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The Handmaid's Tale - Testimony - Review

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  The Handmaid’s Tale “Testimony” was written by Kira Snyder and was directed by star Elisabeth Moss (June). As always, she does a wonderful job, eliciting fantastic performances from her fellow actors. Of course, the show’s own well-established visual palette is also in full view. The episode sees almost all of our characters experiencing transitions – and they may not all be good. Actions have consequences, and those that have been long simmering find an outlet in this episode. 

The opening song in this episode is telling and helps to put the rest of the episode into perspective. The song is “Glory Box” by Portishead. The lyrics declare the singer has been a “temptress for too long” and she’s going to “leave it to the other girls to play.” She wants a reason to love someone, but she just wants to be a woman. “From this time, unchained/We’re all looking at a different picture” – and June has broken free from Gilead – but has she broken free from her emotional chains? Of course, as the music plays, June is cutting her hair – and that really reminded me of Samson and Delila. The Handmaid’s are not allowed to cut their hair, and it was one of the first things June did when she first escaped and hid at the Boston Tribune. She’s made herself less feminine – at least according to Gilead standards. The song goes on to ask “move over, and give us some room,” and asks men to see it from their point of view as women. It’s the perfect song for this show! The scene shows June sensually cutting her hair and ends with a close up of her face and eyes – she even smiles slightly, but she’s upside down to the camera…

All of the Handmaids are struggling, and Moira (Samira Wiley) has organized a group therapy session for them in the library. I loved that they mimicked one of the last formations we say of Handmaids with Aunt Lydia – they sit in a circle. Of course, it’s also how group therapy works… A woman is talking about cutting as a way of taking back some control. She did it high on her arms so that no one would see. She tells them that is wasn’t painful, it was a relief. Moira tells her it was her way of coping, but she’s there now and healing. Moira points out they’re free. Someone – June? – says her Commander is free too.

June sits between Moira and Emily (Alexis Bledel). Moira points out that June gets to face her Commander in court – but it’s just a confirmation of charges hearing and June doesn’t have to go – a written statement is fine. Emily says June wants to face him – all the while, June, the only one still in her coat, stares at the floor. Someone suggests that June must be so scared thinking about confronting him – and the defense gets to ask questions. June finally looks up and the camera comes in for a close up. She tells them that she’s not nervous or worried or scared: She can’t fucking wait!

Moira finds June in the stacks – and they are interrupted by her security detail. June asks if she’d getting kicked out of the group. Moira tells her that she’ll find “her groove” – clearly disapproving of how June participated. But June is clearly not about to follow the path of acceptance that Moira seems to be taking the group down. June tells Moira that she thought that she’d have more in common with them – feelings, forgiveness, and journaling? June doesn’t understand why they aren’t more angry. And we’ve seen Moira go through that stage – and have the opportunity to confront Fred (Joseph Fiennes) with her true name, taking back her identity when Fred and Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) first came to Toronto. 

The two are interrupted by voices as a woman (Carly Street) confronts Emily. She wants to talk to her and Emily clearly does not want to talk to her. The woman tries to give Emily her contact information, but June jumps in and tells the woman to go away. Moira asks if Emily is ok, but she won’t tell them who the woman was and insists that she’s fine and leaves – with Moira in pursuit. June picks up the contact information.

Back at the house, Emily, Moira, Luke (O-T Fagbenle), and June have dinner. Moira is taking a refresher coding class, getting her life back. Luke asks Emily is she’s going to go back to teaching, but she says she’s not sure that she’s ready for that. June has seen Emily fight and knows that this shrinking person is not who she really is. She interrupts to ask who Iris Baker is – the woman at the library – as she slides the contact information over (fyi? That is an Ontario area code…). Luke asks what woman, but Emily answers that she knew her as Aunt Irene. She knew her at her first posting. June wants to know what she wants, but Moira jumps in to say that it doesn’t matter because Emily doesn’t want to talk to her. Moira seems to be all about just tamping down the anger and sweeping the trauma under the rug. 

June pushes on, saying Irene hurt Emily. Luke wants to know why she’d say that, and June tells him “because she’s an Aunt.” It’s a given. And it’s clear that Luke has also been protected from a lot of what went on. June tells Emily she will feel better if she gets out what she’s been feeling. Luke tries to stop June. Emily tells her that they aren’t all like her. Yet, it was Emily who really first inspired June to fight back. 

Luke and June are washing the dishes. Luke comments that Aunt Irene must have been brutal. June wonders how bad she could be – after all, Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) set a high bar. Luke points out that if Emily wanted her to know, she would have said. June isn’t pleased at having it thrown in her face. But the flashback scenes showed us what Aunt Irene did – having Emily’s lover hanged in front of her – and what Aunt Lydia did – mutilated her. 

Luke then asks if June wouldn’t feel better if he came with her to court. June tells him that she doesn’t want him to be hurt by what she will say – she is protecting him from the truth – when clearly, he needs to hear it. He goes on to say that Mark (Sam Jaeger) was really interested in the lake house – where June saw Hannah. June is not happy that Luke told Mark about it. Luke presses that it’s the first new information they’ve had about Hannah – and he’s clearly desperate to find her. It’s clear that June’s attempt to soothe Luke and give him some closure has backfired. He doesn’t realize how long ago this was – and what June’s last meeting with Hannah was like. June tells Luke that she didn’t want to tell Mark about it yet. 

When Moira comes in from putting Nichole to bed, June abruptly puts down her tea towel and leaves the kitchen, saying she wants to go over her testimony for the morning. Both Moira and Luke look hurt. Luke doesn’t have enough information to have any idea what she’s going through – plus he’s a man (see the opening song again!), but I’m surprised at Moira, who seems to have forgotten her own anger. Luke tells Moira that June doesn’t want him to go in the morning. Moira tells him that if she wanted a cheering section, she would have asked them to come – but she’s also clearly disappointed. Luke doesn’t know what she wants – she’s like a stranger half the time – he references Hannah and then ‘in bed’ – a reference to the horrific sex scene in the last episode. Moira admits that trauma is a bumpy road, and he doesn’t know what she’s been through – and he admits that might be part of the problem.

Fred visits Serena to go over their testimony. She’s reading Moira’s testimony. Serena berets him for how he acted – rolling his eyes – while Moira’s testimony was read in court. She tells him that he has to get it together. Everything he does in court is going to influence the outcome – and both of them – in fact all of Gilead. Fred wants Serena to be in court for June’s testimony, so that the world sees they are a family because appearances matter. Fred knows how to play Serena – he asks if she wants June to think she’s afraid of her. Serena agrees to come, and Fred tells her to “wear the teal” – that is the color of a Wife. As always, Serena is framed by the windows of her cell – but is it my imagination or is her weepy tree starting to look a bit more upright with all the rain it’s getting?

Back in Gilead, Aunt Lydia is also having trouble adjusting to what has become a new normal. With all of the trouble-makers either dead or fled, Handmaids are suddenly docile, accepting creatures. Lydia tries to find fault where there is none. She also gets more wound up when Aunt Ruth (Jeananne Goossen) and Aunt Elizabeth (Edie Inksetter) and talking and laughing quietly in a corner, clearly suspecting them of mocking her. She takes her frustration out on a Handmaid for the “impertinence” of trying to tell her there’s a stain on the floor. When Aunt Ruth tries to step in, Lydia gives her the cattle prod too! Once again the scene is beautifully framed. Aunt Lydia stands in the middle, herself framed by a huge stained-glass window, with an Aunt writhing on the floor on one side and a Handmaid writhing on the floor on the other. It’s a nice metaphor for how Gilead has damaged both in these roles. Aunt Lydia has to walk the gauntlet out of the hall. She knows she’s screwed up – however much we know she’s wanted to hurt Aunt Ruth, she knows she’s overstepped…

The scene shifts to June. Waiting to go in and testify. She is sitting alone in a neat, black dress and coat suit. She’s told it’s time. Her notes are on her lap, and she stares straight ahead at the camera. She too walks a gauntlet, down a hall to doors with two guards who open them for her. She enters the court – it’s round. Serena is with Fred – in the teal costume and with her hair back in its severe bun. Serena watches June pass.

June is sworn in. She asks if there’s a Bible – there isn’t in this court. Luke arrives with Mark. June exchanges a look with him and doesn’t smile. I have to wonder if she amended anything that she had intended to say. 

June begins by telling the court that Fred Waterford and Serena Joy Waterford imprisoned, beat, and raped her. She then goes on to tell of her arrival in 2017 – and reminds us that this was her second posting. She tells them about the ceremony – the legally sanctioned rapes. She then tells them of Serena’s desperation for a baby and her forcing June to have sex with Nick. She points out that this was a violation of Gilead law – that she was unable to refuse. She tells the court that Serena watched. She tells of her escape while pregnant and her recapture – but really doesn’t go into detail of all the abuse that she suffered upon her return. She does tell them about the rape after the false labor. 

June even tells them that Serena did try to improve conditions, which lead to her having her finger cut off for reading – from the Bible. She tells them about confronting Fred and his hitting her and threatening to cut out her tongue. She’s clearly still proud of the fact that she hit him back, even though it could mean execution. June tells the court that she had an opportunity to escape with Nichole, but she stayed to try to save her other daughter – Hannah – to bring her home to her father.

June then tells the court about being posted to the Lawrences. She tells them of the rape that Fred forced Joseph (Bradley Whitford) to commit on her and how that deeply affected Mrs Lawrence. June has a difficult time talking about Eleanor. This was the incident that made her so unstable that she became a danger to June’s mission and lead to June’s allowing her to die. June clearly still feels guilty about this. 

We then get a close up of June’s face as she tells the court that she’s grateful to be talking to them, but she’s only one voice. Countless others can’t be heard – and she’s clearly thinking of all the friends she’s lost – and her part in that. She asks in their name that the court confirm the charges and deliver the maximum possible sentence. She asks for justice. We then get a closeup of Luke, who is clearly struggling to take it all in. Fred looks contemplative. 

Dawn (Alexandra Castillo) then gets to ask questions for the defence. She begins by asking if June had an affair with a married man for months – Luke. Her point is that June has a history of deceitfulness and infidelity! She calls adultery her sin. She also asks if June chose to become a Handmaid. June points out it was that or the colonies. But Dawn insists – she knowingly agreed to the ceremony. She says that she didn’t sign up to get raped when she was nine months pregnant. 

Fred interrupts at that point to say it was another holy ceremony. The prosecutor asks the court to silence Fred, and the Presiding Judge (Jane Luk) tries and fails. Fred goes on to say that everyone made sacrifices in Gilead – as he rises to his feet – and asks where else is the birth rate rising? He insists that the chose God’s path and it works – and he uses Serena’s belly here as a prop. Did he plan this from the very beginning? 

June gets out of the witness box and confronts Fred directly, demanding to know how she was rewarded for her suffering. She bore Nichole and he let her see Hannah – a kindness! June declares that she is done, and anything more can wait for his trial. She holds her head high as she leaves the courtroom, looking neither left nor right. 

In Gilead, Aunt Lydia goes to see Joseph. Lydia spins a story about Aunt Ruth getting in her way and often being clumsy – and Joseph believes none of it. Interestingly, he’s more interested in the Handmaid. He points out that all of the Handmaids these days are compliant and obedient because they’ve known no other life. He brings up June – that it must be killing Lydia that June is free as a bird – and singing like one too. Joseph tells her that June won because she knows how to make people like her – and people do not like Aunt Lydia. She looks hurt, but Joseph says he sympathizes because people don’t like him either. 

Joseph tells her the reports (about her) will stop – and she’s afraid he’s going to terminate her. He tells her that he doesn’t want to – he wants her back in form. The work they’re doing, the future of Gilead is all that matters to him. And then Joseph springs a bombshell. They’ve captured Janine (Madeline Brewer). Her defiance is a complete blemish on Aunt Lydia’s training – but Aunt Lydia is thrilled. Aunt Lydia insists that Janine was merely lead astray. He tells her that it’s fortuitous that they have Janine in custody as Aunt Lydia enjoys inflicting pain – she denies it. I loved how this dovetailed back to the discussion between Luke and June over the dishes… Joseph tells her that he doesn’t judge – everyone needs a hobby. He doesn’t judge, but he files things away about people because he is an astute judge of character and uses them later to his advantage. He gives Janine to Aunt Lydia.

Back in group that night, Moira is talking about Fred spinning things – lipstick on a pig. The other women comment on him being a loser and the Internet going crazy over it. June arrives, and they applaud her. She’s brought Irene with her, however, and in a very familiar pattern, she places her on a chair at the center of the circle. This is just like the shaming circle used at the Red Center, but it also mimics the court she’s just come from. She positions Irene right in front of Emily so that she can confront her. The others want to know who Irene is or why she’s there. She’d been waiting outside.

Moira tells June it’s not the time or place. June asks why. It’s their group. Danielle (Natasha Mumba) asks who wants her to stay – and hands go up slowly. June tells Emily that she’s trying to help her, but it’s up to her if Irene stays. Emily says fine. June tells Irene that it’s ok. She came to talk, so talk.

Irene begins by confessing that she’s done some terrible things. They were trained to give “the corrections” – and June interrupts to clarify – you mean the beatings, the torture. Aunt Irene goes on to say “physical punishment” still softening the language – and then excusing it by saying it was meant to help keep them alive. Even Moira snorts at that. Irene confesses that she never touched Emily, but what she did was worse. June presses to know what she did. Irene tells them that she learned Emily had a lover – a Martha – and when the affair continued after Emily became Ofglen, she informed the Eyes. 

June clarifies again. She is the reason the woman was hanged and why Emily was mutilated. Emily asks what she wants. Irene tells her that she hasn’t had a moment’s peace since she learned that Emily was there and she wants forgiveness! Presumably, she could have carried on just fine if Emily were still in Gilead or dead! June points out that Irene is there after lying about who she is and what she did, trying to just leave everything she did behind – why does she deserve forgiveness?

Irene looks confused. Clearly her brainwashing didn’t quite cover this. She tells June that they’re all God’s children. June tells her “bull shit.” They hide behind God every time it serves them. Irene gets on her knees and asks Emily what she can do to make things better, and Emily tells her nothing before getting up and leaving the circle. 

June and Luke have another uncomfortable dinner. He asks how group was, and she smiles and says good. He then apologizes for showing up in court. He thinks he knows everything and now maybe they can just move on! Oh Luke. So sweetly na├»ve… He tells her if she wants to talk to him about anything, about Hannah, he’s there. She says no. She’s clearly not happy that she has to comfort him. She goes to him, but the only thing she can really think to do is physical. But he doesn’t want that – he wants her to talk. And this is the exact result of the trauma that she’s endured. Sex was all she was good for, and talking would get your tongue cut out or worse.

Aunt Lydia goes to Janine who is in the same prison that June was earlier in the season. She tells Janine that she looks terrible, but it was Gilead who saved her by rescuing her from Chicago. Janine asks where June is. Lydia tells her that June is in Canada. Janine is happy that June made it, but Lydia tells her that June left her behind because she was just too difficult. 

Janine makes the same plea that June made. She doesn’t care if she dies, but she asks Lydia not to make her a Handmaid again. Lydia blames June for corrupting her. She calls her a poor thing, having lost everyone she’s ever loved. Janine asks again – she’d rather die than return to service. Lydia tells her that there’s no use in being theatrical. Lydia hugs her, crying. Janine submits, but her eyes remain dry.

Moira and Emily sit in a park. Moira is angry at June. Emily says she thought it would help. Moira is surprised and asks if it did. Emily tells her that it wasn’t enough. Moira is shocked – does she want to see her again? Emily says she’s said all she has to. Moira points out that they are all just looking for a way forward – away from what happened to them in Gilead. Emily isn’t sure it can happen. Moira wants to get Irene to testify – and encourages Emily to talk to her again.

Emily takes the drive to go and see Irene. It’s clearly Canadian winter! When she gets there, she’s too late. Police and ambulance are there – and Irene is hanging from a tree. Her pajamas are Martha grey, but her slippers are red. There’s a beautiful shot of the sun shining through her fingers. Bledel is excellent in this scene. There is no dialogue or sound except some choral singing – which is perfect for ‘all God’s children.’ Her face which has been pinched for pretty much the last two seasons, seems to relax as she looks at the body. She doesn’t get out of the car – she just turns around and leaves. She is thoughtful as she drives away and seems to be on the verge of smiling. Lets not forget that her first act of defiance was running down a Guardian with a stolen car!

Fred and Serena prepare for another day in court. Fred remarks that there is a bigger crowd than normal waiting outside the prison. Serena asks if he believed what he said the day before in court. He tells her yes, and she’s pleased. The exit the prison, and it’s clear that the crowd is there to CHEER for them! Fred tells her, “They heard us, Mrs Waterford.” She reaches down and takes his hand and smiles as they head to the car. They hold signs praising them and God. It’s terrifying. They are both pleased to be back in the spotlight.

We’re back in group. Moira says she knows that they are all pretty shocked about Irene. Emily, however, has a different look on her face. Her hair is loose, not pulled back into a ponytail, and she doesn’t have the nervous, unsure look on her face. June is looking at Emily – she sees the difference. Vicky (Amanda Zhou) says it’s sad. Another Handmaid (Jasmin Husain) says a trial and prison would have been better. Danielle says “the bitch took the coward’s way out.” Danielle asks Moira what she thinks. Moira hedges by saying that she thinks that they are all better than the worst thing they’ve done. 

Then sympathy shifts to Emily, telling her that she shouldn’t feel guilty. June says that they should let Emily tell them how she feels – if she wants to. June clearly already knows the answer. Emily hesitates and then says that she feels amazing. She glad that Irene is dead, and she hopes that she had something to do with it. June is pleased – and Moira is not. And then the other women join in with what they’d like to do. Moira tries to take control back – and tamp the anger down. She acknowledges that anger is a valid emotion and is important to healing, but they can’t live there. June asks why not. Why does healing have to be the only goal? Do they have the right to be as furious as they feel? And I loved this question – and how their roles have been reversed. June is pushing against boundaries that have been imposed on women since the dawn of time. 

Moira tries to cut things off – and take back control. Their time is up. They can pick it up again next week. June says she’ll stay longer if anyone else wants to. Danielle is the first to say that she’ll stay – and then the rest do too. June is gathering a new army.

June arrives home and walks through the darkened house. She pauses at the bottom of the stairs, and it feels like so many times that we watched her walk up the stairs alone at the Waterford’s. Luke sits alone on their bed – mimicking how we’ve seen June sitting as a Handmaid. Waiting. He’s clearly uncomfortable when she comes in the room, expecting the same rough, unwanted sex. Instead, she hugs his head, and tells him she needs to tell him something. She’s going to tell him about the last time she saw Hannah. 

The final song is “Hell Is Round the Corner” by Tricky and is also the perfect choice. The lyrics include “Say reduce me, seduce me” – and that’s exactly what happens to the Handmaids, and is also what June has been doing to keep Luke at a distance. The lyrics go on to include “Passing the ignorance ensures the struggle for my family.” In order for them to heal, June has to drag Luke into her Hell (title of the song!) and tell him everything. 

Once again, I found myself not thinking a lot of this episode after the first watch. However, as always with this show, on re-watching and really digging into it, the episode is rich in nuance. Everyone heals differently and has to find their own path through their trauma. Great performances once again from the entire cast, but Bledel, Fagbenle, and Moss really stood out for me. What did you think of the episode? Is June starting to find her new purpose or spinning out of control? Are Fred and Serena going to claw their way out of this? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below! 

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