‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 4 Ends With June Brutally Taking Justice Into Her Own Hands

Although heroine June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss) finally made her way to freedom in the fourth season of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” she still found herself in a prison of sorts, unable to let go of her anger stemming from years of abusive, horrific treatment. Not only was she imprisoned by the state of Gilead and repeatedly raped, she also had her daughter taken away from her and was forced to watch the abuse, torture and murders of so many others. So, it’s understandable that it would take more than a few months of group therapy for her to be healed, and after the shocking season finale, it’s clear that she can never go back to being the woman she was pre-Gilead.

The penultimate episode of the season ended with June exploding at Mark Tuello (Sam Jaeger), a representative of the U.S. government based in Toronto, June’s new home, after he revealed that Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) has made a deal to cooperate with the government in exchange for his freedom. Fred’s decision to turn on Gilead, whose government he and his wife, Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski), both played an instrumental role in founding, came after a visit from Commander Warren Putnam (Stephen Kunken), who only bought cigars and offers of thoughts and prayers to his old friend. Serena, meanwhile, visited with Naomi Putnam (Ever Carradine), who made her nervous with her offer to raise her unborn son in Gilead.

Shared interests, not the least being Serena’s pregnancy, pushed the Waterfords back together, although the fire between the two has gone out long ago. The pair inspired a following in Canada after Fred testified in court that the miracle pregnancy was a reward for their unwavering faith, and while this result of his PR spin led to a temporary high, the threat of having their son taken away at birth and other harsh punishments loomed over them.

“Freeing himself mentally, in terms of the relationship with Serena, is interesting in the way it plays out and how that marriage is really a marriage less of love and more, as you see from episode eight, of convenience and survival,” Fiennes explained to Entertainment Voice during an extensive Zoom chat in April.

Serena’s decision to stand by her man baffles Mark, who may have himself developed feelings for her. However, Serena was a famous conservative media figure pre-Gilead, so it makes sense that she would ride this new wave of fame, even if that means remaining in a loveless marriage. It all clicks when Fred goes to say goodbye to her before he flies to Geneva for his immunity trial and she is more concerned with her phone calls and work.

Meanwhile, June has realized that the justice system has failed her, and no amount of hours spent talking to her husband Luke (O.T. Fagbenle), who tells her that she should be grateful that she and Nicole, her baby daughter, are both safe, and her best friend Moira (Samira Wiley), who pushes her to fly out to Geneva to testify, can bring her peace. One person who understands her anger is Emily (Alexis Bedel), another former handmaid who is having trouble adjusting back to civilian life. Only to her can she confide that she feels she’s not a good mother due to her inability to let go of her anger.

Although many consider “The Handmaid’s Tale” to be a dystopian series, Margaret Atwood, the author of the original novel, refers to her work as “speculative fiction.” Fiennes views it as a “cautionary tale of everything we know of human nature.”

“Everything that happens in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ has happened and been perpetrated before in some regime and continues today, so it’s very real,” he explained. “As painful as it is to watch, we kind of watch it because we call it dystopia. It allows us to kind of have a sense of removal from reality, but I think, for a lot of people, it is reality, and for me, it seems rather pertinent to the world and politics.”

Many who have experienced abuse cannot help but relate to June, especially in this latest episode when she remembers how she had to pretend to be into Fred back when she was his property as a means to survive. As Offred, she played a role of sorts, a role she played well, because during an emotional jailhouse meeting, Fred reveals to June that he sometimes misses Offred. But the most emotional moment comes when he admits how his impending fatherhood has led him to feel sorry for how she was separated from her older daughter, Hannah. However, the meeting does not provide June closure, as she afterwards reveals to Luke that she wants to see Fred “on the wall,” the place where those executed were hanged in Gilead in order to strike fear into the hearts of others.

“June has big teeth to fight back with,” Fiennes revealed, but we had no way of knowing that he meant literally, which is what happens by the end of the episode. After she manages to appeal to a sympathetic Mark, June sets up a meeting with the two of them and Joseph Lawrence (Bradley Whitford). Joseph agrees to a prisoner exchange, but Fred isn’t informed of this until the very last minute when he is hauled off to Gilead against his will. There, he comes face to face with not only Joseph, but also Nick (Max Minghella), his former driver whom he tries to appeal to by calling him “son” over and over. But it’s no use, as he’s on the side of his former lover, who lives out her revenge fantasy in the middle of the woods alongside Emily and other victims of Gilead in a chilling sequence.

Although Fred’s violent demise was satisfying for June and the viewer, one cannot help but feel sad about Fiennes’ departure. The actor reflected on how the role opened up his eyes to certain things. “When you see women dressed as handmaids in court fighting for their rights, you realize how special the show is. I’m very moved by that. The show is a symbol for so much. It’s an important, integral show on many levels. I have to say, I feel really blessed, and it’s certainly alerted me to so many things that ordinarily I wouldn’t have been so on top of.”

Fiennes also discussed why his wife, who has read the original novel, made the choice to so far not watch the series. “I guess, in many ways, this isn’t your cardboard cutout baddie, or crazy kind of fantasy of a dystopian world. It resonates so true to the political sentiment, and to the pain that women feel in not being heard and not having autonomy over their lives and bodies. It’s extremism in its worst case, and Fred plays a big part in that, and I think my wife would rather reserve a part of the Joe she knows, rather than seeing him in the shadowy figure of Fred.”

Before “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Fiennes was best known for playing historical roles. He explained how these films can also be connected to our lives today. “‘Shakespeare in Love’ could be a muse on Hollywood and the industry, and ‘Elizabeth,’ politics. I think of them as modern movies, in many ways, although the characters are wearing flouncy shirts or blouses, or riding horses.”

It will be interesting to see where June can go from here. She is last seen covered in blood holding Nicole, shocking Luke. Although she can never be again the woman who married Luke, there seems to be little hope of a reunion with her and Nick, with whom she forged a bond under desperate circumstances. Also, unbeknownst to her, Nick is now married, although the identity of his bride has yet to be revealed. 

The season four finale also left us hanging regarding the fates of Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd), Janine (Madeline Brewer) and Esther Keyes (Mckenna Grace). In episode nine, Aunt Lydia has seemed to have softened on the re-captured Janine, allowing her to serve as her personal maid instead of sending her to the breeding colonies. She even allows her to guide Esther, the former teen wife-turned-killer mentored by June who has inexplicably been turned into a handmaid.

The Handmaid’s Tale” season four finale begins streaming June 16 on Hulu.