Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Season 3, Episode 10: “Bear Witness”
Directed by Daina Reid
Written by Jacey Heldrich
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Heroic” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Liars” – click here
June (Elisabeth Moss) is heading back home, alongside Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) to guide her weary, bruised legs. The Handmaid’s not weary of mind, though. She’s ready to rebel. She bought herself brownie points with Lydia at the hospital. Back at the house, there’s been redecoration. Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) has implemented new protocol. All homes in Gilead must be “elevated to D.C. standards.”
Eleanor (Julie Dretzin) has gotten worse mentally, in no small part due to her husband Joseph (Bradley Whitford) keeping her under lock and key. WHAT IS THIS MAN’S DEAL? He’s a powerful person. There’s something deeply fragile about him, too.
The Handmaids are called away for “special visitors.” Commander Waterford has brought High Commander George Winslow (Chris Meloni) to Gilead. Fred greets June specifically, discussing a potential transfer to Washington for her before Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) comes along with the High Commander. Right away, Winslow doesn’t dig Janine’s (Madeline Brewer) eye patch. He’s curious to hear about “the veil” being phased in. He talks to June, as well. He asks how Commander Lawrence treats her, so she plays the appropriate part.
June’s nearly caught poking around in the Commander’s office when Eleanor turns up. The wife knows the Handmaid is “up to something.” She discovers the plot to save children. She gives over the location where the dossiers are with all that info, stored away in the basement. She and June go downstairs to dig out the files, giving the Handmaid weapons in her arsenal to truly begin a rebellion. They talk frankly about why Eleanor doesn’t leave Gilead. She knows her husband is a “war criminal” who deserves whatever would happen to him should they go.
Together, Fred and George talk about Commander Lawrence. Waterford isn’t impressed that none of the Handmaids in Lawrence’s home have produced a child. He feels they should “set an example” and look more closely at Joseph, curious if they should go so far as to “ensure virility.” Creepy, creepy.
(Does it have more to do with Fred trying to bring June back into his home?)
At the house, June’s called into the sitting room. Eleanor is brought in alongside Serena. Then George, Fred, and Joseph. This is what’s called “bearing witness“— a bunch of people will watch the start of the ceremony, in order to make sure Commander Lawrence, Eleanor, and June are all “performing their role” in the sacred duties of Gilead. Somehow it’s worse rape this time around. June will be medically examined by a doctor once it’s done.
Joseph reads the Bible passage signifying the ceremony’s beginning.
After that, they head up to the bedroom. Eleanor is mortified, having been promised by her husband they wouldn’t have to do this, and, of all people, June knows this has to happen. Commander Lawrence was an architect of Gilead. He thought, in all his male privilege, he could avoid it all. The strength the Handmaid displays here is astounding, comforting the wife of the man who’ll rape her. Something doubly horrific about the fact June doesn’t want to have sex and neither does Joseph. She conducts him: “You‘re not you, and I‘m not me.” She prepares him with the language of rape trauma.
“It’s our sin”
The aftermath at the Lawrence home is like that of a bomb’s explosion. June sees Fred off with an “At least it wasn‘t you” that shatters his tiny male ego. Serena sees the devastation that’s been done to Eleanor. June is later given “a collector‘s item“— birth control pills— as a small mercy by Joseph, who’s already drinking to forget. He says he’ll get a truck for her to get his wife out of Gilead. June says he can also leave, if he takes “the stolen children of Gilead” as a bargaining chip.
At Loaves and Fishes, June talks to Alma (Nina Kiri) about their plans. They’ll need more help. Janine is willing to lend herself to the cause. Alma will try to cobble together more Handmaids for the rebellion. For the first time in ages, things are shifting in a forward motion for the women. Genuine hope. They’ve got many Marthas behind their cause.
(Great use of a Jaws quote in this scene!)
And Serena is seeking her own way out with Fred. Will it work?
“We’re gonna need a bigger boat”
One of the BEST episodes of the series in a long while. Father Gore loves the series, and hasn’t been as disillusioned with it as other viewers, often the case here at FSHG. But this was hands down one of the better episodes of the season. Things are really starting to change with the plot chugging along.
“Liars” is next time.