This week’s episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, “Progress,” helps bring together the threads left from the beginning of the season as it approaches the finale. In Canada, at the end of last week’s episode, June (Elizabeth Moss) decided to tell her husband Luke (O.T. Fagbenle) about the last time she saw their daughter Hannah when Gilead held her captive to manipulate June.
The two have had an unstable relationship since their reunion this season, and while their daughter Hannah grounds the both of them in a life pre-Gilead, they are different people than they were when they were together. Luke barely recognizes his wife in her new role now representing the voices of the prisoners of Gilead.
June finally expresses her pain, directly describing her trauma to Luke. Luke tries to use this information to further their plans to get Hannah back. Not considering the feelings June has just shared with him, Luke urges June to ask Mark Tuello (Sam Jaeger) for a way to communicate with her connections remaining in Gilead. June first calls Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford), begging him to help get Hannah out. However, Lawrence twists the knife even further by asking her to return the children she rescued from “Angel’s Flight,” essentially asking her to choose between her child and everyone else’s.
June turns down the impossible choice, proving herself to be the moral compass once again. Luke pushes her into the past as he suggests she meet with Commander Nick Blaine (Max Minghella), the father of June’s child, Nichole, who could bring Hannah to Canada for them. Luke and June have not discussed the relationship the former had with Nick since Moira (Samira Wiley) rescued her, but the information is not unknown.
This episode focuses on the theme of betrayal amongst the characters. June agrees to meet Luke, but the way the camera holds her face perfectly centered highlights her grit teeth and stone-cold expression, making the audience just as uncomfortable as June is confronted with her loyalty. While he is not asking her to put herself out for their child, he wants to use Nick’s love as a tool.
When June goes to meet Nick, it is clear that her feelings for him had not gone away in their time apart as they share a more passionate kiss than any of the affection that Luke and June have had recently.
The love demonstrated between June and Nick feels viscerally wrong. The show likes to pretend Nick is not a part of the system that June was recently held captive by. But Nick has become a commander in Gilead, which means he makes decisions that actively contribute to the suffering of other women.
The two discuss Hannah, Nick explaining that he can’t help her get Hannah out but confirming that she is now in Colorado. June’s kiss with Nick can be interpreted as a goodbye as he tells her to try and be happy as if they will not see one another again. For June to kiss Nick is a betrayal to Luke, as she accepts one part of the system that betrayed her while actively working against them. This is a betrayal to her dedication to the cause.
June leaves, and Nick slips a wedding ring back on his finger showing he isn’t the only one trying to keep up the appearance expected of him, not that he mentioned it to June.
Back in Gilead, Janine (Madeline Brewer) is taken into the care of Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) and is now serving her at the Red Center. While there, Esther Keyes (Mckenna Grace) trains as a handmaid. She’s disobedient, so Janine steps in to set her straight on how to stay alive long enough to get out. Janine had to become stiff and change herself to survive.
Also trying to survive, Fred and Serena Waterford (Joseph Fiennes and Yvonne Strahovski) try to prepare for their child’s birth. The two are surprised to receive a visit from Commander Putnam (Stephen Kunken) and his wife. They’re excited to see the couple but reveal they are there for selfish reasons. Mrs. Putnam wishes to be granted custody of Serena’s child since she will be imprisoned, and Mr. Putnam tells Fred that they will not be trying to free him. The Waterfords agree to turn witness in exchange for their freedom.
In the show’s most intense scene, Tuello tells June about The Waterford’s plea deal. June realizes that rather than being on the side of the Waterfords’ victims and Gilead’s leaders, he is more concerned with “bigger fish.” Pained at this realization, June sees how political the situation has gotten and that she was used to further the agenda of the former U.S. government. June lets her pure rage out, threatening Tuello as he leaves, screaming at him about what Fred Waterford did to her.
Without violence, the emotional intensity of the episode shows the writer’s strength and Elizabeth Moss’s directorial capability as she perfectly manicures each scene. The ending shot of a wild June Osborne leaves the possibilities for next week’s finale with the chance of June looking for revenge now that The Waterford’s will be free.
The Handmaid’s Tale series finale airs next Wednesday on Hulu.