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The Handmaid's Tale - Nightshade - Review

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  The Handmaid’s Tale “Nightshade” was written by Kira Snyder and was directed by Colin Watkinson. I love how carefully crafted this show is. Everything is carefully orchestrated from the music to the clothing, to the shots, to the colors, to the settings. 

As the episode opens, the pigs are taking care of the dead Guardian. The handmaids are working in the barn and the Eyes have turned up looking for him. Commander Keyes (Bill MacDonald) is no help, and Esther (Mckenna Grace) soothes him by giving him a drink. Esther discourages them from having to talk to the Marthas, and they leave. June (Elisabeth Moss) goes to Esther and tells her she did great in getting rid of them, but Esther wants to know what it means. June tells her that it means they have to leave. 

June tells the others that the plan is the same: Mayday will help them get to another cell on the western border. Alma (Nina Kiri) wants out of “this fucking place” – and who can blame her? She suggests that the Republic of Texas is letting people in. June insists that Mayday has gotten them this far – and Janine (Madeline Brewer) supports her. Brianne (Bahia Watson) suddenly bursts in that she doesn’t want to fight any more. June soothes her by saying none of them wanted to at first. 

David (Samer Salem) comes in and tells them that a contact – apparently from Mayday – wants to meet and will only talk to June. She can’t come to them. The others watch nervously as June leaves.

In Toronto, we finally catch up with Luke (O-T Fagbenle) who is speaking at a charity event – for Angels Fly. He’s speaking of June – “a beautiful person. Capable of great things” – but of course, this isn’t the June that he knew at all. This season, it’s clear that the gap between them is widening. He’s introducing Rita (Amanda Brugel). She tells the crowd that when she met June, she didn’t think she could do something like this – that is saving all the children. Rita is thankful that June saved her and she tells the crowd that June stayed behind to keep fighting even knowing what it could mean. Moira (Samira Wiley) is also there, helping to facilitate, and she’s clearly moved by this. Rita goes on to tell them that Gilead has a way of bringing out the worst in people, but June brought out the best. When Rita can’t go on, Luke jumps back to the mic and says that as far as they know June is still alive – and helps Rita off the stage and then shifts the topic to money. They are helping the children start new lives.

After the event is over, Rita remarks that Luke is good at ‘this’ – fundraising, organizing. Moira agrees and remarks that he’s surprised her. It’s a nice acknowledgment of how much he has also changed. Moira thanks Rita for speaking. Rita tells her that she asked so she couldn’t say no. Moira tells her that she could have. She’s free to say no. Rita insists that being there is a gift and she thanks God for it and June every day. Through everything, it’s clear that Rita has retained her belief in God. Moira points out that June is still there – raising hell – and she tells Rita to pray for Gilead…

June is taken to a very well guarded compound. It’s a retreat/country club/Jezebel’s for Commanders. June is hiding in the back of a truck as David drives. A Martha comes and lets her out of the back. In voiceover, June tells us that places like this have always been about fantasy – so men could pretend to be rich lords for a weekend – and now they are for fantasies of a different kind… she passes women in cocktail dresses being groped while putting. Others waiting their turn. June is lead into a greenhouse – shades of Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) anyone? There she meets Daisy (Laura Vandervoort). It was great to see Vandervoort guest starring! It’s too bad we’re not likely to see her again.

Daisy remarks she thought June would be taller – it’s a classic line/trope that illustrates how June’s legend is growing. Daisy knows about June killing Commander Winslow – and asks where she got the knife. The reality that she used a pen is so much better! Daisy also mentions the ‘Air Canada thing’ and says people are doing things – slashing tires, cutting power lines. They’ve tried to keep a lid on it, but people heard. They’re inspired by all the children that she got free. Daisy has a safe house for them and gives June the directions, but they can’t go until the following night because she can’t send word until the next day. June asks how she knew about Winslow, and Daisy tells her that she was in Boston when it happened, and afterwards, they cleaned house and she was sent there. She tells June she was one of the lucky ones. 

June asks about the Commanders she saw coming in. Daisy tells her that they are there for one last party before joining a new offensive at the front in Chicago. June points out that they are just sitting ducks and “someone” should do something. Daisy asks if June really thinks that Mayday would liberate the place. She says she gave up on it a long time ago. June tells her that THEY are Mayday – it’s not an army.

In Toronto, Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) is being given a physical. The Doctor (Jane Halles) asks ‘Did he do this?’ it’s pretty clear that she doesn’t think much of the ‘him’ or any or the men in Gilead. Interestingly, Serena doesn’t condemn Fred (Joseph Fiennes), saying he wasn’t directly responsible and mildly stating that it was an appropriate punishment in Gilead. Serena says Fred never raped her, but that he had many other partners at a brothel – she doesn’t know how many. The most interesting thing they asked was whether he had unprotected sex with anyone other than Serena or their handmaids – like the handmaids weren’t a problem!

The doctor asks if there were any other instances of physical abuse, and Serena answers no at first, but then admits that he struck her across the back – she doesn’t call it a spanking. The Doctor sarcastically asks if that was another appropriate punishment, and Serena tells her it’s not that simple. She’s clearly ashamed. It was interesting to contrast the respect with which Serena is treated with how the handmaids were all treated as livestock on being similarly processed in Gilead. However, when the doctor inspects Serena’s back, she remarks that it doesn’t look like the punishment left a permanent mark, but we are watching Serena’s face, and it’s clear that it has left a permanent mark – just on her psyche. Is she ashamed of what she submitted to in Gilead or is she ashamed because she’s turned her back on the society that she helped to create?

Serena meets with her lawyer (Alex Castillo) and Mark (Sam Jaeger). The lawyer wants to use Fred’s abuse to get her immunity reinstated and to get Nicole back. Serena insists that it wasn’t really abuse. When Mathis steps out to take some calls, Mark tries to persuade Serena that she’s just trying to get Serena to plead in her best interests. Serena is still angry with him for serving the warrant against her as an accused sex offender – his key witness against Fred. 

Serena insists that Fred acted out of anger and probably regrets what he’s done. Mark can’t believe that she’s still giving him the benefit of the doubt after all he’s done. I loved the way this scene – and this particular shot were framed. The two are in Serena’s very sterile room with the concrete courtyard and the one very sad tree. Both stand on either side of the full length window (sliding door?) and it’s raining out. It’s a symbol of the distance that’s grown between them – it seems to signal an end to any potential relationship here. Serena explains that she knew Fred before Gilead and she sees him. She tells Mark that she’s going to get Fred to drop the claim – as she says this she moves in close to Mark – he feels the strength of her presence – and says he’ll see what he can do. It seems her powers of persuasion still work on him.

Moira and Emily (Alexis Bledel) are working together to help place the children, but sadly, they are no longer a couple. As the two are working, Oona (Zawe Ashton) comes in, and Moira says she can’t make dinner but asks to come by later. Oona teases her by asking ‘to sleep over’ and then telling Alexis that Moira even looks cute in her mouth guard. Alexis tells Moira that she should go after Oona leaves and that she shouldn’t waste her outfit on her. Moira insists she’ll stay to work until Alexis is ready to go home. Alexis teases her about the mouth guard, but it’s clear that Alexis still has feelings for Moira and is struggling. 

Alma wants nothing to do with June’s plan. June insists that the women at the country club deserve to be free, but Alma asks pointedly if June just wants to kill a bunch of Commanders. June admits she wants both. She won’t have a chance once they leave – and she’s not asking any of the rest of them to be a part of it. June also points out that it will help the people in Chicago too. Janine suggests that they need a time bomb and asks June if she knows how to make one – she’s clearly only half joking. June doesn’t have a plan.

Esther comes in and points out that they stopped talking when she came in and she doesn’t like it. June tells her not to worry – they weren’t talking about her. Esther is worried the Guardians will come back, and Esther says she’ll take care of that.

June follows Esther out and into her own kitchen. Esther is simmering something on the stove. June tells her that there are lots of farms to check before the Guardians come back. June tells her that they’re leaving the next night, and Esther wants to be taken with them. June tells her that it’s not safe where they’re going, and Esther comes to her, kneeling and telling her that it’s not safe anywhere. Esther insists that June can trust her and begs her not to leave her there alone. June gives in and tells her alright – knowing the handmaids are going to freak out. June points out that they’re going to have to do something about the Commander – and the penny suddenly drops – and she asks if Esther has been poisoning him. Esther tells her ‘you learn things on a farm’! June comes over to the pot on the stove with Esther – and asks if she can teach her how to make more. Now she has a plan…

The two put on gloves to harvest the berries and leaves. Esther tells June you can use the sweet berries in a cobbler. Her Martha showed her how to do it – but Esther says she didn’t start soon enough. She only gives him enough to keep him from being a bother… he’s not a good man. But then, maybe there are no good men in Gilead, but June says she thinks there are good men everywhere. It’s just that Gilead makes it really hard to be good.

Serena goes to try to manipulate Fred. Once again, this is a beautifully shot scene. We see Serena through the window in the door to the chapel. The focus shows her through the wire bars in the glass, and then the focus shifts so the bars seem to disappear and the glass become clear. It’s a nice nod that Fred is going to see through her – he doesn’t see her as a victim and he knows her just as well as she knows him – from before Gilead – and through everything that’s happened. He’s not going to be surprised again. She’s also in a skirt for the first time that we’ve seen for a while. She’s still wearing beige – but it’s also a more demure shirt – no buttons to show off her neck and chest and not a billowy blouse that she seems to favor.

Fred says he’s heard she’s still not sleeping well. She’s surprised he’s asked, but he insists she’s still his wife. She says the chapel reminds her of all the airport chapels that they visited while on the book tour – small islands of grace in chaos. Fred remarks that here they’ve made God small – like the chapel. He tells her that they’ve told him what to expect in the motion to dismiss the charges against Serena. She insists that it’s just a legal strategy. Fred is shocked that she’s willing to expose all the details of their faith and lives to complete strangers – and we’ve seen her reluctance to do so. She tells him that she doesn’t want to. Fred laughs and tells her she’s gotten rusty. She used to be good at getting him to do what she wanted. Serena says she just wants her daughter back. Fred points out that Nicole is no more hers than she is his – and there’s no way that he’s going to let her have Nicole. Serena tells him that she hoped that once out of Gilead he’d come back to himself, but Fred insists that he’s as she made him – as she made the both of them. Serena is furious that Fred never stood up for her once after he got power. She tells him that she thought that she deserved what she got. Fred tells her that he thinks he gave her too much freedom. Fred agrees – it doesn’t have to be like this… but it is because of what she’s done. 

There’s some really interesting interplay between seeing Esther as a wife – and the sympathy we feel for her – and Serena who made her own bed. 

Moira pays a home visit to Jean (Samantha Esple) and Asher (Luxton Handspiker) to collect some needed paperwork on Asher – one of the freed children. He’s Jean’s nephew, and they are both struggling. Moira remarks – from experience – that instant parenthood isn’t something you can prepare for. Asher is sitting with his back to the television, which is playing a kid’s movie. He’s not interested – he’s coloring – something he would clearly have been able to do in Gilead. Moira asks how he is. He tells her hungry – even though his Aunt has made three different meals for him – chicken fingers, noodles, and pizza – none of which he would have eaten in Gilead, and he refuses them all here. Moira says it’s different there. Asher says he hates it there – he misses his Martha, his room, and his mom and dad. Jean quickly points out that they aren’t his parents, but Moira tells her that it’s better not to correct him – he needs to feel what he’s feeling. 

Moira tells him that it’s ok to miss them – she gets close to him while Jean continues cleaning up. He wants to know if he’ll see them again. Moira tells him no. He gets angry and runs to his room. Jean wants him to come back, but Moira says it’s ok for Asher to be angry, and Jean says his name is James – after her brother… his actual father.

Moira comes back to the center with the form. Alexis sees she’s upset and wants to know what happened. Moira tells her that he’s fucked up. He misses Gilead. Alexis says it’s better for them to be there and Moira says eventually, but right now it sucks for them. And the larger issue is whether they are already indoctrinated with Gilead culture, especially the boys. Life in Gilead for men is much different than the life for women after all. Asher could have looked forward to a life of power and control – of being better than women.

Moira points out how confused the kids are. Emily says June didn’t think that part through – and Moira says that’s what June does – takes the big swing without considering the consequences. But is that who June was before Gilead? It doesn’t sound like the one we’ve seen in flashbacks who was the cautious one. Moira is angry, but she tells Emily that she loves June and misses her… and that while she loves Nicole, she never wanted to be a mom. Emily asks why Moira feels like she has to clean up June’s messes. And Moira confesses, likely because of feeling guilty that she got out and June didn’t. But she’s tired of feeling guilty – and Emily gets it. In the end, they’re both just hoping she’s ok.

June is determined to go alone. Janine wants to come, but June leaves her in charge of getting everyone ready for the long walk that night, including Esther who June tells Janine to find good shoes for. Of course, Esther’s little heels aren’t made to allow her to do anything practical like walking any distance. I loved Janine’s Star Wars reference of Red Leader standing by – but of course, it was also foreshadowing – not many other than Luke (who also wore grey in that first film) and Han made it through the fight with the Death Star…

Back in Toronto, Moira has had a brilliant idea to bring comfort to two refugees by bringing Rita to Asher. Rita is going to cook dinner and stay the night. She’s going to make some of her favorite dishes – Asher adds ‘from home?’ – and she says yes. She also has a simple wooden elephant toy – the kind he would have had in Gilead. It’s a chance to bring comfort to both of them and give Jean a break. Jean asks her to stay, but Moira tells her that she has plans.

Moira shows up at Oona’s with takeaway just as Oona is coming out to go to the airport. She tells Moira she should have texted, and Moira says “what? And ruin my big romantic gesture?” Oona only has 8 minutes – but Moira insists she wants to have dinner – Pad Thai – with Oona. The two sit on the steps, eating and laughing. The car pulls up, and Oona says, you can always come with me. But Moira just smiles. Is she not ready to go, or does she have to go home to Nicole? Either way, it seems her past is preventing her from moving forward. 

At the Club, June gives Daisy some of the poison. She tells her to give it to the drivers too – and to get the keys and radios. She’s insuring that no one can come after them while they are trying to move between farmhouses. Daisy says she doesn’t think she can do it. June tells her she can: “We’re the ones we’ve waiting for.” It’s what her mother used to say to her. They are interrupted by Aunt Wendy (Janelle Hutchinson) who wants to know what they are doing. June says Daisy came for something to eat – wouldn’t wait for dinner – you know how they get… Aunt Wendy tells her not to eat much and a Commander is looking for her. It’s hilarious when this plump woman calls Laura Vandervoort “a little piggy” because she is toothpick thin (beautiful – but very thin!). Aunt Wendy tells her she wants tea – and it’s one of the first poisoned drink Daisy later delivers…

June gives Daisy the choice. She offers to pour the poison out. Daisy makes the decision – it’s better to die on your feet than live on your knees – and that exact phrase is going to come back to haunt June in two episodes. But at this point, June agrees. She asks June if she wants to stick around for the fireworks. Clearly, the plan was just to deliver the poison and get back to the handmaids, but June can’t resist watching her revenge play out. 

Serena is waiting outside to see Mark and her lawyer. We see her once again behind bars as the scene opens. When only Mark arrives, she wants to know where Dawn is – she wants to separate herself from Fred, she’s done with him… But Mark is there to tell her that she’s pregnant. I thought for sure that we had missed something and that it had to be Mark’s – but in interviews, Miller seems to confirm it is actually Fred’s. So she will never be free from him. Serena, of course, is stunned.

I loved the party scene with David Bowie’s “Suffragette City” playing as June poisons the alcohol and Daisy walks among the partying men, pawing at the women. Daisy delivers the poison in the drinks.

As David and June return to the farm, all the lights are on. June realizes that something is wrong. June tells David to go when they get out of the truck at the head of the driveway, but he refuses to leave her. As they stand in the gate, David goes to draw his gun and is shot in the head, dying instantly and spattering June with blood – red, the color of a handmaid.

June lunges for his gun, but there are immediately a bunch of red lights – clearly from snipers – trained on her. As the music comes up, Nick (Max Minghella) comes out of the farmhouse. He wants to know where the handmaids are. Nick crouches beside her and tells her softly that he’ll try to keep her alive. He walks away from her, and she pulls her hand back from the gun. She then stands up and the courtyard is flooded by light and she’s surrounded by gunmen. Better to die on your feet…

This was another terrific episode with great writing, acting, direction, cinematography… Let me know your thoughts in the comments below! And I am hoping to catch up with the airing episodes this week…

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