Looking back over this season of 'The Handmaid's Tale', the show has really moved things on in a way that it hasn't since the first or even second season.
June has made it out of Gilead, the Waterfords have been captured, Moira and Luke are settled in Canada, and the whole series finally has some kind of pace to it. Last week's episode, 'Testimony', really laid out where everything's been so, and with this week's episode titled 'Progress', we have to ask - what kind of progress is being made?
June and Luke are trying their best to progress the return of Hannah to them, even going so far as making a phone call to Commander Lawrence. As blasé as ever, he quite rightly points out that June has gotten soft in Canada when he offers to return Hannah in exchange for 10 of the 86 children she got out of Gilead. Knowing full-well what they'll be put through, June refuses and instead Luke comes to her with a pretty bold solution - meet with Commander Nick, swap Nicole for Hannah.
It's a heartbreaking scene, really played as a two-hander, between OT Fagbenle and Elisabeth Moss. Luke knows, probably all too well, that June is in love with Nick and that Nicole - though he's helped to raise to her and care for her - is not his daughter. Hannah is his daughter, so why should he continue to go without when Nick would want his daughter? June, of course, is the one stuck in the middle and therein sets the moment for when Nick and June meet later on. It's telling that the topic of swapping out the children never comes up when they meet, as Nick hands her a dossier with all the information he can gather up about Hannah, including recent photos taken from friendlies and her school report. Though the two of them depart without making any future plans, Nick tries to offer some kind of comfort to June and asks her to "try to be happy" in Canada, and he the same in Gilead. What makes it so heartbreaking is that both of them are ultimately doomed - he won't be able to get out of Gilead until it's destroyed, and she won't be able to be with him until she's destroyed her marriage to Luke. Maybe 'destroyed' is a strong word there, but it's the basic principle. She will have to bring her marriage to Luke to an end in order to be happy with Nick.
Meanwhile, down in Gilead, Jeanine is trying to help Esther become a good Handmaid in the Red Center. It's stuff that's been covered before in grim detail - she's refusing to eat, so they're chaining her to a bed, but Jeanine - like us - can't go through watching another woman be brutalised and tortured by Gilead before they break. So, she urges her to simply give in and eat, because she has to stay alive until "things get better here". That's the big question for next season, isn't it? When do things get better in Gilead? When it's finally gone? What's been proven time and time again is that Gilead will never, ever improve. More than that, it doesn't care about anything or anyone that isn't with them completely.
As laid out in this episode, not even the Waterfords have anything left with Gilead. After both of them are visited by a power couple from Gilead, they're both told in certain terms that their lives are over in Gilead. The Commanders are refusing to offer any kind of exchange for Fred Waterford's freedom, telling him that they're sending him futile "thoughts and prayers", while Serena has been told she'll be sent to the Colonies or even be turned into a Handmaid when she arrives in Gilead, with her child being sent to another family's home. It's so clear just how much of a scumbag hypocrite Serena is. She knows that being a Handmaid is an awful fate, she knows she's hurt and tortured fellow women, and she doesn't want it for herself. Both of them would rather turn against Gilead - and do - than go back there and face what everyone else has.
The final scene of this week's episode, however, is pretty chilling and is no doubt leading to something grizzly for next week's episode. When the US government rep tells Luke, Moira and June that Fred Waterford has flipped and the charges against him are being dropped, June finally snaps and runs after the US government rep and screams in his face that she's going to kill him. Is she talking about that guy or is she talking about Fred Waterford?
- The song that plays when June drives away from Nick is 'On the Nature of Daylight' by Max Richter and, fun fact, Elisabeth Moss was in the music video for the song!
- You've got to imagine the therapy group/vigilante squad from last week's episode are gonna come looking for Fred Waterford the minute they find out he's free
- Are we sure the Waterfords are going to have a boy? Because it feels like they're setting up for the child being a girl? Pretty sure they haven't confirmed this, but who knows
- If they turn Jeanine into an Aunt, that would be some pretty twisted writing but it'd make sense, tbf