[Spoilers for The Handmaid's Tale season 3, episodes 10,“Witness,” ahead.]
I guess we’re doing this again. You know, one thing I was really enjoying about season 3 of The Handmaid’s Tale was the lack of rape. Sure, you can’t escape the fact that Gilead is literally founded on rape culture, that every time a background Handmaid gets pregnant, that baby is the product of forced sex. But that’s exactly my point—we haven’t forgotten. We just haven’t had to see June (Elisabeth Moss) go through that particular torture since she’s joined Commander Lawrence’s (Bradley Whitford) house. It’s been refreshing.
Until now. In “Witness,” we learn June was held up in that hospital room long enough for Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) to start imposing more and more of D.C.’s standards on the houses in Boston. June comes “home” to a change of furniture and a much more tense household. Eleanor (Julie Dretzin) is throwing things now! Joseph is actually going to meetings! Clearly, something’s changed.
One of those changes is Fred. Despite being one of the more moderate commanders throughout the series—his cautious deference to Serena Joy (Yvonne Strzechowski) being the main evidence of this—he’s recovered from the loss of his daughter with confidence and newfound political power. A power he has no problem wielding.
The scariest thing about this power is that he has no problem abusing it. Beyond the fact that it looks like the Boston Handmaids are not too far off from a future involving mouth rings, something’s clearly reignited his hard-on for June. As she makes it clear she’s happy to exist far away from him, he does what all mousy, cowardly men do when they’re rejected: lash out.
Fred sets his sights on Joseph, correctly guessing he hasn’t been participating in mandatory “ceremonies” with June each month. If a family comes under suspicion, Gilead has the right to send enforcers to witness the event. No, they’re not in the room where it happens, but they do bring a doctor to check the “results.”
There’s no choice but to comply, and June is raped once again. What’s worse: She has to convince her own rapist (who is being raped as well in this scenario, btw) to do it. Oh, and she has to attempt to comfort his wife. The whole thing is sickening.
And don’t think Serena Joy isn’t aware of exactly what’s going on. At the conclusion of the episode, she basically tells her husband straight-out that she’s got his number, especially when it comes to their daughter. Enough posturing, it’s time to actually get her back (remember, he’s been leveraging her “kidnapping” for political points). But that’s the thing about men like Commander Fred Waterford: they’re not strong, they’re vindictive. That’s not power, and I’m sure his petty ass will be the first one June takes down.
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