Previously, on The Handmaid’s Tale: Oh boy, I hope you were paying attention to the recap at the start, because there was a lot. In a nutshell: The Waterfords were in custody in Canada after Serena betrayed Fred to the Americans. Moira rescued June from Chicago, and when June confronted the Waterfords, her testimony landed Serena in hot water too. Nick passed on an update on Hannah but didn’t tell June he had got married since she left. Serena found out she was pregnant, and the Waterfords somehow got a fan club of weirdoes. Fred made a deal to turn on Gilead instead of facing any legal consequences for his crimes, but June struck a deal with Lawrence to trade him for 22 female prisoners instead (check out that exchange rate, whew), then struck another deal with Nick to deliver Fred to face Handmaid Justice in the woods, where June and her scarier friends tore him to pieces. June had his finger sent to Serena as a lovely present, and then came home to snuggle Nicole whilst still covered in Fred gore, which was pretty gross. Wash your hands, June! Honestly. Here’s the full recap for the season 4 finale if you need it!
This week: It’s a double bill season opener, which picks up right where we left it, with June still covered in gore and not washing it off any time soon, like the exact opposite of Lady Macbeth, and the remaining characters reacting to Fred’s death in their own unique ways. Some are on a high, some shout ‘NEXT’, some do a little song and dance to ‘Cellblock Tango’ and some just shrug. Serena takes it about as well as you can expect. Spoilers will follow for episodes 1 and 2, so without further ado, bury your gun in the yard, strap on your ballet shoes, and make sure you have at least 88 dollars in your piggy bank. For emergencies.
Maybe June can find some peace now.
Not likely, eh? This recap is sponsored by angry women who have had enough and are ready to burn everything down. I was hard on June last season for choosing the Daenerys path, but I’ve decided to embrace the way of the dragon this season instead. So, it seems, have June and Serena, both of whom are holding to the Wanda Maximoff motto of ‘this is me being reasonable’. Huzzah. The differences between them are still stark though; for one thing, antagonists in revenge plots never just take the hit, do they? Instead, they come over all ‘how dare you take revenge on me for doing bad things! Now I must take revenge on you!’ [See the last season of Revenge for more hot takes on, well, revenge and stuff.] It’s a startling lack of awareness, but it keeps the drama going. If you were hoping for a Serena epiphany, you might be waiting for some time.
However, there are limits to the Dragon Ladies. June’s on a high until she’s expected to burn down other people’s targets instead of her own. Then she starts to quibble with the small print. Luke and Moira are trying to hold her back from her most violent impulses, and their motivation is interesting too. Moira is all about the healing. Luke is more pragmatic; he can make peace with his wife’s murder spree as long as she is smart about it, but both of them are looking a bit weary of June’s antics.
It’s the news about Emily’s solo revenge mission back to Gilead that snaps June out of her temporary murder high though, reminding her that there are choices, and that she can choose revenge or she can choose her child. It’s a more complicated choice for June, because it means choosing between her children. Gilead is pulling at her; she can choose to either go ‘all in’ like Emily, or follow Moira’s lead, but either choice means losing a child. Last season, June chose the Offred path, and we know how that went. It was bitey. This time, June chooses to be June, and turns herself in for murder. She “can’t wait for the boots on the stairs,” not after Gilead’s constant state of fear. It’s a bold choice. She’s not sorry, but she would rather take control of her fate than wait for someone else to do it, and she craves punishment. She practically begs Canada to save her from her other, darker self. And Canada is like, “LOL, you’re good. But the finger thing was gross, so there’s a fine for that. Pay it whenever.”
What a fall from grace for Fred. His worth, once counted as the equivalent of 22 women, now reckoned at 88 dollars. Though I suppose that’s just for his ring finger. You could extrapolate a full body price using a baseline rate of the ring finger equaling 88 dollars and scaling up for the rest of him, but who wants to do Fred sums at a time like this? Besides, some critters appear to have been chomping at him, so you’d have to track them down and work out how to charge them as well, and that’s just a faff. And who’s to say it’s a ‘size of body part’ scale anyway? She could have sent any body part and been charged the same 88 dollars. In conclusion: Canada says ‘meh’. America says ‘well done, don’t let the bastards grind you down’. Handmaid Justice saved Gilead a job as well, so they don’t mind. Serena sheds a couple of tears of shock, but is mostly scared about what this means for her now. Initially suspicious that the Americans or Gileadeans killed him off, she quickly deduces that it was June. Sending body parts to traitors overseas is on brand for Gilead, but they don’t start with ring fingers. Dragon June is no less scary than Gilead though, and a scared Serena is just as dangerous as ever.
She’s immediately plotting her next move, turning Fred’s funeral into an international event — not because she wants to honour his memory, but because she is vulnerable without him and can use this moment to boost her status again. This is Dragon Serena we’re talking about though, so even more importantly, she wants to threaten June and teach her a lesson. Her claim that the Waterford name has power is only partly true. It has brand recognition, but outside the Waterford Weirdoes and their never-ending supply of candles, it commands disgust in Canada and reeks of treachery in Gilead. Let’s not forget that Serena hated Fred by the end as well. Channeling the Waterford name into anything more requires intense reputation bleaching on both sides of the border. It will take a lot of effort from Serena, and none of that effort is about Fred, not really. It’s about her future, her child and her revenge. What does Serena bring to the battle? She has her photogenic face, her baby bump, her behind-the-scenes manipulation and threats, and her nose for the opportunistic desires of terrible men.
Popping back to Gilead gives us plenty of terrible men to behold. Lawrence and Nick look suitably shady when Serena arrives, due to their role in what happened to Fred. Maybe they are just so worn out from all the absolutely real and revolutionary rebelling they are doing behind the scenes. LOL, just kidding. Tuello is busy doing nothing of note too.
Anyone who does something ends up dead. Or worse.
OK, that’s fair Janine. My bad.
Esther, the June-obsessed Serena Junior from last season, is starting to behave more obediently under the tutelage of Janine, who is still a button who must not be harmed. Right? RIGHT? Aunt Lydia is pleased with Janine’s influence and lets her come to the Putnam house with Esther and the other Handmaids for Fred’s wake. It’s a test for Esther; Lydia wants to post Esther to the Putnam house to be the new Ofwarren. We haven’t seen a great deal of Warren in previous seasons, but suffice to say, he has seen the creepy void left by Fred and leaps into it with giddy abandon. He clearly hasn’t learned the lesson his hand amputation was meant to teach him last time he got handsy with a Handmaid. I don’t think he’s ruined all chocolate for me, maybe just truffles. But ewwwwww. Aunt Lydia is not happy about it, but she leaves Esther alone with him anyway, because there are limits to her powers, just as there are with Serena’s. Serena has masked her personal plan as an international PR coup, but can’t sell it to the likes of Creepy Warren without the assistance of Lawrence and Nick. (Ugh, this is when they choose to act? In the service of Serena? UGH.)
As the upgraded funeral plans are developed, Nick and Tuello have a private chat to share new intel — sorry, I misheard, that was no intel — being the master spies they are. Tuello wonders how Nick can stay under the radar. “Just trying to stay out of trouble,” says Nick. Cue much guffawing. Tuello marvels at Nick’s talent, and it seems that Tuello himself must have attended the Nearly Pointless Nick School for Spies as he’s used most of Nick’s moves in episode 2. Let’s see, there was sitting in a chair looking disapproving, and then failing to recruit an ally. “We could help each other,” he says. Really. REALLY?
Esther puts these chaps to shame; when she decides to do something, she bloody does it. Of course, she mostly chooses to be mean to Janine, so I am opposed. She bullied Janine mercilessly back at the farm in season 4, and now she’s blaming Janine for what happens to Handmaids, and feeding her poisoned chocolates. This isn’t a pact where they both escape Gilead together by the most desperate path; it’s Serena Junior’s go-to move for getting rid of people she hates. It stings because Esther’s not wrong; trying to make her compliant is a form of betrayal, but Janine’s doing it because she is trying to save her from the Aunts’ more violent punishments and she wants her to survive. She’s a Quisling, but she’s also broken, and she’s been hurt enough. POOR JANINE.
But we can’t linger in horror looking at the bloodstains in the Red Center, because we’re thrust into Fred’s funeral parade, with all its solemn pageantry. Choreographed to perfection, and interwoven with June and Luke’s date night at the ballet to really hammer home the ‘Dance of the Dragon Ladies’ theme, the music and the drama build to a shocking climax. In Canada, for a moment there, it really does seem like June has found some peace. But then we see what this was really about for Serena. We see her message clearly, and so do June and Luke, as they leave the theatre, spot the funeral up on the big screens and see an unexpected but heartbreakingly familiar face.
There are a couple of ways to take this. Was the inclusion of Hannah the cherry on the top of Serena’s attempt to restore her power? Or was it the whole point? I’m in the second camp. Serena is absolutely petty enough to have a televised state funeral purely for a moment like this where she can be all ‘ner ner, bitch, I have access to your daughter, and you don’t’. Either way, all bets are off now. It’s not the first line Serena’s crossed, not by a long way, but that little smirk to camera after parading Hannah at the funeral? June and Luke might just tear it off her face if they can get their hands on her. And that would be them being reasonable.
Bits and Bobs
Why didn’t we see Emily? Because Alexis Bledel bowed out of season 5. So don’t expect to see her any time soon. Maybe we’ll hear updates about Emily’s revenge spree; hopefully, the door is left open for Bledel to return if she changes her mind.
What does Hannah’s outfit mean? We haven’t seen purple before. In ‘The Testaments’, Hannah took an unexpected path that didn’t include purple…
The new Mrs Blaine is intriguing! She knows about at least some of Nick’s antics and has kept them quiet. More on her, please.
Do the Waterford Weirdoes get a cue from Serena’s entourage that it’s time to light their candles, or are they just standing around for hours guarding their flames, with spare candles in their pockets?
Why is Mark Tuello still so bloody indulgent of all of Serena’s crap?
Telling June that if she kills people on a very specific patch of land, she will get away with it… That definitely sounds like it won’t come back to haunt anyone. Yup.
The Putnam house gives us a very sweet moment where Janine can see Angela again for a quick hug. There’s even a brief softening from Naomi where she thanks Janine for ‘bringing’ Angela to her. Let’s not be too complacent about her yet though.
Is Janine OK? Did she survive the mutilation, the fall from the bridge, the abandoned execution, the trip to the Colonies, the train, the bombing of Chicago, and then prison to be taken out by a murderous teenager who stole some chocolates from a perv? DAMNIT!
The Handmaid’s Tale airs on Hulu every Wednesday. See you next time!
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