Last The Handmaid's Tale left June (Elisabeth Moss) and Luke (O-T Fagbenle), they were captured while attempting to cross the Canadian border, determined to get their daughter out of Gilead. That could not have been shocking to longtime fans of the show, though: Considering how long it took her to get out, there is no reason to believe it would be easier to get in. But what their capture did set up was an opportunity for Luke to understand, firsthand, some of the stripping of dignity and rights June went through during her years under that dystopian, patriarchal regime.
And they weren't the only ones getting a new perspective on life in the sixth episode of the fifth season of the Hulu drama, titled "Together": Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) saw her position fall to prisoner of the Wheelers (Genevieve Angelson and Lucas Neff) after they insisted she be put on bed rest before her son is born, going so far as to schedule her doctor's appointments as house calls to keep her permanently behind their iron gates.
The two women at the center of the show started in very different places at the start of "Together," but by the end, they were, well, together. And along the way, there were important lessons learned for them, Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd), and even Warren Putnam (Stephen Kunken).
Here are the five most shocking things to happen in "Together."
Although June and Luke were not taken by Gileadian soldiers, their treatment is more in line with that republic than the America they once knew, the Canada they are coming to know, and the lawless wonder that is No Man's Land. One so-called officer asks June her name, and when she tells him, he replies that he means her ear tag, wanting to know who she belongs to. They are both thrown in cages, where June, having had ample experience being captured by dangerous forces, sits patiently and listens as Luke paces and experiences four seasons of outrage and disbelief all at once.
From claiming he has refugee status as if that will make these forces think twice about mistreating him, to observing the uncomfortable nature of their surroundings (to which she wittily replies that the box is usually smaller), he is at a loss for how to handle things, but he is focused on wanting to save the day and get them both out.
"Thinking about you here and you've got to get help from wherever you've got to get help from, that's not fair," he says.
After telling him not to panic because it wastes energy, she tells him to stop in general. "I survived," she reminds him.
But she survived because she is an important commodity: a fertile woman. He, on the other hand, is just another man with only marginally less power than the men who are acting as guards watching them. So those men take out their aggression on Luke, even when he doesn't fight them and even when June yells that he's not resisting. It's a physical beat-down that comes with additional emotional and psychological wounds, especially because he already expressed fears of being unable to protect June, but it likely only further adds to his new perspective on what she endured for so long.
The Wheelers are playing God for Serena in more ways than one. By building a birthing suite, presumably she will continue to be locked in their home for her son's delivery and subsequent weeks after, nursing, bonding, whatever. But that is not enough interference in her life for this young couple!
Leaning into the Gilead rule of caring about people's sex lives and statuses way too much, they also try to set her up with her OB-GYN, who asks her out immediately after doing an exam (still in that in-house birthing suite, we should mention). He mentions that he (of course!) already spoke to the Wheelers about this and tries to sell her on him by pointing out the strengths of his Martha in the kitchen. Serena replies by calling it an "interesting proposal," which is an understatement, to say the least. Though, there is something suitably poetic about seeing Serena struggle with loss of control after she had stripped it from June for so long.
After Ryan Wheeler (Neff) tells Serena that June and Luke have been picked up and will be dealt with in No Man's Land — not unlike how June dealt with Fred (Joseph Fiennes) — Serena lays out a case for going there to see it carried out for herself. She tells him it's because she wants to be able to tell her son she watched as his father's killer is taken from the Earth, but, as becomes clearer later in the episode, she also needs his permission to leave the house so she can pull off a grander plan: getting out from under the Wheelers' clutches.
June gets pulled out of a prisoners' van so Serena can hold a gun on her in the middle of nowhere, ready to kill her, but not before she makes her pray on her knees. June actually does get down, but her prayers are for their children to "live a life of peace, a life without all of this hate and violence." This strikes a chord with Serena, who gets just as emotional as June when June asks God to "give them a happy life" and allow them "to do better than we did."
Serena then shoots her guard, appears to go into immediate labor, and puts the gun back on June, taking her as a hostage (and chauffeur).
Something else it might be worth noting is that Serena is wearing a purple jacket when she leaves the Wheelers' house. Now, one shade of purple in Gilead is for widows, while another is for wives-in-training. Given Fred's death and what the Wheelers want for her, she can be seen as both.
"Together" sheds further light on Esther's (Mckenna Grace) plight after she tried to kill herself and Janine (Madeline Brewer) when it is revealed that she is pregnant. Originally scheduled for a uterus harvesting so that her fertility can continue to be exploited by Gilead even though her body still languishes in the hospital, the procedure gets interrupted when the doctor realizes "the handmaid had been filled with his divine light." Of course, no ceremony had taken place because she had not officially been posted, so Lydia realizes that means Putnam forced himself on her. And for the first time in general, Lydia appears to realize that commanders abuse their power when it comes to the young women in their employ.
Esther is miraculously also out of her coma now, which allows Lydia to meet with her to learn what happened directly from her. Being that it's Lydia, though, blame is thrown toward Esther, with the aunt asking if she behaved in a way, "even unwittingly," that "invited his attention." Esther didn't do anything, and she says as much, declaring, "He raped me" in a calm, clear voice, leaving Lydia to only repeat, "That's terrible" and be forced to rethink the anger she has toward Esther for trying to kill her favorite handmaid, redirecting it to the man who abused her.
Esther takes it a step farther, telling Lydia, "They all do it. You know they do." Whether Lydia genuinely didn't know or just didn't allow herself to think about it may be up for interpretation, but she can't hide from the truth now, and she reports what she learned to Joseph Lawrence (Bradley Whitford), who asks where the sin is since Esther was supposed to be posted to his house for the sole purpose of getting pregnant by him, and he did that, just a day earlier than expected.
"The ceremony is sacred," she says. "It is blessed by God."
OK, so maybe she still has a lot to learn about what constitutes rape, but this is an important start.
"Together" may have spent a long time teasing June's execution — from Ryan telling Serena about it, to the guards separating her from Luke and loading her up in a van with other women bound for death (even Moss had some dialogue about picturing one's death) — but of course the show was not going to kill off its eponymous character! However, the writers are smart enough not to promise something they don't plan to deliver, as well, which is why before the episode's end, Putnam is executed (and in public, to boot!).
Word spread around Gilead that he raped his handmaid, and although Lawrence put Lydia in her place when she approached him with the news, Putnam is bad for Lawrence's business. So, a special overnight session of their court met and found him guilty of sins of the flesh, something for which he had been found guilty before (hence why he's missing a hand). This time, the punishment had to be larger, though, because she was still "unassigned property" at the time of the assault, and Nick (Max Minghella) shoots him in the head in front of his wife (Ever Carradine). (He is later put on the wall, as well, and Lydia even calls it "justice.")
The Handmaid's Tale Season 5 streams new episodes Wednesdays