The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5 Episode 4: Dear Offred Recap

Episode 4 finds Serena setting up camp in the newly renovated Gilead Information Center, while June (Elisabeth Moss), Moira (Samira Wiley) and Luke (O-T Fagbengle) continue to deal with the fall out from Hannah’s appearance on TV. Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) opens a dialogue with Janine (Madeline Brewer) and Joseph (Bradley Whitford) about how she can improve working conditions for the handmaids. Neither is initially receptive to her change of heart.


June distractedly pushes Nichole in a toddler swing at a public playground while Nichole busies herself with being adorable. June’s reverie is interrupted by a woman (Imogen Haworth) standing in front of them who complements the baby and asks her age (14 months). She turns out to know exactly who she’s speaking with, calling both June and Nichole by name.

As June calmly retrieves Nichole from the swing, the stalker woman tells June about her own lost pregnancies, both boys. She thinks June was lucky to have been in Gilead, apparently giving them credit for Nichole’s healthy birth. She and the other pro-Gilead nuts must not know about Hannah (Jordana Blake)- probably for the best that it stays that way.

The woman reaches for Nichole while June is buckling her into the stroller. When June tells her to stay away from her daughter, the other woman claims that the baby is God’s child, as if it’s God’s will that Gilead births belong to whoever can kidnap them and hold onto them, rather than the birth parents.

Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) would do well to take note of that sentiment, now that she’s an unmarried pregnant woman.

The potential kidnapper calls June derogatory names and says she doesn’t deserve her child. June shoves her in the chest and roughly backs her into a swing set pole. The woman shows anger, but not physical pain from June’s actions- June was rough, but not enough to injure her. June is shaking and working hard to hold her impulses in check as she swears at the woman and tells her to stay away from them.

June has been dealing with this issue since the moment she became a mother. In addition to everything that’s happened to Hannah and Nichole because of Gilead, Hannah was briefly kidnapped when she was a newborn and they were still in the hospital (S1Ep2). A strong reaction is absolutely warranted. Gilead codified the inclinations of infertile women to feel they were more deserving of other women’s children than their birth parents, but it didn’t create the sentiment and it doesn’t stop at the border.

Cut to June and Luke in a counselor’s office, where the therapist (Olivia Sandoval) explains that infertility is hard and some people lose control, so June was right to be careful. All things Luke and June were already well aware of, given their history with Gilead and other kidnappers. With a pinched look, June accepts the validation anyway.

Luke agrees that she was just being protective, as if there’s a question whether June was the one in the wrong.

How many times has June had her children forcibly taken from her, something most of us, by the grace of God, will never experience? This woman went for the stroller, to see if June would act as a passive handmaid and let her walk away with the baby. I guess we’re supposed to think June was out of control, when she was rightfully scared and needed to frighten that woman away?

June was also alone and didn’t know if the woman had accomplices hidden nearby. In a world with so few live births, it stands to reason that kidnapping and human trafficking of both fertile women and children would be an issue everywhere. I was surprised that June turned her back on Nichole in order to intimidate the other woman. I wouldn’t have blamed her for pushing the woman down on the ground, yelling loudly that the woman had tried to steal her baby, then rushing out of the park before the woman’s potential accomplices could catch her. If it were me, I also would have called Luke and Moira to come meet me ASAP for backup.

June tells Luke and the counselor that her reaction went past protection and into the physical. She says she didn’t stop to see if the woman was okay before she left, which makes it sound like she did more than shove the woman who accosted her and Nichole.

The counselor seems inexperienced with traumatized refugees and victims of extreme violence and biased against June, assuming the worst of her. Maybe the therapist is an infertile woman who struggles with her feelings about less worthy fertile women.

Luke doesn’t help, since he goes along with the assumption that June is out of control and overreacting. Due to her years in Gilead, June still feels guilty for not living up to her image of the perfect wife and mother- the woman Serena and Naomi pretend to be when they aren’t abusing the staff. Before Gilead, she didn’t let people make her feel guilty about her parenting or lifestyle (S2Ep1), but all of those “your faults”, real and metaphorical, have taken their toll, compounding her trauma and stress.

They all end up agreeing that it will be hard for June to control herself with Serena back in town. If the counselor helps her work on exercises for calming down when stressed or ideas for safely and nonviolently removing herself from potentially dangerous situations, it’s not even hinted at in the scene.

Tuello (Sam Jaeger) walks Serena out of the detention center as she’s finally released for real. She ascertains that neither the ICC nor the Canadian government will be officially watching her any longer and is thrilled she’ll have her privacy back.

Just before she gets in the car, driven by a male driver from Gilead, Mark stops her and makes an official plea for her to take advantage of the chance to claim asylum in Canada as an American citizen. Serena turns him down, explaining that she’s not an American citizen.

Serena: “My allegiance is to God.”

She equates Gilead with the Kingdom of God on Earth, which means it’s the only true nation and all other allegiances are to false idols.

June is not overreacting to the danger presented by Serena’s ideas.

Tuello: “Then Mrs Waterford, you are officially released from the custody of the American government. You’ll be restricted to Gilead-affiliated properties in accordance with your lack of diplomatic status.”

Tuello still sees her as a vulnerable victim.That second part is interesting though. Serena is still a prisoner who can’t leave the building, but this time it’s a building owned by Gilead, much like a wanted criminal who seeks asylum at the embassy of a country without an extradition treaty. (Think Edward Snowden and Julian Assange.)

Gilead and Canada haven’t normalized relations, so this won’t technically be an embassy. The two countries can say they’ll treat it like an embassy, but it’s actually more like No Man’s Land. The rules are fuzzy and constantly in flux, without a binding authority to enforce agreements. Serena was much safer in the detention center. The fact that she doesn’t understand the dangers Gilead’s men pose to her, never mind what the crowds outside could do, says a lot about how delusional she remains.

An aide, who introduces himself as Ezra Shaw (Rossif Sutherland), waits at the car. Serena is pleased to tell Tuello that Ezra will be her escort from now on and Gilead has made all of her arrangements for the future. Tuello wishes her good luck, but she doesn’t think she needs it, because she has God on her side. He reminds her that she isn’t in Gilead and asks her to be careful. “This is a free country, Mrs Waterford.”

Canadians don’t have to listen to Gilead’s God.

When they arrive at the Gilead information Center, it’s still under construction. Inside, male workers paint the walls Serena’s signature teal. Ezra tells her they’ve arrived at her home away from home and leads her upstairs to the living quarters. She seems surprised that they meant it when they said she was restricted to the embassy. Maybe she thought the center would be a compound with multiple buildings and a yard inside a wall, rather than one building that looks like a smallish church. It’s as if she’s been banished to a nunnery run by men.

I didn’t spot another woman in the building all episode, though I didn’t watch specifically for that.

Tuello’s next stop is June’s house, where Moira gives him cheek about ignoring them and he claims to have been held up by “internal briefings”. Is that what the kids are calling it these days?

Luke asks if the briefings were about Hannah and June asks how Hannah is. No one bothers to say hello first, ask him to sit down or offer him a drink. He hasn’t earned an ounce of politeness from this family. He tells them he didn’t get close to Hannah, but she looked good from a distance.

They probably got a better look at her on the jumbo view screens.

Then he gets to his real purpose for stopping by, Serena’s release. He explains that Canada decided to unfreeze one of the properties in Toronto that Gilead (or the Sons of Jacob?) owned before the war and allow it to be considered Gilead territory, as if it’s an embassy. Technically it’s a cultural center, with Serena in residence to promote their lifeways and values. Gilead wants their pregnant miracle out in the world.

Luke has heard enough and tells Tuello to get out of the house. Tuello turns to go, but then stops to plead Serena’s case, because he really is an idiot: “She has no standing here. She has no status. She doesn’t have a passport. There’s no money in her name. She can’t even drive a car. She’s limited.”

He seems to think this makes her a helpless, pitiable victim. He really didn’t pay attention to any of the women’s testimony or to the women’s lifestyles when he was in Gilead or studying it for all those years. For the most part, Serena will be living the lifestyle she helped create for the women of Gilead, just as she did when she traveled to Canada as a representative of Gilead in the past. Except now she’s allowed to read, write and wear pants. She’s way ahead of the wives in Gilead and on a different planet from the handmaids and Marthas.

I am heartened to hear that she doesn’t have a passport or money though. That will slow down her manipulations for a day or two. She doesn’t need a passport to wreak havoc on people’s lives. And she’s been living without money for many years. That extra imposition could mean someone in Gilead wants her to suffer.

June isn’t fooled by any of these restrictions. She tells Tuello that she’s tried to warn him, but he just won’t listen. I doubt he hears the unspoken part, that she’s done giving official sources chances to deal with Serena and intends to finish the job herself.

June: “God, you’re such a f**king disappointment.”

So glad she got the chance to calmly say it to his face. He just finished begging Serena to let him give her more help, but when he was in Gilead he couldn’t even be bothered to try to speak directly with Hannah, a kidnapped child, or any of the older children who are American citizens by birthright. Or with any of the handmaids, the perpetual rape victims who are also American citizens and the direct victims of Serena’s life’s work. They aren’t in Gilead by choice and as a representative of the US government, the negotiations for his visit with Serena should have included speaking to some of the hostages, to check on their general welfare. The US did not owe Serena a trip home to bury her husband as if they were king and queen. Major fail.

Tuello- “Perhaps your expectations are unrealistic.”

Isn’t it funny how Serena’s expectations of him aren’t unrealistic though? How it’s never too difficult to get her out or in or anything at all? How his voice breaks when he can’t be of enough assistance to her, his ideal conservative woman and soulmate in only caring about whatever will ultimately benefit themselves? Tuello has vast respect for Serena’s ability to keep up appearances no matter how rotten she is inside and none for June’s attempts to restore her family and end the suffering in Gilead. Tuello loved Gilead’s made up family crests and eavesdropping on the Commanders at the wake, but he forgot about the actual victims of Gilead. That says it all.

Moira shows Tuello out, but we don’t get to hear the rest of their conversation. As soon as he’s gone, Luke tells June that he knows a guy who works in the city government who can help them. They’ll get Serena and her faux embassy thrown out of the city. He says June she doesn’t have to worry.

June isn’t worried.

June barely hears him, because she’s gone to the spacey, quiet place in her mind where she plans her best murders. Which is too bad, because Luke really does have some expertise in this situation- before Gilead, he worked in urban planning, so he understands the intricacies of city bureaucracies and how to wield zoning laws, noise ordinances and building codes as weapons. And how to sweet talk the city employees who can help him wield those weapons.

Later, after Luke is asleep, June gets out of bed and goes down to the yard to dig her gun out of the dirt. The spell she worked by burying it in the front yard was a success, attracting official Mayday and dozens of armed resistance fighters to her. Now she has another job for the gun.

The gun still has bits of dirt falling off it, since she didn’t put anything between it and the soil when she buried it. She takes it with her as she drives to Serena’s new church center, where people are gathered outside with lit candles. Serena stands in a full length upstairs window, looking down on them like a dark angel or a princess held hostage in a tower. June checks that the gun is loaded before she gets out of the car, but it jams- likely because of all that dirt. June drives the car right up under Serena’s window and gets out to stare up at her nemesis. They watch each other for a minute, then June drives away.

Ezra comes in to check on Serena and let her know they’re aware of June’s presence, but in Canada, they can’t stop her from driving (or standing on public sidewalks). They have guards, alarms and cameras, so if June sets foot on their tiny property, they’ll be all over her. It feels a little like the way Gilead protected handmaids from everyone but the people who were hurting them.

By the time June gets home, Luke is awake and in the kitchen. She steels herself before going inside, but she tells him the truth right away. She admits that this obsession with killing Serena makes her feel out of control. She doesn’t mention the gun. Luke accepts that she drove over there and talks her through her feelings and his own. If she kills Serena, they’ll take Nichole away and they won’t be able to get Hannah back.

He reiterates that this time, maybe he has a way to stop Gilead’s supporters before they raise an army by getting them thrown out of their pseudo embassy. He asks her to let him try. She agrees, though she can see that he still doesn’t understand how insidious, ruthless and relentless they are. Taking away their building is a good move, but it’s only one small step in a long battle that’s just beginning.

Janine is still in the hospital, but she’s on her feet, using a walker for physical therapy exercises to strengthen her legs while Lydia urges her on. When she gives up and crawls back into bed, Lydia recites encouraging Bible verses at her.

Janine: “Please stop talking about the Bible. My legs don’t work!”

She knows better than to hope for a heavenly miracle.

Janine asks if Esther is awake yet. Lydia says no and mumbles that it’s just as well. Janine disagrees. Even though she was Esther’s victim, she understands that the younger woman was a frightened, abused child who deserved better from the adults around her. Lydia insists that anyone who would try to kill their own sister deserves what they get. Janine is angry because she warned Lydia that Esther’s life had been hard. Lydia counters that she gave Esther the chance to “live a life of service and grace.” Janine clarifies that it’s “service and grace” or else you go to the colonies to die. Or you lose an eye.

Lydia: “I gave you the education you needed to live a safe and meaningful life. And here you are, still with us!”

Janine: “Just stop it! I know what you do, what you do to those girls. Your precious girls. I see you. I see who you really are. I’ve still got one good eye, remember? You gonna take that one too?”

Lydia slowly limps out of the room.

It’s nice to see the return of bitter, honest Janine.

After her near death experience, Janine has decided it’s not worth it to put on her fake Gilead nice girl persona or to even pretend to play by Gilead’s rules. I suspect that after so many brushes with death, she’s just as much an angel as June and Serena. Maybe an angel of Life and Love. Or Truth.

Lydia’s insistence that betrayers deserve harsh punishments suggests that she feels she deserves to suffer for her betrayals as well, such as with the young mother and son she was close to when she was a teacher (S3Ep8). In the books, the Aunts are also sinners, at least by Gilead’s definition, but not to the extent the handmaids are.

Serena examines the pile of formal announcements Ezra brought back from the printer. Their ecru tone doesn’t quite live up to her expectations. Ezra redirects her to the phone, where Joseph is waiting to speak to her.

Serena gets straight to the point. The other consulates have invited her over to play, but Joseph’s people said she couldn’t go. Joseph tells her she’s doing a great job and shouldn’t try to do too much. It might not be good for the baby.

Serena points out that Gilead’s efforts to be recognized as a real country by the rest of the countries in the world aren’t going well, but she’s still popular, even among countries that dislike Gilead. With her miracle pregnancy currently blooming, she’s in an excellent position to informally work the ambassadors’ wives , who normally only hear horror stories about the country. She and Joseph agree that she can start by inviting Venezuela over for afternoon tea, sticking to topics suitable for ladies.

She lets him take credit for her idea.

He asks if she has anything else on her mind. “Paint colors for the nursery? Nocturnal visits from a certain local stalker?” Ezra told him she’s been nervous since June stopped by. Serena is all bravado, claiming June isn’t a real threat. She thinks June is just acting out like a child. Joseph points out that the “child” can become very destructive.

Even murderous. Neither of them saw the gun on the front seat.

He tells her to put her energy into her work and stay away from June. Serena tells him she’ll think about it. As soon as they hang up, Serena picks up one of the announcements.

This scene makes it clear why Joseph has restricted Serena to a building with brick walls- they’re bullet proof. I’m reminded of the story of the Three Little Pigs. Serena has gone from her glass house to a brick house, but she’s still not safe from Big Bad June the Wolf.

Joseph is trying to keep her inside and alive for as long as possible. We’ve seen this situation repeatedly with pregnant, self-destructive handmaids, but never with a Wife. Then again, I don’t think we’ve followed the story of a pregnant Wife before. Maybe they’re controlled as tightly as handmaids and tend to get a bit stir crazy and self-destructive, too.

The moment June’s period was late, the entire household, plus Aunt Lydia and the usual neighborhood onlookers, started hovering. Eventually, because of reasons, June was kept alone in her bedroom with every possible danger removed, but she still ended up hospitalized. At one point, she was kept in the dark in the Red Center basement, chained to the bed. By the end of Natalie’s pregnancy, She was comatose, but kept alive, despite the fact that she was braindead, until it was safe to deliver the baby. These are the scenarios Joseph is trying to avoid for Serena, but she doesn’t believe they can happen to her.

June is outside playing in the dirt again, thinking her own violent thoughts. When she and Luke go inside, Moira hands her an ecru envelope addressed to “Offred”. It’s Serena’s formal announcement for the opening of the Gilead Information Center.

Serena made sure to twist the knife, just in case anyone might think this was a polite gesture.

The announcement has the intended effect on June. Luke tries to calm her down, reminding her that he has a plan to use civilized methods against Serena. June feels like the whole world is lining up behind Serena and Gilead. She’s afraid the Gilead way of life will spread to Canada and then beyond. Luke and Moira take June seriously, but they still don’t take this fear seriously enough. Serena is only one person and it’s hard for them to see a pregnant woman as a threat to an entire way of life. And they don’t want to believe it can happen again.

But June has lived Gilead’s plan from beginning to end, from a little misogyny and the recruitment of unemployed guys into a social club to mass murder and mass pedophilia as a way of life. She’s sworn that she will never be complacent again.

June: “The only way to stop her and to stop them is to put them al in the f**king ground.”

She’s not wrong. Most of the Commanders are irredeemable and they won’t stop. They’re living the dream.

Nichole starts to cry- she’s very in tune with her mother’s emotions. June smashes a plate to expend some negative energy, then goes to her daughter. They calm each other down. Moira follows her to the baby’s room. June puts Nichole back in her crib, then complains to Moira that Luke has forgotten that playing by the rules has never worked against Gilead in the past.

Moira tells her that in this instance, Luke is right. They’re guests in Canada and they have to play by the rules or they’ll be thrown in jail or sent somewhere else. If they push too hard, all of the refugees suffer. Serena isn’t worth losing her family over.

The rest of her family. Moira should have said “losing the rest of June’s family over,” since Hannah and Holly should be there with them. So should Moira’s fiance, Odette.

Gilead has taken them all away from each other once already. Moira should understand that if Serena is successful, separation won’t be a choice. Gilead will make it a reality in Canada the same way that they did in the US.

Plus, men from Gilead could arrive at any time, convince the ICC or Tuello that June and Nichole are both rightfully citizens of Gilead, then legally haul them back across the border. That’s what Serena is working toward. Once Gilead is fully recognized as a sovereign nation, negotiations for the extradition of runaway slaves will begin.

June: “What if this is who I am now?”

Moira: “I don’t worry about you being with her. Not anymore. And that’s not nothing.”

Serena instructs an aide to “send a lovely gift basket to Germany,” then Ezra informs her Luke is outside waiting to speak to her. She asks if she has time to see him before her next appointment. He says they have a few minutes, but he thinks he should handle it. She tells him she’ll be fine. “It’s just a friendly chat between old acquaintances.”

Ezra holds Luke by the scruff of the neck as he leads him in. Serena sat down before they entered, so she’s in the power position. Even though Luke has already been searched for weapons, she tells Ezra to search him again in front of her. Ezra is very thorough, taking his time on Luke’s thighs.

I thought he seemed a little worshipful of Serena, but maybe he’s interested in something else. 😉

Once the search is done, Serena asks Ezra to let them speak privately. She asks Luke why he’s there. He throws the question back at her.

Serena: “I’m here to spread his word and to show the people that there is a better way to live.”

Luke points out that there are many in the crowd outside who want to see her dead. Serena has only noticed her adoring fans. Luke pulls out his building codes and tells her he’s found 15 violations. He can get her pseudo embassy condemned within a matter of days.

Serena has been through a war and an abusive husband. She’s living in her third country. She’s not afraid of building codes. She asks Luke if that’s all he’s got. He’s taken aback for a second that his threat didn’t have more impact, as if she should be attached to the building for some reason. But he regroups quickly.

Luke: “I also came here to tell you that my wife is gonna kill you. Right? And I’m gonna let her.”

Serena: “Is that so?”

Ezra creeps back into the room behind Luke. He was probably listening the entire time.

Luke: “You can get kicked out. You could be killed. [whispers] Or just help us get Hannah back.”

It’s interesting that Luke thinks he can control June and Serena. Men have literally died trying.

Serena can feel her tea party with Venezuela slipping away due to Luke’s interference. He’s going to pay for that.

She assures him that AGNES is happy with her new and improved parents, just as God clearly intended. Serena couldn’t possibly interfere with God’s will. She glances over at Ezra to tell Luke he’s there, so she couldn’t accept the offer even if if she wanted to.

But then, in a completely unnecessary but typically Serena move, she emasculates him in front of the other man.

Serena: “You know, come to think of it, I do wonder why you never returned to Gilead to save your daughter. I mean there were risks, of course. Which your wife took. And she suffered for them. Many times. Then again, she did have Nick’s support. I’m sure that gave you some small comfort, knowing that.”

Luke starts to understand why building codes and reason aren’t enough in this particular circumstance. He tells her to stay away from them or he’ll kill her himself. Serena looks a little shaken after he leaves. All she knows how to do is fight, but she’s digging her own grave by continuing this fight with June and her people.

Joseph and Lydia discuss the most recent handmaid on handmaid attack during a meeting at his home. She tells him that there won’t be any more infighting among the handmaids, since Esther was the last one who was under “her” influence. Joseph calls her on refusing to say June’s name, as if she’s Voldemort, so Lydia repeats it to show she’s not afraid. Just angry.

He tells her that Gilead is starting to allow a bit of international scrutiny and the handmaid system needs to be in impeccable shape when the world comes looking. She needs to get the system and the women under control so that there are no more assaults, break downs, etc, etc.

I’m left speechless at the idea that these events are Aunt Lydia’s fault, rather than inevitable results of institutionalized sex slavery.

Aunt Lydia says they must reform the handmaid system in order to prevent these sorts of unfortunate events. Joseph encourages her to continue speaking. She wants the handmaids to remain at the Red Center at all times, under her care and supervision. The Commanders and Wives would come to the Red Center monthly to perform the Ceremony.

Joseph won’t even consider the idea, dismissing it as a Handmaids Hotel. Actually, if you called it that, left the wives at home and used a lot of red velvet, the Commanders might be interested. But then it would just be Jezebels with occasional pregnancies.

Aunt Lydia reiterates that this is about serving God and keeping the girls safe, but Joseph isn’t interested in mincing words. Or keeping the girls safe. he tells her the Commanders want the handmaids to live in their homes so they can treat them like possessions.

Joseph: “These are pious men. They need a little kink. You know that.”

As I said. What they really want is Jezebels, home version, with pregnancy.

Lydia: “Do I?”

Joseph: “Don’t you? The handmaid system is not changing. Not now. So get a grip on your girls. Not too tight though. We can’t afford to show any scars right now.”

No DC-style lip rings and vows of silence, then. He wants Disney handmaids by day and HBO handmaids by night.

He can’t look her in the eye as he says the last few of lines, because he’s asking the impossible and he knows it. Unless she uses the patented Gilead method of removing anyone with any spirit at all, either through death or a trip to the colonies. She can’t drug the handmaids into complacency because they’re trying to get pregnant. Becoming a handmaid is punishment, not a choice and they aren’t willing to reward the handmaids the way modern western culture rewards surrogates. With no retirement to look forward to either, there’s little motivation to behave or even stay alive.

As a conservative, Joseph declined to build institutionalized rewards into his cashless society and women pay the price. There are always intrinsic rewards for men to work toward, such as promotions at work and better housing. All women appear to have is verbal praise and the reflected successes of their men. Neither is guaranteed, no matter how hard a woman works for it.

Outside of changing the girls, Lydia might find some other way to subvert the system. The Aunts have a wealth of information at their disposal and probably control their own resources within the Red Center. Maybe Janine and Lydia can put their heads together and find a way to make the system work for them. The handmaids already subvert the system whenever possible, much more than the Aunts realize. Oh, and if Esther survives, they’ll also have a sister who knows about poisons and how to tame some of those excessively kinky pious Commanders. She’d be doing God and all of us a favor if she used her wisdom on more rapists.

The crowd outside the faux embassy has split into two loudly arguing factions. Inside, Serena has changed back into her Wife Teals for a photo shoot. They’re set up in front of a gray back drop, which isn’t to her taste. When she’s told they need to stay away from windows for her own safety, she countermands the order and says they’ll do a few in front of the back drop, then move to a window to take advantage of the light.

Outside, Moira and ex-handmaids Tyler (Victoria Sawal) and Danielle (Natasha Mumba) get in an argument with an angry pro-Gilead man (Adam Kenneth Wilson) who insults them using racist, misogynist faux Bible speak. June sits in the car, contemplating her gun and Serena once again. She gets out and walks toward the doors of the Information Center just as the argument gets heated.

Changing direction, she heads over to intervene and gets there just in time for the worst insults. When Moira yells back at the man, he punches her in the face, knocking her down. June pulls out her gun and points it at his chest, then fires into the air, forcing the man to flee. Luke shows up and pulls June out of the crowd. Moira tells them to run.

Remember that speech about what happens to refugees who cause trouble?

Inside, Serena and Ezra notice the crowd getting louder, then hear the gunshot. Ezra tells Serena they’re moving her to a secure location. They haven’t actually determined a secure location yet, but this place isn’t safe. So they’re going to get her out of the building first while they find somewhere to hide go. He rushes her downstairs, still in her Teals, where the car is waiting.

Luke and June run around the side of the building and straight into Serena and Ezra. In a major security fail, everyone stops to stare at each other while June decides whether or not to shoot Serena at point blank range.

It’s a tough call, but June can’t bring herself to shoot a pregnant woman, so Serena gets to live another day.

Luke physically turns June around and they run away. Ezra stuffs Serena into the car and tells her they’ve found someplace safe to take her. She’s shaking like a leaf and asks where they’re going. Ezra answers in meaningless Bible language- God has sent a refuge for the righteous.

Kids, never get in a car with a man you hardly know who misquotes Bible verses instead of answering your questions. It just won’t end well, even if he’s Donald Sutherland’s son. Actually, maybe especially if he’s Donald Sutherland’s son, now that I think about it.

Janine is released from the hospital, able to walk but with difficulty, using crutches. Aunt Lydia gives her a pep talk on the way to the van, certain God saved Janine for a reason. Janine doesn’t think she’s all that important to God.

Once they’re alone in the van, Lydia tells Janine that she needs her help. She admits that Janine was right about Esther and she should have listened to her. She wants Janine to become her handmaid whisperer, watching over the other girls and bringing their struggles to Lydia’s attention, so they can help them together. Janine worries that she’ll become a snitch, with Lydia using the information to hurt the other handmaids.

Lydia: “No. I want to do things differently. I want to address any problem early, with more… compassion. We can shepherd these girls together and keep them on God’s path.”

She almost choked on the word compassion, but I believe she’s sincere. In addition to her Gilead-induced trauma, she probably has to overcome generations of cold, distant, critical parenting to find warmth and affection within herself to share with others. That’s hard to overcome, no matter how much you want to make it happen. Warmth and sensitivity are Janine’s strengths, particularly when she feels supported by friends. The two women’s complementary styles should blend well, as long as Lydia really does share power. I think Janine might be the one person she trusts in Gilead.

Once they’re back in the handmaid’s dormitory at the Red Center, Lydia tells Janine that though God tests us, He rewards the righteous. As soon as she leaves, the handmaids crowd around Janine, happy to have her back with them.

Luke and June drive home in silence. As they pull into the driveway, he gets a call informing him that the chief inspector for the fire department lost his sister in Gilead and is shutting down the Information Center for code violations, effective immediately. “Serena’s homeless.”

He asks to look at her gun, so she pulls it out of the glove compartment. He messes around with it for a minute and asks if she cleaned it. She says she learned how from a Youtube video.

Then she gets serious: “I didn’t do it this time, but I’m not going to promise that I won’t do it next time.”

Luke: “I can’t promise I won’t either. I guess we’ll just have to trust each other. Do you wanna go inside?”

No. She wants to make out in the car, with the gun in her lap, now that they are Bonnie and Clyde. Their relationship started with an extramarital affair, giving them a sense of danger and rule breaking. After everything that’s happened, it takes a gunshot and attempted murder to give them the same high. Things escalate quickly and they’re soon in the bedroom exploring the scars they’ve each picked up over the last 7 years.

Ezra drives Serena to an isolated, gated manor in the country. The gate has the initial W worked into the metal. This will be her third home in Canada and this season, the third little pig’s house. The one that the Big Bad Wolf can’t blow down. Interesting, then, that the wolf’s initial is on the front door. Or maybe it’s W for Wife.

Ezra walks Serena to the front door of the mansion and nods for her to enter when a maid (Malaika Hennie-Hamadi) answers the door, but then he walks out of the frame instead of going inside with her to make sure she’s still safe.

Serena looks surprised when Ezra stays outside. The maid tells her to wait in the foyer. A woman dressed in an imitation Wife outfit comes downstairs and is excited to see Serena. She introduces herself as Alanis, Mrs Ryan Wheeler (Genevieve Angelson) .

She gasps at Serena’s pregnant belly, then kneels down to place her hands on Serena’s belly. As we’ve watched wives do with handmaids many times. Serena recognizes the gesture and is not amused.

Alanis: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the heavenly lights. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, we may be a kind of first fruits of all he created.”

She smiles up at Serena like a fanatic. Serena tries to give her a pleasant smile, but her concern shows through. Mrs Wheeler, who wants to be a Wife and is treating Serena like a handmaid, just quoted James 1:17-18 at her, verses which call back to the way the woman in the park at the beginning of the episode told June that Nichole was God’s child, not hers and she didn’t deserve Nichole anyway.

June lights a bonfire in her backyard and burns the Information Center announcement. She smiles. Thanks to the building codes, she won this round.

Handmaid's Tale S5Ep4 Janine & Lydia Form a PartnershipHandmaid's Tale S5Ep4 Luke Answers Phone in CarHandmaid's Tale S5Ep4 June & Luke in BedroomHandmaid's Tale S5Ep4 Mrs WheelerHandmaid's Tale S5Ep4 Serena at the Secure LocationHandmaid's Tale S5Ep4 Mrs Wheeler Praises Serena's BellyHandmaid's Tale S5Ep4 Announcement Burns


Click on any photo to enlarge.

This is an episode filled with obsessions to the point of stalking and other dangerous behavior. It seems that most of the characters are so preoccupied with their current obsessions that they forget the big picture. Except Joseph the Gamemaker, who may win the series in the end.

Joseph, Luke and frequently even Moira spend much of the episode telling the women to stop being hysterical over the perfectly reasonable restrictions patriarchy has placed on them and just deal with the inconveniences. It goes as well as you’d expect.

Joseph doesn’t want any scars to show in Gilead, at the same time that Luke and June reach a place where they can show each other their scars.

Nick was able to give June a sense of danger just by existing, since they were in Gilead and risked punishment every time they met. But also, as a person, he has an inner stillness, yet is willing to fight and go to war. That feeds both sides of June, calm when she needs it and controlled risk when it’s necessary or wanted. Unfortunately, they live in a time of strife, when they are unable to put their relationship first, and their heroic tendencies will keep them separated indefinitely, maybe permanently.

Luke struggles to find an inner balance in the same way June does, so they feel familiar to each other, but they also lead each other to make mistakes rather than complementing each other’s personalities. When things are normal, it’s fine, because the stakes are small and they are in tune to help each other make good decisions. But in a crisis situation, they can easily escalate each other’s bad decisions, becoming complacent or partners in crime- and not in the good way.

Luke’s building codes are in the same vein as sending Al Capone to jail for tax violations.

Luke wasn’t meant to be a field agent, but he is an excellent analyst, tech guy and all around support person and that’s not nothing, as Moira said. Kingmakers and “the backup person in the van” (who supports an on duty superhero) deserve much more respect than they get. The famous, flashy types wouldn’t last long without their detail-oriented coworkers.

In an episode where Serena made Luke feel small and ineffectual for riding out the war and post-war years in Canada, we were also reminded that Luke has suffered too. We saw his gunshot scar for the first time. Moira pointed out that life hasn’t always been easy in Canada, either. (Though it’s been years since we saw “overcrowded” refugee housing- their house is spacious and gorgeous.) He showed that he’s become more proficient with a gun since he got to Canada (I retract that accusation- can’t remember which S4 recap it was in though). And he was briefly positioned in the crucifixion position while Ezra searched him, which suggests that Gilead continues to monitor him as a potential threat and as Nichole’s adoptive father.

Serena quickly buys a new wardrobe, including the pants suit she’s wearing when she meets with Luke- dark teal jacket, white shirt, black fitted pants. It’s a stylish play on the Commanders’ uniform black suit, but with that touch of wifely blue to give the illusion of coloring within the lines. She was watching June’s clothing choices carefully last season and is ready to put her own spin on Gilead Wear for the Rest of the World.

Mrs Wheeler quotes the typical Gilead abridged version of the Bible verses James 1:17-18, adjusting the meaning to suit her purposes.

Serena’s arrival at the Wheeler house recalls June’s arrivals at Hannah’s house, then Joseph’s house in S3 and Esther’s house, then Luke and Moira’s house, which has become her home, in S4. And, of course, the MacKenzie’s lake house in S2 when she was very pregnant and Fred arranged a visit with Hannah.

Notice when speaking to outsiders, Serena mentions Gilead as little as possible. For now, she’s promoting a nonthreatening, healthy, Godly way of life, not her country or a political point of view. This is exactly the way she started her movement the first time.

June is correct to be raising the alarm. Too bad she can’t go back to the Boston Globe and bring back the timeline of the movement and the war she created using their archives (S2Ep2&3). But she could probably recreate it using online and library archival materials. Toronto’s libraries may have digital archives of the Boston Globe or at least the NY Times.

I doubt that anyone has published a book about the rise of Gilead with information that detailed and it would be a service to the world to publish it. Getting back into publishing would provide an income and a way for June and Moira to get the stories of Gilead’s survivors out into the world while maintaining control of the narrative.

Serena and June Are Spiraling

Despite the lack of money in her own name and lack of passport, Serena exercises quite a bit of control over her fate in this episode. She has some control over how the center’s money is spent and given time could have easily found ways to pocket a little here and a little there, until she’d built up a nest egg of her own and a discretionary budget line item or two that she alone controlled, as wives and children have done since male control of money and property was invented. She breaks Gilead’s rules and disobeys Joseph’s orders in this episode and she assumed that negotiations would continue until she’d created the life she wanted.

And it might have, once her baby was born, if she hadn’t pushed June and Joseph too far. She’s operating alone, in a haze of grief, trauma and pregnancy brain. Tuello and Joseph are the only ones who’ve cared enough to try to save her from herself and when you’re depending on the haphazard selfless virtue of those two, you’re in trouble. June and Serena are both spiraling in this episode and their feud is one of the few long term constants left in their lives.

The level of grief and depression both women feel over Fred’s death shouldn’t be dismissed. They are the only people who knew him the way they did. He turned them both into people they aren’t sure they want to be. They loved and hated him and all they can do now is take those feelings out on each other. (Reminder- June’s Stockholm Syndrome-ish feelings of love for Fred are book and TV canon. He was a big part of her life for years.) June and Serena both would feel the loss and feel confusion and self-loathing over it.

Maybe Serena thought she’d get June arrested for attempted murder as her way of avenging Fred and making herself safe, and then go on with her life. Maybe Joseph and Ezra would find her a new, more secure location that would almost have to be bigger and fancier.

But she doesn’t understand Joseph at all. He intends to keep that baby safe. His own life and/or career might depend on it or it might be another Eleanor thing. I’m not sure if Serena is included in his mission to fulfill Eleanor’s last wishes or she’s just a vessel for the baby. Or if he’s punishing her for her part in Eleanor’s death. That won’t be totally clear until after she gives birth.

And she doesn’t understand that June, as the Wife, now has a support system behind her for backup who will help soften her spiral. Serena is now the one who is alone, without anyone to talk some sense into her before she makes a mistake or to clean up after her when she screws up. She is becoming a handmaid. Joseph treated her like one of his handmaids or Marthas in this episode.

I will never stop hoping that Serena will see the light and switch sides. No one has made it worth her while to switch yet. Especially not Tuello, who dangled freedom, a baby and her writing career in front of her to get her to Canada, then took all but the baby away again as soon as she gave him his real target, Fred. He used her and June both to flip Fred and left them both high and dry. June has friends and family in Canada who’ve helped her settle in and overcome the culture shock. Moira explained the overall situation for refugees. Without any reliable backup and a baby on the way, Serena still sees herself as having better odds siding with Gilead.

Serena is leaning on God even more heavily than usual this episode, without using the standard Gilead platitudes. Tuello is right to be afraid for her- she has virtually no security and what she has seems a bit sketchy, starting with Ezra Shaw. Hopefully we’ll see more of him after his quick exit at the end of the episode. He was very determined to manhandle Serena out of the Gilead-owned building as soon as he had an excuse to do so, almost as if that had been his main goal all along. The immediate danger had passed before they left the building.

Then he didn’t even go inside the new place to make sure it was safe, even though they’d just found out about it. He was on an earpiece with other people, so maybe there’s a large, unseen team of Gilead employees doing most of the security work and Ezra is more of an assistant than a bodyguard. But public buildings and most homes in Gilead have armed Guardians standing outside at every entrance. Why didn’t the Information Center and the Wheeler residence have that, since they knew there was a threat against Serena’s life? There didn’t appear to be guards at the entrance near the protesters that June was headed for. Even if they’re mostly depending on cameras, they should have sent guards to the door when the protests became heated and June came into view.

I can’t tell yet whether Ezra is one of Joseph’s loyalists or one of the Canadian pro-Gilead nuts. He seemed a bit worshipful of her, but then he used Tuello’s drop and run move. That seems out of character for someone sent to protect her or for a fanboy. I think the odds lean toward Canadian zealot, since Gilead didn’t send a staff on the plane with Serena. He may have essentially kidnapped Serena.

The pro-Gilead Canadians need a less cumbersome name of their own. The New Sons of Jacob? It’s only slightly shorter, but it flows better.

The Enigma of Joseph Lawrence

Joseph Lawrence has always been a difficult character to understand, but this season he’s particularly mysterious. Is he working for Gilead, for the resistance, for revenge? Even Serena can’t pin him down. His need to get the women of the show under control may reflect his continued grief over Eleanor’s death, the loss of the rest of the women in his household and his desire to get his emotions under control. He only enjoys drama when he can watch it from the outside. Living through his own pain and feeling compassion for others because of it might drive him to distance himself from people and become even more controlling and disdainful in an attempt to escape feeling anything.

At the end of season 3 and during season 4, he frequently put aside his own plans in order to carry out Eleanor’s last wishes. She wanted Angel’s Flight to be a success and was willing to die to see it through, taking an overdose of sleeping pills to ensure she didn’t accidentally misspeak in front of the wrong person. June found her before she died, but understood Eleanor’s decision and didn’t call for help. She’s never told anyone this, but she said something at Eleanor’s graveside that gave Joseph pause. He may hold June partly to blame his wife’s death. Serena and Fred were more directly responsible for Eleanor’s downward mental spiral and death, forcing the ceremony on the Lawrences and June in S3Ep10 in an attempt to discredit Joseph.

Joseph went along with the salvaging of Fred in part as revenge for Eleanor’s death. He may be treating Serena like a handmaid who’s pregnant and alone in Toronto to give her a taste of her own medicine. And he may be trusting that Serena and June will carry out his revenge on each other if he leaves them in the same city long enough. Serena’s lack of an effective security detail makes me wonder if he wants them to meet for pistols at dawn or however ladies duel in Gilead. 🤺 Naomi Putnam’s poison cookie tree would probably be involved.

With Lydia, I’d say he just doesn’t have the standing right now to mess with the philanderers’ and pedophiles’ toys and he’s sick of dealing with female complaints. His words were meant to be a challenge to her to find a way to improve her girls’ lives without involving him or inconveniencing the other Commanders.

He did the same thing with June when he baited her about being transactional, then gave her the opportunity to choose 5 women out of hundreds who would become Marthas (S3Ep3). It took June a while to understand that even though you can’t save everyone, it’s still worthwhile to do what you can. And if you’re smart about it, you can improve your chances of saving more over time. Or killing more over time. Or just surviving. Her choice of Marthas eventually facilitated all three. He needs Lydia to see the same thing.

Nick Lowe’s Cruel to Be Kind is his theme song for a reason.

Overall, Joseph isn’t sentimental, but he can be loyal when it suits him. He prefers people who are honest, intelligent and who have a healthy sense of self preservation, because being any of the opposite of those characteristics will get you caught and killed in a place like Gilead.

Fred told June that Joseph hates to be bored and likes to toy with people. He appears to sanction or even be involved in the resistance, but he also told June that he isn’t interested in a coup. He said he allows a certain amount of rebellious activity to keep it from going too far. My guess is that he would prefer to reform Gilead rather than overthrow it, but he’s keeping his options open. A strong opposition movement would eventually force reform on the other Commanders.

He was the architect of Gilead’s moneyless economic system, which quickly descended into slavery and appears to be headed toward medieval aristocracy and feudalism. But he promised Eleanor, an intelligent, sensitive woman, that Gilead wouldn’t be too bad for her. So, as with Serena, the reality of Gilead is much harsher than he expected, especially the slavery and extreme misogyny.

Joseph’s inability to cope with or predict emotional or behavioral reactions, particularly in women, is an ongoing character flaw, one which has led to the devastation we see in Gilead. He and Serena were so lost in their dreams of a perfect world that they couldn’t see the flaws in the men who surrounded them and predict the extreme behavior they would exhibit once they were in control. Both Joseph and Serena continue to make plans that assume their ideal version of the world will prevail, without leaving room for the inevitable corruption and megalomania.

The sadism and cruelty are baked into the system because it was designed by an economist and efficiency expert with no regard for human welfare (at the time), then enacted by sadistic, cruel, bigoted people, but also because sadism, cruelty and oppression are effective at keeping people from forming loyalties to each other, so they are unable to form an effective uprising.

The lowest social levels of Gilead, the handmaids, jezebels and Marthas, work together in the resistance, occasionally helped by Guardians/Eyes and Wives, and even more rarely by Commanders. We’ve never heard of Aunts, the keepers of the rules, being involved. But they are uniquely positioned to aid the resistance, since they have more freedom than even the Marthas, able to move throughout Gilead without an escort or permission. And able to read and write, allowing them to send written messages with less code involved. June and Moira intuitively figured this out during their first escape attempt, when Moira pretended to be an Aunt, but as far as we’ve been shown no one has taken the next step of flipping Aunts to the cause.

There is truth in what Lydia said- her actions taught Janine that if she didn’t comply with Gilead’s expectations she would face mutilation, torture and potentially execution. The education Lydia and the Aunts provide at the Red Center keeps those who heed it alive and too crushed to attempt to escape their bondage. It leads to a miserable, frightened life with occasional bright spots, not a life of safety and meaning.

Janine is alive in spite of the aunts’ discipline, not because of it. Many others died because it was their only escape. Esther is far from the only one to make that choice and Janine has tried to make it several times.

Last season, Aunt Irene told the handmaids in the therapy group the same thing- the Aunts are taught during their training that the beatings and torture they inflict on the handmaids are necessary to teach the handmaids the discipline and humility that will help keep such willful sinners alive longer.

I believe Joseph may be slowly attempting to retrain Lydia and Janine, watching as circumstances slowly break Lydia’s spirit, then standing ready to rebuild her according to his need for a compassionate yet strong Aunt who could potentially join the resistance.

The phone conversation between Serena and Joseph is a microcosm of what their marriage might have looked like- constant competition and conversations that play like tennis matches between tense rivals with an unspoken score to settle. Serena needs someone strong and intelligent; with patience and a very secure ego; who doesn’t need to compete with her and also won’t let himself be bullied; but who will handle her pride and determination with humor and kindness.

Fred got there occasionally, but mostly as an apology when he’d already done something despicable. Nick might have grown into the role, but I think she hoped to control him. Tuello is no better than Fred, a man who wants to use her talents and strength to raise his own stock in the world. She’s attracted to him, but can’t afford to make the same mistake.

If Joseph hadn’t had Eleanor guiding him toward his best self, he might be willing to consider Serena’s proposal, which will likely remain open until one of them remarries, defects or dies. Eleanor’s personality complemented his and smoothed his rough edges. He and Serena are equals and he doesn’t need to trade on her personal power to succeed. That’s very attractive to her.

But he’s rightfully afraid that she’ll lead him into trouble and he doesn’t currently have the patience to keep up with her moods.. He’s already lost one wife who didn’t belong in Gilead and he’s gotten Serena and Emily out. He meant what he said about Gilead not being able to accommodate unusual women. He was wrong about intelligence and talent making a woman unusual, but I think he knows that, based on his conversations with June surrounding the selection of the 5 Marthas.

Serena and Joseph’s talents do complement each other, so they would be a formidable power couple if they could negotiate terms for their relationship that kept them from competing but allowed them both to shine. And while Eleanor was lovely, she was also fragile. Serena is human and needs support, but she’s strong and a survivor. She’s very willing to be an equal, supportive partner to her husband, if her husband responds in kind. She could relieve some of the burdens of running a household and dealing with emotions and personalities that make Joseph so impatient. Then, when he had to deal with her emotions, it wouldn’t be as hard for him.

And if Serena were fulfilled, she wouldn’t be as difficult to deal with. She’s a superwoman who’s been shackled by inferior men. Of course she’s a pain in the *ss. This should go without saying, but the concept of the hysterical woman who can’t cope with her own body or emotions and so must be held back and locked away is so deeply embedded in western culture that I feel like I need to repeat on a regular basis that it’s a lie. Women aren’t difficult or hysterical. We’re oppressed. And after years of oppression, people tend to become very, very angry. So angry they can’t hold it in anymore.

Serena Will Not Go Quietly

The Information Center announcement should have been an invitation to a reception where Serena could be the hostess and show Toronto and the world more of her leadership skills, her miracle pregnancy and her shiny new embassy. You know that Serena wanted to make a splash, not host quiet afternoon teas with a couple of wives. She’s going to take out that missed party on everyone who had anything to with it, from Joseph and Ezra to June and Luke.

If she gets the chance. It’s not clear who will be in charge of who at Mrs Wheeler’s house.

Technically, June’s handmaid name would still be Ofjoseph, since he was her last Commander. Fred never stopped thinking of her as his possession or trying to get her back in his bed, which Serena was probably acknowledging by addressing her as Offred, in the same way that the severed finger was a mixed message.

One small, unnoticed reform is that the handmaids now frequently revert to their own names when they are between placements, rather than retaining the names from their most recent placements, as they did in the beginning. As a practical matter, it probably just got too confusing to refer to all of them by the same names, since there are a few Commanders who are more likely than others to be their last stop. Maybe someone should investigate that? Or not, since Joseph is one of the frequent offenders and his handmaids tend to leave the country.

One of Gilead’s symbols is a white dove in flight holding an olive branch, flying in front of the sun (or maybe too close to it), an ironic symbol of peace and freedom for a country that’s been at war since it’s inception and is one of the most oppressive nations in history. Dark Angel Serena flips the symbol to black and gold on her invitations, giving it the reverse meaning, war and death. The sun now looks like an exploding atomic bomb with a blackened dove turned to ash.

Recall the Sons of Jacob used nuclear weapons on their own people, the US, when they took over the country. They now force the Unwomen, women who are too defiant or who aren’t useful to them, to clean up toxic radioactive waste in the colonies. This is the country Serena is fighting to return to and wants to promote to the rest of the world. Also recall that Wives can be sent to the colonies, too, for relatively small infractions.

Serena couldn’t wait to defy Joseph’s attempts to keep her safe. She goaded June into a confrontation so that her prison would become unsafe, without thinking through what would happen after that. Maybe she thought they’d have to put her up in a nice hotel. Instead the foreshadowing that she’s turning into a handmaid and will have her child taken from her becomes even stronger.

Images courtesy of Hulu.

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