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The Handmaid's Tale - Chicago - Review

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  The Handmaid’s Tale “Chicago” was written by the team of John Herrera and Nina Fiore and was directed by Christina Choe. June (Elisabeth Moss) is struggling to find her place, and it looks like she may finally be headed back to Luke (O-T Fagbenle). It’s also starting to look like the big bad this season may turn out to be Joseph (Bradley Whitford), and his team up with Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) is one of the most horrifying things yet in the show!

As the episode begins, June is daydreaming about Luke – while Janine (Madeline Brewer) is having sex with Steven (Omar Maskati) in the next bed. Bombs and shooting start outside, and June goes to look. She’s told that it’s not safe and to get back in bed – that doesn’t seem very safe either! There’s a great shot of her face in profile as she looks out the window at a war torn sky with bombs and anti-aircraft guns blazing. That’s where the fight is, but she isn’t prepared for this kind of fighting – and the people she’s with are just trying to stay alive. They aren’t trying to change the status quo or take back their country. 

We get an arial shot in the warehouse of a partial greenhouse. June is washing out her handmaid’s cloak. Others are playing handball. It’s a perfect choice of music again as “Tainted Love” plays in the background. Abby (Sophia Walker) is sorting through the MREs they took from the train. June asks how long they’ll last and she tells her that they’re going to trade with them. June asks ‘for weapons?’ But that’s not what they need – they need batteries and gas. June wants to come, but she has to get Steven’s permission. June is not happy to once again have to bend to a man’s decisions. 

June finds Steven teaching Janine how to shoot a handgun. They aren’t even using bullets, but they are flirting outrageously. When June asks to go on the trading trip, Steven tells her no. Janine steps in and says he really ought to let June go – she got a whole plane full of kids out of Gilead and Janine wouldn’t be there without June. June smiles every so slightly with Janine’s praise – Moss is great here. Steven relents, but tells June that she does what he says. She says ok – and shares a smile with Janine. June walks away, and there’s a spring back in her step now that she’s doing something.

The scene shifts to the Red Center. Aunts are taking their leisure – playing cards, knitting, doing religious jigsaw puzzles (it seems a lot like Covid lockdown!). Aunt Lydia is walking on the treadmill and looking out the window at Handmaids training in the courtyard. It’s a wonderful parallel to the previous scene with June. Aunt Lydia can’t abide an existence without activity either. 

When Aunt Ruth (Jeananne Goossen) comes in, Aunt Lydia almost jumps off the treadmill and scuttle up to her, asking if she’s seen the ‘new girls.’ Aunt Ruth assures her that they will replace the lost girls quickly with this ‘new crop.’ Aunt Lydia agrees that they are a very special class and informs Aunt Ruth – who appears to be the one in charge now – that she’s fully recovered and ready to be of service again. Aunt Ruth tries to put her off, but Aunt Lydia is insistent. Finally, Aunt Ruth tells her that the girls are no longer her concern, and Aunt Lydia is getting angry as she says “the girls have always been my concern.” Goossen is either a giant or standing on a box here, and she dwarfs Dowd in the shots they share. 

Aunt Lydia tells her that she’s given everything she has in the service of Gilead – the implication is that she wants her reward, she wants the girls back. Aunt Ruth merely replies “Praise be.” She acknowledges the service – but that’s it. Aunt Lydia then asks Aunt Ruth to intercede on her behalf with the Commanders to have her reinstated. Aunt Ruth shuts her down – “I admired your devotion” – past tense is very telling – she doesn’t admire her anymore. “When you were still active” – and again, here’s the implication that she’s no longer active. And then Aunt Ruth tells her again that it’s her time to rest. She points out an empty seat at the card table and wishes Aunt Lydia Godspeed. Aunt Lydia echoes it, realizing she’s getting no help from that quarter and jumps back on the treadmill, speeding it up. Like June, Aunt Lydia knows how to fend for herself…

Joseph is also working to get back into the fight. He is presenting in front of the council, and we get a mirror image of Aunt Lydia’s appearance there. He’s in the lighted ‘witness’ box and the Commanders, including Nick (Max Minghella) are at the front. He’s supposed to be helping to recapture the Handmaids and Calhoun (Jonathan Watton) really enjoys tormenting him with his lack of success. Putnam (Stephen Kunken) is also short with him, clearly enjoying their change in status – though we all know that intellectually Joseph is far superior to either of them. 

Joseph tells them that the world fears their military, but they need money in order to actually win the war. He proposes a temporary ceasefire along the contested borders: Chicago, California, and Texas. Just a few hours to allow international aid with healthcare and food. He wants a temporary show of mercy in order to take the high ground – morally – LOL – to hasten the end of trade restrictions. He asks if there’s any difference if they just hit them harder in Nevada for a few months?

Nick intercedes here to say that they can keep up the military pressure on all insurgents. Clearly, Joseph was expecting support from Nick. Joseph tells them that he’s not proposing weakness. Calhoun points out that it was Joseph’s Handmaid who stole their children. Joseph tells them that he was deceived by a faithless woman – and again it sounds like Aunt Lydia. Perhaps they are the perfect pair? Nick laughs. He knows Joseph was complicit. Joseph returns to his main point – if they get money and prosper, they can crush the insurgents. When it comes to a vote, all vote against it, including Nick. I loved Joseph’s response to being thanked for his proposal being “You bet” – a direct throwback to The West Wing

Nick walks out with Joseph who is pissed he didn’t support him. Nick points out that he can hardly support a ceasefire in a battle that he’s leading. Joseph says the ceasefire might have helped June. Nick insists that if she were near the border, he’d know about it. Joseph asks sarcastically how he’d know – would his heart glow or something? Joseph points out that it’s a big country and the Eyes can’t see everything. 

Janine also comes on the trading trip. June asks Steven when she can have a gun and he tells her when she earns it. There’s clearly not a lot of good will between them. Janine asks June to try to make it work with Steven. She tells her that she’s kind of pushy. Janine’s used to it, but Steven’s been in charge for a long time. 

They come across of burnt soldiers. Steven says the Nighthawks did it. They’re crazy. They don’t care if they live or die, they just want to kill soldiers – and Steven is sure that June would love them. He’s not wrong. June asks if they ever trade with them, and Steven says they move around a lot. June is clearly thinking she wants to find them and join up. 

Abby has taken point, and when they come around a corner, she waves them into a bombed out café. They hide – and soldiers march past, stopping to peer into the window. June tells Steven she has a shot – and he tells her to shut up. June tells him they’re getting away – and once they’re gone, Steven tells her not to do it again. He asks her what happens when they don’t report back? He’s got a good point – more soldiers and more patrols, which makes it harder for them to move around. June asks what kind of resistance are they. He tells her, the kind that survives. And June can’t deny that she’s managed to get all her followers killed…

At the trading fair – which is clearly supposed to be in Chicago’s Field Museum – but is actually the ROM in Toronto – June is eyeing the table of guns. Brad (Massey Ahmar) tries to be friendly, and June shuts him down. Janine says it’s nice to see her making friends, and June insists that she doesn’t need that kind of friend. Janine is distracted by a Cubs baseball hat that she wants to get for Steven who is a big fan and who lost everything in the war – like they didn’t? Not to mention that he’s basically still taking from her what Gilead also took……

June isn’t impressed and tells Janine that she doesn’t want Steven to take advantage of her. Janine sounds like a school girl as she gushes that she really likes him. June tells her not to get too attached. Janine tries to trade her cloak for the hat. June is clearly thinking of trying to trade hers for a gun, but when Janine can’t even get the hat for it, June then offers her cloak to the guy – two cloaks for the hat. It’s an utter waste, but Janine is thrilled. She’s going to tell Steven, and maybe he’ll be nicer to June. June tells her that she doesn’t have to, and Janine insists that she wants to. 

Aunt Lydia comes to see Joseph – there’s a great shot of her doubled in a mirror on one side of the screen while Joseph enters the room on the other. He’s about to see a new side to Aunt Lydia… He notices that there’s something different about her – he sarcastically asks if she changed her hair. He knows she’s also lost her power. He offers her whiskey and a seat, and she declines both. I loved the music in this scene which sounds like a riff on a spaghetti western – like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly… 

Joseph sits and asks why she’s there. She tells him that she thinks that she can be of service to him. She tells him that she has sources and witnesses to his involvement in Winslow’s death, his black market activities, and his collaboration with June. She wants him to get her reinstated. He tells her he thought – for a second – that she didn’t have it in her to blackmail him. She asks if he didn’t hear her, and he says he did. He asks what else she’s got. He knows she can bury him – but he also wonders what she has on the others. 

        She tells him that she’s not one to trade in gossip. He tells her that he can only help her get what she wants if she gives him the information to get back at the table. He needs his power back before he can giver hers back to her. He tells her, “Let’s fix this country. Let’s make things right again. Together.” He looks sincere! Aunt Lydia says she’ll consider a collaboration if she has his word that Ofjoseph will be put in her care to be disciplined and handled her way. Joseph tells her that he can live with that. 

When they are back at the warehouse, June goes to Janine who is trying to wrap Steven’s hat, and tells her that she thinks that they should leave the next day and find the Nighthawks. They came there to fight. Janine points out that June came there to fight – Janine has never been a fighter. Janine tells June there’s something there – she can get pregnant and keep the baby, be a mom. They could be moms together! America needs more baby Americans, right? 

June accuses her of sounding like Aunt Lydia, and Janine tells June that she is more like bossy Aunt Lydia. June says that she doesn’t see that she’s being taken advantage of. Janine tells her she sees just fine – it was her choice to start having sex. Janine tells her to stop trying to save her to make herself feel better. June insists that she just doesn’t want to see her get hurt. Janine tells her that maybe she should have thought about that with Alma and Brianna. June tells her that she’s leaving in the morning. Janine can choose to come with her – or stay and become Ofsteven.

Nick has two Marthas from Mayday brought to him. One (Deidrie Henry) tells him he can’t just round them up like un-women! The other, Reese (Débora Demestre), tells him to go through normal channels. He asks about June. The first one has no love lost for June because everyone who helps her ends up on the wall. Reese clearly supports June – but it’s clear that she’s become a point of dissention even among Mayday. Nick tells them that he cares about her. The first Martha tells him that he’s better off without her. Reese confirms that two Handmaids were spotted heading into Chicago.

Brad gives June directions, and June finally tells him her name. Janine comes to say goodbye and she’s staying. She’s having a hard time because they’ve been through so much together. June tells her that the baby will be so lucky to have Janine, who says the rebels will be lucky to have June. The two hug, and June tells her to take care of herself. Janine gives June the Cubs hat to remember her by, and June says, how could I forget you? Janine says who could forget the girl with one eye? But of course, they’ve meant so much more to each other. 

In her room, we see Aunt Lydia dressing herself carefully to go back to work. She is back with the Handmaidens in the courtyard. She tells them that they will be tempted by wicked men and that she’ll be there to listen. Oh, yeah. We’ve seen how she listens to her Handmaids. She carefully places them two-by-two and has them parade around her in a circle – circle of life? We get another great crane shot of this. She also tells them that their bond with each other will be strong. Well, that part IS true. She tells them that from this day forward, none of them will ever walk alone again. Of course, they’ll be locked up in their room alone a lot… 

And there’s a terrific segue to June, walking alone down the deserted streets of Chicago. June gets spooked by a noise and slides under a bullet-ridden police car. But it’s Janine! June ask why she’s there, and Janine tells her that she feels safer when they’re together – Handmaids always walk in twos, remember? 

Nick and Joseph meet outside the council chamber and Nick tells Joseph that he was right. June is in Chicago. Nick tells him that whatever he needs, he’ll back Joseph. Joseph says its good to have him on board. Nick doesn’t see it coming, but he clearly sees that something has changed with Joseph.

Nick asks Putnam to re-consider Joseph’s proposal of a ceasefire. Putnam and Calhoun are both on board. Nick is surprised, but Joseph – who is literally back at the table, leans forward and says “God loves a Commander willing to reconsider his position.” Joseph says the NGOs are ready to move in. Putnam says tell them they can move in as of 16:00 hours – and then he tells Nick to coordinate the bombing.

Nick and Joseph exchange looks. Joseph says Nick wasn’t fully briefed on their agreement. Was this a concession that Joseph had to make? Is it better for June to potentially die in the bombing rather than chance ending up with Lydia? Putnam tells Nick that he’s to order a bombing on all insurgent fronts just prior to the ceasefire deadline. Putnam wants to give them a “spanking.” Nick points out that any civilians moving for aid will be vulnerable. Calhoun says you can’t hunt the roaches when they’re in the wall – and Joseph agrees with him! But he adds it’s the cost of doing business. Nick says he doesn’t think there’s time to coordinate it and Calhoun tells him to get going. Nick and Joseph exchange final looks.

Janine worries that the rebels might not accept them, but June says they “fucking better.” The two come upon and abandoned guard station. Janine wonders where the soldiers are, and they find a bunch of abandoned food. June realizes that they left in a hurry. Janine starts gathering some food. June tells her something’s not right – and then they hear the planes. June tells her to run – and the street blows up around them. The screen goes black.

June wakes, disoriented and covered in dirt. June appears to be miraculously unhurt. But Janine is nowhere to be seen. June finds the baseball hat – to remember Janine by? June sees people moving through the burning rubble. She thinks one of them might be Janine and she starts trying to yell for Janine. June crawls out of the rubble and keeps calling for Janine. She sees a truck pull up through the smoke, and a figure comes towards her – and it’s Moira (Samira Wiley)! 

Is June going back to Luke? Who’s side is Joseph on now? He’s always been on his own side, but we also know that there’s more to him than often meets the eye – he saved Emily and June after all when no one else wanted them. There’s no doubt that Lydia is still the dangerous zealot that she’s always been. Another great episode with terrific cinematography, music, writing, and acting. What did you think of the episode? Are you happy for June to leave Gilead and potentially find some peace? Is it time for her to fight from there? She’s definitely become a polarizing figure in Gilead! Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

The Rom (Toronto) posing as the Field Museum

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