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The Handmaid's Tale - Liars - Review

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The Handmaid’s Tale “Liars” was written by Yahlin Chang and was directed by Deniz Gamze Erguven, who is a Cannes award-winning director. Erguven hails from Turkey, which she has described politically in terms which seem reminiscent of Gilead. This was another beautifully acted, directed, and written episode. So many threads coming together and perfect musical choices. As always the cinematography is simply stunning. The commentary this show continues to use to shine a light on so many issues plaguing the world right now is just so important.

This episode begins with a close up on the muffins from last week. June (Elisabeth Moss) is musing that she had 52 yeses – and now she has to find a way to get them out. Her new purpose is reflected in a new look – her hair is down and she is only half in red – she’s just wearing her white slip(?). She only has 10 seats – and is at a loss as to how to make that math work. Feeling overwhelmed, June reminds herself that Moira (Samira Wiley) would tell her that she needs to keep her shit together.

June isn’t the only one feeling overwhelmed, however, and June’s musings are interrupted by Eleanor (Julie Dretzin) pulling a gun on Lawrence (Bradley Whitford). Lawrence tells June to go and tells Eleanor that he loves her. Is he trying to protect June? Does some part of him think he deserves this? Is he worried about what will happen to Eleanor if she does shoot him? She’d definitely end up dead too.

But June isn’t going anywhere – women have to stick together, and it’s clear that while Eleanor might be a wife, she’s not one of “them.” June tells Eleanor that Eleanor doesn’t want to be a murderer, but Eleanor is also focused on June – June was raped and brutalized because of Lawrence. June admits that she’d like to kill Lawrence too, but you can’t always do what you want – and this is a beautiful bit of foreshadowing for the end of the episode when June does what she wants without thinking through the implications first…

June tells Eleanor that they have to control themselves. Eleanor insists it’s all Lawrence’s fault, but June tells her it’s not all his fault. Eleanor is responsible for Gilead – but so are all of the women for not doing something before. Eleanor insists that she’s doing something now. June tells her that now they need Lawrence. June needs Lawrence’s and her help to carry out her plan. She tells Eleanor that it will make things better – and we beautifully return to June’s thoughts on math – all this has to add up to something. It has to mean something. June calmly asks for Eleanor’s help as she takes the gun and draws her into a hug. Lawrence watches stunned from where he’s kneeling on the floor. Can I just say again that this may be the best acting that I’ve ever seen from Whitford? And Dretzin is simply fantastic every episode.

After she settles Eleanor in her room, June joins Lawrence for a drink. He calls her the ice queen – how little he knows her. He thanks her – bitterly – for doing everything. She tells him that she’s found the Marthas to help get the kids – and then tells him it was “more than she expected”… understatement! Lawrence is stunned when she tells him 52. He tells her she sounds crazy and then goes on to muse how part of the equation that they overlooked was mental health – um, yeah… and another gross understatement – look at June and Emily’s sanity – not to mention Janine and Eleanor herself!

June tells Lawrence that he owes her. He knows that she’s staying – and is clearly expecting her to continue to be a problem. He goes on to muse that they also overlooked maternal love – June isn’t going without Hannah. Lawrence tells June that he needs to get Eleanor out, so he’ll do it. He’ll try to get more trucks. June sarcastically muses, “Wouldn’t it be funny if you turned out to be a hero?” There’s really no way for Lawrence to ever adequately make up for what he’s done though.

Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) and Fred (Joseph Fiennes) set off on a trip. There’s a beautiful shot of Serena – first we get a closeup of her face. She looks worried and the lighting her is terrific, just her eyes are lit, the rest of her face in shadow. It feels very film noir. She stands rigidly at attention as two men enter the building and pay no attention to her whatever.

Rita (Amanda Brugel) brings Serena her overnight bag. It’s so true when Rita tells her that she tried not to overpack, but you still need the same number of toiletries even for one night! Of course, one wonders how many Gilead women are even allowed anyway… The two women are shot from behind and beautifully framed by the doorway. They are further framed by the two Eyes we can see standing guard outside. Rita asks Serena how close they are to bringing Nichole back. Serena tells her that they’re closer than ever – they are taking a more personal approach because it’s hard to get governments to agree. In other words, they – or more accurately Serena – are doing an end run around the red tape. Serena will give up everything to get Nichole back.

Rita takes a real chance when she asks Serena if this is really what’s best for Nichole. Rita helped to get the baby out, away from what it means to be a woman in Gilead. Serena just smiles and thanks Rita for how much she loves Nichole – or hey, Serena, how about how much Rita knows what it’s like to be a woman in Gilead…. She touches foreheads with Rita as she tells her “may the Lord bless you and keep you.” Serena is clearly saying goodbye – or at least it’s obvious in retrospect. There’s another great image of Rita reflected in the car window that we see Serena’s face through – juxtaposing the two women.

As Serena turns to Fred, he says “may the Lord bless our endeavor.” She compliments the car as suiting him, and he admits that it feels good to drive again. It has become increasingly clear that Gilead is like a runaway train. Everyone has been surprised by what it’s cost them – though arguably Fred’s pleasure in being able to drive again, is a nice juxtaposition of Serena actually being in the driver’s seat for what’s coming next.

The Marthas come to see June, and Beth (Kristen Gutoskie) warns her to just answer their questions and not to say anything extra. They meet in the basement appropriate as this feels like an underground railway. The leader of the Martha’s (Deidrie Henry) asks June who asked her to try to get the kids out. Reese (Debora Demestre) tells June it’s a dumb idea, and lead Martha says that they are shutting her down – and then threatens her, telling her that they could poison June and dump her body in the river to look like a suicide! June then asks for permission (sulkily!) to rescue children from a life of salvages, torture, and rape. All the Marthas answer to them, so she has to get their permission.

June tells them that Lawrence will get the vehicles – they’ve done it before. Reese tells her that she’s done nothing but jump on an already moving train. June tells them that there will be an escape vehicle – even if they can make sure it’s empty – but why would they do that? Prevent kids from having a better life – and doesn’t that just resonate with what’s happening in the US right now? At this point, Beth finally jumps in and speaks for June. She also points out that June saved the “five” from Chicago – and I love how this comes back to save June – if you remember the earlier episode when June got to pick the women Lawrence would save from the camps in Chicago….

Helen (Diane Johnstone) reveals that they are expecting a shipment through Billy (Daniel Jun), and it’s later revealed that Beth knows him from Jezebel’s and set him up to be their contact. June promises not to interfere with the Marthas’ plans. Helen tells June that they won’t stand in her way but they also won’t help or protect her. She also tells her that June’s plan has a small chance for success but a better likelihood that June will end up dead. She also tells her that any Marthas killed will be on June.

We get lots of overhead shots of Serena and Fred driving across country on straight roads through barren countryside – it’s a nice metaphor for their relationship – and how Serena feels without Nichole. Of course, it’s also a reflection of their filming schedule…. Fred comments on the freedom of the open road, and compliments Serena for being smart in suggesting it. Their conversation seems to indicate that Fred thinks they’ve pulled one over on Tuello (Sam Jaeger), but as the title of the episode indicates, there are many liars in this episode.

Serena comments that the Americans underestimate their devotion and think that they are as weak as they are. Serena could just as easily be discussing Fred’s (and the other men’s) underestimating her devotion to “her” child – that maternal instinct Lawrence already brought up – and that women are as weak as men. Women have proven through the brutality of Gilead that they are strong just to survive. Serena also remarks on how Gilead has returned the world to its natural state. Is she having regrets? Is she proud on some level of what she’s done? And then Fred suggests that Serena take a turn driving. At first, she seems almost afraid of the offer.

Fred takes her hand as he passes her behind the car and tells her that she’s “got this.” I loved Strahovski here as we see Serena look back down the road, a look of determination on her face. She helped create Gilead, to make it a fertile world again, for the sole purpose of getting herself a baby. And she smiles as she turns her back on it and looks ahead down the road before getting in the driver’s seat. She speeds down the road a wild smile on her face and the top down while Chubby Checker sings “Let’s Twist Again” – like we did last summer. Fred encourages her to go faster.

The two arrive at a beautiful old house in the country. It’s a bed and breakfast run by an econo-family. The daughter remarks that she loves the color that Serena is wearing. Of course, an econo child would aspire to move up in the world as a wife… Serena is really the only deep color in this shot as all the econos – and Fred are dressed in grey and the room is washed out by sun coming in the window.

This grey contrasts with the next scene in the Lawrence kitchen where June is helping Beth prepare dinner and June’s red dress and the food add color. June is also pumping Beth for information about the shipment and Billy the bartender – she picked him to handle the blackmarket stuff at Jezebel’s when she left – she tells June that she trusts him “with money” – in other words he can be bought. Sienna (Sugenja Sri) brings Eleanor’s untouched tray down – and then they discover that the Lawrences have fled! Lawrence’s office is full of shredded files and the car is gone. Lawrence left a message – Sorry.

June discovers that the gun is gone. She tries to call out on the phone, but she can’t make a direct call – it has to go through an operator. Beth is sure that they are fucked. June reassures her that they have time – at least two days to make a plan. June has the idea of using the shipment plane to get the kids out. Beth has given up hope and regrets having vouched for June.

Meanwhile, Serena and Fred enjoy listening to the Econo family sing after dinner. Serena is clearly moved by being in the presence of such a large family and takes a walk out into the woods. Fred follows her. He thinks that she’s worried about bringing Nichole back to Gilead. The two reminisce about their first apartment. Serena talks about writing her first book there. Fred tells her that she’s a good writer, and she wants to know how he could take that away from her. Again, Strahovski is brilliant here. It’s amazing that we can still feel sympathy for Serena after all that she has done. It’s a tribute to both Strahavski’s acting skills and the writers having built such a complex character – moreso than in the novel, I’d suggest. Fred apologizes and says he didn’t realize how much it would cost her.

Serena asks if he ever wonders what might have happened if Gilead hadn’t. Fred suggests that Serena would have been more successful than he would have been, and she counters that he would have become resentful and divorced her to find a fertile woman. Is this essentially what Serena is doing – becoming resentful and leaving? Fred suggests that it’s more likely that she would have left him for a man more capable of giving her a child – and that really does seem to be what’s happening anyway.

Serena points out that he’s just saying that because of where they are – it’s not where they live. It’s a safe space. Fred suggests that they could retire to such a place. He tells her that he doesn’t need all the pomp and ceremony, but Serena points out that he loves DC and they worked hard to make a place through currying favor with the Winslows. Fred tells her he doesn’t care about the Winslows – and this just might be the case – maybe he’s regretting having gotten so close to Winslow (Christopher Meloni) because it’s quite clear that Winslow has sexual expectations when it comes to Fred…

Fred surprises Serena by telling her that he doesn’t want to miss seeing their daughter grow up. He tells her that she’s going to be just like her. Surprisingly, in bed that night, Fred reaches out to Serena, and she reaches back – and then invites him into her bed. It seems as if the two have completely made up.

June is deep in planning when suddenly the Lawrences return. Lawrence claims to have had an attack of conscience and June calls bullshit. June points out that he promised to help her, and he counters that she should have known. She questions “that you were a liar?” taking us back to the title again, but what June should have known was that Eleanor is more important than June.

      Lawrence finally confesses that he can’t get even so much as a mouse out. They’ve got him. It’s just a matter of time. June tells him what she told herself at the beginning of the episode – keep your shit together. Lawrence promises to try to keep June from the worst of it – the colonies or Jezebel’s. He’ll try to find her a kind commander. June refuses to think about it, concentrating on her plan and insisting that Lawrence take her to the city.

He drives her into the city, but won’t go into Jezebel’s with her. He tells her that he’ll wait – and she tells him that he’d better. It’s always disorienting to see June in makeup and heels! We also get some very different music to go along with the horrors going on in every corner. June makes contact with Billy at the bar. She tells him that Beth needs his help. June wants to use the cargo plane – she wants to get Beth, both the Lawrences and the children out. She’s planning on using the artwork that Lawrence has stolen to pay for it. June wants the plane to stay on the ground for 24 hours – he says she’ll be lucky to get 20 minutes. But he does tell her maybe…

June thinks she’s home free – and then Winslow is there. He wants to “talk” and takes her up to a room. I loved how the sliding doors make the bed area look like a prison. She tells him that Lawrence brought her there for fun. He likes her to come to Jezebel’s and tell him what happens. She points out that they all seem to have their kinks. It’s no surprise that Winslow wants to give June something to tell Lawrence. Moss is once again brilliant in this scene – and it’s also a sequence we’ve seen before.

      Her internal monologue that she can do it again, like all the other times, doesn’t quite seem to line up with the look on her face. She tells herself – as she told Lawrence – to treat it like a job. To pretend not to be present. Winslow watches through the barrier – like someone looking in a zoo – and tells her to take off her panties, but leave the shoes on, and to lie face down. June keeps talking to herself, but then she just can’t do it and she kicks him away.

The two fight brutally. June picks up a pen and stabs him over and over. It’s a nice echo of Serena’s comments about having her writing taken away – and a symbol of the control all the women have lost. June gets away and picks up a statue. And yes. That is a statue of a woman… Winslow makes a plea – “my children” – but it’s the wrong tactic considering how many of his children he’s stolen. June collapses on the floor as Winslow dies.

June’s good deed comes back to save her when the Martha comes in for housekeeping turns out to be Maureen (Elizabeth Whitmere) – one of the women that June saved from the cages in Chicago. Her careful choices really help her out here as Maureen not only gets June out, but takes care of all the cleanup. It’s also telling that as June staggers out without her shoes, bloody and beaten, no one gives her a second look. They all have their own kinks, remember. Lawrence doesn’t ask any questions – he just drives when June tells him to. This is also a nice parallel to Fred driving Serena – also to his own doom?

Fred and Serena rendez vous with Tuello, who tells them to follow him to a safe place nearby where they can talk safely. Fred finally asks how well Serena knows him and whether she trusts him. Serena tells him yes and even touches his arm in reassurance. The two follow and we get some gorgeous overhead shots as the two cars move further and further into the seeming wilderness and the open fields disappear into trees that press in from every side. Fred starts to become nervous – he doesn’t know where he is, but this is not “just up ahead…” They finally pass over a bridge that looks like a mouth with teeth… the trap is closing.

Tuello finally stops. Fred gets out and wants to know where the hell they are. Tuello tells him that he’s in Canada and he’s being arrested for human rights violations. Fred’s first thoughts are actually for Serena and he insists that she’s done nothing wrong. The two are separated and Serena looks appalled – does she regret what she’s done? It seems highly unlikely that she didn’t know what the consequences were.

I loved the sequence of the Marthas cleaning up the hotel room as June shakily gets up – all set to Kate Bush’s “Cloudbusting.” June cleans herself up and puts her uniform on. Remember. They shouldn’t have given them uniforms if they didn’t want them to be an army. Deaths happen in a war. I also loved the echos of color – the white sheets with one red pillow – and a small chocolate to top it off…. And then Winslow goes into the furnace! I can’t say that Meloni blew me away, so I wasn’t sad to see June murder him – spectacularly if in self defense… I also loved that when they pulled back from the furnace it looks like a giant face.

Lawrence comes to June and gives her the gun, clearly transferring the control and power to her. He tells her that they’ll be coming for them. June’s face is backlit from the window as she raises her head. Reese told June that she suddenly acts like she’s Che Guevara – and the pose her completely mimics one of the most famous portraits of the revolutionary, counter-culture hero and activist.

        But will they come for them? With both Winslow and Fred out of the picture, where does that leave Lawrence in the hierarchy? I also loved that as the credits rolled, the music fades out and the sound of the gigantic washing machine comes up – and it sounds just like that train that Reese accused June of jumping on – and that she’s now driving.

I loved how the theme of liars ran throughout the episode in somewhat unexpected ways. We see June embrace a potentially very dangerous role – but with a fourth season renewal, we have to expect she’s going to come through this somehow. More terrific performances – especially Strahovski, Moss, Whitford, Dretzin, and Fiennes. And of course, terrific writing – all those echoes! – cinematography – I’m thinking especially of the images of the car cutting through the countryside and the final shot of June – and music – really, look up the lyrics to “Cloudbusting….” What did you think of the episode? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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