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The Handmaid's Tale Discussion: 'The Witness' (finally) hatches a plan

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Jul 25, 2019

In the tenth episode of The Handmaid's Tale, the show finally lays the building blocks for its revolution, but is it too little, too late? 

With June firming up a plan to rescue the children of Gilead, Commander Lawrence comes under scrutiny thanks to Fred Waterford's growing influence and Serena Joy begins to question her husband's desire to reunite with their child. We've seen some disturbing rape scenes over the course of this show, but "The Witness" gives us a truly horrific "ceremony" to endure, so please, watch (and read this recap) with caution and care for yourself. 

We're Jessica Toomer and Alyssa Fikse and we're munching on all the mutinous muffins in our latest discussion. Join us. 

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Credit: Hulu

The New World Order

Jessica: Color me surprised but I … actually liked this episode? Sadly, it’s such a strange, unfamiliar feeling when it comes to recapping this season that I still don’t trust it so maybe breaking down this hour will help me come to terms with the feels. First, we’re out of that damn hospital room and June, while now sporting a limp and a Devil-may-care attitude, seems a bit less crazed than before. Watching her hobble back to the Lawrence household was a welcomed sight even though the issue of her gait really distracted me this episode. I get having bad knees after kneeling for three-months straight, but you expect me to believe homegirl — who’s off breaking rules left and right in Gilead — didn’t switch to a sitting position every now and then when Aunt Lydia’s back was turned? I kept wanting to see June elevate and ice, but alas, our problematic rebel is still on her “Save The Children” bullsh*t.

Alyssa: I will admit to enjoying this episode more than the previous few garbage fires, but I am not ready to let June off the hook yet. I was worried going into this episode that she was going to go into her new mission as half-cocked as she had in the past, especially when it became clear that she was basically poison to the other handmaids. As they’re mostly focused on survival instead of revolution, I can’t blame them, honestly. June has left behind chaos in her wake, so I understand wanting to give her a wide berth. Unfortunately, the Waterfords and Commander Winslow decide to pay Boston a visit to see how the handmaids are fairing. Fred and June’s dynamic is always so uncomfortable to watch, and this was no different, with him offering to bring her to DC. Dear Fred: she’s just not that into you.

Jessica: It’s bad enough that he’s that obtuse to such a cringe-worthy degree, but did we have to endure the slicked-back hair as well? I didn’t think we could up the skeevy vibes much more with this dude, but this episode proved me wrong. The smugness, the sheer bravado of this man who’s using his baby to further his political career, then going on some kind of hometown victory tour so he can display what a complete boot-licker he is just turned my stomach. If this season doesn’t end with Fred’s death, there’s no justice in the world.

Alyssa: I’m afraid to wish for something so satisfying, but from your lips to the writers’ ears. Also, I’m really hoping that Mrs. Lawrence finds some peace because she is a woman on the edge. After her adventure with June went south, she’s been especially fragile. June once again exploited her in order to gain information on the missing children, but at least this time she was mostly upfront over what she was after. If June is going to actually cause any change around Gilead, she’s got to have some direction, and the information in the Lawrences’ basement is that first step, I think. Is it a little convenient? Yeah. But at least it gives June some actual ammunition instead of forcing her to flounder around for episode after episode.

Jessica: As terrible as I feel for Mrs. Lawrence — anyone who’s unwillingly been cut off from their meds and offered scones instead of pills would react the same — seeing her help June find that sense of direction in her cause warmed my heart a bit. I send a plea to the heavens that Mrs. Lawrence makes it out of Gilead and finds a damn good therapist once she’s out but sadly, I think the more likely scenario is that June will end up getting her, Commander Lawrence, or them both, killed. Until then, we get to see the total breakdown of power in the Lawrence household and how that affects everyone living under that roof. Some interior re-decorating can’t hide the fact that Lawrence is not going with the status-quo and Fred’s just wormy enough to exploit that for his own gain. It’s got me thinking that June might be some kind of metaphorical albatross on this show.

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Credit: Hulu

The First Ceremony

Alyssa: Everyone who helps June is usually paid back in misery, but I think that blame rests pretty squarely on Gilead. Fred picked up on June saying that Lawrence treader her with respect, so OF COURSE, he had to ruin that dynamic for everyone. There are plenty of reasons to hate Gilead, but god, the ritual rape is just the worst part. Everyone rolling into the Lawrence residence to ensure that everyone is “doing their duty” turned my stomach. As weird as things are in the Lawrence household, the way that he respected her boundaries and shirked this particularly awful duty really was a relief. But no more. Fred took care of that.

Jessica: The ways in which this show continuously reminds us that Gilead views women entirely as vessels for birthing babies grow more disturbing by the episode. I thought, after watching all of the rape scenes of the past, I was prepared for this scene but seeing June literally talk the Lawrences down, even as she’s about to be raped, just crushed my spirit. I want to castrate Fred Waterford and hang his manhood on the wall as a warning to all of the perverted, misogynistic men of Gilead who insist on tearing women down in order to lift themselves (and their fragile egos) higher. But even though this scene was horrific, I appreciated how nuanced it was. We saw a different side to this particular tradition, having always experienced it from June’s point of view, I felt myself sympathizing even more with Mrs. Lawrence. This woman is not well and this is the last thing she needs. And as culpable as Commander Lawrence is in creating this hellhole, I couldn’t gleefully shout “Karma’s a b*tch” like I wanted to because of how weepy that scene between him and his wife before the ritual was. I think Commander Lawrence is a man who thought he was above it all, and it’s so interesting to watch him realize he’s not.

Alyssa: I agree. I think Lawrence was able to wrap his brain around Gilead at an intellectual level, but now that it’s affecting him and his wife, he’s realizing what a batshit idea it all was. It’s classic White Person Syndrome to only realize that a system is broken when it affects them directly, but I think Lawrence is finally ready to turn his frustration into action and help June, but again, only as it pertains to his own self-interest. I’m curious to see if Mrs. Lawrence is going to be willing to leave though. She knows that he can’t go with her — it was satisfying for her to verbalize that he and all of the other Commanders are war criminals — so we’ll see if she can put herself first for the first time in forever. That woman needs meds, a therapist, and a long nap.

Jessica: Do you think he’ll elect to stay behind, should they find a way to escape? I thought June presented him an interesting proposition — which we’ll get to in a moment — but I still haven’t sussed out his character enough to confidently say he’d also try to save himself. Lawrence reads like a man who’s given up, and it just existing for his wife at this point. Once he’s assured she’s safe, I can see him going out in some kind of blaze of glory. Or, ya know, just continuing the cycle of abuse. Really, I put nothing past white men at this point.

Alyssa: I’m leaning towards the self-sacrifice option at this point. I may be giving him too much credit, but I don’t think he could live with himself outside of Gilead. He was so instrumental in its construction and it has ruined so many lives, so I don’t see him getting to disappear into Canada to live out his days in obscurity. I don’t think that any of these Gilead officials should get their shot at redemption because they really, really don’t deserve it. However, I think that Lawrence is definitely going to take a shot at clearing his name in some way, especially if it helps his wife.

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Credit: Hulu

Muffins and Mutiny

Jessica: Well, June might’ve offered him the perfect way to do that with her mission to rescue the children of Gilead. As awful as the ceremony was, it was almost necessary to push Lawrence to extend his hand and help June’s cause. (Which, again, proves he’s unworthy of redemption.) I love that we have a clear mission (after ten episodes) but I’m still not convinced June can pull it off. She’s such a hot-head, so ruled by her emotions that I worry her personal grudges might get in the way. But that feels secondary to my bigger question which is, who are we actually rescuing in this baby-napping plan? Are we just singling out the handmaids’ kids before they came to Gilead? Only the handmaids that are part of June’s rebellion? All children of Gilead (in the Boston areas anyway)? I need a headcount before I can get this bus rolling if you know what I mean.

Alyssa: It initially felt like June was going to focus on the children of the handmaids that she knows personally, but if the muffin offerings from the Marthas are any indication, it’s definitely going to spread beyond Boston before long. Like you say, I am not sure that June is the best person to be at the forefront of this operation, for more reasons than her lack of foresight. June is a well-known instigator, so I feel like the second that children start disappearing, she’ll be the first person that Gilead will blame. I’m glad that she’s finally doing something, but I have my reservations, especially with the scheme that the Waterfords are concocting to get Nicole back. Do you think smuggling a baby back into Gilead was what Tuello meant when he offered his services to Mrs. Waterford? Because I must have misread that.

Jessica: Yeah, no, that’s most definitely not what he was suggesting, but is that what Serena’s asking? I mean, realistically, how would they get away with kidnapping baby Nichole from Canada without the world’s governments using that to throw the hammer down hard? I can’t see the Canadian government just turning a blind eye to that, or even the attempt of that. And wouldn’t Fred and Serena Joy be in hot water with the higher-ups of Gilead if that happened? Does she just imagine she can radio for her baby back and then live a peaceful life in Boston with no repercussions? Serena Joy is smarter than that. Even if everything went according to plan and the world just shrugged their shoulders about it, I can’t believe Fred’s powerful new buddies would be thrilled. Again, what’s the goal here?

Alyssa: It’s all very strange because as awful as the Gilead officials are, they seem pretty dedicated to presenting an “OF COURSE we follow rules” front. Smuggling a child over the border out of Canada definitely is not above board. I’m curious if this will be another source of fracturing between Fred and Serena. She is obviously willing to risk everything to get Nicole back, while Fred is definitely more motivated by climbing the ladder in DC. I think these two may end up being on opposing sides of this issue before too long.

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Credit: Hulu

What’s Next

Jessica: As long as the show doesn’t lure us into the trap of believing that Serena Joy is actually a good, moral human being, I’m fine with that. Let her selfish interests conflict with her husband’s, but show both for the manipulating cowards they are. Personally, I’d like to see less of both the Waterfords and more of Moira, Emily, and Luke. I feel like I ask that at the end of every recap but it’s true. We never get enough of this trio and with the baby drama heating up in Gilead, I’d like some reassurances that they’re prepared for whatever comes next.

Alyssa: I’m in the same boat! We’ve discussed at length how sick we are of June, and I am pretty desperate to see how everyone is fairing north of the border. There is so much unexamined emotional territory there while June is really spinning her wheels. Maybe we’ll get our wish, or maybe we’ll have to watch June continue to lie to Janine over whether or not her child is dead (woof). While the show has a long way to go to win me back — I’m not sure if it can at this point — at least it’s going somewhere now. That is such a low bar, but here we are. But seriously, can someone push Fred off a bridge?

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the authors', and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.

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