The Handmaid’s Tale season 4, episode 1 recap – the opening chapter explained

By Daniel Hart
Published: April 28, 2021 (Last updated: February 17, 2024)
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Hulu series The Handmaids Tale season 4 episode 1 - Pigs


If anyone feared a quality drop-off in this series, then those fears are eased in the first episode of season 4. This is a brilliant continuation to the last finale.

This recap of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale season 4, episode 1, “Pigs,” contains spoilers. The first three episodes will be released on April 28th, followed by weekly episodes. 

Well, that season 3 finale was one of the best pieces of television of all time. It’s going to be tough to beat. Welcome to our coverage of The Handmaid’s Tale season 4 — let’s recap episode 1, “Pigs.”

And the opening chapter starts in style, with the battling Handmaids carrying June to safety after being wounded in the forest, with the soundtrack of “I Say a Little Prayer” playing in the background. She’s bleeding profusely, but her allies get to work to save her. There’s a slight panic as June realizes they need to keep moving with the authorities looking for them. June has to bite down on a piece of wood as they use a hot poker stick to heal a wound. Afterward, using the Martha network, the Handmaids find transportation to flee. Hiding in the ventilation system, their vehicle is checked, and they had to keep painfully quiet.

If we felt there was going to be some rest in this series, we were sadly mistaken.

Learning of the great escape from Gilead

Still in custody for their war crimes, Serena and Fred Waterford are reunited in a room. Serena feels her rights are being curtailed as she hasn’t had access to a lawyer yet. Mark tells them about a plane that has landed in Canada from Gilead, with nine Marthas and eighty-six children. There’s a shock in the room, and Fred believes this will start a war. The news impacts Serena and Fred even more when they learn that June was the Handmaid that led the escape.

It’s now symbolic of what June represents — a post-war, dystopian hero that saves children for the greater good.

Finding refuge

Despite being injured, a determined June leads the crusade for refuge as they find a farmhouse. When she reaches the farm, a  rogue Guardian walks out with a lantern (acting as a signal for safety), and she collapses after telling the others that it’s safe. June is given immediate medical attention — she’s infected, and they encourage her to rest. When June wakes up, she narrates to the audience and states she nearly died of sepsis when she arrived at the farm. She’s determined to continue fighting as she feels the others need her for protection as Gilead is still out there.

What is so easy to admire about this series is June’s transformation since season 1. She wields so much power and respect.

Lydia wants revenge on June

With a continuing fallout after the escape of the children, Lydia attends a hearing with the Commanders. They tell her she will not experience discipline over the escape of the children, however, they do believe it was under her command that the escape happened. Lydia tells the Commanders that the Handmaids were led by June, and she wants them to find her so that she can deal with her herself. If June is found, she’s in major trouble and brings anxiety to the audience from the first episode.

Mrs. Keyes

The wife of the farmhouse (Mrs. Keyes) has venom to her. She wants to fight, however, June marks how young she is and believes she shouldn’t have this life at her age. The wife is furious, believing June should never have come if she didn’t want to fight.

Mrs. Keyes has a vicious side at dinner and shows a lack of compassion towards the Handmaids — over dinner, she forces Janine to eat something she doesn’t want. June tells Mrs. Keyes to show some respect. And then we learn of Mrs. Keyes and her trauma — how the Commander she married to brought men around to rape her regularly.

June apologizes, and Mrs. Keyes states that “wives have bad things too.” June tells her that none of this is her fault.

Episode 1 of The Handmaid’s Tale season 4 brings a cold reminder of what the women face in this terrible world.

June knows they are not “free.”

June is not happy and tells Elma that they are still not free. When she returns to the farmhouse, she can hear dancing and a commotion; the Handmaids are happy and drinking. There’s a gay male couple freely dancing with each other. June’s face says it all — she knows this is temporary, despite the warmness of the fleeting normality.

Commander Lawrence wants to preserve June’s legacy

Of course, episode 1 shows more characters after the fallout, and it’s interesting to see what Commander Lawrence is up to after he vowed to “clean up his mess”. Joseph Lawrence is under arrest, and Nick visits him. Lawrence asks if they will be going to war and believes it will be the wrong thing to do; he calls it June’s legacy and can use it to put Gilead on the map with the UN — he wants to offer the children to Canada in good faith. Nick knows, whatever happens, isn’t his choice and tells Commander Lawrence that he’s a good man.

Later on, Nick has recommended that Commander Lawrence helps consult in Gilead’s efforts to find the missing Handmaids.

Capturing a Guardian

June visits Rob Keyes, who apologizes for not recalling her name — they introduce each other. Mr. Keyes tells June he’s afraid of his wife at times. June coldly tells him he should be. Outside, Mrs. Keyes and the Handmaids have found a Guardian, and they have him tied on the ground. Mrs. Keyes tells June that he is one of the men that raped her. The man tries to escape and knocks June over, so the Handmaids proceed to beat him up. June tells them to stop and asks them to put him in the barn.

The ending

The ending of The Handmaid’s Tale season 4, episode 1, shows how far June has come as a character — she can be feared and loved simultaneously, making it a conflicting but encouraging experience for the audience.

June tells the tied-up Guardian that the punishment for his crimes is death — she’s applying the Gilead rule. Mrs. Keyes watches the quickly formed trial take place — June tells her that she is right and that they don’t hide, they fight. She tells Mrs. Keyes to make her proud. As June walks out, she can hear the screams of the Guardian as he is murdered, presumably by Mrs. Keyes.

When June lays on her bed to rest, Mrs. Keyes enters with blood all over her clothes. She gets on the bed and snuggles up to June. They tell each other that they love each other before falling asleep. That’s what sisters are for.

If anyone feared a quality drop-off in this series, then those fears are eased in the first episode of season 4. This is a brilliant continuation to the last finale.

Hulu, Weekly TV
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