June Osborne gives her evidence against Serena Joy and Fred Waterford in The Handmaid’s Tale season 4, episode 8, but the result is a group of Canadians cheering on the Waterfords and celebrating Gilead. Directed by star Elisabeth Moss, “Testimony” is what June’s short time in Canada has built up. Going before the International Criminal Court to read her testimony ahead of Waterford’s trial, June’s testimony serves as a summary of some of the worst horrors of The Handmaid’s Tale season 1-3. But as June recounts the abuse she suffered at the hands of Fred and Serena, her former commander strikes back. He confesses that everything he and Gilead have done is in the name of God and that their system works where others around the world fail. June obviously isn’t buying a word of it, but clearly several others do, and a group outside the court is protesting the apparent injustices facing the couple.
It’s always been pretty clear to viewers that Gilead is wrong and that Fred and Serena deserve to be punished for their crimes, so it’s a particularly jarring moment to see them essentially vindicated like this in The Handmaid’s Tale season 4, episode 8, although only by a minority. However, the moment makes perfect sense because it highlights an important part of Gilead’s foundation. While much of the regime’s rise came through fear, intimidation and brutality, it also won people over to its cause and gave them something to believe in. Generally, it has been presented as being contained to Gilead, which has often felt somewhat isolated in a north. Korea-esque way, where other countries do what they have to, but little actual support for it. So with June in Canada the feeling was that it was absolutely safe, but of course there would be people who sympathize with the Waterfords and support what Gilead is doing.
Gilead support in Canada reflects real-life geopolitics
The Handmaid’s Tale has always been a politically relevant show, and it heavily taps into that aspect again The Handmaid’s Tale season 4, episode 8. It combines political positions, no matter how controversial or sinister, with the worship of celebrity. Fred and Serena Joy are, at least in some circles, influencers, and to those people they are hailed as figureheads who tell it like it is and are prepared to do what needs to be done. Again, the view of the world is somewhat skewed because Gilead is where all the problems have been, with Canada a safe haven to escape to, giving the sense that it would be more ideal. But “Testimony” is a reminder of the fertility crisis facing the entire world. Gilead’s Handmaiden measures are terrible, but it feels realistic that others in other countries whose governments haven’t turned things around would look that way and think they were entitled to it.
There is also a minority feeling of ill will towards Gilead refugees in Canada, which in turn both further reinforces these people’s belief that Gilead is right, as well as making more real-world parallels. As Gilead weakens and more people come to Canada, it’s fitting again that these dissenting voices would seem to shout louder, clinging to Fred and Serena Joy’s celebrity as their hope. It is a marked contrast from Serena’s arrival in Canada in The Handmaid’s Tale season 3, where she was met by angry anti-Gilead protesters. It is unlikely that this is at least representative of a complete shift, but more suggests that these divisions exist in Canada, and life outside of Gilead, while better, has its own complications – and that even where people do evil thing, are there those who will support it or turn a blind eye if it benefits them, or if they live in fear of what the alternative might be.
As The Handmaid’s Tale season 5 moves toward its finale, the celebration of the Waterfords in Canada feels as crucial as June’s own powerful testimony. It confirms for them the angle they needed to play at the time – the God-fearing, righteous people who are the only ones succeeding in raising birth rates, who will argue that the ends justify the means and they are doing the Lord’s work, strengthened by Serena’s own pregnancy. Fred is smart enough to have seen it as his best chance anyway, but the protests and cheers confirmed that taking down Waterfords was not as straightforward as it should be.
Canada did not bring the salvation June hoped for
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4, Episode 8 only foreshadowed the challenges Hannah faces. The Handmaid’s Tale season 5 has seen more of June’s time in Canada as she has visited rebel outposts and tried everything to get Hannah back. However, her journey in Canada has not turned out to be a smooth road. When June and the former Handmaids killed Fred Waterford in The Handmaid’s Tale season 4 finale, it was believed that many of the issues would be resolved. Fred’s death was absolutely necessary, as evidenced by the people’s support for the Waterfords. Also, the courts wouldn’t remove Fred and Gilead offered no help. Therefore, June took matters into her own hands.
Since her freedom, however, June has not had it easy. She’s faced hardship after hardship with her newfound freedom, but at least it still seems worth more to her than being stuck in Gilead. June’s struggles in Canada mirror the struggles of many refugees seeking asylum. Often, refugees leave their own country to go to another, only to find that a new set of problems emerges when they arrive at their destination. So even though Fred Waterford is dead and Serena Joy is on her own way to escape, June’s problems are in The Handmaid’s Tale has only become more complicated after fleeing to Canada.
Gilead’s relationship with Canada is worse in The Handmaid’s Tale Books
While The Handmaid’s Tale season 4, episode 8 proved that some Canadians are on Gilead’s side, the two territories’ relations are far worse in Margaret Atwood’s books. IN The Handmaid’s Tale novels, Canada and Gilead actually have a fully formed relationship. While their diplomatic relations are often strained, this does not prevent Canada from recognizing the Republic of Gilead as its own sovereign nation.
In Toronto, there is both a Gilead embassy and a consulate. In addition, there are missionaries from Gilead (known as Pearl Girls) who are allowed to proselytize on the Canadian streets and are even allowed to bring girls across the border into their territory. Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale books also suggest that Canada is eager to stay on Gilead’s good side, as Gilead’s military leadership is too great a force to be reckoned with. For what it’s worth, Canada hasn’t been all it’s cracked up to be in June, and it doesn’t seem like such a safe place in The Handmaid’s Tale.
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