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The Only Episodes Of The Handmaid's Tale That Joseph Fiennes Wasn't In

As "The Handmaid's Tale" enters its fourth season on Hulu, Gilead has never been less secure. After three seasons of buildup, it now appears that June (Elisabeth Moss) is finally ready to lead a revolution that may bring Gilead down for good.

Before that happens, it's worth remembering how Gilead came into existence in the first place. No character exemplifies that better than Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes), the man whom June previously served as handmaid, when she was known as "Offred." Commander Waterford is an important (if despicable) character on "The Handmaid's Tale." As one of the architects of Gilead, he literally helped create the nightmarish American theocracy, and by all appearances seems to be a true believer in its mission. But on a personal level, Commander Waterford and his wife Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) serve as stand-ins for the Gilead patriarchy itself. Gilead could never have been created without the help of thousands of people like the Waterfords. Seeing their marriage up-close lets the audience see the everyday misogyny and hypocrisy that Gilead is built on.

But as important as Commander Waterford is, he's not in every episode of the show — he's absent from eight episodes. Here are the "Handmaid's Tale" episodes that didn't include Joseph Fiennes.

In Season 1, Fred is missing from two flashback episodes

Most of the episodes that don't involve Commander Waterford are devoted the backstories of the other characters on the show. This trend started with the third episode of Season 1, "Late." The episode shows June's life before Gilead, and the day that the Gilead coup arrived and banned women from owning property. It also has a present-day story involving Ofglen/Emily being severely punished for having a same-sex relationship. In a neat bit of irony, Emily's official charge is "gender treachery." But given how willingly Aunt Lydia participates in Emily's punishment, that raises a question: who's the real traitor to their gender?

The first season's seventh episode, "The Other Side," is told mostly in flashback, and it establishes many of the show's most important elements. The episode shows June's pre-Gilead relationship with her husband Luke. In the episode, Luke gets separated from June and winds up in an American refugee community in Canada. Throughout the series, "Little America" is a tantalizing safe haven that June and many other characters hope to escape to one day. In the present, Luke learns that June is alive and begins the long and painful process of trying to rescue her.

June's attempt to escape Gilead in Season 2 leaves Fred out of two episodes

Fiennes was absent from these back-to-back episodes early in Season 2. The main story in these two episodes is June's first attempt to escape from Gilead, which she does while pregnant. In a harrowing sequence, June first travels to a series of safe houses where she has to hide out for days by herself. Then, a member of the resistance takes June home with him to hide with his family, but the Gilead authorities catch him and June barely escapes before the family is executed. June eventually makes it to an airfield for a flight to Canada, but the authorities intercept it and execute everyone except the fertile women.

"Unwomen" also updates the audience on the whereabouts of Emily, who hasn't been seen since she killed a guard back in the first season. Emily and many other women are taken to a toxic region of America called "The Colonies," where Gilead sends various "undesirable" types. There, Emily meets a commander's wife who was exiled for adultery and murders her for her participation in Gilead's monstrous handmaid program. It's one of the first times in the entire show when a handmaid or former handmaid gets something resembling justice.

Finally, "Baggage" shows more of June's backstory and introduces her mother, Holly. Holly was a women's rights activist who urged June to become the same. In the present, June learns that Holly has been exiled to the colonies.

Three intense episodes in Season 3 have no time for Fred

"Mary and Martha" is the second episode of "The Handmaid's Tale" Season 3, and it sees June finally escape from Commander Waterford's household. During Season 2, Serena Joy had slowly come to support June, and helped Emily escape Gilead with June's baby before trying to commit suicide. This leads to June being transferred to a new commander, Lawrence (Bradley Whitford). This also opens up a new path for June's story, as Commander Lawrence is probably the most reluctant commander in Gilead and is secretly supporting the resistance. The Waterfords are still part of the story, but not as prominent as in previous seasons. 

The third season's eighth and ninth episodes, "Unfit" and "Heroic," also ignore Commander Waterford. These two episodes see June at one of her lowest points. After joining Commander Lawrence's home, June establishes relationships with many other local handmaids, including several who are pregnant, and some who want to escape Gilead. A pregnant handmaid named Natalie/Ofmatthew informs on a Martha named Frances who is involved in the resistance, which leads to Frances' execution. Natalie is horrified and attacks a Guardian, which leads to her death. June is powerless to stop all this, but the experiences makes her more determined to bring Gilead down.

"Unfit" also deals with Aunt Lydia's backstory, establishing her as an elementary school teacher with strong religious views. After a bad date with the school principal, she reports a neglectful mother of one of her students to child protective services. 

It's a disturbing moment for two reasons. It foreshadows Lydia's transformation into someone who will destroy as many families as she can to make a perfect Gilead. It also establishes that the anger that fuels Lydia is personal, not ideological. 

Only one episode of The Handmaid's Tale Season 4 lacks Fred

Joseph Fiennes appears in nine of the ten episodes of "The Handmaid's Tale's" fourth season. His only absence comes during the third episode, "The Crossing." This episode proves that "The Handmaid's Tale" doesn't need Commander Waterford to show just how sadistic Gilead can be. For the first two episodes of Season 4, June is leading a group of escaped handmaids in another attempt to flee Gilead for Canada, only to be caught by the Guardians once again. In "The Crossing," the Guardians and Aunt Lydia brutally torture June to get her to give up her other handmaids, and execute many of her comrades.

Although he doesn't appear in this episode, at this point in the story Fred Waterford and his wife Serena Joy are both in Canadian custody, where they're currently waiting to see if they'll be charged for crimes against humanity. And in an ironic and excruciating twist, Serena Joy discovers that she's pregnant. The entire handmaid program was created because women like Serena Joy were thought to be infertile, but this moment shows just how pointless the whole idea has always been.