Who’s responsible for the collapse of the world order: The world leaders who set it into motion, or the people who watched and let it happen? This question has come up on a few TV shows I’ve seen recently — probably because it’s a question on viewers’ minds.
There’s a miniseries on HBO called Years and Years you really should be watching, especially if you like The Handmaid’s Tale. As opposed to The Handmaid’s Tale’s extreme but fictional dystopia, Years and Years is a realistic projection into our future, should things continue the way they’re going. More than a dystopia, Years and Years’ depiction of environmental collapse, rise of nationalism, and nuclear conflict seem like an inevitability.
In the finale of Years and Years, a character scolds her whole family — and the whole world, really — for allowing their country to devolve to such terrible lows. And in this episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, June (Elisabeth Moss) embarks on the same line of reasoning while talking to Eleanor Lawrence (Julie Dretzin). An unhinged Eleanor is threatening her husband, Joseph (Bradley Whitford), with a gun. She’s furious: He created Gilead. He is to blame for their situation.
No, June says. We all are to blame.
Here’s the thing. June’s wrong! People like Joseph Lawrence, Commander Winslow (Christopher Meloni), and the Waterfords are definitely to blame for the theocratic hellscape that is Gilead — and this episode, they grapple with what they’ve done. Just because Lawrence admits he was wrong to create Gilead doesn’t mean he’s excused from it.
Neither are Fred (Joseph Fiennes) and Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) Waterford, the two characters that The Handmaid’s Tale is desperate to make us care about. Like Lawrence, they have questions about their little creation. During their road trip to meet Mr. “Treason and Coconuts (Sam Jaeger),” the official for the U.S. government in Canada, to speak about Baby Nichole, those doubts emerge.
Away from Gilead’s supervision, Fred and Serena can finally relax and identify every elephant in the room. Namely, how could Fred create a society that restricts Serena’s freedom, and ability to write? “I didn’t realize how much this would cost you,” he replies, feebly. More truths come out: Fred admits that he knows that he’s the infertile one, not her. All that freedom is an aphrodisiac — they have sex! They consider moving to the country permanently!
Luckily for my sanity, The Handmaid’s Tale cuts Fred and Serena’s little jaunt in paradise short when they unwittingly follow the American official off the Canadian border. Immediately after crossing, Fred is arrested. Here’s the thing: Was this trip Serena’s way of becoming closer to Fred? Or her way of saying goodbye?
Clearly, it’s becoming harder to leave Gilead — not even the elite can cross the border. Both the Waterfords and Commander Lawrence encounter Canadian troubles this episode. After trying to flee with his increasingly unwell wife, Lawrence is turned around by Gilead officials at the border. With that, Lawrence agrees to help with June’s plan to transport kids out.
But smuggling out 52 kids is her plan? Lawrence thinks she’s nuts. So do the members of the well-organized Martha Resistance, who show up to Lawrence’s house to talk June down from her ambitious plan.
Despite just showing up to the resistance scene, June shows a startling lack of imposter syndrome. She’s totally confident her plan will work. But the stakes are high for her if it doesn’t — and for all future escape plans. June will draw attention to the Marthas’ resistance infrastructure, which they’ve been carefully developing for years.
In the end, the Marthas agree to not interfere. Or so they think. One Martha inadvertently mentions a “shipment” coming in via plane. A bartender at Jezebel’s facilitates the shipment. Ding ding ding: June believes she’s found a solution to her transportation problem, since driving with a van won’t work anymore.
Next stop: Force Lawrence to drop her off at Jezebel’s, the swanky club where Commanders mingle with state-provided sex workers and listen to Norah Jones-esque crooners. To me, this is the most inaccurate bit of world-building in of The Handmaid’s Tale: They’d be listening to dad rock.
At Jezebel’s, June tries to bribe Billy (Daniel Jun), the bartender who works with the resistance, with artwork in exchange for help transporting kids. Just like everyone else, he thinks she’s nuts. But apparently, Picassos still have currency in Gilead. Billy doesn’t agree to help, but he doesn’t say no, either.
Don’t relax yet, June. Her plan goes off the rails the moment she’s spotted by Commander Winslow. Of course he’d be there — his pious wife and brood are back in D.C., allowing him free reign. In this moment, Commander Winslow’s menace emerges in full form. He forces her into his hotel room. The Handmaid’s Tale has depicted many a state-mandated rape ceremony. This is an attempted rape of the more conventional — and no less horrifying — kind. Winslow attempts to exert his power on her.
The real miracle is that June manages to get away with this scotch-free. One of Jezebel’s Marthas was one of the women that June had saved from being shipped to the Colonies. So June escapes while the Marthas begin their incredibly cleaning routine. The sheets are washed. The carpet cleaned. The body incinerated. Boom, boom, boom.
It’s too good of a cleaning routine. Done so casually, so expertly. They’ve done this before. But for Commanders, or for the women they’ve killed? What really goes on at Jezebel’s? The Marthas of Jezebel’s have a system, as do the Marthas of the resistance. What is June disrupting with her escape plan?
The episode ends with Lawrence pressing a gun into June’s hand. The guards are coming for them. We'll be biting our nails until next week.