We're now four seasons into 'The Handmaid's Tale'. Four long, hard seasons.
For a show that's been continuously tough going and seems to wallow in its bleakness season after season, you've got to ask yourself why it's still going. Last season, we saw Mayday - Gilead's own resistance movement - begin to coalesce around June, and the Waterfords finally saw some kind of retribution for their absolutely heinous behaviour throughout the previous three seasons.
'Pigs', the season four opener, carries on two big ideas throughout the season - a woman's body being a battleground for control, and the pull between justice and revenge. When the crime is so incalculable, so utterly despicable, what kind of justice can anyone truly mete out that doesn't look like vengeance? The final moments of the episode leave you with that question.
The episode opens with June being carried towards a remote farm with a bullet in her side and close to death. The remote farm is where the members of Mayday begin to find some kind of respite and comfort while June recuperates and tries to plot the next move. Of course, everyone's so exhausted and worn out from fighting that they're rightfully thinking this is as close as they can get to freedom in Gilead. Esther, the wife of the house, is basically a child bride who's suffered all kinds of truly sickening crimes at the hands of both her elderly husband and his henchmen, no doubt the pigs in the episode's title. Because her elderly husband is so weak, she's turned the remote farm into a safe house for Mayday - but she's desperate for them to do something instead of hanging around.
Meanwhile, up in Canada, the Waterfords are basically knee-deep in shit with the arrival of nine Marthas and eighty-six children that June and the rest of Mayday helped to get there. While they were both supposed to meet with their lawyers, this arrival from Gilead seems to be complicating things and probably not in their favour. Checking in with Aunt Lydia, she's been released from interrogation after two weeks - nineteen days, as she corrects the Commanders. Like June and Esther, she wants revenge too - on June.
As for June, just as she starts to heal up and get a handle on things, Esther and other members of the farm find a Guardian who was caught drinking and trying to sneak onto the farm. Sure enough, he's beaten pretty badly but when it's revealed that he was one of the Guardian who participated in some horrifying stuff against Esther, it gets far worse for him. 'The Handmaid's Tale' has never, in the four seasons so far, shied away from being disturbing or trying to mollycoddle its viewers. You know what you're letting yourself in for.
Yet, even four seasons in, it's still managing to shock people. The problem that becomes clear in 'Pigs' is that maybe that's all that left. A fifth season is already in the works, but you've got to wonder how much story is left on this thing. By the end of the second season, when June turned around and went back to Gilead after having an opening to leave, you could square that. She had to go back for her daughter, there were others still trapped there, it made sense. Now? Now there's got to be something coming down the road that starts to put this all together. Already, you can see that it's lining up to something big - potentially, an invasion plan by Gilead into Canada.
It can't be another season of endless grimness. It's got to actually move the whole thing on in some way. Here's hoping that happens.
- Kind of love the idea of the members of Mayday in a cottagecore setting
- Yes, the pig is called Mr. D'Arcy because of course it is
- We need a name for the eventual showdown between Lydia and June, like the way 'Game of Thrones' had Cleganebowl
- That chair thing with Commander Lawrence is just the worst kind of rug-pull crap, come on