Now we're talking.
It's hard to believe we were bemoaning this series only episodes ago because The Handmaid's Tale Season 4 Episode 9 was another phenomenal hour of television.
Seriously, thank goodness the writers got it together because this is the sort of content we not only need but deserve.
First up, we have Fred switching sides, which takes the story to new heights.
Yes, fanatical Fred Waterford has cut a deal with the United States and Canada to divulge top-secret information in exchange for his freedom, but it's not because the former commander had a change of heart.
Fred: Our son’s freedom will be what sustains me.
Serena: They could take him away. Gilead could come for our son. A mother alone, they think the baby belongs to the state.
Fred: Naomi said that?
Serena: Naomi said come back to Gilead as if I wouldn’t face retribution. They’d send me to the colonies. They could make me a handmaid.
Fred: That’s not going to happen. I promise. I’ll do everything in my power to make sure you and our son are protected.
Serena: What power? What could you possibly do from in here?
Fred: Have faith.
Had it not been for Fred's visit with Warren Putnam, Fred may have been willing to stay loyal to Gilead to the very end, even if the International Criminal Court had decided to lock Fred up and throw away the key.
So long as Serena and their unborn son were free, safe, and together, Fred would have been willing to go down with the ship.
Spending the rest of his life behind bars isn't ideal, but Fred would have made the sacrifice had he been reassured that the higher-ups in Gilead were at least trying to get him released or make a deal in exchange for his freedom.
Had the negotiations failed or the Canadians unwilling to bargain, Fred would have remained steadfast to his country, but upon learning that the other commanders had thrown him out like yesterday's trash, he re-examined his priorities.
Because if Gilead wasn't going to prioritize him or his wife, then why should he do the same?
And weakening his already wavering resolve was the realization that Gilead could take his unborn son and force his wife to work in the colonies or become a handmaid.
To be clear, Fred is a despicable excuse for a human being and doesn't deserve forgiveness, kindness, or redemption of any sort, but with that in mind, this is a man who, in his screwed up, way loves his family and would do anything to protect them.
Fred readily agreed to drop the allegations against Serena upon learning she was pregnant and has now made a deal to turn on Gilead in exchange for his family's freedom.
Mark: We have a new asset in Toronto too. He knows how the system operates. He could advise us.
Luke: OK, who is it?
Mark: Fred Waterford.
Mark: He’s agreed to share his wealth of knowledge, inside information about Gilead, all of its top players, future plans.
June: Why would he do that?
Mark: In exchange for his freedom. The prosecution has dropped the charges.
Moira: You made a deal with him? That fucking piece of crap.
Mark: I understand why you’re upset.
Luke: Upset? This is fucking bullshit.
June: So my testimony spooked him, and you knew that, and then you used that to flip him.
Mark: You testified so the world could hear the truth.
Moira: So you get your asset, and he gets to walk? What sort of fucked up justice is that?
Mark: Sometimes you have to let one fish go to catch a lot of other bigger fish.
Though he'll now be branded a traitor, this is the best outcome Fred could hope for given the circumstances.
Because even if Serena had walked away from all of this in the clear, without making this backroom deal with Mark, there was a very good chance Fred would have been found guilty on all charges and given the maximum sentence.
He would have had to watch his son grow up from behind bars, and with Gilead making no attempts at a potential trade, he could have been imprisoned for decades.
No, this deal was the best Fred was going to do, and it worked out well for Mark, who has now successfully flipped a former high-ranking commander to his side.
It was a win-win for the Waterfords and whoever's left of the U.S. government, but a complete and total loss for June and co.
Watching June find out that Mark had struck a deal with Fred and the prosecution had dropped the charges was heartbreaking.
June has gone through so much lately, and the one bright spot in coming to Canada -- besides reuniting with her family and friends -- has been the knowledge that Fred and Serena would be held responsible for their crimes.
The Waterfords tortured, abused, and raped June while she was their handmaid, and while there may not have been any justice for them in Gilead, the marrieds can be held accountable for their crimes in Canada.
That man is a fucking rapist. That man is a fucking rapist, and you know what he did to me. You know what he did to me. You know. You know he’s a fucking rapist. You know what he did to those women. I’m gonna fucking kill you. You know what he did to all of us. I will kill you. I will kill you.June
June was finally going to get justice for everything she's endured and could have started processing her trauma and moving forward with her life if the Waterfords had been locked up.
Now, though, that they've been granted their freedom, all bets are off.
June wants revenge and isn't going to let anyone, not even Mark, stand in her way.
We could be looking at another particularly bloody season finale, and it's impossible to guess how high the body count will be.
It wouldn't even be shocking to see The Handmaid's Tale Season 4 end with June behind bars after killing Fred, Serena, or even Mark.
Fred's shift in loyalty has the power to shake things up in a way that didn't seem possible upon June escaping Gilead, and I can't wait to see what comes next.
It's a shame that June is about to head down such a dark path because she seemed to be in a somewhat decent place throughout the episode.
Telling Luke the truth about what happened the last time she saw Hannah was the right call, and reaching out to Nick gave her some much-needed answers.
Luke: There’s someone else I think could help: Nick ‘cause he knew that Hannah had gone back to the McKenzies, so he might know where she lives or could find out.
June: Yeah, I mean maybe. I don’t know.
Luke: He’s a commander now, big man. He’s got access, so we should probably ask him before that changes.
June: Yeah, OK. Maybe Tuello could set up a call.
Luke: So you think Nick would help?
June: I think he would do anything for me and for Nichole.
Luke: I don’t think you should call with people listening and stuff. It would probably be better to meet him in person. Just make it safe. Some place protected.
June: You want me to meet with Nick?
Luke: No, no I don’t want you to meet with Nick, but you said he’d do anything for you. So this is our best chance to get Hannah, and so, I think you should take Nichole with you. How’s he going to say no to you if you bring him his daughter. So what do you think?
June: I think we have to try everything for Hannah.
June may not physically be able to get to Hannah at this moment, but she at least knows where her eldest daughter is and where to focus their efforts on their next rescue attempt.
Colorado Springs is still pretty far from the Canadian border, but it's still more information than June and Luke had before June met up with Nick.
June and Nick's clandestine meeting was everything my 'shipper heart could want and more.
Most of their relationship has been amid stolen moments, so it was fitting that their brief reunion followed suit.
The pair probably didn't have more than 10 or 15 minutes together with Nichole, but it was all they were going to get, and both June and Nick knew that, taking full advantage of their time together.
Nick's selflessness touched June the most, the fact that he kept looking for Hannah once she escaped to Canada.
Luke had come up with all these ways to manipulate Nick into doing what he and June wanted, but none of them were necessary for Nick would do anything for June even without being asked.
Nick did express regrets about not running away with June when he had the chance, but there was also no grand romantic speech à la Grey's Anatomy where Nick begged June to "pick him, choose him, love him."
Nick: Getting her out’s impossible. There are guardians everywhere. At least you know where she is now, and I’m here to do what I can.
June: You did all this for me?
Nick: I should have run away with you when I had the chance.
June: Probably should have gone to that beach in Hawaii.
All he wanted was for June to try to be happy, understanding that it would be with someone else.
For all of those reasons and more, June kissed Nick, even though she's "technically" back together with Luke.
At that moment, she was reminded of why she fell in love with Nick, a man who puts her safety and happiness above his own.
And even though she knew they weren't going to end up together, they could still be together then.
All they had was that moment, and boy, did they make it count, but a part of me does wonder why Nick didn't just return with June to Canada.
Logistically, he figured out a way to meet with June and Nichole in secret, so surely, he could have done something similar and followed her back the way she and the Secret Service came. Heck, he could even stow away in the trunk if it came down to it.
We've already established Nick would do anything for June and Nichole, so are we willing to believe he wouldn't have left Gilead behind to be with his family, especially when they were within reach?
Or does Nick staying in Gilead have something to do with his inability to cross the border?
Nick: Hey, June. Try and be happy.
June: Yeah. You too.
Once in Canada, Nick could seek asylum, but maybe, he can't get there through the proper channels? That would make the most sense.
Remember how the authorities searched the boat when June was smuggled out of Gilead? Maybe, it's something akin to that nature because otherwise, why the f*ck isn't Nick being debriefed by the Canadian government?
Lastly, south of the U.S.-Canadian border, the writers also figured out how to continue to make the Gilead-centric storylines compelling.
The alliance between Commander Lawrence and Aunt Lydia pales compared to everything that's been going on at the Red Center lately.
From Esther's return, as a handmaid no less, to Janine's new posting as a possible handmaid-in-residence at the Red Center, there was plenty of excitement to go around.
It's heartbreaking to see Esther as a handmaid, being subjected to the kind of torture we've come to expect from the aunts, especially after learning the abuse she endured as Mrs. Keyes. Still, it's such a joy to see Mckenna Grace get such a juicy role.
Known as the proverbial younger version of many TV characters, portraying Esther has allowed Mckenna to showcase her range, and at just 14, she's beyond impressive.
As a handmaid, the haughty persona is stripped away, and all that's left is a scared little girl who's doing the best she can to keep it together.
Aunt Lydia: You’ll be all right, dear. I’ll take care of you.
Janine: I actually wanted to say something about Mrs. Keyes, Esther. She’s not as tough you think. She’s just acting that way because she’s scared. She had a really hard life on the farm. She was abused, not just by her husband but by a lot of men. I just think you should know that.
Aunt Lydia: I see. Well, we have tried to be understanding with her. She is a difficult girl.
Janine: Maybe, she needs to feel safe here. Like if she’s refusing to eat, maybe if someone told her what would happen if you don’t obey. I just think she deserves a chance before you…
Aunt Lydia: I will put Esther’s correction on hold for now.
Esther, as Janine surmised, is putting on a facade, pretending to be tougher than she is.
Esther would have been content to starve herself to make a statement, but Janine was right in that Gilead would never let her die.
All of Esther's bravado is covering how terrified she is, but she refuses to give in, at least until Janine convinced her to live to fight for another day.
Janine has found herself in an interesting position, one where she may never have to return to service as she hoped.
On the one hand, Janine may be able to stay at the Red Center indefinitely, so long as she makes herself indispensable and can get through to the other handmaids in a way the aunts never could.
However, to ensure this, Janine would have to align herself with the aunts and the rest of Gilead, seemingly accepting what Gilead is spewing as gospel.
And by turning willful girls into compliant and quiet handmaids, Janine would be partially responsible for what happens to these young impressionable handmaids when they leave the Red Center.
Janine knows firsthand what it's like to be a handmaid, so in theory, it's unthinkable how she could help the system that allowed her to be raped, beaten, and brutalized.
Of course, it's not that simple. These young handmaids were going to be raped, beaten, and brutalized anyway. It's not like Janine has the power to stop that.
Janine: I was actually kind of relieved when they picked me up, even though they brought me back here.
Esther: Nothing is worse than here. So is June still in Chicago?
Janine: Forget June. She’s not here. We’re here, and you have to take care of yourself now. If you keep misbehaving, there will be consequences, OK. So you’re going to have to eat for them too and not just for me.
Esther: You didn’t sneak in. They sent you. Go on and call your aunt friends. I don’t care what they do to me.
Janine: Yes, you do. They’re not going to let you die. They will keep hurting you again and again until you do what they say. That is their job. It’s no big deal. You just have to eat. You need to stay alive so you can be here when things get better.
What she does have the power to do is protect these young handmaids a little more before they're stationed at their first posting and give them a little hope.
Had Janine not intervened, Esther would have been
given another correction brutalized and could have ended up with an eyepatch herself.
In many ways, Esther is a lot like Janine when Janine came to the Red Center, and Janine sees herself in Esther.
She's trying to spare the young handmaid from going through unnecessary torture while also demonstrating that she's an invaluable asset at the Red Center.
It's an unfathomable situation for anyone to be in, and Janine is doing the best she can.
It's easy to pass judgment on Janine for her choices, but most of us would make a similar decision if put in the same circumstances.
At the end of the day, we're all just doing the best we can.
Some stray thoughts:
Luke got passive-aggressive when he suggested June reach out to Nick for help. He kept pushing, as if he wanted June to contradict him, to declare that she wouldn't put Nick in that sort of danger. Sure, Luke feels threatened, but that was a little too alpha male for me.
Did you laugh at the irony when Warren told Fred that Gilead would keep him in their thoughts and prayers? It's not funny, but it's how politicians respond after a mass shooting. They keep their victims in their thoughts and prayers instead of clamping down on gun violence.
Aunt Lydia may not have a heart, but she does have a soft spot for Janine. She was dying to figure out a way to keep Janine at the Red Center, and now Janine has given her the perfect excuse.
I love June and Commander Lawrence's relationship. They have this weird bond and connection, and even if they're on opposite sides, they still care for the other.
The Putnams pretty much suck. Who comes to visit a pregnant friend and lowkey offers to raise their baby? Do they not teach manners in Gilead?
So what did you think, Handmaid's Tale Fanatics?
How will Fred's new freedom affect June?
Will June do something she can't take back in the season finale?
Has Janine found a permanent place at the Red Center?
Don't forget to hit the comments below to let me know your thoughts.
Jessica Lerner is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.