Building on the events of last week’s Ballet, latest episode Border explores the efforts of both June and Serena to traverse the boundaries and barriers separating Gilead from its north American neighbours. Both women are testing the limits of their abilities to extract maximum leverage against the other from whichever location they find themselves in. Within Gilead, other key figures are pressured to decide where their allegiances truly lie ahead of what seems like a now inevitable showdown with the dystopia’s implacable opponents.
First revealed in the season opener Morning, the scale of the anti-Gilead militia forces hunkered down close to the border is shown here to be far larger than was originally hinted at. The resources available to this resistance movement, organised in a set of autonomous cells, are already impressive. The group June visits are able to traffic secure communications in and out of Gilead through a string of untraceable phone connections. Evidence that the border is permeable, and that couriers are already moving people and materials across it, excites an impatient June. The group’s ability to intercept state intelligence about Serena’s return to Canada, sets up a final confrontation that leaves her in no doubt as to the intensity of June’s righteous wrath. Border confirms that the militia could be a powerful asset for June, and that she is held in high esteem by its brave but inexperienced members.
The complicated relationship between June and Commander Nick is something that the series has returned to time and again, despite the pair’s continued separation. Here she reaches out in the hope of persuading him to request a transfer that would allow him to have regular sight of June’s daughter Hannah. Even as he refuses, he’s nervous about revealing to June the fact that he has “taken a wife”, and is now mired in the compromises necessary to his survival in Gilead. There was never any prospect of June and Nick forging a lasting relationship, anything beyond a doomed affair. But Nick’s rejection of her plea suggests that he is pulling away from her, and that June has even fewer allies within Gilead than ever before.
Seeking maximum advantage from her elevated status following Fred’s state funeral, Serena also has relationship ambitions - although these are entirely pragmatic. Keen to secure a stable new status in Gilead, and separate herself from the legacy of Fred’s “misdemeanours”, she seeks to lock-in a new partner. Her hopes that the unconventional Commander Lawrence might agree to a relationship of mutual convenience - now that he’s a widower - are immediately dashed. He finds the suggestion ludicrous and dismisses it without serious consideration. Bradley Whitford continues to shine in the role of Joseph Lawrence, and he’s particularly entertaining here.
The marriage proposal is evidence of Serena over-playing her hand. She continues to do so by asserting her right to remain in Gilead. Mindful of the propaganda success of the Waterford funeral, Gilead’s council instead decides that Serena will be returned to Canada to act as an emissary for the regime. Aware that she cannot refuse, Serena asks for - and gets - resources sufficient to set up a centre of political operations. Although it’s a rebuff to be refused a new home in Gilead, Serena will head north as an empowered and emboldened operator, and someone that the regime’s patriarchs will struggle to control from afar.
Esther’s bid to poison handmaid Janine as well as herself leaves Aunt Lydia rattled, angry and confused. The thought that more handmaids may die on her watch alarms her, and triggers an unexpected emotional response. As she grapples with a surge of self-doubt, Ann Dowd delivers a typically superb performance as a distraught Lydia. It is a powerful moment, but it would be worrying if this is intended to be the first step of a journey towards recognition and redemption. The series would sell itself short if Lydia was somehow able to secure atonement for her culpability in the crimes of Gilead.
Border is an absorbing episode that, while it does not match the elegant synchronicity of Ballet, captures the sense that the killing of Commander Waterford has intensified June's and her allies' determination to bring Gilead to its knees: a threat that the regime’s rulers recognise all too well.
New episodes of THE HANDMAID'S TALE - SEASON 5 premiere Sundays in the UK on CHANNEL 4
Read our previous reviews of THE HANDMAID'S TALE below: