The hardest part about The Handmaid's Tale is that the series never paints anyone in black and white. June, for instance, is a hero. But she's also a murderer who trained a 14-year-old to kill. Serena Joy is a woman who dreamed up Gilead and the oppression of other women, but she's also trying to survive the only way she knows how. And then there's her husband, Fred Waterford, an abusive, manipulative fool. But fool or not, he's made his choice to sell out Gilead. So, is Fred now walking free on The Handmaid's Tale? Listen, Canada may be the land of freedom, but right now, it's not the land of fair. (Content warning: This story briefly discusses suicide and rape.)
Warning: Spoilers for The Handmaid's Tale Season 4, Episode 9 follow. One would think that Fred Waterford would be one of the least sympathetic characters in The Handmaid's Tale. He's a man of limited intellect and little curiosity. He cheerfully rapes his Handmaids while piously bleating lines from the Bible that he's never thought twice about. Serena Joy is the brains of the family; he takes credit for her work and calls himself a genius while abusing and oppressing her.
But even Fred's dim view was able to recognize when Gilead has abandoned him. His illusions of Gilead wheeling and dealing on his behalf came crashing down when all Warren Putnam could offer him was thoughts and prayers. (The irony? Warren's visit wasn't even about Fred, who he considered a lost cause. The Putnams were there for Serena, whose unborn son they see as property of the state and want to raise in their own home.)
As Fred tried to tell Serena he would protect her and their son with all his power; she scoffed: "What power?" So Fred sold the only thing he had of value to gain a foothold in their new world: Everything he knew about Gilead.
On the one hand, this is a coup of immense proportions for both the Canadians and the American government-in-exile. Canada now has a witness who is “turning queen’s evidence,” aka testifying against his own country in exchange for getting all the charges against him dropped. And Tuello has the ultimate stool pigeon flipping on the entire Gilead mob to expose and bring down their corrupt government.
Naturally, June is appalled by this deal, especially because she assumed her testimony in the previous episode spooked Fred into cooperating. Tuello may have meant for her to believe that because he thought she would be proud — her VIP status and well-written testimony giving the government a key witness at this trial.
But that’s not what happened. Fred wasn’t spooked by her testimony at all. It was the realization that his fellow white, privileged men couldn’t didn’t care to help him that made him flip. And, more importantly, June is not some cold, logical strategist like Commander Lawrence. She never saw the value in, say, Aunt Irene becoming a witness for the American government. She only wanted that woman to feel the hatred of the former Handmaids and the overwhelming shame of her actions, driving the woman to take her own life.
Of course, the idea of Waterford walking free would cause her to snap, as she did at the end of Episode 9. So, Waterford may think he’s getting a handle on his life again, but not if June has any say in it.
The Handmaid’s Tale’s Season 4 finale drops on Hulu on Wednesday, June 16.