Last week’s stunning episode Home made it clear just how much darker the dramatic tenor of Season Four of The Handmaid’s Tale would become, even after June had reached the sanctuary of Canada. Episode Eight, Testimony, reinforces that commitment, as the show digs deeper into the unsettling themes of vengeance, justice and redemption.
It’s an extraordinarily powerful instalment of the series and one that delivers some long-anticipated showdowns. Through the richness of the writing, and the quality of the performances, the viewer is invited to wrestle with some complex moral questions: what would constitute a just punishment for those who have committed unspeakable crimes; should victims be able to make their persecutors suffer; and do the penitent deserve forgiveness?
Following on from her impressive directorial debut on the show in the pivotal Season Four episode The Crossing, Elizabeth Moss (June) turns in equally assured work here. This is most evident in her own characterisation of June’s sense of self. It was already apparent in the events of Home just how much June’s psyche had been damaged by the degrading horrors of Gilead. The story of Testimony showcases June’s determination to make Gilead’s enablers, excusers and deserters suffer. Not yet in a place where she has any interest in self-care or recovery, June wants payback and the application of justice without clemency. It’s an all-consuming sense of rage that alienates her from many of those closest to her, and which leaves her locked down and unwilling to share the full truth of her experiences. Her outrage serves as both sword and shield. She has every justification to feel this way, but it’s an approach fraught with personal risk. It’s driving a deeper wedge between her and her loving-but-exasperated husband Luke.
June's first courtroom encounter with the Waterfords is electrifying. As she takes to the stand to deliver her testimony, the camera locks onto June for the entire speech, inching forward in close-up. Writer Kira Snyder has June deliver a sobering summary of her three seasons’ worth of suffering in Gilead. It’s impactful stuff, superbly delivered by Moss, but it initially feels like an off-centre approach. June is invited to deliver an ‘impact statement’ but instead she lists her experiences. She says nothing about how it felt to live through that, or how it affected her. Yet what makes perfect sense on reflection is that, even when facing her nemesis, June cannot yet allow herself the vulnerability that would come from giving voice to her emotions. It’s still a cathartic experience for her, despite the outburst from Commander Waterford that follows and her interrogation by the defendants' heartless defence team.
June’s presence within the escapee support group is destabilising, much to convenor Moira’s alarm. She encourages the others not to focus on the process of personal repair, but to find ways to get their own back against those that deserve to feel their righteous anger. It’s a mindset that delivers an unexpectedly powerful sense of relief for Emily, who’s contacted by a former Gilead ‘Aunt’ seeking forgiveness.
As there are stirrings of public support for the Waterfords in Canada, Testimony also reveals shocking developments in Gilead. Aunt Lydia is out of kilter with the new handmaid regime, and her misbehaviour forces Commander Lawrence to intervene in the hope of getting her equilibrium back. Lawrence’s true motives remain as opaque as ever, but his plan to recalibrate Aunt Lydia's energies leads to a stunning revelation.
Despite her all-consuming fury, June takes sufficient heart from Emily’s satisfaction to begin to share difficult secrets with Luke. However, there’s no dimming to the intensity of the feelings animating her. "Why does healing have to be the only goal?" she demands of Moira's group. "Why can't we be as furious as we feel?". The endgame of this fourth season of The Handmaid's Tale promises an unblinking focus on that very question.
THE HANDMAID'S TALE Season Four is screening on Sundays in the UK on Channel 4 and available to stream thereafter on ALL4 or buy through Apple.
Read our previous reviews of THE HANDMAID'S TALE below: