With last week's revelation that Waterford is going to get away scott-free after he made a deal with the US to turn witness on Gilead and give them all kinds of information, it seemed that Waterford's fate was all but assured.
Even in a show like 'The Handmaid's Tale' that regularly traffics in the horrors of injustice, and frequently sees true evil get away with things again and again, there is no way that Waterford was going to escape this time.
Let's talk about the final ten minutes because, really, that's what this whole episode was building up to. Arguably, the whole series has been building up to this moment. Commander Waterford, after having gone through the prisoner exchange and had his deal with the ICC yoinked out from under him, is brought to the border between Canada and Gilead where he's met by none other than June. Nick, who's now in charge of the Eyes, turns him over to her and then walks away. Is it all a bit of a wish fulfilment? Obviously, Gilead has no use for him whatsoever, but how does Nick square this with the other Commanders? Why was Lawrence in on it? Did the two of them together just keep out of the other Commanders' hearing and just let this happen? Sure, Gilead was going to put him on trial and most likely hang him for his treason, but this?
However it goes down in Gilead afterwards is obviously due to be explored in next season, but for the moment, Waterford is completely fucked and this is where he meets his end. There's a moment, just before all this, when Lawrence tells June that whatever justice he'll receive from Gilead, it won't be enough for her. Even before that, when Moira is trying to convince June to fly directly to Geneva to appeal to the ICC, it's all so hollow and ineffective. The question then is direct action like this the only real justice left in the show's world? The fact that Waterford is literally torn apart - his ring finger was cut off and sent to Serena! - by the Therapy Group / Vigilante Squad, and everyone walks away from it calmly and quietly, means they themselves are unlikely to face any repercussions from the Canadians or Gilead for that matter. When June goes home to hug Nicole, she's covered in Waterford's blood. Whatever she's done now, she can't go back to her family. Maybe she never could after Gilead. As she joked to the US Government Guy, Gilead has the ability to turn women into c-words. The repercussions for June are that she's crossed a line into the wilderness and is unlikely to find her way back any time soon.
Maybe that's what this show needs. It's spent so long just treading water, having her be subject to violence and misery and injustice again and again. For four seasons, people have been waiting for Waterford to get what's coming to him. The final ten minutes of this week's episode were the most satisfying the show's been in years, maybe ever. With a fifth season on the way, you have to wonder where it's going to go now and if it can keep going. Gilead, by all accounts, isn't going anywhere in this world. Commander Lawrence appears to have a firm grip on power there, Nick is now in the charge of the Eyes, the US Government is in exile and has no real power anymore, and the ICC and the Canadians don't seem to be involved all that much.
'The Handmaid's Tale' has always put the wider world in the background, instead zeroing in on the characters and making their world the entire show. June, when she was a Handmaid, could only see beyond the edges of the house in which she was sequestered. Now, that she's free not only of Gilead but of Waterford's grip over her, has got to start moving into a bigger world. There's a lot of questions left over in this finale, but one that stands tall - where really can 'The Handmaid's Tale' go from here?
- Definitely, the next season is going to be June V. Serena
- Are Nick and June ever going to have a normal relationship in all of this?
- The song when Waterford is torn apart is Lesley Gore's 'You Don't Own Me', previously used in 'The First Wives' Club'
- The phrase under Waterford's headless body is 'Noli bastardes carborundum', which was something he wrote way back in the first season. It's in Dog Latin, and means 'Don't let the bastards grind you down'