Episode 9 is a delightful romp through the hellscape that is the psyche of every character associated with Gilead. There are no guns, no bombs, no blood of any sort. But everyone’s a casualty.
Jeanine is back at the red house with Aunt Lydia, being her good girl self, but oh what pain she hides beneath the surface. Esther, the young brutalized wife who the handmaids met at the farm/hideout, is now there, but refusing to eat. Jeanine’s goodness insists she tries her best to make Esther realize the lengths the Aunts will go in teaching obedience, and it works. One more obedient-on-the-surface handmaid to add to the fold.
Fred and Serena are now coming to realize the mistakes they made in trusting to their continuing influence in Gilead. They may have admirers in Canada, but they certainly don’t in the upper echelons of Gilead. They have visitors from Gilead, Commander Warren, and his lovely wife Naomi, who were the primary torturers of Janine. Naomi suggests that if Serena were to find herself still in prison when the child is born, she should give it to Naomi to raise. You can almost hear the slap Serena aches to deliver to Naomi’s sweet, stupid face. Warren visits Fred, who demands more help from the other commanders in Gilead. What are the plans? Who is coming to help him? Nobody, Warren lets him know. But don’t worry. You’re in our thoughts and prayers. Fred does not seem comforted.
Let’s move on to June, who is now strong enough to tell Luke the truth: that their daughter Hannah doesn’t remember them, cringes in fear when spoken to by June, and is too far gone for there ever to be a happy family scenario that Luke is so desperate for. “I’m sorry,” says June, and she is deeply splintered by her ability to survive anything, and her inability to rescue her daughter. But she’s had to do all of her fighting alone, and here is a time for Luke to shine. He shows her all of the work he’s done already in finding Hannah, placing a bulging folder in front of her, filled with documents and photos. So finally June can count on someone helping her in the fight for her daughter.
Their first idea is to contact someone from inside Gilead. June calls Lawrence, who struggles with his own guilt at going along with the Gilead manifesto in the early days. He tells June to simply be satisfied, raise the daughter she has. June entreats him to help them because they love Hannah so much. Lawrence sets her straight.
“Your love fucks people up.”
Cue the close-up of Luke. The implication is obvious.
Luke has gone through his own hell while being forced to wait for news of his wife and daughter. He has arrived at the airport expecting to greet his wife, only to find himself the caretaker of her infant daughter, conceived through the convoluted madness of Gilead. When he finally is reunited with his wife, she tells him the child was conceived in love. What the hell does that mean, he must be asking himself. This woman he has loved is fundamentally different, and he has to find a way to fit back into her life. But we can see Luke weaken through each scene. He sees the life he imagined with June disappearing. He faces the possibility that they may never see their Hannah again, and the daughter he’s raising isn’t truly his. Despondence chips away at him, until he finally suggests that June set up a meeting with Nick, and make sure to bring baby Nichole to sway his judgment. And then we watch his heartbreak into tiny little pieces.
When June and Nick meet, we know what Luke already knows deep in his soul; they are in love and will be forever. A bond forged in hell can’t be broken by the survivors.
If June’s love really does fuck people up, I don’t hold out much hope for Nick surviving the season.
Someone else who may not survive: Mark, their liaison from the state department. He casually tells June and Luke that they have flipped Fred, and he will now be their primary source for intel on Gilead. June is enraged that her rapist will be set free, and threatens (promises?) that she will kill Mark for this betrayal.
What will the season finale hold? It’s called Wilderness and not Gilead Armageddon, so I’m sure I’ll be disappointed at some level.