For the first time in a long time – basically four full seasons – an episode of The Handmaid’s Tale has left me feeling hopeful for the fate of June Osborne. In the season four finale, she and her ragtag group of rebels – all refugees from Gilead – banded together to kill Fred Waterford, a man so consistently evil that no viewer will miss him whatsoever, not even a little.
In the season five premiere, it appears all but certain that June is going to get away with the bloodthirsty crime, despite her best and most aggravating efforts to get the Canadians to prosecute her. June is so frustratingly June sometimes.
“Everything tastes better when Fred’s dead”
The episode picks up where season four left off, with June (Elisabeth Moss) having just realised her promise to kill Fred. She’s in some kind of fugue where nothing and no one but her baby daughter Nichole exists. She can’t hear her nervous husband Luke (O-T Fagbenle) or frantic best friend Moira (Samira Wiley) screaming at her. She can’t even bring herself to wash off Fred’s blood – the evidence she has of how powerful she’s become.
She dashes off to meet up with her murderous cabal of handmaids to eat diner pancakes, holding court more like a mafia don than a rebel leader. She uses a very normal amount of syrup. But the rest of the group aren’t as sated by Fred’s death as June is. They have their own hit lists of enemies; one even has a lead on where they can get an arsenal of guns. Insurrection seems inevitable and what’s worse, June’s lost Emily (Alexis Bledel), her most trusted Lieutenant.
In the saddest storyline “Morning” has to offer, we learn from Emily’s wife Sylvia (Clea DuVall) that Emily has made the unhinged decision to go back to Gilead. She didn’t even say goodbye to their son. “She went back to fight, I think. To find Aunt Lydia, if she can.” June insists she can fix it, but Sylvia knows Emily is on a suicide mission. What she wants from June, understandably, is to be left alone.
June cleanses herself
Deliriously upset from the news, June takes an impromptu rinse in a freezing cold lake outside Toronto. A concerned passerby calls the police, who call Luke to the station, too. June tells him that Emily felt “Gilead pulling” and – in some of the most distressing foreshadowing to date – June and Luke agree they feel it, too.
It’s in this state that June makes the decision to turn herself into the Mounties – partly because she can’t live with the threat the cops might one day come for her and partly because she’s afraid of how much she liked killing Fred. Luckily, the Canadians don’t care or even have jurisdiction. Fred wasn’t even killed in Canada, but in a disputed territory. June gets off with an $88 fine for putting an “unsecured biological sample” in the Canadian post (more on this later). I assume those are Canadian dollars so £58. Pretty lenient, even for Canucks.
“Nolite te bastardes carborundorum”
It doesn’t take Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) long to finger the murderer, especially after June sends over Fred’s actual severed ring finger – a callback to the time Fred (Joseph Fiennes) chopped off Serena’s own digit for daring to read a book. The former handmaids also marked the site of Fred’s death with that nonsense Latin phrase June discovered inside the closet at the Waterford house. “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum”, which means something like “don’t let the bastards grind you down”. June’s got herself a calling card.
Serena’s pretty broken up about the loss, especially considering that he was a terrible husband and even worse misogynist. I blame it on the pregnancy hormones. Like Emily, she decides to try her luck in Gilead, far from June’s reach. It probably doesn’t hurt that she expects to be treated like a saint when she gets there – a woman who never abandoned her husband and was rewarded with a child for her faith.
On the homefront
We get a brief and unexpected peek into Nick’s (Max Minghella) homelife with his new wife, who seems sympathetic to Gilead’s fomenting rebellion if not an activist herself. He clearly trusts her. She knows about June and maybe even the details of June’s violent revenge on Fred. This is the only glimpse of Gilead we get in the season opener. No Emily, no Lydia. No assurance that June’s eldest daughter, Hannah, is OK.
Back in Toronto with June’s fee paid, Moira and Luke settle into life with a known murderer in the house. They even let her do bath time with Nichole. And for what it’s worth, Mark (Sam Jaeger) – the diplomat whose been handling Serena – gives June’s extrajudicial revenge his seal of approval. He even gives June something she likely wants even more: the satisfaction of knowing she succeeded in scaring Serena all the way back to Gilead.
‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ episodes one and two are out in the US on Hulu. A UK airdate is yet to be confirmed