For some reason, The Handmaid’s Tale feels the need to keep the Waterfords as a major part of its developments and their return proves that absence doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder. Still, they don’t drag things down nearly as much as they usually do, with their involvement feeling more like a natural progression in the episode “Bear Witness,” rather than being shoehorned in according to plot demands.
June’s physical, mental, and emotional hardships in “Heroic” have left their mark on her. She’s not only still walking with a limp, she’s paler and still at least slightly unhinged, with Martha and Handmaids alike fearing any and all conversations with her. You almost want to applaud when one Martha warns her, “You’re going to get yourself killed,” if only because she’s saying what we’ve all been thinking the entire season.
Gilead could stand to be brought down a peg or two since the new conservative measures are being applied to a degree that’s become frightening even to Commander Lawrence. Much like Serena, he helped build a world without realizing what the true consequences would be and that they would eventually apply to him sooner or later. Bradley Whitford has made Joseph Lawrence’s complexities as the show’s wild card believable, but he delivers his best work yet during this episode, effortlessly conveying a heinous man’s increasing vulnerability as the walls he constructed begin to close in.
For one, he’s forced to literally get his house in order, with its artistic, messy piles and uniqueness swept away thanks to new regulations. It isn’t just his quirks that make him a target, since Fred Waterford continues to be obsessed with June for some reason. That fixation leads him to question whether Lawrence is fit to lead a household or Gilead and he insists on a home visit in order to ensure things are in order, despite Serena’s obvious discomfort with it. And even Lawrence finds it difficult to cope when he’s forced to do the one thing he promised his wife Eleanor that he never would – go through with the Handmaid Ceremony.
Such circumstances find June in the unusual position of not only directing the Marthas, but Lawrence. As much as he tries to avoid what Gilead demands, there’s a doctor waiting outside to check June to determine if the Ceremony has been performed. His refusal means he, and everyone in his home, would be punished. “You just treat it like a job,” June tells him, as she shares one of the many coping mechanisms she’s had to adopt to remain alive and – at this point – questionably sane. Thankfully, The Handmaid’s Tale avoids the sadism of episodes past and opts out of showing the actual Ceremony. But, as June points out to Fred once it’s over, “At least it wasn’t you.”
But crackdowns tend to bring about the opposite effect they were intended to have and it persuades Lawrence to not only finally take his wife Eleanor and leave so she can get medical help rather than herbal tea, but assist June in her plan to get the stolen children of Gilead out of the country, if only to avoid execution as a war criminal. “I’d be a hero,” he murmurs, too intelligent for any irony to be lost. And since this is a show where women are all about the kids, Serena also not only encourages her husband to get in touch with an American in order to get Nichole back, a whole lot of Marthas also volunteer to help June with her plans for Gilead’s children. June’s demented smile after she muses, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat,” is the most promising cliffhanger the show has offered in quite some time.