The Handmaid's Tale Season 4 Premiere Review: Bad Day, Bad Week, Bad Year

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Blessed be, or it would have been if the first three episodes hadn't been such a letdown.

It's been over a year and a half since new episodes of The Handmaid's Tale aired, and you'd think -- or rather hope in this instance -- The Handmaid's Tale Season 4 would have been worth that wait. Unfortunately, it wasn't.

From the repetitive and roundabout storytelling to the needless brutality and the show's refusal to have June leave Gilead for good, there are barely any praises left to sing.

June and the other handmaids - The Handmaid's Tale Season 4 Episode 1

One of the show's weakest plot points is that it just doesn't seem to know what to do with June.

She's caught in an endless cycle, oscillating from imprisoned handmaid to a fugitive on the run, never quite earning her freedom, even though she's had at least two chances to escape Gilead.

Esther: I’m not worried at all. You’re here. June is here. I want to hurt them so badly, Gilead, the men. What can we do?
June: It’s not safe right now. They’re looking for us, and we can’t be moving around outside the farm.
Esther: Yeah, but you’re Mayday. We do things.
June: We will.
Esther: You’re not in bed anymore, so…
June: Mrs. Keyes… God, it’s not fair. Someone your age should never need to be this brave.
Esther: I’m the mistress of this house.
June: Yes, you are, ma’am.
Esther: If you weren’t gonna fight, then why did you come here? You should have just let them catch you.

Instead, she chooses to remain in this backwoods patriarchal shit show of society for reasons beyond me.

So June just aimlessly continues on this path, never truly facing any real consequences for her actions.

Injured June - The Handmaid's Tale Season 4 Episode 1

Whether it's helping her daughter escape or "kidnapping" 86 children, June always manages to get off scot-free, never enduring any lasting repercussions for her actions.

And at this point, it's hard to overlook the obvious: Based on all the "crimes" June has committed against Gilead, she should be hanging on the wall.

The lives of those in Gilead would be a lot simpler if June were dead, and it's just getting harder and harder for the writers to justify her continued survival.

Her fertility is supposedly her saving grace, but killing one troublesome handmaid now would prevent many headaches in the future.

June and a handmaid on the farm - The Handmaid's Tale Season 4 Episode 1

That's not saying I want June dead, but it's just perplexing that those in power in Gilead haven't done it yet.

Had June been killed before The Handmaid's Tale Season 4 Episode 1, she wouldn't have been able to, from Gilead's point of view, kidnap all those children and lead other handmaids astray.

Commander Lawrence: June, you have to tell me where the handmaids are. June, you have to tell me where they are. Or they will hurt Hannah. They will hurt her.
June: No, no, Gilead… they’d never hurt a child. It’s all they care about.
Commander Lawrence: Gilead doesn’t care about children. Gilead cares about power. Faithfulness, old-time values, homemade bread, that’s the just means to the end. It’s a distraction. I thought you would have figured that out by now.
June: I thought you were gonna clean up your mess.
Commander Lawrence: I can’t do it from the end of the rope. This is where we are.
June: Well, go fuck yourself.
Commander Lawrence: Motherhood’s always been an evolutionary puzzle to me.

Then, the country wouldn't be in this mess, where they apparently can't spare even one handmaid, which is why June is still alive.

It just doesn't make any sense, as does her refusal to leave Gilead.

Mrs. Keyes and Janine - The Handmaid's Tale Season 4 Episode 1

June could be a free woman in Canada right now, but every time she has the opportunity to leave, she doesn't go.

Her reasoning for wanting to rescue Hannah has become increasingly less convincing, especially as more and more of her loved ones find their way across the border.

Luke, Nicole, Moira, Emily, and even Rita are in Canada; only Hannah and Nick are left in Gilead.

And as for Nick, if June suddenly asked him to run away with her and leave everything behind, something tells me Nick would do it in a heartbeat.

Nick and June - The Handmaid's Tale Season 4 Episode 2

He's madly in love with June, and the pull of them being together with their daughter would be too great.

They could be an actual family, not stealing kisses every few months. 

Nick: Hannah’s back home. She’s safe. I’m sorry. I had to what I had to do…
June: Stop. She was scared of me. She wasn’t scared of them. She was scared of me. She was scared. My baby was scared of me. She wasn’t scared of them.
Nick: Listen to me.
June: She didn’t know… she didn’t know me.
Nick: She loves you. She loves you. I love you.

Of course, Luke might complicate the equation, but if that dream were within reach, Nick would take it.

Therefore, June's claims about staying Gilead for her eldest daughter don't hold much weight anymore.

A captured June - The Handmaid's Tale Season 4 Episode 3

She's either deluding herself into believing she can rescue Hannah, or something else is keeping her here, something like the taste for blood.

Over the past season, June has become more bloodthirsty, going from killing only when necessary to get some sort of sick pleasure out of it.

She relishes in the kill, coming alive when she's plotting someone's murder.

Killing seems to be the only way June believes she can hurt Gilead, to cause its citizens to feel a sliver of the agony they put her through.

Luke struggles - The Handmaid's Tale Season 4 Episode 3

And if June leaves Gilead, she gives that up. She loses her ability to hurt the monsters that made her this way.

It's a twisted way of thinking, but it's one of the only explanations that make sense for why June refuses to leave Gilead.

Luke: June’s in prison, and we’re lighting candles.
Moira: We’re doing everything we can for her.
Luke: Don’t rub it in. Did she choose this?
Moira: Who, June? No, she didn’t choose this.
Luke: Because she chose to stay in Gilead, and she knew she’d probably get caught.
Moira: Maybe. Die trying to do something good.
Luke: It’s just… it’s just she knew she’d probably never see me again, right? She knew she’d probably never see either of us again. And, um, that’s the choice that she made, and I got to respect it. I got to respect her. I can’t ask God for something she didn’t want.
Moira: God’s been looking out for her so far.

As Luke told Moira on The Handmaid's Tale Season 4 Episode 3, June had to know what would happen to her if she stayed, and yet she still chose to do so, even though her husband, daughter, and best friend are in Canada.

It's heartbreaking for Luke that June keeps prioritizing others over himself and Nicole, but what else is new?

Moira's WTF Look - Tall - The Handmaid's Tale Season 3 Episode 1

June does whatever she wants; consequences be damned.

That became alarmingly clear in these first three episodes, as June continued to act brash and impulsively while others paid the price.

Two of Commander Lawrence's Marthas are dead, along with the rest of the handmaid fugitives sans her and Janine, who were either shot or brutally run over by an oncoming train.

That doesn't even include the Jezebels who died after June murder Commander Winslow or the driver who was shot when June was captured or the 86 children who were ripped from the only homes they could remember. 

Emily appears - The Handmaid's Tale Season 4 Episode 2

Heck, even Moira and Emily have suffered because of June's misconstrued selflessness.

June makes these big moves in doing what she thinks is right, but she forgets that her actions have consequences most of the time.

Moira: The kid’s fucked up. He missed Gilead.
Emily: Like you said, “Better here than there.”
Moira: Eventually. I mean right now it sucks for a lot of them, the ones that got ripped from the only families they remember.
Emily: I guess June didn’t think that part through.
Moira: ‘Cause that’s what she does. Takes the big swing and fuck the consequences. God knows I can be a messy bitch, but that one… I love her, and I miss her, and I am worried about her. And I love Nicole, but I never wanted to be a mom.
Emily: Why do you feel you have to clean up June’s messes?
Moira: Fuck if I know. Making up for when I got out, and she didn’t, I guess. I’m tired of feeling guilty.
Emily: I get it. She gave me her baby and stayed behind. Who does that?
Moira: Ugh, are we terrible people?
Emily: Maybe, but I don’t think so.

It's somewhat understandable, as none of what June does negatively impacts her; instead, it affects those closest to her and ripples out.

Anyone who helps June or is close to her ends up paying a steep price, and Janine should be careful as the pair embark on their next great adventure, which, let's face it, won't amount to much beyond ending up back in the clutches of Aunt Lydia.

Serena is bound to Fred - The Handmaid's Tale Season 4 Episode 2

Elsewhere, the Waterfords found themselves dealing with their criminal proceedings and some surprising and unexpected news.

First off, Serena's pregnancy, while possibly providing a host of interesting storylines, feels contrived.

The whole point of the Waterfords having a handmaid is that they were unable to conceive, and yet, now somehow, Serena is magically pregnant.

It's a deus ex machina to save a failing marriage and makes the Waterfords' treatment of June all the more horrific.

Interrogation Time  - The Handmaid's Tale Season 3 Episode 13

That's not to say the way Fred and Serena treated June was ever OK, because it wasn't, but knowing that the marrieds could have a biological child of their own without the assistance of a handmaid makes everything they did to June and put her through even worse.

There was no need for June to be raped month after month, no need for the abuse at the Waterfords' hands, no need for the constant humiliation and brutalization.

Fred: My attorney told me what to expect at the motion to dismiss hearing.
Serena: It’s just a legal strategy.
Fred: You’re willing to expose every detail of our lives, our faith to complete strangers.
Serena: No, I don’t want to. It doesn’t have to be like this.
Fred: You’ve gotten rusty. You used to be so good at getting me to do what you want, but my eyes are open now.
Serena: Fred, please, I just want my daughter back.
Fred: Nicole is not your daughter any more than she is mine, and if you think I’m coming to let you have her, walk free, go start some new life, you are delusional.
Serena: You know I thought once you were out of Gilead, once you were out of that uniform, you would come back to yourself.
Fred: I am as you made me, as you have made us.
Serena: As I have made us? Fred, you never once stood up for me, never once. Not once you got a taste of power. I thought it was my fault. I thought I deserved everything you did to me.
Fred: I think I gave you too much freedom. So you’re right, it doesn’t have to be like this.

There was no need for any of it.

However, had the Waterfords known in hindsight there was a chance they could conceive naturally, they wouldn't have done anything differently because that's the heinous and monstrous sort of people they are.

Time's Up  - The Handmaid's Tale Season 3 Episode 13

Serena's pregnancy also most likely brings a screeching halt to her character development.

She was so close to accepting that what Fred put her through was emotional, verbal, and physical abuse, going so far as wanting to sever their interests at the end of The Handmaid's Tale Season 4 Episode 2.

However, the news of her pregnancy will undo all of that growth and cause Serena to revert to her worst self.

After all, Fred's atrocities might look different in the light of day now that her estranged husband has given her what she's wanted most: the chance to be a mother.

Fred Waterford  - The Handmaid's Tale Season 3 Episode 10

Serena now has that opportunity with her unborn child, and any motivation for testifying against Fred goes out the window.

She only agreed to turn Fred in so she could get Nicole back.

Serena: I need to separate my interests from Fred. I am done with him.
Mark: We can talk about that later.
Serena: No, we can talk about that right now.
Mark: You’re pregnant, Serena. The results from your blood test came back. Congratulations.

Now, with the prospect of having a child to call hers and the realization that being Nicole's mother again is a long shot, her motivations have changed.

Yes, this pregnancy will shake things up for the Waterfords, and I'm not looking forward to it. Not in the slightest.

Serena Is Not Happy  - The Handmaid's Tale Season 3 Episode 10

Some stray thoughts:

  • Can someone explain why the series feels the constant need to up the violence and brutality? It's no longer edgy or bold storytelling. The show now borders on torture porn and those scenes, like June being waterboarded, are awful to watch. There's no thematic point to their inclusion; they're just added in for shock value.

  • Did anyone else think Mark might be lying about Serena's pregnancy? Had it not been for the promos and confirmation from actress Yvonne Strahovski, I would have thought Mark was lying in an attempt to manipulate Serena into convincing Fred to recant his accusation. 

A Job To Do  - The Handmaid's Tale Season 3 Episode 8
  • Most of the storylines set in Gilead that didn't involve June felt pointless. June has been the focal point around which most of the drama has revolved, so with her AWOL, it's hard to care about Commander Lawrence clawing his way back to power or Aunt Lydia's reprimanding.

  • It was unnerving to watch Mckenna Grace portray a raped and sexually abused 14-year-old wife. Even though she actually is 14, I still see her as a little girl, what with her playing younger versions of characters on The Vampire Diaries and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. That said, she did an exceptional job in her role.

Rita speech - The Handmaid's Tale Season 4 Episode 2
  • Did anyone else catch that June's speech to Esther, right before she instructed the young wife to gut her abuser, was eerily similar to what Aunt Lydia said to the handmaids on The Handmaid's Tale Season 1 before they stoned a commander to death? June may fight it, but she's become like Aunt Lydia in a lot of ways.

  • Now that June and Janine are on the run, how long do you think it'll be before they end up back in Gilead's clutches? Two episodes, three? I'm betting that by the end of the season, June and Janine will be on that breeding colony where they were poised to go. Thoughts?

So what did you think, Handmaid's Tale Fanatics?

Why isn't June in Canada?

Has June acquired the taste of blood?

What do you make of Serena's pregnancy?

Don't forget to hit the comments below to let me know your thoughts. If you missed the latest episode, remember you can watch The Handmaid's Tale online at TV Fanatic.

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Jessica Lerner was a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She retired in October 2021.

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The Handmaid's Tale Season 4 Episode 1 Quotes

You’re the one I’ve been waiting for. You got those children out. He sent me dreams of you. We were killing people together. It was the most wonderful dreams. Just rest. Get better.


Mark: This morning a plane left Gilead and landed at Pearson. There were nine Marthas on board.
Fred: Apostates. Gilead is well rid of them, I’m sure.
Mark: There were also 86 children.
Serena: I’m sorry, did you say 86 children?
Mark: Yes. We don’t have much more information right now. All we know is they’re here in Toronto, and that they’re safe.
Serena: Their poor families.
Mark: They’re being reunited with their families as we speak.
Fred: This will start a war.
Mark: We’re planning to everything we can to avoid that, but right now our priority is the wellbeing of the children.
Fred: Then you’ll return them home as quickly as possible.
Mark: I’d like nothing better, but there homes are gone. You destroyed them.