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Let’s chat The Handmaid’s Tale episode 4.05 – “Chicago”. When an episode finally does something I legitimately did not see coming…
June is (maybe) on her way out of the Gilead conflict and on to sweeter pastures in Canada with Moira, Luke, Nichole, and Emily! Well, that’s at least what the show wants you to think. Since we know there is going to be a season 5, I seriously doubt that June’s conflict in Gilead is coming to a close any time soon.
Nevertheless, Bruce Miller has maneuvered The Handmaid’s Tale into the most interesting territory since it began it’s ran four seasons ago. June has an actual choice to make here, and have it not be a plot reaction.
First let’s talk about choice. No, not “oh man, should I choose chocolate or vanilla”? But a choice is when an obstacle is put in front of you and there are two valid options around the obstacle. Both sides have pros, both sides have cons – but a choice reveals who the character is, it moves plot or story forward, and hopefully it subverts our expectations. Here is the perfect example of choice in film – Indiana Jones choosing to not take home the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade:
Indy can choose to go for the cup – which he and his father have been searching for his entire life and it’s JUST within reach – and he could potentially die. Or, he can choose to “let it go”, and continue to live the rest of his life with his father. It’s an excellent scenario.
As for The Handmaid’s Tale, most of the events are “plot reactions”. Plot reactions are when people make “choices” which are self evident and obvious. Plot reactions don’t reveal who the character is, and they don’t change the plot in any measurable way – they exist simply to move the story forward. When June saves Janine a bunch of times throughout the show, those are plot reactions. When June is faced with her child being hurt, or giving up the whereabouts of the Handmaids – it’s a plot reaction. What OTHER choice does she have – watch her kid get killed, or tell Gilead where her friends are? She’s always going to choose her kid. She stays exactly the same as a character, and the show continues because it needs to get all the Handmaids back in one space. PLOT REACTION.
But the ending of this episode, once again, feels different.
Many people will probably quibble over the logic behind the deal-making between Lawrence, Nick, and Aunt Lydia. I get it, who gets what when they give X and the other person gets Y? It’s all Plotty McPlot stuff that ultimately gets us to the actual thing. Chicago is not going well, Gilead is under some fiscal pressure and they need relief – so they have a cease fire and allow aide workers in the battle to garner international support. Nick has the potential to save June, Lawrence gets a seat back at the table, and Lydia is once again the Aunt for the new crop of Handmaids. Some will probably also argue about the logic behind the bombing of Chicago before the relief arrives; while it doesn’t make a ton of sense off the jump, my answer is: why should it have to make sense? Nothing Gilead does makes sense. It’s like asking Nic Cage to act normally and rationally. But that will never happen, and we should never expect it to happen because he’s bananas.
No, the end of this episode is different because June finally has a real choice to make – go to Canada and be with her family, or stay in Gilead to search for Janine and continue to “lead” the fight? This is not suggesting she leave Hannah behind, but we’ve already seen the interaction between she and Hannah a billion times now and it always ends the same. June has to leave and try again another time. June can still try and save Hannah, but this time it might be from a more comfortable place where she can formulate an actual plan with people who truly have her back. This choice is all about what is best for June at the moment, and it might even serve as a great exercise in the previous episode’s theme – You can take the person out of Gilead, but can you take the Gilead out of the person?
The real choice is whether or not June can actually leave behind the battle in Gilead as well as the need to be the leader in that battle? Is she the person who is responsible for the “Angels Flight”, or is she the dutiful wife who can revert back to being the dutiful wife of Luke? Despite all her attempts to escape Gilead and be free of all the patriarchal shackles of the Gileadean(?) culture, does she actually want to be free or does she enjoy the fight too much now? Steven, as a character, is a great representation of a world gone sour and just because you leave Gilead doesn’t mean that the rest of the world isn’t full of more Stevens. There will ALWAYS be a Steven holding June back, or telling her she can’t do something, or imposing his will on women who aren’t strong enough to fight them off.
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I was initially annoyed with June when she kept eyeing the gun, or defying Steven’s orders during the search party. Ugh, I thought, it’s just June being June – she can’t listen to anyone and she thinks she’s smarter than all he peers. But, ultimately, it is June being June. Not in a bad way, but in a way that she has evolved to become, and this ENTIRE season has been about this transition. June no longer has the moral high ground of the fight she is fighting – whether it’s about Janine, the Angels flight, or even saving Hannah. Now her goal is simply to inflict pain on Gilead for the sake of doing it – killing commanders with poison, hurting Lydia because she can, or joining a group called “The Nighthawks” which has one goal, and one goal only — flame broil as many Gilead soldiers as possible. June has transformed herself into a vengeful killing machine that wants to take down Gilead because Gilead deserves to fall.
It was easy for June to rebuff any attempts to leave Gilead for Canada before – she had the excuse of Hannah being held captive. or she wanted to save those children on the flight, so on and so on. But now she has a true friend in Moira who has happened up on her in the streets of Chicago. How can June turn Moira down, especially after everything they have endured together? Is she really going to willingly turn down a clear opportunity to see Luke, see Nichole, and continue a more manageable fight from the comfort of New America? This is a real choice – one that will affect the plot of the story, inform us about June’s character, and hopefully it will subvert our expectations for June.
What’s also important about this choice is that it actually does happen in the exact midpoint of our season – when the drama reaches it’s highest peak and is supposed to give us the story altering moment which should fuel the rest of the plot going forward. We only have ten episodes this season, and it makes sense that Moira potentially saves June.
Just because June is saved though, doesn’t mean that she will stay that way. Remember, you can take the person out of Gilead, but can you take the Gilead out of the person? It’s no coincidence that we have witnessed Asher struggle, or Rita struggle. It’s no coincidence that the Waterfords are pregnant and could potentially be on the way to reconciliation. And it’s certainly no coincidence that everything Luke and Moira have been doing to raise funds for the fight against Gilead has felt meaningless and uneventful – because it is. While June was fighting, Luke and Moira were having dinner with donors, or giving speeches about June. Who is to say that June chooses to leave Gilead, but can’t stay in Canada because the fight in Gilead keeps calling out to her? That will also be an interesting choice – especially if Janine goes unfound, because as we all know from Aunt Lydia, Handmaids always walk together.
APROPOS OF NOTHING:
- The final 20 minutes or so – when June is walking to find the Nighthawks alone – is incredible. From the quiet paranoia, to Janine finding June, the bombing and the aftermath of the bombing, I was on the edge of my seat.
- I was genuinely surprised that Moira sees June. Now, the odds of Moira finding June on the exact right street at the exact right time in the exact right city are ASTRONOMICALLY low. But, I’ll go along to get along. Sometimes narrtivium has to happen.
- I LOVE watching the very purposeful contrasting between June and Lydia – both trying to find their war and fighting to get back to the roles of leadership the once had.
- Another incredible benefit this episode provides is injecting some grey back into Commander Lawrence’s character. Who’s side is he actually on? Why does he want a seat back at the table so badly? Is it just an excuse to do what he does best in fixing the economy? Or is it because he, like Nick, wants to save June? Now that he has seemed to lose everyting – his wife, his job, and his stature – why is he trying so hard to reform a country which he knows is dead in the water?
The Handmaid’s Tale: Episode 4.05 – Chicago | Review And Analysis