‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Recap: Season 4, Episode 9 “Progress”

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The penultimate episode of season 4 is here, and some major revelations come to light. June and Luke continue their quest to bring Hannah home with the help of a couple Gilead sources. Meanwhile, Aunt Lydia puts Janine to use, and the Waterfords face a new obstacle. Read on to find out what happened in “Progress.”

The episode opens with June having just told Luke about the last time she saw Hannah and apologizing. Luke reminds her it’s not her fault, it’s Gilead’s. June tells him that Nick said Hannah is safe and back home. Luke says Hannah’s home is with them, and they want her back. Luke shows June all the information he’s gathered that might help them. Moira enters and asks what’s going on, and June tells her that Luke knows everything now. Moira tells her that she has power she can use now. Luke shares that he’s hit a dead end, though, with no one else in Canada who can help. June suggests using someone new. Someone from Gilead.

June enlists Tuello’s help to set up a call with Commander Lawrence. When he answers, June tells him about Hannah, but he tells June to leave her alone. June says that Hannah needs to be with her and Luke, but Lawrence disagrees. June continues pushing, saying no one can love Hannah the way they can. Lawrence moves on, revealing that Janine is back at the Red Center. June is shocked and doesn’t want to believe it. Tuello signals to her to get back on track, and June tells Lawrence that the Americans are willing to revise a trade agreement with Gilead. Instead, Lawrence wants 10 of the children June freed in place of Hannah, to which June says no. Lawrence expected her to negotiate, lowering the number to five children, but June refuses. June tries to play to his emotions, telling him they can protect him. Lawrence says he doesn’t want to cause trouble, telling June to try and be grateful for her freedom before hanging up.

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At the Red Center, Janine scrubs the floor as an Aunt watches her and Aunt Lydia prepares a tray of food. Two more Aunts drag in a handmaid who keeps her head down. When they sit her down, Aunt Lydia pulls her head up, revealing the handmaid to be Esther Keyes. Aunt Lydia tries to get Esther to eat, who responds by shoving the tray away. The other Aunts drag her back out, and Aunt Lydia makes Janine clean the mess.

Serena and Fred open baby gifts from their supporters, and Serena is disappointed it’s not a real baby shower. Fred, however, is walking on air. He tries to cheer her up by having her read one of the cards. She remarks about being allowed to, and he says he knows he’s made mistakes but now they can start over (boooo); God has a plan. He also thinks that Serena should write another book.

The Aunts eat dinner, with Janine refilling their drinks. Aunt Lydia and two others discuss how to make Esther cooperate, offering suggestions that cause Janine to audibly gasp. Aunt Lydia sends her away, and the conversation turns to Janine. The other two remind Aunt Lydia that Janine can’t stay. Aunt Lydia assures them she’s looking for a suitable posting. The others push back, and Aunt Lydia defends Janine. The others think she would be better suited for the breeding colonies, which Aunt Lydia clearly doesn’t like. She ends the conversation by saying she’ll consider their suggestions.

In her room, Aunt Lydia looks through files of potential postings for Janine, who brings her tea. As Janine starts to leave, she brings up Esther. She tells Aunt Lydia that Esther is terrified and has suffered abuse at the hands of several men; she deserves a chance. Aunt Lydia says that Janine can bring Esther her breakfast so they can talk.

June looks through some of the newspaper clippings Luke saved and finds the polaroid photo of Hannah she sent him awhile back. She begins to cry, and Luke watches for a moment before joining her. He says he was thinking about Lawrence, prompting June to apologize (again), but Luke brushes it off. He suggests reaching out to someone else … someone like Nick, who still has influence. June isn’t quite sure how to respond but is on board as Luke continues to lay out his idea. He asks June if she thinks Nick would help. She says Nick would do anything for her and Nichole, leading Luke to add that instead of a call, June should meet Nick in person. He continues that she should bring Nichole with her, because “how’s he going to say no if you bring him his daughter?” June agrees to do it.

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Mrs. Putnam shows up to visit Serena, giving her gifts the other wives have sent along. Serena is surprised they haven’t completely shunned her, and Mrs. Putnam knows Serena did what she had to do. She also adds that if the trial and everything else isn’t over before the baby is born, Mrs. Putnam and co. will raise the baby for Serena … in Gilead. Serena, though, thinks that even if Fred is locked up, Serena will be able to start fresh. Mrs. Putnam thinks Serena should return to Gilead, because that’s where the baby belongs.

Outside, Commander Putnam and Fred talk. Putnam is glad that Fred seems to be handling everything so well, and Fred cites God giving him strength, adding he hopes the same for the rest of the commanders. Putnam picks up on Fred’s annoyance, assuring they haven’t forgotten about him. Fred inquires about plans to free him, but Putnam tells him that the escape of the children caused a lot of problems. Fred tries to brush this off and asks about negotiations. Putnam, however, believes that would only lead to more kidnappings and hostage commanders. Instead, he offers his thoughts and prayers to Fred.

Janine brings Esther breakfast. Esther thinks Janine sneaked her way in and wants to know everything that happened since they last saw each other. Janine won’t give anything away until Esther eats. When she does, Janine tells her about Chicago, the bombing, and confesses she’s relieved they found her. Esther disagrees, saying there’s no place worse than where they are. She asks about June, but Janine tells her to forget about June and focus on being there and eating or face the consequences. Esther spits out her food, realizing that Janine was sent to her. She claims she doesn’t care what happens, but Janine knows that’s not true. She tells Esther that she’ll only be hurt until she cooperates, urging her again to eat. She leaves, and the information seems to finally start to sink in with Esther.

June preps to go see Nick. Luke is nervous, and June tells him not to worry (but of course he will). She hits the road, her excitement breaking through. She arrives at an abandoned school (later revealed as a Catholic academy), where she and Nick greet each other outside. Nick greets Nichole next, and June lets him know she can’t stay long, and they head inside.

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June jumps right in, asking about Hannah. Nick already knows, handing her a file he’s been working on full of information on Hannah, including information on where she currently lives (Colorado Springs). He adds that it’s impossible to get Hannah out, but at least June knows now. They sit, and Nick says he should have run away with her (I agree). June makes a jokey remark, and they kiss. June brings Nichole over, and Nick activates Dad mode. He grabs a doll he bought as a gift for Nichole, and they enjoy each other’s company.

June and Nick are outside as June gets ready to leave. He tells her to be safe, and as she walks away, he requests that she try and be happy, and she says the same for him. As she drives away, he slips out a wedding band from his pocket in puts it on. Unaware of this nugget of information, June drives home, feeling mostly happy but also, eventually, sad.

Serena and Fred talk in the chapel. Fred is feeling very “woe is me,” and Serena robotically comforts him by saying that God knows about his sacrifice and hopes He will bring Fred peace. Fred says his only consolation is the baby. Serena tells him that Gilead thinks the baby belongs to them, sharing that Mrs. Putnam thinks Serena should return to Gilead. But Serena knows it means she could end up in the colonies or become a handmaid. Fred claims he’ll use his (currently non-existent) power to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Aunt Lydia talks with the two Aunts from earlier when Janine and Esther walk down the hall towards them. Esther has begun to cooperate, and Aunt Lydia is thrilled. She sends them to go enjoy time outside. The other two Aunts are unhappy, but Aunt Lydia sends them away, too satisfied to be brought down.

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June returns home, and inside she shows Luke and Moira the file Nick gave her. Tuello is happy for them, and Luke asks about next steps. Moira joins in, saying that now they have a man in Gilead they can trust. Tuello tells them that they also have a new person in Toronto. Luke asks who … and Tuello reveals that it’s Fred Waterford (HUH?!). June wants to know why Fred would help.

Tuello tells her Fred is offering a boatload of intel — intel he’s sharing in exchange for his freedom. The prosecution has dropped all charges against Fred Waterford.

Luke and Moira (and all us viewers at home) are absolutely fuming, but Tuello claims they have bigger fish to catch than Fred. As he leaves, he tells June they can discuss Hannah at another time. And June is terrifyingly calm. Soon, she storms outside after Tuello, screaming at him that he knows that Fred is rapist but still let him go. As the episode ends, the last words we hear are June screaming at Tuello over and over that she’ll kill him.

The Handmaid’s Tale episodes 1-9 are streaming now on Hulu, with the season finale releasing next Wednesday, June 16. Find the rest of our season 4 recaps and other coverage here.

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By Julia
Julia is a writer/editor/content assistant for Nerds who joined the team in 2019.
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