Both June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss) and Serena Joy Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski) are free women wandering around Canada as of the fourth episode of The Handmaid's Tale Season 5, titled "Dear Offred," and that is an explosive combination.
June has to not only contend with the fact that Serena was way too close to her eldest daughter for comfort recently, but also the new, quick-to-violence ways she is adopting and the fact that Serena has a growing fan base in Toronto. (One of whom approaches June while she is pushing her youngest daughter on the swings). But Serena has to contend with June having killed her husband and threatened her in person, as well as a new, stifling living situation of her own.
Each woman has had a very specific relationship to power and to the other woman in the past, but now, all bets may be off.
That's not all that happened in "Dear Offred," written by Jacey Heldrich and directed by Dana Gonzales, though, as Janine (Madeline Brewer) begins her long road to physical recovery after being poisoned — though her emotional and mental health are even worse off.
Catch up with what happened on The Handmaid's Tale Season 5 so far and read on to learn the biggest moments in Episode 4.
As if Janine hasn't been through enough with her eye, now she has to relearn how to walk. She is a shell of the normally overly optimistic woman she has been known to be in Gilead, snapping at and truly standing up to Lydia (Ann Dowd) while still paralyzed in her hospital bell. She tells Lydia she doesn't care about whether God has a reason for everything anymore, and she rails against the treatment of Esther (Mckenna Grace). Lydia is still murderous toward her, but Janine reminds her that she is just a child, and one that was abused via the system Lydia enforces anyway.
Although Janine has helped Lydia with tasks before, this time when Lydia asks her to watch over the other handmaids and report back on who is struggling and when, Janine says she doesn't believe Lydia when she says she wants to do things differently, but she doesn't officially verbalize an answer about helping "shepherd" the rest of the handmaids with Lydia.
As Janine will continue to struggle with her place back at the Red Center, she will also have to continue to build her strength. Enough time passed during the fourth episode that she graduated to walking on forearm crutches and was allowed to leave the hospital to return to the Red Center at all, but that doesn't mean she won't have lingering issues to work through.
Lydia says she has truly had a change of heart about the system, though, and she goes to Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) to propose that change. Her idea is a softer, gentler handmaid system in which the handmaids would remain under her care, rather than live in houses with the couples they serve, only visiting those homes once a month for the ceremony. (Lawrence is the one who calls it "Handmaid Hotel" and notes that no commander would go for that.)
"Something profound happened in her on-her-knees prayer and promise to God," Dowd tells Metacritic. "She realized she doesn't just love this girl, this girl is my daughter and this girl has something to teach me. So, they start to have a real conversation, real interactions, and she educates me. It's very challenging, but it's clearly the right path."
Lawrence seems to realize Lydia is pained by the pain she has helped inflict on these young women, and he inflicts some right back at her by reminding her that commanders want their handmaids "accessible" so they can "do whatever the hell they want; get their rocks off. These are pious men, they need a little kink, you know that," he says before rejecting the change and telling her to "get a grip" on the girls.
"Lawrence has treated her like dirt from day one. I wanted to smack him so many times, you have no idea, because he was so disrespectful! I think she was terrified, frankly, because she's putting out something there. And who are you, auntie, to suggest that?" Dowd says.
Those who remember Lydia's backstory episode may wonder if a "Handmaid Hotel" actually would be all that much better, though. Sure, now the handmaids would only be sexually assaulted during previously agreed upon ceremony times, rather than living in fear their commanders may reach for them randomly in between (though they're not supposed to). But Lydia doesn't treat all women equally, and old habits die hard.
After rejecting Mark's (Sam Jaeger) offer of asylum, Serena moved forward with living in Toronto as a citizen of Gilead, but she doesn't have diplomatic status, and she is living in a free country where the majority still appears to disagree with what Gilead is doing (although a faction is growing that wants the refugees to get out of their country, and they do have a cultural and information center to spread their ways), so her situation is tenuous at best. And likely about to get worse.
She has no passport, money, nor the ability to drive a car (all things Gilead stripped from women), and although her official position is to work for that center, it looks to be a nothing position at the moment, no one is listening to her, and June keeps getting closer (see below). She ends up moving in with the Wheelers.
Alanis, aka Mrs. Ryan Wheeler (Genevieve Angelson), is clearly a fan of Serena's, as well as a true drinker of the Gilead Kool-Aid, which should make Serena happy. But because she is under their roof, because Alanis kneels at her belly and spews religion at her from second one, and because she ultimately will be a third wheel in another high-powered couple's home, Serena is slipping further and further from the power position she thought she'd have and feels she deserves.
Hearing that Serena is staying in Canada as a free woman enrages Luke (O-T Fagbenle) to the point of cursing at Mark to get out of his house, but also finally standing up and readying to join the larger fight with his wife. Only, at first, his plan is to call a guy he knows who works for the city to shut the center down due to building codes.
Moira (Samira Wiley) backs his ideas, pointing out that it's a refugee town and you have to play by certain rules.
He does confront Serena with the codes, so it's not likely he's completely hiding behind bureaucracy, but the random Mayday fighter in Episode 3 ran back into Gilead because his wife and child were still there, which felt like potential foreshadowing for what Luke would realize he would be willing to do. So, it was still surprising to see that he's going about things in the old, "proper" ways.
To be fair, by the end of the encounter with Serena, who throws Nick's (Max Minghella) support of June in Luke's face and pontificates about why he never went back into Gilead, he says he'll kill her himself.
How serious he is about taking such an action will surely be explored over the next few episodes, but even if he calms down from wanting her to meet a violent end at his own hands, Fagbenle sees the encounter as a true turning point for Luke's willingness to take action in general.
"When he goes to see Serena and says, 'Hey, look, I'm gonna be able to kick you out of your place and we're going to get the gas company down on you,' she just laughs at him, like, 'Just go away with your little papers.' Ultimately, that's not where the power lies because if you move us out of this building, does that mean your daughter is safe now? Do you get her back now?" he says.
(For the record, Luke succeeds in getting the building shut down, which is why Serena has to find a new home.)
While Luke finally understands he has to do something for Hannah, Fagbenle admits part of his mind can't help but be on Nick, as well.
"Nick was very active, and Luke doesn't know all of the details, so often people's exes are blown up bigger in one's imagination, and that's definitely the case for Luke, but there's this mysterious man who can make things happen on the other side of Gilead. And Serena's saying, 'Who's she going to pick? You, pencil-pusher, or Superman over there?'" he explains.
June brings a gun to the cultural center with the plan to confront Serena again, but she leaves it in the car and instead just stands on the street in front of her headlights so Serena can see she knows where she is and how to get to her. As the episode goes on, June is increasingly insistent that Gilead is coming to Canada, but unlike the support system she began to build around her in Gilead, here, she is met with concerns over her violent outbursts, rather than true listening.
But by the end of the episode, the gun makes another appearance as June rolls up on a protest outside the center. She first points it at a man who is spewing Gileadian propaganda but only shoots it into the air to scare him and those like him. Luke tries to pull her out of the situation, and as they flee, Serena is being escorted out of the building at the same time, and they come into each other's eye line. This time, though, June clocks the baby in Serena's stomach and opts not to pull the gun on her.
While there was no doubt that if she shot, it wouldn't be to kill because there's just no way the show wants to lose one of its stars, it was a surprise that the gun didn't go off in that moment (instead of earlier), leaving the question of whether this is a hanging thread to be paid off in the third act of the season.
The Handmaid's Tale Season 5 streams new episodes Wednesdays