Today’s episode was written by Eric Tuchman and was directed by Bradley Whitford!
Episode 509 – Allegiance
“June and Luke prepare for a rescue mission. Serena tries new tactics with her oppressive hosts. Lawrence makes a surprising proposal to elevate his status.” (Allegiance, Season 5, Episode 9)
In Bradley Whitford’s directorial debut, we open in a U.S. military air hanger where preparations are underway for the raid of the Wife School in Colorado Springs in Gilead. Tuello explains to Luke and June how everything will work. They will fly in under Gilead’s radar; a source has confirmed a small window of opportunity when they can make it happen and Mark says “they’ll kill anyone that gets in their way”. I don’t trust any part of this plan. Tuello introduces them to Commander Elijah Vance (in the U.S. military, not a Gilead commander), who is leading the mission. June voices a justified concern, that the girls will be so scared when the raid takes place. But Elijah shows her a photo of his daughter Emma, and says “My plan is to bring your daughter home, and go home to mine.” Well, this can’t end well. Mark explains that he will be watching the live feed of the raid and June demands that they be able to watch with him. He’ll see what he can do. June and Luke remain quiet on the way home, and it very much feels like the calm before the storm.
At the Wheelers, Serena is being photographed with baby Noah for the fertility center’s opening reception. Serena is dressed in Gilead wife teal and Alanis is directing both Serena and the photographer. After the photos are finished, Serena pitches the idea of attending the reception with baby Noah. Alanis says absolutely not, Noah can’t be exposed to all those germs. Serena tries to persuade her by reminding her that the Commanders sent her to Toronto to represent them, but Alanis is not having it. Noah begins to cry, and as Serena turns to go feed him, Alanis tells her that she needs to start pumping again so that they can bottle feed when they need to. YIKES. We can all see where this is going. Serena says, “It will be less confusing for him if he only nurses for now,” to which Alnais creepily replies, “Oh. My smart boy won’t get confused.” Serena steps forward to defend herself but quickly remembers her place (and June’s advice) and begrudgingly agrees.
Over in Gilead at the Lawrence household, Aunt Lydia is speaking with Joseph about some sort of plan, telling him that he’s doing the right thing. Naomi Puntam arrives, and we can all see where this is going. Lawrence thanks her for coming and states that the death of her husband has left her in a bit of a situation as an unmarried woman with a child in Gilead and he’s considered what to do about it. Naomi cries and begs him not to send her to The Colonies. He and Aunt Lydia quickly tell her that that’s not what they meant, Lawrence even saying “you’re not responsible for Warren’s sins, are you kidding, that guy? You deserve a reward for putting up with him.” Lydia tells her that she can’t keep living in her house as a widow with a child and Naomi thinks this means she needs to move into a condo, but Lydia pushes him to state his intentions. He says, “You need security, I need to represent traditional Gilead values…you can move in here with the kid if you want.” What a romantic proposal, Lawrence. Aunt Lydia clarifies that it would be as his new wife, and Naomi is shocked. He asks her what she thinks and she’s surprised she gets to choose. He leaves the room to work, and Aunt Lydia urges Naomi to consider her situation and the status Lawrence would give her. She says, “He had Warren killed in front of me.” and Lydia encourages her to overlook that tiny detail.
Late at night, Serena is putting some pumped milk in the fridge when she sees the light on in Mr. Wheeler’s study. She approaches and knocks before he tells her to come in, and we’re meant to be reminded of all the times June went to Fred’s study. Serena attempts to appear grateful, taking notes from June, and tries to flatter him to get what she wants. Mr. Wheeler says, “I think I’m buttered up, what’s actually on your mind?” She begins to act more like herself and points out that the fertility center was her idea and that she should be there with Noah “as a symbol of a successful pregnancy, to recruit more followers, more supporters…” Mr. Wheeler deadpans, “That’s a nice pitch…I’ll consider it.”
Mark Tuello brings June and Luke into the control center where they can monitor the progress of the raid. June looks up at the live feed of the Wife School and whispers, “hey, Banana.” and we cut to the inside of the school where an Aunt is leading the girls in prayer. They are dismissed to their beds within little canopies that resemble tiny houses. We cut back and forth between Hannah praying at her bed and June looking up at the live feed, where she’s clearly also praying, but for Hannah’s safe return. Hannah takes out a book, which is obviously only made up of biblical pictures, no words. When she flips to the back, she pulls out a hand drawn picture of swirls and spirals of little flowers. It reminds me of June’s memory in season three when she remembers Hannah and Luke on the merry-go-round surrounded by flowers. She pulls out a pencil, and writes in shaky handwriting, “HANNAH” and friends, I burst into full sobs. She remembers her name, and she is writing it in secret. I have been so afraid that Gilead has brainwashed her to the point of erasing her former identity, but it’s still there. I bawled my eyes out. Up on the monitors, as the planes cross the border from Canada into Gilead, alarms and red signals start to go off and June and Luke are rushed out of the room.
Tuello goes and finds them out in the hall and thankfully says that the girls are safe, but are still in the school. “It appears our intel was wrong. Gilead anticipated our mission…took all three planes down as soon as they crossed the border. There are no survivors.” June and Luke take this all in as Tuello leaves to notify other families.
Back at home on the porch, June receives a phone call from Lawrence who apologizes for all the bloodshed he claims he’s been trying to avoid. June is furious and Lawrence claims he was protecting his country and that June sided with the Americans, but that his offer still stands for her to come to New Bethlehem, and brings Nick up again. She yells, “Do you think you can just dangle Nick in front of me and I’ll just do whatever the fuck you want?!” He encourages her to take the deal but adds that he needs her to do so publicly and denounce the raid attempted by the Americans. She says she will not make Gilead look like the victim here. She tells him that he is one of them and even worse, she knows that he knows a better way to live. He says he’s doing what he can; what he promised Eleanor. June gets her scheming face on and says “Eleanor hated you…she’d rather be dead…I watched her die, and I did nothing.” BOOM. I was wondering if she would ever drop that hammer, and she finally did. Lawrence tearfully says that he always knew she was involved somehow, but that his late wife would still want him to help June with Hannah. June cries and says “I want my baby here, safe and free,” but when he says it’ll never happen, she hangs up leaving them both in tears. But June doesn’t stop there; she begins to hack away at the growing garden she’s been tending to all season until Luke comes outside to comfort her.
Apparently Mr. Wheeler has decided to allow Serena to go to the reception, but after she has safely buckled Noah into the car, Alanis storms out and immediately slaps her across the face twice, right in front of the nanny, telling her to stay away from her husband. When she asks Serena who she thinks she is, Serena responds with “I am Mrs. Frederick Waterford” to which Alanis says, “to me you are just a whore.” We’re all getting June and Serena flashbacks from season one. Alanis decides to go with them to the reception.
June and Mark Tuello meet up to debrief about the failed raid attempt and discuss her phone call with Lawrence. June claims she’s done with Lawrence, so Mark asks her what about Nick. He reveals his offer he made to Nick earlier this season and says that it still stands, and maybe June can persuade him. He encourages her to step up and put her “power to use” but she tells him she doesn’t feel comfortable doing that right now. But she finally agrees to meet with Nick and asks Mark to set up a meeting.
At the reception, Serena is fulfilling her role by telling attendees all about Gilead’s help in making her healthy pregnancy possible while showing off baby Noah. She is soaking in all of the attention when the Wheelers walk into the lobby and Alanis calls her over, clearly upset by the positive response Serena’s presence has warranted. She tells Serena that she needs to go home and get some rest, and that she will bring Noah back tomorrow, by herself. Serena reluctantly agrees to leave but says she’ll need to nurse him first. Alanis tells her they’ll just use the bottle, but Serena admits to not bringing one along. The nanny tries to help and take some of the blame, but Serena is allowed to go nurse. The nanny mentions a quiet spot in the back of the building and they head off.
Serena has her scheming face on as she quiets the baby and enters the back room. She asks the nanny for some privacy who gives her a quiet, knowing nod and hands over the diaper bag. Serena thanks her, and turns around, carefully then quickly walking towards a door with a very prominent exit sign. She bursts through the door out to the street where she tries to flag down someone to help. She finally jumps in front of a car that barely stops in time, driven by a young woman who agrees to help her. Serena jumps in with Noah and they drive off.
June arrives at her meeting with Nick at what appears to be the same location she met up with him in episode nine of season four, notably in spring or summer rather than winter. She finds him outside sitting at the top of some stairs, clearly a callback to him standing at the top of the stairs above the garage of the Waterford house. She starts by asking him why he didn’t say yes to Mark’s offer. When he says he can’t leave, she asks why he expects her to. She argues that he can just bring Rose with him to Canada, but he says he can’t and that Rose is happy in Gilead. June asks what happens when it’s time to have a baby and they issue them a handmaid, but he cuts her off to reveal that Rose is pregnant. June is shocked and takes a moment to let the news sink in. Nick continues, saying that they are making Gilead better and that there is progress. “I have to do whatever it takes to protect my family, just like you.” to which June says, “I want what’s best for both our families.” Nick points out that it will be hard for them to see each other and June doesn’t want to make trouble for him. They share a moment and exchange “I love yous” but nothing further. As he walks away, June leaves him with, “Hey Nick, children look to their fathers, you know. Set an example.”
Several wives including Rose, Naomi, and Mrs. Mackenzie are gathered at Lawrence’s home. Aunt Lydia is also attending as Naomi’s chaperone. They are all excited about Rose’s pregnancy but one of the wives I don’t recognize makes a really gross, ableist comment about the baby having potential genetic concerns. Rose is clearly very hurt by this, but covers it well. The commanders are celebrating their success in stopping the Americans’ raid attempt. Mr. Mackenzie continues to press on about dealing with June. Lawrence remains hesitant and says it’s worth considering, before joining the women. Rose and Nick seem to have a real connection, and she is comforted to have him at her side. Lawrence crosses the room and prominently takes a place beside Naomi, placing a possessive hand on her shoulder. Mr. Mackenzie declares that Lawrence is finally one of them now.
The American refugees in Toronto are holding a vigil for the soldiers lost in the raid attempt. Mark Tuello is reading their names aloud while Canadian protestors shout louder than ever with signs, outnumbering the mourners. Tuello calls the soldiers patriots and acknowledges their sacrifice for America. He then calls Emma, Commander Vance’s little girl forward to lead them in the pledge of allegiance. She struggles to remember the words while protestors continue shouting. June asks Mrs. Vance if she can go help, and steps forward to say the pledge with her. They pick up and continue the pledge, getting to “with liberty and justice…” when gunshots ring out. My stomach immediately sank. As Americans, we have grown far too used to this happening here at home and I hate that all too familiar feeling of learning of yet another mass shooting. Everyone immediately screams and gets down. June and Emma are standing in front of the American flag, and in slow motion we see June dive to cover Emma as bullets fly through the flag. Janelle Monae’s “Americans” plays as the credits roll.
I really struggled with the ending of this episode, because of the content. It is incredibly smart writing on Eric Tuchman’s part and beautifully shot by Nicola Daley, director of photography. I think it makes sense as an American to see this happen in a very patriotic space of the show. Emotionally, it hit very close to home with the reality we face every single day in this country. It’s hard to tell who was hit by the shots and where exactly they came from. I don’t know where we go from here or what Hannah’s future holds. Many of my original predictions about what would happen in the finale are no longer relevant after the events of this episode, so I really don’t know what to expect. Like the rest of you, I eagerly await the drop of episode 10, “Safe”.