Under the Eye: “Chicago”

There’s a lot of talk about war lately. I receive tweets from people I would’ve normally thought to be firmly invested in the idea of world peace. Something strange has happened to people. Now, they crave war and blood. I think we’re being driven mad. I think the last two years have torn asunder the very fragile veneer of civility in discourse, turned us against each other. We’re being driven to create enemies out of whole cloth and then to hate those enemies, to reduce them to subhuman so we can inflict terror and pain on them. Is it really that easy? I refuse to believe it’s that easy. For a while, at least. At least until I turn on another episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, and I realize these visions were not so much dangerous as they were prophetic.

When we last left off, Janine (Madeline Brewer) had just finished a transaction with Little Steven (Omar Maskati) and got her and June (Elisabeth Moss) a couple slices of Wonder bread. Now back to the action! La Résistance makes its home in an abandoned, burned-out museum. June tries to sleep, but she can’t because across the room Janine is servicing Little Steven yet again. To be fair, while Janine does have profoundly bad taste in men, she throws herself into her work, enjoying a physical experience with a twerp as though it were an act of love and not a simple business transaction. This would make so much more sense if Janine were mentally retarded or had “special needs.”

Because June won’t put out, she is reduced to doing the laundry. You could say she’s been promoted to a Martha. Theresa informs her the group is preparing a trade with other “freedom fighters.” June asks to join this mission but Little Steven shoots her down straight away, until Janine intercedes on her behalf. Little Steven agrees only if June promises to obey him. Seriously. Why hasn’t anybody put two in this little cunt’s head? Once on the road, they find desecrated and burned bodies. Little Steven tells her this is the work of the Nighthawks (ultra cool name), a group of militants who want to kill and have no interest in peace. Tanks and helicopters surround the area. June and the others hide in an ash-covered cafe.

The idea of hiding rings June’s psychic bell, as I’m sure it would anyone. I almost feel trauma at that site. Once again, the production designers do an incredible job evoking chaos and mayhem without actually showing it. June wants to kill the patrolling soldiers, but Little Steven doesn’t want to make waves or give them any reason to come back to look for missing or dead troops. That might be sensible, but I hate this cunt with every core of my being. Little Steven is the kind of douche who enjoys Coldplay unironically. For some reason, Janine is falling hard for Little Steven. She probably enjoys Coldplay. She wants to grab him a Cubs hat. June tells her to not get used to this place, that life is short here. June trades their cloaks for the hat, which may be the first nice thing she’s done in a handful of episodes. June wants to get the hell out of there, but Janine wants to stay. June tells her that if she stays, she’ll just turn into Ofsteven, which is kind of a low blow, but I understand she’s trying to twist the knife.

As it happens, the handmaids on the inside now actively resent June for dropping the dime on the other handmaids and ultimately getting them killed. A helpful member of La Résistance named Brad, gives her some supplies and tells her the quickest, quietest way out of the area. June and Janine share a tearful farewell, but it won’t last because Janine winds up following her. Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) finds she has been demoted. She walks on a treadmill and hangs out with a bunch of old Aunts. There’s a new, younger Aunt poised to take her place. This is a curious development. I find it hard to believe two ideas. The first idea is that Aunts have been around for so long (established continuity indicates roughly five years since the beginning of Gilead) that they can retire.

The second idea is that there is such a thing as “retirement.” I would think with the way Gilead treats its citizens, they would simply take the older Aunts around back and shoot them in the head. A quick once-over with a garden hose and we’re good-to-go. It would be less of a drain on resources considering the war-driven embargo. Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) talks to the Commanders. He asks for a truce and a cease fire to end sanctions so that Gilead can get back on its feet economically. They shoot him down straight away. He just doesn’t get it. Lawrence tells Nick (Max Minghella) a cease fire might save June’s life if she is, as they suspect, stuck out there in the bizarre, schizophrenic no-man’s-land. The show is all about saving June.

The two unrelated subplots of Lydia and Lawrence collide. I’m trying to remember if they ever had any scene together in the past. Maybe briefly during June’s second stint. Aunt Lydia tells him she has information on his activities that would reflect poorly in his new relationship with the Commanders. She believes she can be more helpful than an old witch on a treadmill. Lawrence counters her offer by suggesting she reveal information about other Commanders that could ensure his plan for a cease fire goes through. They reach a modus vivendi. So many deals are being made in this fourth season. It’s like the countless scenes in Game of Thrones where people take walks through the Betrayal Gardens and hatch plans to take over the Seven Kingdoms.

Aunt Lydia goes back to training handmaids, and it appears to be business as usual. Where are these fresh handmaids coming from? The land had been raped years prior, and only so many fertile young women could be caught in enemy territory. Thus completes the cycle of Aunt Lydia. Each time she has been given a group of handmaids to torture, and each time those handmaids have broken free and either been killed or have escaped. Fifty-some-odd children escaped to Canada under her watchful eye. She has June’s level of time-and-universe-bending luck. After being blackmailed, the Commanders (led by head dirty boy Putnam) agree to a twenty-four hour cease fire, but prior to that action, there will be a bombardment of the area where June and Janine are touring in their search for the Nighthawks.

June and Janine notice that all of the soldiers have pulled out, even leaving their food behind. Janine starts grabbing supplies, and June has a bad feeling about this. Shortly after, jets fly overhead and the both of them are running from explosions like in an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. It’s a little bit fakey and CGI-ish. June wakes up shell-shocked hearing disembodied voices calling out. She can’t find Janine anywhere. She sees people, and they don’t look like Guardians or Commanders. Time for an inappropriate needle-drop. This time it’s (of course) Coldplay’s “Fix You” covered by Fearless Soul, a nightmare of auto-tuned feminine anguish. It makes sense the producers of the show dig Coldplay. Coldplay’s like a sad poseur band people listen to when they want to convince others they have taste in music. When the smoke clears, she sees Moira, of all people, staring at her in open-mouthed shock. This is, without a doubt, the least likely thing that has ever happened on this show.

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