Warning: contains spoilers for The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5 Finale ‘Safe’.
From FedExing her husband’s severed finger to delivering her baby, June travelled quite some distance with Serena this year. And in the sixth and final season, that journey is set to continue. In its final moments The Handmaid’s Tale season five finale united the pair once again as both fled the threats to their life and liberty in Toronto and embarked on new lives as refugees. Babes in arms, June and Serena were forced out of their respective sanctuaries and onto a train where they have nothing but the dubious gift of each other.
June and Serena On the Road
For Serena, June’s appearance in the episode’s final minutes really is a gift. More than that, it’s a miracle. From naming her son Noah for “the savior of humanity” to interpreting her surprise pregnancy as a heavenly blessing, Serena sees the world as a series of divine interventions. If June and Nichole are on that train, Serena will believe it’s because God put them in her path. She already thinks June is her angel.
Despite being – as she deliciously put it a couple of episodes back – a better Christian than Serena, June’s unlikely to see their reunion in such hallowed terms. In a sense though, Serena and Noah did answer June’s prayer not to have to do this escape alone. She’s run before, she’s protected her child before, and she’s stepped out into the unknown before, but this time, she told Luke, she didn’t want to do it by herself. Well now she doesn’t have to. Fate, and prestige TV showrunners, it seems, have a sense of humour.
Every encounter between June and Serena on The Handmaid’s Tale is dramatically rich, not just because Elisabeth Moss and Yvonne Strahovski are at the top of their game, but because the balance of power is always so violently in favor of either one or the other. In Gilead, Serena enslaved June; in No-Man’s Land, June had the power of life and death over Serena. Now in season six, they’re finally on an even footing because they’re in the same boat (okay, train). Will they be stronger together or is this a doomed union?
Commander and Mrs Naomi Lawrence
Speaking of unlikely pairings, the season five finale gave us the wedding of Commander Lawrence and Naomi Putnam. Not the actual wedding (nobody needs to see Nazis kissing), but everything around it: the frou-frou preparations, sitting for the household portrait, and of course, the violent seizure and muzzling of a treasonous Handmaid and Martha.
How will the Joseph/Naomi marriage work in season six? Will they be a power couple in public but strangers in private (we saw him flinch at her touch when posing for the photo), or will Naomi try to change her man? Ever Carradine’s character put up with a lot of humiliation from her former husband, the rapist Commander Putnam, but will that mean she’ll bow to Joseph’s every command, or draw a line in the sand and stand up for herself? They both know this union is based on political optics and not love, but Naomi is a dramatic wildcard. Could this model Gilead wife have more to her than meets the eye?
Nick’s Deal With Mark Tuello
On the subject of Eyes… the finale saw Nick Blaine sign a secret contract to become a US government spy in Gilead. Having refused Mark Tuello’s offer earlier in the season, Nick changed his mind when Gilead almost succeeded in assassinating June and so bartered his cooperation for her protection. In a sad scene, Nick established himself as this show’s romantic hero by telling Tuello that he had no aspirations to a future with June, but showed himself willing to risk his safety to help her nonetheless.
Nick’s was no small sacrifice – Nick’s wife Rose is expecting their baby, her father High Commander Wharton is a powerful man, and Commander McKenzie is already suspicious of Nick’s loyalties. Punching Lawrence in retaliation for the SUV attack on June landed him in a jail cell as well as in Rose’s bad books. We know that Gilead’s justice system favours trials in a defendant’s absence followed by what is essentially a summary execution, but Nick’s narrative armour suggests that he’ll have more to do in season six yet. And remember, this is Gilead. Is it likely that a Wife – even the daughter of a powerful Commander – has the right to leave her husband?
Nick wasn’t the only one who sacrificed himself for June and Nichole in ‘Safe’. Luke was finally able to fulfill his desire to protect his wife, and to right what he (but nobody else) sees as his wrongs of the past.
Luke savagely beat the SUV driver who attempted to kill June, and the man later died of his injuries in hospital. That makes Luke guilty of manslaughter at least, but a potential criminal sentence wasn’t top of his and June’s concerns. As June said in that middle of the night conference, Luke killed a Canadian on Canadian soil, which makes him a target for vigilante justice among Toronto’s refugee-hating community. Add in that he’s a Black man with very good reason not to trust the already-intolerant police, and Luke is suddenly a liability. That’s why he never planned to get on that train; he only wanted to get June and Nichole out of the city.
What next for Luke in season six? Bail, prison, a public campaign to free him conducted by Moira and Rita from the outside? Will Mark Tuello be able to pull any strings to help him?
What next for Janine (and Esther)?
Luke wasn’t the only detainee in the season five finale. After spending the season as Lydia’s right hand girl in the Red Centre, Janine was carted off by the Guardians on Commander Lawrence’s orders. After putting up a good show of self-effacing obedience to the clueless Naomi Lawrence, Janine snapped when Naomi called her “Ofjoseph” and suggested the pair were friends. The news that June was still being targeted by Gilead had shaken Janine, so instead of bowing and scraping, she told her former mistress exactly what she thought of her and was arrested as a result.
Janine was joined in the back of the Guardian van by the rebellious Martha who’d passed on the news about the attack on June and called Gilead “fuckers”. Unlike the nameless Martha, Janine’s been here before, several times, and she’s learned from the best. Now a leader and not a follower, Janine reserved her energy, stroked the crying Martha’s hand, and stayed calm. She’s a survivor.
As for teenage Esther, last seen screaming into the void at the inhumanity of her situation (impregnated when Commander Putnam raped her and chained to a hospital bed for having attempted a suicide-murder), we had no news. Forced to carry her pregnancy to term, will season six finally break Esther, or will she somehow find a way to fight back?
Fighting back is surely on the cards for Lydia in season six. Her protests at Janine’s extraction were wholly ignored, and her lifeline to power in her working relationship with Commander Lawrence was severed when she learned he was the one who ordered Janine’s arrest. We know that Aunt Lydia believes in Gilead, but we also know she doubts the piety of its leaders. Now grievously hurt by the regime, will she finally enact a plan of revenge against the Commanders who’ve wronged her and her girls?
Finally, Is That the Last We’ve Seen of The Wheelers?
Let’s hope so. Although it would be satisfying in season six to see Serena enact revenge against Alanis and Ryan, and for their considerable power to be taken away from them.
Whatever plot developments and complications season six – which is yet to start filming – brings, it will be the end for The Handmaid’s Tale until the sequel arrives. How would you like to see June’s story conclude – going out as a hero in a blaze of Gilead-destroying glory, or living out her days quietly and safely, surrounded by the people she loves?
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5 is available to stream on Hulu in the US and airs weekly on Sundays on Channel 4 and Prime Video in the UK.