’s safety in doubt.
Realizing that she can’t take matters into her own hands she reaches out to Trullo. Her outreach produces the first blip in Trullo’s demeanor, an indication that he too is walking a tightrope. Already a pawn in a political game, June eschews brute force and engages in some maneuvering of her own. Using Fred’s traitorous turn to her advantage she enlists Lawrence to make an offer that Trullo can’t refuse.
In the wilderness, the start of it all for June is where Fred eventually finds himself. The terror she felt when she was captured and lost Hannah envelopes Fred when his deal is revoked. It is the end of a slow tumble from the summit that included a frigid goodbye from Serena. She doesn’t need him, particularly outside of Gilead, and with his fall almost complete she refuses to be pulled down with him.
If revenge is a dish best served cold, then Fred’s was delivered directly from the freezer. The dance between June and Fred, featured in the The Wilderness’ opening moments finally ends. Ushered onto the dance floor by Lawrence and Nick, a bewildered Fred stands before June. She’s not alone though and with Emily and several former handmaids June exacts her bloody revenge. June’s macabre parting gift to his wife is symbolic and with the Commander out of the way Serena’s status becomes uncertain.
The final moments of The Wilderness are challenging. A blood-soaked June, bathed in angelic sunlight cradles Nichole and the scene encompasses everything that June is in one shot. Mother, victim, murderer, hero, and wife all describe June and the many faces she’s had to wear. Realizing what she’s done floors Luke and cements the reality that his June is gone forever. June’s healing is far from over and that aspect of her journey will no doubt be a focus during next season. Her quest to reunite with Hannah and whatever future she has with Luke will also be addressed but until then there will be ample time to revisit June’s triumphant journey.