Is nepotism the gift we give to heroes?
Does singular greatness outweigh the greater good?
Is one life worth more because of who loves them?
The fourth season of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” unlike other shows that fall upon the weight of its lofty, internationally set outgrowth into later seasons, is still very much focused on the individual and that person’s capabilities when kept in captivity.
June makes her glorious and—of course—drama-laden landing on Canadian soil, where she is treated to the fineries of what life was like before Gilead by the remaining U.S. government who consider her a “high-profile refugee,” enough so to have an assistant go shopping at Anthropologie for her new wardrobe.
June’s rescue from the beginning sparks off philosophical concerns as she is snuck onto a humanitarian NGO’s vessel by best friend Moira, who destroys her budding romance with the ship’s captain and missionary leader, Oona, by forcing her to choose to lie to Gilead inspectors about June’s identity.
In a tense meeting, the relief workers debate whether to turn in June, and Oona says, “Humanitarian efforts are for people, not one person,” and is inclined with the staff, who think despite June being a hero, is not worth putting their organization out of work with the diplomatic repercussions of hiding a Gileadean enemy of the state.
But of course, we know that June has to be saved, and that she will; however, the fourth season is concerned with just how broad her newfound status will reach.
As a prime witness against Cmdr. Waterford and Serena Joy, June is afforded midnight visits to the pair and is allowed to confront them face-to-face.
She tries to provide the same peace for Emily by allowing a former Martha into their refugee group, but learns that confrontation without consequences is not enough, especially after Cmdr. Waterford turns informant and renders June’s testimony against him useless.
Deftly, the directors (Elisabeth Moss even directs a few episodes) of this season parallel June’s privileged—albeit traumatizing—experience, with other refugees and hold the question over her as to whether she’s fully “savior” or equal parts “opportunist.”
June attempts to negotiate a deal where trade advantages will be given to Gilead in exchange for her first daughter with Cmdr. Lawrence, who suggests a more heartbreaking trade of some of the children brought over to Canada on Angels’ Flight for Hannah.
Again, we come to the questions of, which life is worth more?
June ultimately gives up on that point and instead follows husband Luke’s suggestion to lean on Cmdr. Nick Blaine’s affections for June and their daughter, Nichole, to get Hannah back.
Throughout the supporting cast, there are reminders to June that they have all had to leave people behind, but she is the only one with enough connections to make her family whole.
Unable to get Hannah, June does manage to broker a deal between Lawrence and the American government: 22 refugees for the return of Waterford to Gilead.
Waterford meets with a bloody death at the hands of Gilead refugees in the woods between the Gilead and Canada, but it’s June’s fulfillment of a personal punishment that leads this poetic justice.
What made Margaret Atwood’s novel so moving was June’s character’s droll and fact-of-the-matter delivery of everyday life in Gilead, and her movement to rebellion leader was somewhat “Hollywood,” but the slow turn back into a privileged refugee among nameless faces is a third act that inspires.
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