The Handmaid’s Tale – Allegiance
The Handmaid’s Tale “Allegiance” was written by Eric Tuchman and directed by the show’s own Bradley Whitford (Lawrence)! This is only Whitford’s second time behind the camera – the first was on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip – but he does a terrific job, avoiding flashy techniques or choices that are often the sign of a newbie. In addition, he delivers a stunning performance. Events are definitely escalating in this penultimate episode of the season, and I’m already dreading the time that we will have to wait for the next and final sixth season.
As the episode opens, June (Elisabeth Moss) and Luke (O-T Fagbenle) are walking through an aircraft hanger with Tuello (Sam Jaeger), and he’s briefing them on the raid. I mean, did anyone think that this one going to work? They are only taking 30 girls from the school – only those taken from their families. They are introduced to Commander Vance (Brendan Morgan). June tells him its incredible what he’s doing, but he’s full of admiration for all the incredible things that she’s done. He knows all about Hannah (Jordana Blake) – and Tuello explains it’s an elite squad and they do their homework. June is concerned about how afraid the girls will be. Vance reassures her by telling her that he has a daughter of his own the same age. His plan is to bring them home and go home to his own daughter. And you knew right then that the whole thing was doomed.
Tuello tells them that he’ll be watching a live feed from the Consulate. June and Luke insist that they will be there – they need to watch it with him. Tuello tries to say that none of the other families will be there, and June points out that none of the other families brought him the intel to make it happen. I loved the shot here of June and Luke holding hands, framed by the hanger door, bathed in light with the American flag over their head. It’s so hopeful… and yet doomed. There’s also a terrific shot of the two in the car in slow motion – you see the trees and sky reflected on Luke’s window and him take June’s hand as she looks out her window, hopefully up to the sky. Then the shot pans out to the inevitable crane shot – and the terrific musical theme takes over. I rarely say how much I love the score but Adam Taylor has created a beautiful and haunting soundscape for the series.
Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) is having another photo session – this time with Noah and Alanis (Genevieve Angelson) calling all the shots. Its for a portrait to hang at the Centre. Serena suggests that it would be more effective for her and Noah to be there in person to greet donors and supporters… Alanis is appalled that she would expose Noah to all those germs! Serena points out that she was sent there as a representative of the Republic, and Alanis tells her that she’s there “under their protection” AND that her husband (Lucas Neff) doesn’t answer to those Commanders! So that’s an interesting little wrinkle that Serena may be able to sue to her advantage.
When Noah starts crying, the Nanny (Dorothy A Atabong) interrupts to say the baby is hungry – and clearly to rescue Serena. Alanis tells her that Serena needs to start pumping again – which will mean less time she gets to spend with the baby. Serena tells her it will be less confusing for the baby to just breastfeed for now, and Alanis answers MY smart boy won’t get confused! She has no shame in claiming the baby! Alanis tells her to pump for next time. Serena steps up to her about to tell her off, and then remembers what June told her, and meekly tells her she’ll do it.
I loved the “proposal” scene! It is just delightfully awkward! Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) is there and Lawrence is clearly not happy – but he’s determined to have no weak spots, and as Aunt Lydia points out he’s doing the right thing to be a “true leader in Gilead.” Mrs Putnam (Ever Carradine) clearly has no idea why she is there. She knows she is utterly vulnerable without a husband. When Lawrence begins by saying that the recent “incident” with her husband has left her with a young child and no husband, she freaks out and begs not to be sent to the colonies! The power dynamic in this scene is clear as Lawrence sits while Aunt Lydia – who presumably came up with this idea (to help Janine’s (Madeleine Brewer) child?) – stands beside him. Naomi stands at the other end of the room like a naughty child brought there for punishment, so you can see her confusion…
Both Aunt Lydia and Lawrence make astonished faces and noises, and Lawrence goes so far as to tell her that she deserves a medal for having put up with Putnam – and he’s not wrong! Naomi perks up at the mention of a reward – and Lawrence qualifies (modestly?) of a sort. Aunt Lydia explains that she can’t be a widow with a young child and remain in her house. Naomi assumes she must move to a smaller house – or a condo would be fine… Lawrence points out they aren’t her realtors. Aunt Lydia suggests that Lawrence spit it out. He tells her it’s a quid pro quo – she needs a husband and he needs to demonstrate traditional Gilead values… OMG! Has there every been a worse marriage proposal in the world? (And trust me, mine was pretty bare bones – but even it was better than this!)
Lawrence tells her she can move in with the kid – and Aunt Lydia clarifies it will be a sanctified union as his wife, and Naomi finally realizes it’s a marriage proposal! She asks if she has choice – and Lawrence says “that’s hurtful.” Aunt Lydia says of course she does. Lawrence tells her it’s just a suggestion and to think about it before he beats a hasty retreat back to his work. It was great to see Carradine get more to do. Aunt Lydia tells her to think about it but to consider her situation and his stature. Naomi points out that Lawrence had her husband killed in front of her, and Aunt Lydia says he’s willing to overlook that – and she should too. I loved that you could see Lawrence standing almost out of sight, clearly listening from the other room and not working… He’s clearly not comfortable with the whole idea.
Serena is putting pumped milk in the fridge late at night, and this felt entirely like June’s nighttime wanderings at the Waterfords’. Serena takes the opportunity to talk to Wheeler. He’s working alone in the living room but tells her to come in. She tells him she was hoping for a moment alone with him, and hilariously – and deadpan – he asks if she’s going to shoot him! It’s also not funny as he knows that he has complete control over her. She debases herself again by apologizing for Ezra and thanking him for taking her and her baby into their home. He tells her that the BABY deserves a safe space. Serena turns on the charm, flattering him, telling him she knows he’s working on the opening for tomorrow and that Gilead could have used him in the early days “to avoid all those missteps.” He tells her live and learn. She tells him that she thinks he’s the future of Gilead – he knows exactly what she’s doing and says he’s buttered up – what does she want? Serena tells him that the idea for the Centre was hers and it’s what she’s meant to do. He tells her it’s a nice pitch and he’ll consider it. He dismisses her “praise be” – he’s clearly NOT into the religious underpinings.
Tuello welcomes June and Luke into the command centre where they can watch the planes closing in on the school. There’s a terrific shot of June’s face looking up at the screens – a shot we’ve seen so often.
We then switch to the Wife School. The girls all have individual, lace covered tents – hardly private – in a circle around a central pedestal where an aunt sits keeping watch. I loved the cuts between June and Hannah. June is looking up, and Hannah is meant to be praying. Hannah brings out a picture book – clearly the only kind she can have in Gilead, but inside it, is a beautifully drawn ring of flowers. She pulls out a pencil and writes her name!!!!!! We cut to June saying “you’re coming home.” And this is really the first indication that Hannah remembers, and possibly does want to come home. She is more her mother’s daughter her than we’ve ever seen her. I loved the cuts as June looked up and Hannah looked down – as if looking at each other.
Naturally, the mission goes south. Vance and all the others are killed because Gilead knew they were coming. Tuello leads with the fact that the girls are safe, but he’s clearly shaken by the loss of the men. June and Luke are stunned. Tuello leaves them to call the other families.
The next day, back at the house, June answers a call from Lawrence, and this scene is just breathtaking. Lawrence begins by saying he’s sorry. He’s been trying to avoid bloodshed. He also tells her that the Americans were invading his country. The girls are citizens of Gilead. He’s calling to tell her that she can still come to New Bethlehem, and she can’t understand why he’d still let her do that. He tells her that Hannah is a symbol – and it’s telling that he never calls her Agnes. After last night, it would be even more effective if June – who’s also a symbol – came. He tells her that she can even be close to Nick (Max Minghella) who will also be there. And she knows what he’s doing. Lawrence tells her that he thinks it’s a good deal and she should take it. But he has one condition – she has to go public and say that the American mission was a mistake. June refuses to make Gilead the victim. She tells him that Gilead is an evil country.
Lawrence tells her that he’s trying to fix it from the inside. June tells him that he’s still a part of it, and it’s even worse because she knows that he knows better! And this clearly hits home with him. He tells her that he’s doing what he can – step by step as he promised Eleanor. And then June goes calm – Moss is perfect here. She lashes out to wound Lawrence and she knows exactly what his most vulnerable spot is: Eleanor. June tells him that Eleanor hated him (not true) and couldn’t stand the sight of him. June tells him that she was so broken that the man that she loved had done these things that she’d rather be dead. Whitford’s reaction to this news looks like actual physical pain and is brilliant. He can’t even speak. June tells him that she watched her die – and did nothing.
And Lawrence tells her that he knew she had something to do with it. And I think this is going to prove to be a big mistake on June’s part. Lawrence, however, tells her that Eleanor would still want him to help her with Hannah. He tells her again to come back, and June sobs she wants her baby there. Safe and free. He tells her that it’s never going to happen – and shaking June hangs up throws the phone down. She then rips apart the garden that she’s carefully cultivated – and suddenly all the plant/flower imagery comes together – Hannah’s picture, Serena/Alanis’ greenhouse conversation… Luke comes out and pulls her off the garden and comforts her.
The nanny and Serena are putting Noah in the car – Wheeler gave permission for her to go. Alanis comes out of the house and in response to Serena’s “Blessed Day, MRS Wheeler” she slaps her hard across the face twice. I loved that the first slap was caught in the mirror because it mirrors what Serena has done to June. The Nanny simply looks down. And we have noticed that the Wheeler’s servants all appear to be Black, right? Alanis is furious that she snuck down in the middle of the night to speak to her husband – who does she think she is? Serena tells her that she’s MRS Frederick Waterford. And Alanis tells her that she’s just a whore to her! And she’s coming with her.
June goes to see Tuello, who is clearly devasted. June tells him the Gilead was always one step ahead of them. She tells him about Lawrence’s call and that she’s done with him. June tells them that they honor those soldiers by not stopping. She wants to know what’s next. He asks if she’s also done with Nick – and tells her about the deal he offered him that Nick turned down. Nick would be their inside man but eventually there with immunity. Tuello sees Nick as the same kind of symbol as Lawrence sees June. Tuello points out that she is also a symbol and should put her power to use. She tells him she doesn’t feel comfortable doing that, and he doesn’t push her. He offers to set a meeting with Nick and June agrees.
At the Centre, Serena is again surrounded by women, and Serena spouts the Gilead line. She was able to conceive due to Gilead’s policies AND a devotion to God. She suggests if they follow the same path, they could also be blessed with a child. The Wheelers interrupt Serena, and Alanis tells her that the driver will take her home now. Alanis tells her that the people are there to see Noah, so she’ll take her and Serena can go home to rest. Serena seems to agree – she is quite tired. But she has to nurse him before she leaves. Alanis tells her that she’ll just use the bottle, but Serena didn’t bring one and Alanis is pissed! The Nanny steps up to save Serena and says it’s her fault one didn’t get packed. I loved the little exchange between Ryan and Alanis – she tells Serena not to take to long, and Ryan smiles and says that’s up to little Noah – the smile falls off his face as Alanis glares at him. Honestly, you can see why no one would want to be married to her! Serena thanks him for letting her be a part of the day – she’s very grateful. The Nanny has a quiet spot in the back for Serena to nurse in. Alanis plasters a fake smile on her face, and I loved the almost eyeroll we get from Ryan…
As she walks to the back, Serena clearly knows this is her one chance. They go through to the back, and the Nanny gives her privacy when she asks. I think she knew exactly what she was doing. Serena hesitates only a moment before bursting through the door – which, of course, is alarmed. She tries to flag down a car and an SUV finally stops. The woman (Lovina Yavari) driving has purple hair and piercings – definitely not Gilead material! For anyone who’s read The Testaments, my immediate thought was that this was the Nicole from the book! Serena lies down in the back and tells her to just drive.
June meets with Nick at a remote farmhouse. Nick tells her that he wishes she’d say yes to Lawrence, and she says she wished he’d said yes to Tuello. He says he’s married now, and she points out that she has Luke and Nicole. She tells him that he could bring Rose (Carey Cox), but he tells her that Rose’s father (Jason Butler Harner) is a top Commander there and she’s happy. June doesn’t believe any woman could be happy in Gilead. And we know that she’s not really happy and is trouble about who Nick might turn into. June says what happens when they issue him a handmaid to have a baby – and he tells her that Rose is pregnant. Moss is fabulous here as so many emotions cross her face. It softens, she knows (or thinks) he’s moved on. He tells her that Gilead is changing – “they” are making it better – and June picks up that he’s moved up in the world. He tells her that he has to do what’s best for his family. She tells him she wants what’s best for both their families.
The two move closer together, but don’t touch. She says to him – playfully – ‘well, this is a fine mess’ and he responds that the world is. She wishes that the world would just go away – it’s clear that they’d both like to be together, but it’s increasingly impossible. He tells her that it’s going to be hard for them to meet, and she tells him that she doesn’t want to make trouble for him. Nick asks June to tell Nicole that he loves her and misses her, and June says of course. June notes that he has to drive himself – and he says he’s not fancy enough yet to warrant a driver. They tell each other that they love each other – and June tells Nick that children look to their fathers: set an example. June smiles, cries, and nods to herself as Nick drives away. Does she accept that this chapter is now closed?
Back at Lawrence’s there is a dinner party. Everyone – Naomi, Mrs Calhoun (Vanessa Burns), and Mrs Mackenzie (Amy Landecker) are all cooing over the pregnant Rose. Aunt Lydia is there too – and Mrs Calhoun proves to be a bitch by asking if Aunts are now on the guest list – and later suggesting that Rose’s baby may have “genetic” issues due to Rose’s own! Naomi speaks up for Aunt Lydia, saying that she is there as her chaperone at Lawrence’s request.
Meanwhile the men gather in the den. Mackenzie says that the Americans now see that Gilead will protect their borders – and children. Mackenzie makes noises about God – clearly one of the most fervent religious nutbags left. The other Commanders also comment that China, Russia, and North Korea all congratulated them. They’re playing with the big boys now! Lawrence comments “any club that would have me as a member…” I loved the show calling out all of the other repressive regimes! Especially considering Whitford’s own politics. Nick stifles a smile but says nothing.
As Lawrence declares it a win and goes to leave the room, Mackenzie points out that June is still causing trouble and needs to be dealt with. Lawrence says it’s worth considering but keeps walking. The men pair up with their wives, and I LOVED the subtle exchange between Naomi and Lawrence. He pauses in front of her. She gives an almost imperceptible nod and he replies with the tiniest hint of a smile. She’s accepted. Mackenzie toasts Lawrence, who replies that he likes to defy expectations. Mackenzie says he’s truly one of them now – praise be. And Lawrence rabbits back praise be – Nick toasts him, but they both know what’s really going on.
The final scene is a vigil for the lost soldiers. The crowd mourning is surrounded by yelling protestors telling them to go home. Tuello leads the mourners. They bring Vance’s daughter Emma (Mercedez Gutierrez) up to do the pledge of allegiance. When the child falters – and it’s no accident that she reminds us of a young Hannah – June asks the widow (Jahnelle Jones) if she can help. She goes up and kneels beside her, saying it with her and the crowd joins in. As they get to “liberty and justice” shots ring out – June falls on top of Emma to protect her. Is this going to be the straw that forces June’s hand to leave Canada and accept Lawrence’s offer?
Whitford does a brilliant job directing this episode – and delivers an incredible performance as well. It’s hard to believe there is just one more episode! We are definitely going to have a lot of balls in the air. Will Naomi and Lawrence have a big wedding? Will they be getting a handmaid? Will they get Esther’s baby? What is going to happen to Serena and the baby? Will June take Lawrence’s offer after all? Will Hannah be married this season? Is this really the end for Nick and June? What did you think of the episode? What are you hoping for in the finale? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!