The Handmaid’s Tale season 4, episode 4 recap – what happened in “Milk”?

By Daniel Hart
Published: May 5, 2021 (Last updated: February 17, 2024)
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Hulu series The Handmaids Tale season 4, episode 4 - Milk


Slowing down the pace, The Handmaid’s Tale season 4, episode 4 brings an episode mixed with relief and tragedy, as the lead characters gain new perspectives. The series shows no signs of crumbling.

This recap of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale season 4, episode 4, “Milk,” contains spoilers.

Those first three episodes were something, weren’t they? The Handmaid’s Tale is not spoken about enough, and as we delve into season 4, it’s clear that from a television perspective, it is one of the greats.

After that heart-racing end to episode 3, June has to convince Janine that the other Handmaids are dead after she wants to go back. She promises the panicked Handmaid that they are going to be okay. Both Handmaids continue running down the train tracks and head west. June wants to go to Chicago as they are still fighting for freedom. The Handmaids climb onto a train and head inside a milk tanker. When Janine heads into the milk, they have to go underwater and hide as someone hears them.

They clearly underestimated how cold milk can be, especially in a tanker.

Serena wants Rita to visit

Now free, Rita does not have any information on her sister or nephew in the refugee camp databases. Moira apologizes for having zero news but vows to keep looking. Moira also has a strange request — Serena Waterford wants to see her. Rita is confused, and rightly so, stating she has deposed and has no idea what else she would need. Moira tells her to say her peace.

And with that, Rita visits Serena. She learns that Serena is pregnant and calls it a miracle. Serena believes it’s Gilead’s clean air and water and praises God for what’s happened. She hasn’t told Fred and wants Rita to care for her “little boy” with her. What a strange situation this is as both women are elated before praying together.

However, there’s a sadness surrounding Rita — despite being free, she does not have the body language of freedom. Episode 4 highlights that she needs to let go of her past as much as possible.

Janine cuts a frustrated figure 

Episode 4 sees June and Janine at odds with each other, and it’s no surprise really due to the pressure of the situation. It’s not an ideal escape plan.

In the milk tanker, June and Janine are freezing. Janine is not happy and wonders if June has a plan, but she doesn’t appear to have one, apart from finding “Mayday”. She gets emotional and asks June to stop feeding her lies. June insists that she’s keeping them both alive. The pair continue to bicker between each other, and Janine makes a poignant point that they all loved her and wonders if June told The Eyes where she and the other Handmaids were. June explains that Hannah was in danger, and she wasn’t sure what they would do to her. She admits she told the Eyes where they were.

This leads to more arguments, with Janine stating she would have thought of a better plan, rather than heading to war in Chicago — Janine believes she wouldn’t have told The Eyes where they were and blames June for the deaths of the others. June cruelly looks down at her and says, “I should have left you a long time ago”.

When June is wicked, she can be really wicked, but it’s always surprising how calm she can be while she acts that way.

Janine’s ordeal at the “abortion clinic”

The Handmaid’s Tale season 4, episode 4 brings flashbacks, and it shows Janine taking off work to head to an abortion clinic. A staff member at the clinic asks Janine regarding her decision-making around abortion, which leads to the question, “are you religious?”. The staff member reveals that they do not do abortions and that she has been tricked. She describes what happens to aborted babies and claims Janine will feel guilty if she goes ahead with it.

Later scenes show Janine putting her young son to bed and singing to him as he falls asleep. The next day, she heads to a real abortion clinic and tells the doctor that she isn’t prepared to have a second child. The doctor apologizes to her that she ended up at a fake abortion clinic and gives her the medication for a home abortion.

Rita drops a shocking reveal for Fred

Episode 4 brings a rare freeing moment, and audiences will be relieved that Rita finally has some respite.

Rita learns from Mark that Serena wants help in her case — she wants her to support testimony that her commander forced her to carry out the heinous acts. She is shocked to learn that the family still wants her help, and Rita tells Mark that in Gilead she was registered as a property. Rita meets Fred — he calls her a “friendly face,” but Rita reminds him that they are not friends. She tells him to deal with his family because it is not her job anymore — she walks off and says, “I’ll pray for your son,” and gives him an envelope. Inside the envelope, there’s a baby scan.

Joining an army 

Leaving Gilead should be a positive thing, but harsh reality clouds over June and Janine in episode 4. Finding safety and freedom is much more difficult, and just fleeing does not appear to be the answer.

The train stops, and Janine and June can hear gunshots — June believes if the train is being attacked, it is not Gilead. When June leaves the tanker, a woman points a rifle at her. When they get off the tanker, June asks for help and states they want to find somewhere safe. The woman and a group of soldiers fear they are walking targets, but June vows that they will do everything they say. The Handmaids are driven through a torn-down town that has suffered many battles.

This isn’t “Mayday”

They finally reach safety, and June asks for a place to stay and food; the soldiers tell her that this is not a charity, but June argues that they’ve done a lot and can be useful. The group leader asks for one of the women to stay with him, as that nothing is free in this place. June puts herself forward; she doesn’t want Janine to suffer. Janine leaves with a woman, and the leader of the group zips down his pants — he asks her if she’s used to this, and June nods. The man tells her he isn’t going to force her and that they can go. June realizes that this group of soldiers are not “Mayday” and walks away. She finds Janine and tells her they need to leave.

But what was awful about this scene, apart from the obvious, is that no matter how hard June tries to remove herself from the tragic life she has experienced, it always ends up going full circle. She’s always being abused, compromised — reducing her very being.

The ending

As the episode closes out, it shows Rita enjoying sushi in peace — she feels freer by letting go of the Waterford family. As for June, she strips off her Handmaid uniform, brings down her hair, and gets changed. She looks down at the uniform — she’s done with this life. Once changed, Janine gives her a slice of bread. June apologizes to Janine — the words exchanged on the journey have weighed on her. Janine simply accepts the apology and eats. That gave me goosebumps — sometimes, it’s the normal moments in this series that have the most effect.

Slowing down the pace, The Handmaid’s Tale season 4, episode 4 brings an episode mixed with relief and tragedy, as the lead characters gain new perspectives. The series shows no signs of crumbling.

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