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The Handmaid's Tale - Progress - Review

The Handmaid’s Tale “Progress” was written by the team of Eric Tuchman and Aly Monroe and was once again directed by Elisabeth Moss (June). The episode gives us some answers about the fate of Janine (Madeline Brewer) and Esther (Mckenna Grace). Luke (O-T Fagbenle) shows just how badly he wants Hannah back. Several visitors from Gilead arrive in Toronto… 

The episode picks up the morning after June has finally told Luke the truth about Hannah. The episode starts – as so many others do – with a close up of June’s face. She looks devastated. Then we get a close up of Luke’s face – he doesn’t look much better. Clearly, they haven’t slept. There’s no music and not dialogue before the title card.

June is the first to speak and says she’s sorry. Luke insists it’s not June’s fault. “They” put Hannah in that situation – “the fucking animals.” It’s on them. June tells Luke that Hannah is safe back home – Nick (Max Minghella) told her. Luke doesn’t believe that Hannah is safe anywhere in Gilead – and he’s not wrong. More importantly, “home” is there with them. He insists that they have to find her and bring her home. Luke insists that they can do it together. He promises her that they can do it, and he reaches across the table and takes her hand. Them talking over the kitchen table, bathed in the light of a new day is meant to contrast with June going to Luke in their bedroom the previous night – the light of day following the dark truths of the night. 

Luke shows June what he’s tried so far. Luke sits on the couch while June kneels on the floor in the center of a circle of Luke’s research. It mimics the other ‘truth-telling’ circles we’ve seen, but it also places June at the center of Luke’s efforts. He will use her like all the other information he has. 

Moira (Samira Wiley) comes to the door of the living room and asks why all the research is out. June tells her that she’s told Luke everything now. Luke says he has a VIP on his side now, and Moira points out that June got 83 kids out of Gilead – she has power and should use it. It’s a peace offering after the friction caused over June essentially hi-jacking Moira’s group.

Luke is already planning a strategy. He talks about banging on doors again, and then admits that so far nobody in Canada has proven to be much help. June suggests contacting someone in Gilead.

June calls Joseph (Bradley Whitford) while Luke and Mark (Sam Jaeger) watch. We get another close up of June’s face. Now it’s determined. She sits on the couch with the satellite phone in front of her and Luke and Mark facing her. Luke looks anxious – but more excited than worried. Joseph is his usual light manner, covering his keen insight. He says hello June – and hello Canada. He knows she’s not alone. He cuts through any small talk and acknowledges that she wants something. 

She doesn’t try to disguise it and asks for his help in getting Hannah. She insists she’s her mother, and he tells her she’s been nothing but a nightmare to her. She should “leave the poor kid alone.” June insists that Hannah should be home with her parents and that no one will love her as she and Luke do. Joseph tells her that her love cuts people up – she’s “a fountain of heartache and trouble.” He then tells her that Janine is safe and sound at the Red Center. Joseph knows exactly how to hurt her – he tells her that Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) is there to tuck her in at night. It does exactly what Joseph wanted it to – it devastates June and knocks her off her game. He knows that June thought of Janine as her charge; he knows about their long history.

Mark signals at June to move the discussion along. June offers to help with the trade sanctions. Joseph tells her the Americans don’t have anything to trade or any power – he’s not interested in what she’s selling. Mark is disappointed. He offers to get Hannah if she’ll return 10 of the ones he took. He knows that some of them are struggling, making you wonder where he’s getting his information from. Luke and June stare at each other. June is now in agony – but does Luke want her to agree? June tells him that he’s never getting those kids back. Joseph tells her that the June he knows would at least bargain – maybe five of those kids for Hannah. He says she’s gone soft in Toronto. June, clearly in pain now, says again that they love Hannah. 

At this point, the cameral shifts to the other side of his face, taking him out of the shot in which the sun behind him partly obscures his face. Joseph is clearly moved. She tells him that they are her family. She tells him that she knows he’s a good man. He’s still exposed, so there’s really nothing he can do without further endangering himself. He uses her line to pull himself together and distance himself emotionally from the situation. He quotes Flannery O’Connor and says he hears “they’re hard to find.” He tells her that he can’t stir up trouble now. He tells her that she’s free and to try to move on. He hangs up before he adds “if you can.” He knows how hard it is to move on from those you love. The scene ends on a close up of June’s face.

The scene shifts to the Red Center. Janine is scrubbing the floor, while Aunt Lydia prepares to discipline a new Handmaid who’s refusing to eat. Janine is shocked when she sees that it is Esther! Aunt Lydia has clearly set the scene and is clearly in complete control again. When Esther defies her by pushing her breakfast tray away and to the floor, she has two other Aunts take her away again. She has Janine clean up the mess, telling her that God loves them for their labor.

Back in Toronto, Fred (Joseph Fiennes) and Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) open baby gifts – sent by their new fans, including a Maple Leafs hockey jersey and a little suit for the ‘future Commander.’ Serena was envisioning a different baby shower – maybe the one she had with Nichole? Fred is pleased that people see their mission as pure and that the baby inspires them. They are “beacons of hope.” He gives her a card and tells her to read it – she bitterly asks if she can now. No one’s looking… Fred admits that he made mistakes. But people are ready to listen again – they’re ready to hear her voice again, and he suggests that she write another book. It’s a nice parallel to the way Luke is using June to get what he wants – and Aunt Lydia is using Janine…


The next scene is clearly set to mimic the Last Supper – with Aunt Lydia in the center spot and Janine serving water to the seated Aunts. They are discussing the problem of Esther. Aunt Ruth (Jeananne Goosen) suggests a feeding tube so malnutrition doesn’t affect her ability to conceive, and Aunt Elizabeth (Edie Inksetter) suggests that Esther doesn’t need her tongue – making Janine gasp. It looks like Aunt Lydia is being kind when she dismisses Janine from water duty – but she’s already accomplished what she wanted to. Janine has heard the fate that may await Esther. Aunt Lydia excuses her by saying she’s trying. The other two comment that she is – and Janine is fruitful. Aunt Lydia can’t keep her favorite there forever – and Aunt Lydia agrees. Aunt Ruth points out it may be hard to get her a posting, given Janine’s history… No Commander will want her. Aunt Elizabeth suggests sending her to the breeding colonies as per the original plan, but Aunt Lydia insists Janine is too valuable to their district – bringing up Janine’s role in saving her (the Putnam’s) baby. I can think of one Commander who would take her, can’t you? Joseph, perhaps? Or maybe even Nick… Aunt Ruth’s final comment is that special treatment sets a bad precedent. Aunt Lydia pushes her dinner away, clearly having had her appetite ruined.

Later that night, Janine brings Aunt Lydia tea, and she tells Janine that she will look after her. Janine hesitates, and then tells Aunt Lydia that Esther isn’t as tough as she seems. She explains that Esther is just scared after having a really hard life on the farm. She tells Aunt Lydia that she should know that Esther was abused by many men. Aunt Lydia looks thoughtful, not sure what to make of Janine telling her this. She tells Janine that they’ve tried to be patient but Esther is difficult.

Janine turns away from Aunt Lydia at this point, and we only see her face reflected in a mirror. She suggests that Esther needs to feel safe. Maybe it would help if someone explained what would happen if she didn’t obey – someone who lost an eye, maybe? Janine turns around to face Aunt Lydia again as she says that Esther deserves a chance before… being mutilated goes unsaid. Aunt Lydia looks thoughtful – she tells Janine that she’ll put her ‘correction’ on hold for now – and then suggests that Esther might benefit from Janine’s ‘unique’ perspective. Does she regret having taken Janine’s eye? She tells Janine to take Esther her breakfast in the morning – they can have a little chat. 

June is going through Luke’s materials and stumbles upon a polaroid of Hannah. Did Luke not realize that it was his own daughter? Why is it buried in the rest of the paper? June is once again on the couch be herself. It’s night. Luke comes to the door, interrupting her. He’s brought her a drink. He’s been thinking about the call with Joseph. June apologizes again, and Luke interrupts saying that it’s not her fault and that Joseph is “a fucking asshole.” Yet, we know that neither Nichole, Emily, or the other 83 kids would have made it out of Gilead without his help. 

Luke saw the toll talking to Joseph took on June, so it’s clear that he also has to understand that when he suggests she try to get Nick to help, that is also going to take a huge toll on her. He’s uncomfortable when he asks it, and it’s clear that he will do anything to get Hannah, including hurting June. I loved how the camera slowly starts to pull in on both characters, ensuring that we see their reactions. June knows what’s happening. Luke points out that Nick is a Commander now – he has access. June also clearly wants to protect Nick. Luke doesn’t care what happens to him. Luke’s face is hard and unemotional as he presses her. She is emotional as she agrees, and she tells him that Nick would do anything for her and Nichole – and it’s clear that she realizes that Luke would not do the same. 

Luke looks down – clearly feeling some shame – and then looks back up as he says he doesn’t think she should call. She should meet him in person – is he suggesting that she should do whatever it takes to get his help? Is he literally pimping her out? He suggests that they make is safe, someplace protected… June is clearly taken aback. She asks – you want me to meet up with Nick? Luke laughs and says that he doesn’t want her to meet up with Nick but June said he’d do anything and this is their best chance to get Hannah. He even suggests that she take Nichole. “How can he say no to you if you bring him his daughter?” Is he suggesting that she trade Nichole for Hannah?!?! June just looks at him – a half smile forced on her face as her eyes fill with tears. He asks what she thinks. She tells him that she thinks that they have to try everything for Hannah. She’s clearly saying it because of the guilt that she feels. He stands up, kisses her on the forehead and pats her back – like a good dog – and leaves to ‘go wash up.’ June looks after him, stunned. She’s clearly shocked at what’s just happened – and what it reveals about Luke. He clearly does still blame her for Hannah – and perhaps for everything she’s done. 

Serena is surprised by a visit from Naomi Putnam (Ever Carradine). She tells Serena that she’s been trying to get to visit for months, but with Serena’s due date approaching, they finally got permission. Warren (Stephen Kunken) is with her to see Fred. Serena is clearly not really happy to see her. Selena asks about Angela, and Naomi tells her that she’s running around, learning words, and has a bit of an issue with biting… she wonders if it’s genetic, and I love how the show dovetails back to Janine again. 

Naomi notices the pad of paper where Selena has been starting to write her next book. Neither says anything about it, and Naomi changes the focus by starting to unpack the bundle she carried in. It’s a bag full of little knit sweaters – one from each of the women. Naomi tells her that they are all thrilled for her, and Selena says she wasn’t sure after having turned against Fred. Naomi says they understand that she did what she had to do to be with Nichole – and Naomi says if the good Lord blessed Serena with a child, who is she to judge. Of course, Naomi would never have done anything to be with Angela….

Serena tells Naomi that she’s always been a good friend. She did, after all, support her going to the Council for the women. But then Naomi reveals her true purpose. She tells Serena that if her “ordeal” isn’t over by the time the baby is born, she and Warren would be honored to raise the baby in their home. Apparently, she hasn’t met Serena! Serena takes a deep breath – she can’t fly into a rage or accuse Naomi of blatantly trying to steal her baby because she and Fred will need to live somewhere if they aren’t sentenced to prison. Naomi tells her that he’s still be her son… Serena tells her that while Fred’s prospects are grim, she expects to be free, once the proceedings are over, to start a new life with her son. Naomi says that’s wonderful, and Serena can come home because both she and the baby belong in Gilead. Serena doesn’t believe the Commanders will feel the same way. Naomi tells her that she’ll return with her own child – like a hero! But Serena isn’t stupid. She knows she’d be made an example and Naomi and Warren Putnam would have the son they want.

While Serena and Naomi sit in the cold, institutional detention room, Fred and Warren sit outside – and it’s clear that Fiennes is freezing! Warren has brought him a box of Cuban cigars and tells Fred that all the Commanders admire how he’s handled the situation. He commends him for staying true to Gilead and God. Fred says that he feels God with him every moment – not something he can say about Gilead. Warren apologizes for not reaching out sooner. Clearly, the supporters for Fred and Selena are what have really brought them out of the woodwork. 

Warren tells him that there are plans for retaliation for the children who were taken, but old war horses like them are being put out to pasture – in other words, they don’t feel they need Fred and aren’t listening to Warren. Fred wants to know if there have been any negotiations over him. Fred suggests a prisoner exchange, more humanitarian aid, but Warren says negotiating would only encourage more kidnappings! Warren tells him that all he’s getting is more thoughts and prayers – and Fred knows that he will get no help from Gilead.

Janine takes breakfast to Esther, who is in a room chained to her bed area – just as June was when first recaptured when pregnant. Esther is happy to see Janine. Janine tries to get her to eat before answering her questions. Esther assumes that Janine has stolen the food from the kitchen. Janine tells her that she and June got to Chicago, but she was relieved when she got caught in Chicago because she was starving. Janine is telling herself a story as much as she’s lying to Esther, trying to convince herself that the Red Center isn’t so bad. Esther tells her that nothing is worse than there. And we know what she’s lived through… Esther is still obsessed with June and wants to know where she is. Janine tells her to forget June – they have to look after themselves now; they can’t rely on June. She tells her that there will be consequences if she doesn’t eat for them as well as for her. Esther realizes that Janine has been sent – and stops eating. It’s a nice parallel to the scene in which Esther forced Janine to eat Mr Darcy. It’s also further proof of Janine’s being a good person.

Esther insists that she doesn’t care what the Aunts do to her. And Janine looks at her – with her ONE eye – and tells her she does. She tells Esther that the Aunts won’t let her die – they’ll keep hurting her until she gives in because that’s their job. Grace is simply wonderful in this scene. Her eyes fill with tears – clearly terrified behind her bravado. Janine tells her that it’s no big deal. But we know that she wanted to die. She tells Esther that she needs to eat so that she can be there when things get better. Janine tells her that she’ll keep trying until Esther eats. Then she can tell Aunt Lydia and she’ll let them go outside – it’s a really nice day. This is another sign of Janine’s empathy – she’s seen Esther standing at the end of her chain, looking at the window, when she came in. Janine leaves and Esther is plunged back into darkness. But her face is thoughtful – she’s seen the light of truth in what Janine just said. 

Mark and Luke see June off as she goes to meet with Nick. Luke has packed a bag with snacks and extra diapers. Mark sends officers to follow her and keep an ‘eye’ on her. He tells her to keep it brief when she gets there. Luke follows her to the car. He follows her almost uncomfortably closely. She tells him not to worry – and he asks how he’s not supposed to. Gee. Maybe not suggesting this in the first place? He kisses her and tells her that he’ll be there when she gets home – and where else would he be? Luke waves good bye to Nichole – and I was still wondering if he didn’t think she’d be coming back. Would he trade her for Hannah?

As June drives away, she smiles. Is it thoughts of Luke, whom she just left, or Nick? She arrives at a farmhouse. It is eerily reminiscent of the farmhouse where she was first allowed to see Hannah. There’s a beautiful shot of June through a paned window, framed as she gets out of the car. She puts Nichole in a stroller and heads into the house on her own – with the officers watching from their car. June looks for Nick. Her face is in close up and she’s beginning to look worried. Out of focus, Nick can be seen stepping out from between buildings behind her. She closes her eyes in relief and smiles – the smile in the car was for him. 

Nick tells her that freedom agrees with her. The two stand outside – they are standing far apart – framed by the building behind them. June is wearing a red coat – you’d think she’d never want to wear that color again! She asks him how things are going in Gilead. He tells her “hanging in there,” and she jokingly replies “poor choice of words.” They both know real danger – and can laugh in the face of it. She thanks him for meeting her, and he thanks her for the invitation. He’s clearly moved by seeing his daughter. June remarks that she’s a lot bigger, and Nick says she’s a whole different person – and that’s clearly what he wants for her – not to be trapped by Gilead. June tells him she can’t stay long. He invites her inside to talk. 

Once inside, June says she expects he’s curious as to what the meeting is about. She also says that she doesn’t want to put him in any danger, but if he could get any news about Hannah… but Nick knows her as nobody else does. He knew she’d keep looking, so he’s put together an entire dossier on Hannah. It has her location – AND he has information on “friendlies” in the area – Colorado Springs – that could help. Nick promises to do what he can. June knows that he did it all for her.

Nick sits down in the window beside her, putting his arm around her. The two are framed in the window and bathed in the sunlight behind them. He tells her that he should have run away with her when he had the chance. She suggests that they probably should have gone to that beach in Hawaii – an interesting choice – and far from Luke. The two kiss. June shakes her head – she knows there is no way for them to be together. They’re interrupted by Nichole getting restless. June picks her up and brings her over to him. She tells him that she’s stubborn – and he’s not surprised. He’s brought her a gift – a doll from Gilead. He tells her that he loves her – and the three are framed in the window. 

Outside, Nick and June say good bye – once again with their heads pressed together. Nick tells her to keep herself safe. She walks away, and then turns as Nick says, “Hey, June. Try and be happy.” She smiles at him and laughs – as she turns her head, she still has the Handmaid tag in her ear. She tells him, “Yeah. You too.” Will they ever see each other again? June drives away. Once she’s gone, Nick takes out a wedding ring and puts it back on his finger! He’s kept it from June – in order not to hurt her? It’s unlikely to be a marriage for love after all. As she drives off, June smiles, but also fights back tears.

Selena and Fred are in the Chapel. They are both furious at how they’ve been treated. Serena points out that they could come for their son. The state could come for a son with a mother alone. Serena clearly knows that Naomi’s invitation to come back would end in her being sent to the colonies or being made a Handmaid. Fred vows to do everything in his power to protect her. Serena sneers at him – what power. Fred tells her to have faith.

Back at the Red Center, Janine has tamed Esther. She presents her to Aunt Lydia who is with Aunt Ruth and Aunt Elizabeth. She tells Aunt Lydia that she is grateful to the Lord for the meal she just had. Aunt Lydia kisses Esther’s head and praises Janine, telling her that they are lucky to have her there. Aunt Lydia sends the Handmaids outside to enjoy the day – and sets the Aunts back to work. She seems to be back in form as Joseph wanted her.

Luke is sitting on the porch steps when June arrives home that night. He’s hopeful, but it’s clear that he also knows the damage he’s done to his relationship with June. He’s put her in danger – while still not really appreciating that danger. June sits in the car. There’s no rushing into each other’s arms here.

As Luke looks through the file, it’s Moira sitting beside him on the couch with her hand on his shoulder. Mark is there also and says he’s happy for their success. June thanks him for making it happen. She is standing in one doorway to the living room, while Mark is across the room in the other. Luke wants to know what happens next. Moira says they have a good man in Gilead now too to help. She of all people should also know the danger that Nick would be in. However, Mark tells them that they now have a new asset in Toronto – someone who knows the system… FRED! 

June can’t believe it. Mark tells them that Fred has agreed to share all his knowledge. June wants to know why he’d do it. Mark tells her that Fred had all charges dropped in return. And now Moira is finally angry. Luke is angry too – but for Moira or June or himself? June accuses Mark of knowing that her testimony would spook Fred and using it to flip Fred. Mark tries to explain that sometimes you have to let one fish go to catch other, bigger fish. He tells June to bring the new information to his office in the morning and they’ll go through it together. 

Mark leaves, and it finally occurs to Luke that maybe he should go to June. We get “the” look from June – and she goes after Mark, with Luke hot on her heels trying to stop her. June completely loses it. She starts by saying that Fred is a rapist and Mark knows what he did – and then she tries to attack him – the secret service and Luke intervene. June’s face becomes almost animalistic as she screams that she’ll kill him! We get a close up of Moss’s face and the episode ends on her screaming: “I will kill you!”

Once again, kudos to Moss for a brilliant episode – wonderfully directed, but also wonderfully performed. I can only imagine how exhausted she is after filming. How many emotions did she go through in this episode alone? Only Fred and Serena could have been surprised by Gilead turning against them – you reap what you sow, right? If you live in fear, you deal in fear. What will June do now? Luke will of course keep working with Mark because he only cares about getting Hannah back. What will Janine and Esther do? Esther doesn’t strike me as someone who will simply give in. I fully expect her to follow in June’s footsteps. Theis was a great episode – full of some twists that set us up for the last episode of the season! What did you think of the episode? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!


 



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