The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 Episode 4 Review: Milk

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Janine is a lot stronger than we give her credit for.


Yes, she sometimes goes off to la-la land, so it can be easy to forget just how much she can handle. Like June, Janine has been brutalized by Gilead, raped, beaten, and humiliated, and had her newborn daughter taken from her.


However, Janine isn’t some helpless little handmaid who needs June to protect her; she’s capable of stepping up and shouldering some of the burden, as evidenced on The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 Episode 4.


This side of Janine becomes clearer, as the character finds herself confronting June about the choices she’s made that have led them here.


Alma and Briana’s deaths were the final straw for Janine, and the realization that June gave away the fugitive handmaids’ location to the eyes forced Janine to see June in a new light.


June is no longer the infallible leader who Janine will follow blindly. Too much has happened for Janine to see her this way still.


Instead, Janine starts to see June for the woman Gilead has turned her into and begins to question whether June truly knows best.


June does what she thinks is right, and her leadership has been instrumental in getting the children and Marthas out of Gilead and keeping the fugitive handmaids alive as long as she did.


However, sometimes June doesn’t think things through, and her stubbornness causes her to believe that she is the only one capable of being the savior.

Janine: I hate it. I hate it in here.
June: I know. Me too. We’re OK. We’re gonna be OK.
Janine: How is this OK?
June: ‘Cause we’re going to get there, and we’re gonna find them. We’re gonna find Mayday, and they’re going to help us.
Janine: You keep saying that, but you don’t know. Do you have some secret brilliant plan? What is it? What’s the plan?
June: Look, Janine, we’re OK.
Janine: I’m not a mushroom. I’m not.
June: OK…
Janine: You can’t keep me in the dark and feed me lies and shit and expect me to be OK with it.
June: I don’t do that.
Janine: Yes, you do. You don’t know where we’re going. You don’t know if we’re going to be OK.
June: I’m keeping us alive.
Janine: They were the nicest, Alma and Brianna. Maybe that’s why.
June: Why what?
Janine: Why god wanted them and not us, at least not you.
June: No, that’s not how god works.
Janine: Well, I think he does.


Others, though, can handle the crushing weight that comes with leadership, and June no longer has to do it all alone.


She’s still in the mindset that she’s in it alone, but if this installment taught June anything, it’s that Janine has her back and can pull her own weight.


It’s a powerful moment at the end when Janine comforts a broken June.


The role reversal highlights June’s humanity, as we finally see our stoic heroine collapse under everything she’s been dealing with.


For so long, June has had to put on a brave face and constantly worry about the safety of others.


She was everyone’s keeper, and if she didn’t protect the handmaids, then who would?


And even when it’s just June and Janine, she firmly believes that if she doesn’t protect her friend, something awful will happen to her as it did to the others.


June just can’t let go, and it’s only when she’s confronted with the act of sex, something Gilead has warped and turned toxic, that she balks.

Janine: When we were at the farm, when we were hiding, Alma said we have to wait for June. She made sure we waited for you. She loves you. She loved you. They all loved you like a real, real love.
June: I know that.
Janine: Did you tell the eyes where to find us? We didn’t tell anyone where we were going just like you said.
June: They had her. They had Hannah, OK.
Janine: You saw her.
June: And I didn’t know what they were going to do to her. I didn’t know if they were going to hurt her. And she really scared, so yes, I told them where you were, OK. You would have done the same thing.
Janine: You don’t know what I would have done.
June: All right.
Janine: Maybe I would have done something better, something smarter.
June: Like what, huh? Like what, Janine? Something stupid and dangerous, and then I would have had to save your ass again.
Janine: This is stupid and dangerous. We’re going to the front of the war in a refrigerator. I wouldn’t have told them where we were. You know that’s why they’re dead.
June: I should have left you a long time ago.


All the grief and guilt and sadness that she’s been suppressing overwhelms her, and it’s all she can do to change out of her oppressive handmaid uniform.


She’s reduced to a shell of herself and nearly wallows in the weight of her defeat.


Yet, when June is at her lowest, burdened down by the unimaginable pain and loss, it’s Janine who steps up.


Janine went above the call of duty when she slept with Steven so she and June could stay with the non-Mayday freedom fighters.


It wasn’t rape because June and Janine technically had a choice, but it was more like sexual coercion.


If one of them didn’t have sex with Steven, he would have thrown them out on the war-torn streets of Chicago, and as two handmaids from Gilead, they wouldn’t have lasted very long. 


They have no supplies, shelter, allies, nor any knowledge of how what’s left of their country functions.


Forcing them to leave wouldn’t have been a death sentence per se, but there’s an excellent chance they would have died or gotten killed.

Janine: I know I could probably keep the kid. I know that, but I already have a son, and it’s just me. I have a job, and it’s just barely enough for the both of us. And I was thinking about enrolling in school next semester because he’s finally old enough.
Doctor: Hang on. Do you want to be pregnant right now?
Janine: No.
Doctor: And you’re comfortable with your choice? You’re making this decision yourself?
Janine: Yes.
Doctor: Then the rest is none of my business. I am required by law to tell you that an abortion procedure can lead to an increased risk of breast cancer, infertility, and depression. And not by law, I’m also gonna say that’s a bunch of crap.


At least with this new group of freedom fighters, they have a fighting chance. Of what, though, I’m not sure.


Now that June and Janine are in Chicago, what is the plan? Will they go west and join up with Mayday? Escape to Canada? Be captured and brought back to Boston?


June is ready to fight wherever that may be, but Janine is tired of it all. 


What Janine wants more than anything is to go back to a life where she’s not constantly on the run or having to look over her shoulder, afraid she’s about to be killed, captured, or rape.


Chicago, like the Keyes property, offers Janine a taste of that. Not freedom exactly, but more of a “this is as good as it’s going to get” type of thing.


The duo has different agendas at this point, so have we reached such an impasse where the handmaids say their good-byes and go off in different directions? Who knows?


What I am interested in before a possible departure is a better understanding of Chicago and whatever remains of the United States.


Chicago is so different from any place we’ve seen, and it’ll be compelling to learn how the little that’s left of society is run.

June: We need a place to stay. We need some food.
Steven: This isn’t a charity. Whatever we pulled off that train is all we’ve gotten in weeks.
June: We’re not asking for charity. You have no idea what we’ve done. We can be useful.
Steven: Theresa will get you some food and some clothes.
June: Thank you.
Steven: Which one of you is staying with me?
June: What?
Steven: Either one of you’s fine.
June: That’s not what I meant.
Steven: It’s what you’ve got. Nothing’s free here.
June: Not her.


The city is a warzone, something out of The Walking Dead minus the zombies come to life, and there doesn’t seem to be any rules.


It’s like the Old West out there, lawless and chaotic, but with 21st-century weapons.


It sounds very dangerous and the type of place June and Janine could get into a lot of trouble if they’re not careful.


Elsewhere, Rita got the closure with the Waterfords that she so desperately deserved.


Not being a handmaid, it can be easy to overlook the trauma Rita endured at the hands of Gilead.


She may not have been raped monthly, but it’s not like she voluntarily chose to be there.


Rita had to cook, clean, and serve the Waterfords, all without complaint. 


She had no choice in the matter, just as the other handmaids didn’t, and had her rights stripped away, so it was almost laughable that Serena thought Rita would corroborate her version of events.


Serena is a master manipulator, I’ll give her that, and she hit all the right notes when Rita came to visit her, playing up their supposed friendship and trying to placate Rita with news of her pregnancy.

Mark: Mrs. Waterford’s attorney claim that you can corroborate any action she took regarding June Osborne’s pregnancy was a result of extreme duress inflicted upon her by her husband.
Rita: She wants me to blame the commander.
Mark: That seems to be their strategy. Apparently, she was very moved by your visit. She believes the two of you share a strong bond.
Rita: Did you know that in Gilead I was officially considered property of the Waterford family?
Mark: I did, yes.
Rita: Registered and everything like my old Nissan Altima.


She even gave Rita a picture of her sonogram, a constant reminder of the miracle baby boy that would be born.


However, Serena made a miscalculation when she assumed she and Rita were friends.


To Serena, they are friends of a sort, not how she was friends with the other commanders’ wives, but in that secret way that you’re friends with someone of lower social standing.


And Serena has come to believe Rita offered her compassion and kindness because they were friends, rather than Rita being an employee of the Waterfords.


There are some genuine feelings of fondness there, but when Serena assumed Rita would back up her story, Rita remembered the type of woman Serena truly is: Someone who will do whatever it takes to get what she wants.


So, in turn, Rita decided to wash her hands of the Waterfords once and for all, but not before ensuring she would no longer be in the middle of Fred and Serena’s marital spats.


Telling Fred about Serena’s pregnancy was the best thing for Rita and gave her the freedom she so desperately deserved, but her decision doesn’t bode well for Serena’s continued growth as a person character.


Serena has been so close to accepting that what Fred put her through in Gilead was abuse, plain and simple, and was ready to sever all ties.


Her pregnancy complicated things, but she revealed she wanted to raise the baby alone, which was a promising sign.

Fred: It’s nice to see a friendly face.
Rita: We aren’t friends.
Fred: No, I suppose we’re not. Why have you come?
Rita: You deal with your family. It’s not my job anymore, and I thank god for that every day.
Fred: I was never cruel to you.
Rita: I’ll pray for your son.


Now that Fred knows, though, he’ll stop at nothing to get Serena back and for the three of them — the marrieds and their unborn son — to be a family.


The pull of family and this being all part of god’s plan will likely be too strong.


In the end, Serena will accept Fred’s apology and everything he’s done to her because if not for all the trials and tribulations they went through, she wouldn’t be pregnant and having a baby of her own.


Some stray thoughts:


  • It’s crazy to think about how accurate Janine’s attempts to get an abortion were in pre-Gilead society. Crisis pregnancy centers exist today and spew misinformation about the inaccurate side effects of abortion. It’s just another reminder that Gilead isn’t as make-believe as we would like to think it is.


  • Is that how they used to deliver milk? By train? The internet confirms this as milk cars, per Wikipedia, are a “specialized type of railroad car intended to transport raw milk from collection points near dairy farms to a processing creamery.” Weird, right, or is it just me?


So what did you think, TV Fanatics?


Are you happy to see Janine standing up for herself?


Will June and Janine part ways?


Will Fred and Serena reconcile?


Don’t forget to hit the comments below to let me know your thoughts.

Jessica Lerner is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.





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