There’s no shortage of chaos in this penultimate installment as June reconnects with Nick, Commander Lawrence takes a wife, and Hannah reveals how she feels about Gilead.
This was about as packed an episode of “The Handmaid’s Tale” as you could expect for an episode that isn’t a season premiere or finale.
It all started with that raid to rescue Hannah that June, Luke and Moira were all way too excited about last week. Haven’t they watched this show? Good things don’t happen to anyone on this show.
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It did feel like it was telegraphed a little too obviously how things would go last week, and that feeling continued this week as June and Luke met the young commander who would be heading up the mission, and even saw a picture of his adorable daughter.
Then, they convinced Mark to let them be in the room to watch the live feed of the raid. You see how this is just setting us up for heartbreak? “Handmaid” was better when we couldn’t see the heartbreak coming as clearly as Gilead saw the American fighters.
It was all too obvious and inevitable, so of course that’s exactly how things played out. It was a disaster to the man, with absolutely zero survivors. And with a clear target of the Wives School that Hannah was in, it also tipped off Commander Lawrence to what was happening and why.
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June Strikes Out Twice
With the mission to rescue Hannah by force a flop, Lawrence called June to tell her that his New Bethlehem plan is still available for her. He even dangles the Nick carrot, considering he’d offered to station Nick there.
What he couldn’t do, though, was ever free Hannah to be reunited with his actual mother. For all that Lawrence tries to say he’s horrified by what Gilead does, he’s still willing to uphold the kidnapping of all of those children who were forcibly ripped from their parents’ arms.
June calls him out on it, even calling him “evil” because he knows better, but it doesn’t sway him. She even told him that she watched as his wife Eleanor died, hating her husband and ashamed of him for what he’d created and allowed to flourish, but aside from some tears, it does not sway his message.
Lawrence says that she and Hannah are now symbols. He wants her to help him legitimize Gilead, even going so far as to ask her to call the failed attack a “foolish act of aggression.” Rejecting that outright, what June wants is her daughter back with her and free. “It’s never gonna happen.”
With that, June closed the door on Lawrence, but when Mark Tuello offered the idea of trying to reopen one with Nick, she agrees to meet with him. What she wanted to know was why Nick rejected Mark’s offer to be their inside guy for eventual immunity.
We’ll give credit to Max Minghella, because he can play enigmatic stoicism better than anyone. We thought we didn’t know where Lawrence stands, but Nick takes it to the next level. He told June he has to think of his family, reveals his Wife is pregnant and then just drops that he loves her.
She returned the line, but we were still shell-shocked. How can a man who is barely blinking, much less moving, be exuding such sexual tension? Is it because everything with Nick is tension? June tried with the parting words that children look to their fathers and he should try to set a good example.
Will it make a difference? If it did, would anyone ever know? When Nick looks in the mirror, can he read himself or is he just as lost as the rest of us? Winning him over was another loss for June, leaving her with a ton of fight and nowhere to direct it — that usually doesn’t end well.
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The Great Escape Plan
One thing that Yvonne Strahovski did very well as Serena Walker in the early seasons was add layers of complexity and nuance to her cruelty. She was awful to June, but we also understood how she was suffering as well under the yoke of her husband and Gilead at large.
Now, she finds herself in the June position at the Wheeler household, and the parallels are obvious. While we don’t know the larger structure of this unofficial Canadian faction of Gilead values, we can see that Ryan Wheeler is arrogant, but a little pliable, like Fred was.
It’s his Wife Alanis, though, who doesn’t appear to have any layers of complexity or duality at all. It’s somewhat interesting because true Gilead strips women of all their power, and yet Alanis wields tremendous power from her subservient role.
She is cruel as Serena was, but seems to relish in it in a sadistic or psychopathic way. It’s not clear why a woman like this, who clearly loves wielding power over others, would agree to a structure anything like Gilead.
She’s almost a cartoon villain right now the way it’s written and Genevieve Angelson is playing it. Even Ryan seems a bit cowed by her, whereas Fred might have been weak, but he cut his wife’s finger off to assert his authority.
She was, however, making it easy to root for someone to smack her around a bit, as she did to Serena when Serena went behind her back to get permission to go the grand opening of the new fertility center — it was her idea, after all.
As strong and capable as Serena has proven throughout this series, and as mean and vicious as we know she can be, we found ourselves a little surprised that she chose a different option when the opportunity arose to free herself from the Wheeler’s chains.
It all seemed very impromptu, with the Wheelers trying to send her home from the function and her getting to breastfeed one last time before she left. The Martha offered her a space in the back of the building and then agreed to some privacy.
This Martha had seen Alanis slapping Serena and knew how she was being treated. She was clearly sympathetic, so we’re at least half convinced she knew exactly what she was doing when she took Serena to a room with a fire exit just a few feet away.
In a moment where we almost expected it to all go wrong the way so many of June’s escape attempts did, this one didn’t. Serena stepped out to force a woman to stop and then convinced her to let her and Noah get in.
Where it goes from there is anyone’s guess, because the Wheelers do seem to have legal custody of Noah. June is a bit untethered as to how to approach Gilead, and Serena is literally on the run. Will their paths cross again in next week’s season finale? We could see Serena running to June for help as she has no real friends anywhere.
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Keeping Up Appearances
After the execution of Commander Warren Putnam, Lawrence had Aunt Lydia join him to welcome Putnam’s widow, Naomi, to his home. The way he saw it, and awkwardly presented it, they could help each other out.
Since his wife died, Lawrence has not taken a wife. With Warren dead, Naomi and their young child don’t have a husband. Neither of those things are allowed in Gilead, so, she could move in with him.
Lawrence couldn’t even bring himself to ask her to marry him. That was for Lydia to clarify, adding, “As his new Wife and child, a sacred union, of course.”
After Lawrence stumbled off awkwardly, Naomi shot to Lydia, “He had Warren killed in front of me.” Lydia told her, “Which he is willing to overlook. So should you.”
When she first go there, Naomi feared that Lawrence was going to send her to The Colonies. Certainly, as Warren’s wife she could have been found as guilty as he was, with very little say as to her fate. Lawrence was actually offering her an olive branch — albeit one that will also save his bacon.
Later in the episode, Lydia and Naomi return to find a couple of the Wives making the young, pregnant Rose very uncomfortable. One of the Wives is very dismissing and rude about Lydia being there, reminding us that those at the so-called “top” will still put down those below them, even as we’ve seen time and again that the Wives have no real power, either. If you keep everyone below you fighting amongst themselves, they don’t see what you’re doing.
It also helps if you’ve made it illegal for them to know. So while the powerless women were putting one another down, the Commanders were patting themselves on the back that Russia, China and North Korea were congratulating them for their military victory. With friends like those–
We’d say it’s amazing that they don’t see that these are horrific allies to be amassing, but these Commanders are not unaware of the human rights hellhole they’ve created, and continue to benefit from. When it comes to atrocities, they could probably go toe to toe with any of them.
They’ve got battalions amassed at the border of Canada to try and make that nation think twice about allowing America to use its airspace to attack Gilead. They then declared that it’s probably about time to take care of June Osborne for good.
The scene ends with Lawrence standing by Naomi, who seems surprised to see a ring on his finger, indicating they’re married. Maybe he didn’t bother to tell her because it’s all a sham.
His love for his wife is why he refused to actually try to sleep with June when she was assigned to his House as a Handmaid, so he’s unlikely to legitimately take a new Wife — so what happens when a new Handmaid is assigned?
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Protests Quiet and Loud
Despite what Lawrence wants to believe, change rarely comes from within. When the system is stacked in your favor, what’s the incentive to change? No, change more often than not comes from the outside, often with an element of protest.
Those protests can be loud and sometimes even violent, as Americans have seen in recent years. That’s what’s been growing in Canada with more and more anti-American sentiment leading to louder and more dangerous protests.
Those protesters were very vocal during this episode’s vigil for all the soldiers lost. At one point, the commander’s daughter was trying to lead the mourners in the Pledge of Allegiance, but struggling.
Thankfully for her, June came to help her out, because what was sign-waving and yelling and cursing suddenly was gunshots and terror. Probably seeing Hannah in the little girl next to her — her own daughter that she could not save — June grabbed this little girl and dove to the ground as bullet holes ripped through the flag in front of where they were standing. Had they not moved, both would have likely been hit.
We’d been wondering how long the Canadian government would allow these protests and harassment of American guests in their country before they would tell the Americans that it was time to leave Toronto. Now that violence has broken out — and we don’t yet know if anyone was shot — something will need to be done immediately.
Add to that Gilead amassing forces at Canada’s southern border as response to America’s activities, and Canada could find itself feeling like it’s going to have to answer for America’s aggressions. That welcome could weaken.
Even worse, we don’t know how widespread this Gilead-lite system of living the Wheelers are presenting is. It didn’t take much for an overthrow of America, could Canadian government be next? Maybe change could come from within — just not from within existing power.
We’ve seen glimpses of Hannah for years now, but it’s been a while since we checked in with her in any meaningful way. We’ve seen that she’s in Wives School, but we didn’t know if she’d bought into the Gilead vision? After all, it has been a good portion of her formative years now.
That answer became quite clear as we cut to scenes from Hannah during that ill-fated raid. She went into her private tent-like room and prayed, looking through the wordless holy book the Wives get, since they’re not allowed to read or write.
But there’s also a scrap of paper in there with pictures of flowers. Making sure no one was looking, she pulled out a pencil and wrote her name in the corner. Six letters with so much power and impact. It’s not just that she wrote her name, but it’s that she wrote her true name, Hannah, not Agnes, as she’d been renamed by the McKenzies.
Like mother, like daughter. The McKenzies don’t know it, but they’ve got a rebel on their hands. She’s been indoctrinated in their ways and their system for years. She’s had only fleeting contact with her mother, and can only have fleeting memories of life before GIlead, but it doesn’t matter.
It’s the tiniest form of protest, but it was an incredibly brave and self-empowering thing to do. She reiterated her true identity to herself. She reminded herself that she is more than this role, that she can write. In that quiet moment of defiance, she rejects everything Gilead stands for. And that’s more powerful than anything Lawrence can try to do from on high.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” wraps its penultimate Season 5 with a new episode next Wednesday on Hulu.
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