Series Five

Are these on your Handmaids Tale  series five bingo card. 

Head shot for Commander  Putnam, literally. . Poisoned chocolates. June confessing to killing Fred. Serena seeing June again. Serena, seemingly living as a handmaid at The Wheelers but without the red dress. June delivering Serena’s baby, in a barn. Serena seeing Fred’s multilated corpse. Serena’s mortification at the hospital because they are “feeding my baby formula.” Serena being detained by immigration and her baby taken away. Naomi Putnam remarrying very quickly. June being shot at. June getting run over. Luke murdering a man who tried to kill June. Serena escaping Canada on a train.

Did you get a line? Full house? It’s a bit like jeopardy isn’t it. “Things I didn’t think would happen on The Handmaids Tale”

Series Five was full on right from the start. While other series have had a sense of monotony about them, these ten episodes were fast, brutal, and unpredictable. Let’s review the series.

The murder of Commander Waterford

Season five opens of course, with the aftermath of the cold blooded murder of Commander Fred Waterford. While Junes husband Luke, and Moira, seem to be unsettled at what June has  done, there is also an underlying admiration. 

From everything we have seen in series one through four, we know what Fred  is capable of. He was an evil man who was not only an architect of Gilead, but also responsible for heinous crimes to a variety of people, June and his own wife included. Anyone that can take him on, and win, deserves some admiration

While Luke and Moira do know that there was some justification for Junes actions, given everything that she has been through, it also scares them. Moira sees June holding her daughter while she is covered with blood, and tells June that she is scared of her. What is worse now, is that June is scared too. She killed Fred. She enjoyed it. She knows what she is capable of, and she didn’t think twice about doing it

Serena and the funeral

In this season, we have the juxtaposition of Serena Waterford. While June is now free, Serena is not. The roles have been reversed. She remains incarcerated , pregnant and now widowed too. Wanting to bury her husband ‘as he deserves’, she takes the opportunity to speak with other Gilead commanders to work towards arranging it. Much discussion takes place, and the funeral is arranged. The funeral is large, and shown across the world. Gilead use the opportunity to demonstrate their might and promote their message.

The funeral plays out in episode 2. An online interview with Warren Littlefield on website the, explains how gamesmanship is the underlying theme of the season. This is Serena telling the Commanders that she may be a woman, but she can play their game, she can steal their thunder.

In the same interview, showrunner Bruce Miller discusses inspiration behind the funeral. The inspiration  was that of former First Lady Jackie Kennedy Onassis. There is also an element of Italian widow to be seen here too. The direction of episode 2, sits firmly at the feet of Elisabeth Moss. The funeral called for 500 extras, and the complexities that came with that. The cinematography proved exceptional. The darkness and morbidity of Fred’s funeral and those attending, was a direct reflection  to the happiness and the light of the ballet that June and Luke were attending.

That was of course,  until the ace card was played. Knowing the funeral is being broadcast everywhere, Serena plays her ace card. A young woman steps forward, and gives Serena flowers. The young woman is dressed in purple, a colour for those in training to be a Gilead wife. Serena touches the cheek of the young woman horrifying Luke and June. The young woman is Hannah. Serena has just given a message to June. A very clear message that says she has control and is not to be messed with. With June and Luke understandably angry that they cannot get to their daughter, they have to figure out the way forward.

Back in Gilead

During this time, we head back to Gilead. The start of season 4 had introduced us to Esther Keyes, a young wife. The end of season 4, saw her a handmaid.  Season 5 sees Esther facing a grim future. She knows she has to live the life of a handmaid. She knows she will be party to the sexual abuse that goes on, and that she can do nothing about it.  Janine, who has stepped in as ‘the new June , supports her. However, when planning the new posting for Esther, Commander Putnam takes advantage and rapes her, before she is officially his  property, his handmaid. The stress of this episode and the feeling that Janine has let her down, drives Esther to poison not only herself, but Janine too. Commander Putnam pays the ultimate price. He is visited by Commander Lawrence and Commander Blaine, whilst breakfasting with his wife.  He is pulled to his knees and shot infront of her and the other diners.

Serena and life outside Gilead

Since Serena was no longer in detention, she had to make plans. Serena, has been working in a Gilead information centre. Threats from June and Luke escalate while she is there. They are angry and want their daughter and revenge. Luke and June have a rage that is escalating inside them that is understandable. Gilead is a terrible place if you are a female. Serena herself, played a sizeable role in the suffering that June was subjected to. June talks freely of whether Serena should die. Whether her baby should be taken from her. The sympathy for Serena has long since gone.

Due to continued threats towards Serena from Luke and June, she is moved to The Wheelers. At first it seems that it is simply a lovely offer from a lovely couple in a lovely house, but as the series progresses, we are quick to see that this is quite the opposite. ‘Don’t leave the house’; ‘Stay in your room’; ‘no you can’t go out’;  ‘The Dr will come here’; ‘We have a birthing suite here’. All of these comments are ironically similar to conversations she had with June over the years. Serena has become an unofficial handmaid, without the sexual abuse and without the red dress.

Luke, June and the USB

 Luke and June set out to get information following a call from Mayday. The ‘friendly’ that Luke and June met with had information that they had been searching for. A usb is handed over with information of the wife schools and where Hannah may be. 

While leaving to get back to Canada, Luke and June are  grabbed. While caged up, there is an ironic comedic element seen, as June gives Luke the “Surviving Gilead” lessons, whilst also sharing that “the boxes are usually a lot smaller than this”. The cinematography in this particular episode is stunning. Whilst caged, the episode is quite dark. Periodically light reflects towards our couple and it is almost as if the light is the bars holding them in.

Luke and June are pulled from the cages, and seperated, unaware of what is happening. June is removed from her transport and is faced with Ezra (Serena’s driver) holding a gun to June, with instruction to execute her. A sixth sense tells June that Ezra is not alone and she turns to face Serena. Serena, who had got permission from Mr Wheeler to go with him, stands with Ezra. Serena asks Ezra for the gun telling him,  “I need to do this”. She turns to face June.

Serena tells her to pray, so knowing exactly what will hit home with Serena, June says ‘I pray for our children’ and talks about a better world. The words sink in with Serena who fires at Ezra, wounding him in the shoulder. At gun point, Serena gets June to drive them away.

Serena is in labour, and June has put the car in a ditch, thanks to a gun shot through the windshield. Here we are, in a situation any watcher of Handmaids never thought they would see. The ‘June delivers Serena’s baby episode.’ Knowing that June has birthed two babies herself, as well as being party to several Gilead births (which we see in flashback), Serena knows that June is the best option that she has. In between assisting Serena through labour breathing, we are treated to those flashbacks. Remember the  creepy Gilead births where the wife pretended to be in labour too. Serena could quite often see the funny side of them as she and June shared looks.

June coaches Serena through birthing her child and places him in his mothers arms. There is a split second, noticed before this. One of those blink and you’ll miss it moments, where Junes expression changes. The expression is evident that she is thinking of a million ways that revenge could be handed out. But, she hands Serena her son. Serena, having birthed him in to the terrible world that she was an architect of, calls him Noah – the saviour of humanity.a sense of irony right there.

What’s next for Serena?

Serena has to decide what’s next for her and her son Noah. Going back to Gilead as a single mother, would most likely see her made a handmaid and her son placed with someone. Going to Canada, would see her returned to the Wheelers and then who knows what. It’s decided to go to Canada and get Serena and Noah to hospital is the best option.

Due to her Gilead indoctrinations, it is comical to see Serena  suspicious of the hospital in every aspect. Concerned that they are giving the baby formula and that he is in special care, June spends time with Serena and pacifies her.  She also calls Luke to come and collect her.  Luke makes a call on his way. Immigration come for Serena and child protection take her child. She now knows what June  felt, way back in episode 1, series 1, when Hannah was ripped from her arms.

Now we have opposite character trajectories. While June does not have Hannah, she does have Nichole. Serena has no access to her child and is requested to pump milk. Following a discussion with Commander Lawrence, Serena makes the decision to come back to the Wheelers, her theory being, at least she is in the same house as her son. She begs for their forgiveness and behaves as a ‘handmaid’ while silently planning for her next move. Let’s face it, she has always been tough and never afraid of a fight.

Commander Lawrence – hero or villain

We get some insight this season into Commander Lawrence’s plans, ones that have been stewing for some time. He claims to June that he is sorry for the religious right that got out of hand . He also offers some undisclosed insights into his own motivations but can he be trusted? Given that he has helped Mayday and Handmaids escape, there is that underlying feeling that he was a hero of sorts. But when he describes himself to June as ‘a sort of eco-faschist-cum-communist, a man who saw a complete authoritarian overhaul as the only corrective to America’s unchecked capitalism and consumerism that nearly destroyed the planet and created the global fertility crisis, we see that he is anything but a hero. He has no self-awareness of the real danger that he is causing. Bradley Whitford is sublime in this role. Having seen him in The West Wing and Studio 60, amongst other things, I knew what to expect. He displays the coldness of a Commander in a way that’s quite unnerving. 

But now, he is offering a compromise. New Bethlehem. Former Gilead citizens that are refugees in Canada, may return to be reunited with loved ones. He is hitting at Junes weak point – her daughter Hannah. He stresses Luke and Nichole can come with her. She will be able to live life as she does in Canada, and most importantly she will be with Hannah.he even tells her that Nick will be living close by and they can “borrow sugar like neighbours do.” For June however,  it is simple. Stop Hannah’s marriage and she will move straight away. Lawrence refuses.

June and Luke continue to discuss the issue. Increasing Canadian hostility suggests that a move is necessary, but moving away from Hannah is something that’s incomprehensible to June. Luke wants to keep fighting to get Hannah out. June is wavering towards Lawrence who has come through for her in the past.  Luke realises he and Nichole will never be enough for June and doesn’t hesitate to tell her.

A plan for Hannah

A phone call from Mark Tuello not only boosts Junes mood, but her confidence also. He knows where Hannah is, and reports an operation is underway. She tells Luke and Moira, “they’ve found her. She’s coming home”. Anyone that has watched The Handmaids Tale, may have (like me) felt that this was too good to be true, and you’d have been right. A touching moment between June and a flight Commander about his daughter, is shown, which sets the scene for what we all know is him not coming home. Gilead knew the military teams were coming and all are killed.

We are shown a glimpse of something promising though. Hannah, who as we know is renamed Agnes, is writing her real name on a piece of paper. Is Hannah remembering? Does Hannah take after her mum June? Has The  Testaments started to overlap a little here? Has Hannah seen documentation about her mum?

Commander Lawrence, the villain

Commander Lawrence calls June and confirms he is behind the death of the soldiers. He has most certainly stepped into villain mode now. His villainous and heinous ways continue with discreet things that he does throughout.

 He offers to marry Naomi Putnam, bumbling that she and her child can come and live with him as Gilead does not like single, unmarried mothers or Commanders. Lawrence reassures her that he will definitely not force her, but when they find themselves in a room of wives and Commanders, he places a hand on her shoulder, claiming her as his property

When you think back to previous episodes and seasons. Lawrence does this to others. He traps them with two options. Their first option is Gilead and their rules, but  with their children or the second choice of outside of Gilead, but without their children. Lawrence asks June to denounce the military raid to get her daughter, and comment that Gilead has suffered through Americas aggression. June tells him to “go f*** himself,” and let’s face it, it’s a well deserved comment, given everything he has said and done.

Gilead fertility centre

Serena had approached Mrs Wheeler to discuss going to the opening of the centre. Attending with Noah, could promote the right image for the needs of the women. Mrs Wheeler had said no, so Serena takes a risk. Mr Wheeler says yes. Alanis (Mrs Wheeler) is not happy to be overridden and declares that she will come too.

After seeing Serena at the centre, glowing and chatting with the visitors, Alanis sends Serena home to rest, but Serena sees an opportunity. Having conveniently ‘forgotten’ a bottle, she heads to a private area to feed her son before going home.  But instead,, she heads straight out of the door. The first car that stops, escorts Serena away.

Yvonne Strahovski displays the love of a mother, the fear of her current situation and the power of a Commanders wife. She switches between these emotions at the click of a finger, so for the watcher, there is doubt about the ‘Serena’ you are seeing. That doubt of what will she do next? However, once her son is born, that doubt goes away and a mothers love overrides everything. 

 Lydia and Janine

Knowing that Janine cannot remain at the Red Centre, Aunt Lydia makes arrangements for her to be the Lawrence’s handmaid, which of course means she is in the same house as the child she birthed back in season 1. Naomi Putnam offers Janine the post on trial, and says how lovely a friendly face will be.  Janine let’s  her handmaid mask drop completely, telling her that friendly they are not, adding in that she hates Naomi, and can’t understand how she didn’t realise that. While a cathartic moment for Janine, she is thrown in shackles by the Eyes, into the van. Aunt Lydia, while trying to protect her, gets thrown to the floor. Gilead is changing and it is clear to see that Commander Lawrence holds all the cards.

We have to go now’

The shooting during a memorial is now discovered to have been an assassination attempt on Junes life. A few days later, as June walks back to her home following a chat with Mark Tuello, she is ploughed down by a pick up truck, complete with Gilead bumper stickers. The truck reverses snd heads for June again, running over her outstretched arm.

Luke, assaults the driver for what he has done to his wife. Unfortunately for Luke, the driver heads to intensive care and dies. June and Luke find themselves between Gileadean influence on one side and Canadian hostility on the other. They know it’s time to go. June tells Luke that they waited too long last time. Now it’s time to go. They have to run again.

Following the death of the driver of the pickup, a warrant is issued for Luke. Their refugee cards are also tagged. Patrols are in place at the airport and station to intercept him. They are directed to a train for refugees by Mark Tuello. It’s their only option. They separate at the station, so as not to draw attention to each other.  

Now, Luke has for several seasons, been a bit behind the eight ball, so to speak. He’s been a husband that you want to shake and yell at. His martyrdom is now handed to him on a plate. He talks to June on the phone and tells her to get on the train. She realises he never had an intention of joining her, and tells him to come and find her. He whistles to the police who arrest him, as June watches heartbroken.

As June walks the carriage with Nichole, they hear a baby cry. June talks to  Nichole and tells her “let’s go see the baby”. Then she finds the baby, along with his mother.

‘Do you have a diaper?’ says Serena. 

Season Six is going to be the final season of The Handmaids Tale. But what will happen?