The season four finale of The Handmaid’s Tale, “The Wilderness,” provides one of the more stylistic approaches to showing character dynamics, allowing for closure and finality in the relationship between Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and June Osborne (Elizabeth Moss).
The episode begins with June and Fred dancing together, sometime in the past during June’s imprisonment, at the brothel, Jezebel’s. June’s voiceover details that to survive her enslavement, she needed to pretend that Fred meant the world to her.
The camera spun around the two as they danced, letting us know we were in for a Fred and June-focused episode.
Last week’s episode left June in a fit of rage after finding out that Fred Waterford made an immunity deal with Mark Tuello (Sam Jaeger). In this episode, June returns in a calmer state, providing her testimony at Fred’s hearing.
Confronting Tuello, June asks what the likelihood of Fred walking free is. Tuello confirms that for the most part, it’s set in stone. Unsettled, June returns home to Luke (O.T. Fagbenle) and her fellow Gilead survivors. Yet, Luke and June have found a more stable ground. Throughout the episode, Luke pushes June to let go of her anger and begin her life again with him.
Like many times before, June is unable to let go of her trauma. She asks to arrange a visit with Fred—a flashback of June, dressed in her handmaid cloaks, shows her walking around the Waterford home while in real time she approaches Fred’s holding cell.
Though surprised to see her, Fred still engages in conversation and drinks with June. The two discuss the “relationship” they have, and in a moment that comes off somewhat confusing, the two toast to a missing Offred. Fred makes several comments implying his clear delusion the two were trapped in Gilead, referring to their “discomforts.” Trying to compare the experiences the two had in Gilead is sick of Fred but June seems oddly okay with the comments he makes. For a moment, it appears that she is accepting of the fact that he isn’t going to change his views.
On the ride home from her visit, June whispers that she will put him on the wall, and Luke appears exasperated by it. The two have been on a journey of whether they can be together post-Gilead. Earlier in the episode, when comforting her after Fred’s testimony, Luke said he wants to get to the healing part of June’s journey, whether June’s ready to get there too. Unfortunately, they are not the same people who fell in love years ago, and June is unwilling to let go of her quest for revenge as she even says a good mother would choose her child.
June follows through on her promise, as the latter half of the episode focuses on June’s journey for revenge.
Waiting outside of Tuello’s office, June insists upon going for a drive where the two end up in Gilead across from Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) to negotiate a prisoner exchange. June puts the pressure on Tuello to choose between actually helping the women trapped in Gilead or helping the government-in-exile and, in the process, free a guilty man.
Fred is going to Geneva for his immunity hearing when he parts with Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski), happy getting off scot-free. In the single most satisfying scene to date in the show, Fred is swept away by Tuello shouting protests.
The scene mimics the same sentencing seen in Gilead as Fred is thrown handcuffed into two trucks, filmed in the same way as Emily’s (Alexis Bledel) sentencing. Fred makes his way into the custody of Nick Blaine (Max Minghella), and Commander Lawrence transfers him into the Eyes’ control, the secret police. The tension in the air is thick, as Fred Waterford is aware that his punishment is near but doesn’t understand the severity.
Nick brings Waterford out into the woods, where June appears from the shadows and kisses Nick to thank him for bringing her Fred. June arranging Waterford’s execution shows a clear difference in her now that she’s free. Even though she is physically free from Gilead, she isn’t psychologically and needs to kill her abuser to gain control. June gives Waterford the choice of a gun and a metal object, which turns out to be a whistle, and stages an execution. Only this time, there is a sense of power as her fellow Gilead survivors surround June as they beat Waterford to death, June even ripping into his face with her teeth. The filming of the death mimics the many executions carried out by Handmaids in Gilead, except this time, they are choosing to take part.
The scenes of execution are cut again with the scenes of June dancing with Waterford, representing the transferring of power between the two, as June will never be the victim of Waterford’s violence again.
Covered in blood, June returns home and goes to hold her baby Nichole only to be found by Luke. June appears overcome with joy holding her baby to her, and Luke is distraught as he knows what June has done. The blood on her cheek presses onto Nichole’s cheek in a disturbing moment, juxtaposed by the light shining on the two of them.
Luke sinks to the floor upon seeing her, knowing that he’s officially lost June. June says she just wants a moment with her daughter before she goes.
In a way, the finale gives a sense of relief for June’s desire for revenge, but the season thus far has been dealing with the question of whether moving on or retaliation is the best way to cope with trauma. June has gained her closure through revenge, but it is not clear what the consequence of this decision will be. June becomes a hardened woman, and while this worked for her survival in Gilead, she needs to decide on her following path from there.
All four seasons of The Handmaid’s Tale are available to stream on Hulu