The Handmaid's Tale season 4 finale recap: June exacts brutal revenge on a Gilead villain
In the aftermath of Fred Waterford cutting a deal for freedom in exchange for intel on Gilead, June pushes back and orchestrates her own plans to ensure her abuser gets what he deserves.
The time has come for the season 4 finale of The Handmaid's Tale. After a season marked by a drastic story shift with June's long-awaited escape from Gilead, the closing episode delivers perhaps the show's most monumental finale. Yvonne Strahovski, who plays Serena Waterford, called it "the most satisfying" finale yet. And it all has to do with her character's husband, Fred.
In last week's episode, Fred made a deal for his freedom in exchange for all his Gilead intel. Now, all that stands in his way is an official plea deal approval by an international court based in Geneva. But June has other ideas about Fred's future, and she does everything she can to get her way. Let's dive into how things play out in this finale episode, titled "The Wilderness."
Fred and Serena
Though Fred and Serena are edging toward freedom with Fred's pending deal, he sits through more questioning. As Serena looks on, dutifully supportive, Fred's asked about a woman named Dr. Martina Bernal, whose last known Gilead posting was a Jezebel's in Boston. Initially, Fred claims not to know her or the establishment well, but eventually, he admits Martina reportedly died in an "accident" involving a Commander.
Serena steps out to talk to Mark. Noting Fred's helpfulness, she makes demands, including a nice home for her family, and for the decision on Fred to be expedited so their son can be born free. Speaking for all viewers, Mark asks Serena why she's staying with Fred. She evades the question but her face belies uncertainty and conflict.
Serena's inner turmoil manifests later, too. Fred visits her before heading to Geneva and says he'll return a free man, a husband, and a father. Serena doesn't seem thrilled but plays along, praising his accomplishments regarding their situation. But she's distant and cold and doesn't kiss Fred goodbye. It seems her support is strictly business… but to what end?
June's last statement
The episode opens on a flashback of June and Fred dressed up, dancing. Fred kisses and gropes her aggressively. In a voiceover, June says handmaids must act like they love and want their Commanders. They must never run, kick, scream, or bite in resistance.
In the present, June gives one more statement before Fred's deal is approved, but to her chagrin, it's taped instead of in person, and Mark practically admits it's inconsequential. She asks if Fred is being as helpful as Mark had hoped. Mark says yes, Fred's intel has proven monumental. June then calls Fred weak and, insinuating Mark's also weak for granting the deal, adds that weak men "make the world go around."
After she gives her statement, Luke tries to comfort June about Fred's pending freedom by noting at least she and Nichole are safe. Rita is also reserved about it, but Moira is outraged. She wants June to go to Geneva to testify or use media interviews to sway the court against Fred. Later, Emily and June discuss the situation. June mentions the Old Testament, and, in blatant foreshadowing, Emily quotes a line: "The righteous will rejoice in vengeance and wash their feet in the blood of the wicked." June then tearfully tells Emily she wants to let go of Fred and focus on her family, but she can't.
June visits Fred
June then visits Fred. Her arrival is interspersed with flashbacks reflecting the power shift between them. Fred greets her almost gleefully and asks if he can call her June. June coldly reminds him that is and has always been her name. Soon Fred says he doesn't hold ill will toward her about her testimony and implies that June edited the truth for the court and Luke, calling her suffering at his hands "discomforts." He claims they shared a relationship they both needed to survive - it wasn't love, but there was something there. He also says that now that he has a son, he understands how anguished June must have felt about not being with Hannah in Gilead, and he apologizes for that.
June plays along, acting almost grateful to hear him express remorse about Hannah. They have a drink, and when Fred says he misses Offred, June toasts to her former identity. Eventually, despite a wicked look in her eyes, she leaves without incident. But on the way home with Luke, she vows to put Fred on The Wall in Gilead.
June, Mark, and Lawrence
The next day, June ambushes Mark and insists Fred will not be freed. She tells him to give her a ride somewhere and listen. He ultimately obliges, and they go to what appears to be a Gilead border, where Commander Joseph Lawrence awaits inside a building. June apparently approached him with a deal for Fred. Lawrence says Gilead wants Fred home. Mark says Gilead is scared of Fred talking. Lawrence then offers a prisoner trade for Fred: 22 women imprisoned by Gilead. June insists that the women are some of the lives Mark thinks Fred's intel will save, and Fred alone isn't worth more than all 22 women. Mark agrees to take the proposal to his superiors. Before June leaves, Lawrence tells June, to her disgust, that whatever Gilead does to Fred won't satisfy her.
That night, June and her posse discuss Fred's fate. Luke is confident and satisfied that he'll be imprisoned. Emily thinks he'll be sent to the colonies, and doesn't like that he'd be allowed to live. Rita thinks there will be some justice in the form of a trial, and Moira is happy that he'll be out of their lives. Emily asks June what she wants, and June says she wants Fred to be scared to death… like he and Gilead made her. With that, Emily and June share a mischievous look.
Just before Fred departs for Geneva, he's apprehended aggressively and told he's been deemed unfit for leniency. It seems June's efforts prevailed. Meanwhile, June steps outside her home and looks back through the window at Luke and Moira, as if she might not see them again…
Then, Fred's convoy arrives at a border bridge. Fred realizes they've reached Gilead, and he's part of a prisoner exchange. Mark says Gilead promised to try Fred under their justice system - a system Fred helped build - to which a panicked Fred retorts that God will judge Mark for sinful coveting (perhaps Serena? Or power?). Lawrence greets Fred, saying Gilead is relieved to have him back, but Fred knows he's in trouble. Then Nick arrives with the Eyes and takes over jurisdiction, and Fred's fear increases exponentially. He only becomes more afraid when Nick marches him silently into the woods.
As Nick tells Fred they've entered No Man's Land, June emerges through the trees. She and Nick kiss, then Nick walks away, leaving Fred alone with her. June blows a whistle and out from the shadows steps a horde of other Gilead refugee women. June tells Fred to run. As she and the women give chase, the episode opening voiceover and flashback return. Eventually, Fred trips. June stands over him and begins to beat him savagely with a wild look in her eyes. Emily and the other women join in, and June bites Fred's face.
That morning, June leaves the wilderness, satisfied. She arrives home, and when Luke sees her bloody face, he falls to the ground, horrified by what he presumes she did. She apologizes and says she'll leave after five minutes with Nichole. Elsewhere, a mail carrier opens a package for Serena, and out falls a wedding ring and severed finger. And, on a wall in No Man's Land, a body hangs over a spray-painted Gilead resistance slogan: Don't let the bastards grind you down.
That's where season 4 ends. At last, one of our main villains is dead. June got her revenge; Lawrence dealt with the problem of Gilead's secrets being spilled and served his conscience by getting prisoners released; Mark got a win with the intel and Gilead prisoners. But what does the unsanctioned execution mean for international relations with Gilead? Will June finally be able to move on? How can she if Luke doesn't forgive her for Fred's murder? Will June be prosecuted? Will Serena use freedom from Fred to turn over a new leaf, or make him a martyr to thrust herself into power? We're left with many questions, but at least we got a momentous ending in Fred Waterford's demise - equal parts deserved, brutal, inevitable, and shocking. Here's to that acidic stunner and whatever comes next season!
- The Handmaid's Tale showrunner breaks down that shockingly brutal death and what's next for the show
- Yvonne Strahovski says The Handmaid's Tale season 4 finale is 'the most satisfying' one yet
- The Handmaid's Tale writer on the devastating Fred Waterford twist and what to expect in 'shocking' finale
- The Handmaid's Tale's O-T Fagbenle talks Luke and June's 'extreme' relationship, teases Nick's return