WARNING: Significant spoilers ahead for season 4 of The Handmaid’s Tale, up to and including the season finale. If you haven’t seen it yet, I’m sorry, but you’ve had six days.
those black-eyed peas
they tasted all right to me, Fred
ain’t it dark
wRaPpEd uP iN tHaT tArP, fReD
Well, that was a treat. I thought sure that Fred was always going to be the main villain and we were going to be stuck with him till the end of time (or till the end of the series, whichever came first, though I find it more likely that the world will end before this show does). The Handmaid’s Tale and I have had our disagreements, but in the end I always go back because if there’s one thing they know how to do it’s producing an amazing finale. If you thought they couldn’t top the season 3 finale, you were wrong, because they just did. This is one particicution I can really get behind. And so we bid a fond farewell to Frederick Waterford, that pulp of tenderfoot shaped by a hard boot of an exterior, who has lied and fornicated and raped and murdered and betrayed and just generally weaseled his way through the last four seasons. Goodbye, Fred. You may be gone, but you will never be missed.
Looking ahead, I have to admit that I’m not optimistic about the future this has just created. Fred was a big problem, it’s true, but he was also his own worst enemy. Of the two Waterfords, Serena is by far the smartest, which means she’s a bigger problem than Fred ever was. Fred might have been less of a problem if he hadn’t had Serena acting as his publicist and strategist. He wasn’t smart, or resourceful, or even particularly determined. The best that can be said is that he at least knew enough not to let go of Serena’s coattails, which made him look good to the Sons of Jacob while she was still influencing policy. Serena has always been capable of seeing a larger picture. Fred saw only details.
Bluntly speaking, Fred is far more useful to Serena dead than he was alive because now he’s a martyr, and martyrs don’t talk back. They don’t sit in court and roll their eyes during victim testimonies. They don’t have to be coached on what to say or instructed in public image. Now that Serena doesn’t have to deal with the insurmountable wall that was Fred and his Y chromosome, she’s going to have a lot more scope for her talents. Add to that the fact that she hates to lose and that she just lost big time to June, and, well, I’m worried. June is treading a dark path at the moment, and I think she and Serena will tear each other to pieces – and the world too – before either of them admits defeat.
All of this has led me to wonder what kind of impact Fred’s particicution will have on the relationship between Canada and Gilead. Will the rest of the Commanders react with fire and fury, or will Nick and Lawrence be able to keep them in hand? Will they try to ally with Serena to turn Fred into a Gilead martyr while pretending that they weren’t preparing to do the same thing to him themselves? Will they try to use his death to lure her back into Gilead to face her own trial? That visit from the Putnams was not subtle, and it seems pretty clear that Serena is going to be in very big trouble if she ever goes home. I seriously doubt that she’d ever return of her own free will, but there’s no telling what Gilead will do if they really want her back.
And, while we’re at it, what exactly was Mr. Tuello’s role in all of this? I want to say that he knew exactly what was going to happen to Fred, but season 4 was basically ten straight episodes of Mr. Tuello hating his job and knowledge is not a guarantee in this show, so it may be an unpleasant surprise they’re going to drop on him in season 5. On the other hand, I don’t see how June could possibly have arranged the particicution without his help, since she needed Nick and Lawrence to pull it off and she had no way of contacting them by herself. If he did know, this was a drastic step, and from a political perspective it seems rash and unwise. It’s possible that the Canadians had squeezed everything they wanted from Fred and needed to dispose of him quickly before he could get loose and cause an international scandal as a freed war criminal, but I think it’s more likely that they gave him to June to keep her happy(ish) and cooperative. Or – somewhat more chilling thought – maybe they gave him to her in exchange for something they wanted more. Maybe she struck some sort of bargain where she goes back to Gilead to continue the fight, and that was considered more valuable than Fred’s life. Maybe this is where she intends to go after leaving Luke.
But maybe I’m making too much of this. Maybe they’ve come up with a good story to explain why he never arrives in Geneva. Maybe they’ll just say he had a heart attack en route and there was nothing they could do. That severed finger will be harder to explain away, but maybe they’ll say that they returned him to Gilead as part of a diplomatic agreement, and Gilead had its way with him. Maybe the Council was planning to erase him anyway; maybe Nick persuaded them to let the Eyes take care of it, out of sight, out of mind. Maybe the Particicution will never be discovered. And maybe pigs will fly.
Either way, I don’t think Serena is going to grieve much for what Fred became. There was too much anger and betrayal between them at the end for them to ever truly reconcile. At most she might grieve for the person he used to be, if she still thinks about him that way, but mostly I think she’s going to see his death as an obstacle conveniently removed from her path as well as a theft to be avenged. I think she’s going to be more upset by the fact that he was precipitously stolen from her than by the fact of his death. I think she’s going to mourn in public but privately rejoice that she doesn’t have to share her son – if she carries him to term – with a husband she could barely stand.
At the beginning of the season I said I was so over the Waterfords and I stand by that, but that was when the Waterfords were both still alive and – if not exactly unified – at least more or less together. Now, though, one of them is gone, and the other is very likely to declare war on June in the next season premiere. The writers have left Serena in an intriguing spot. It’ll be interesting to see what they do with her.
P.S. Not to gloat or anything, but Fred’s expression when he realized he was being carted back to Gilead was PRICELESS.
That was the most insincere “Praise be” I’ve ever seen in my life. Say it like you mean it, Fred. Also A+++++++ to June and Nick making out two inches in front of his face. I approve.
P.P.S. Who the fuck is Nick married to cus I know they didn’t resurrect Eden