The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5 Episode 1 Review: Morning 

By her hand! Season 5 sets up its June v Serena battle in an emotionally powerful episode about consequences. Spoilers.

The Handmaid's Tale 5-1 Morning Elisabeth Moss
Photo: Hulu

Warning: this The Handmaid’s Tale review contains spoilers.

The vast majority of The Handmaid’s Tale viewers won’t know what it feels like to tear their tormentor to actual shreds (see that corpse prosthetic in the mortuary scene? Those girls really did a number on Fred). Thanks to ‘Morning’ though, we got a pretty good idea. It clearly feels… incredible. Ecstatic. Orgasmic. A heroin and power and sex and I-can’t-believe-it flood of vibrating, adrenalized joy. 

That’s the impression June gave as she opened this episode in a euphoric daze. After Fred’s murder, June was blood-drunk and enchanted. She swooned like a schoolgirl to that inner 1950s love song, and ate like a horse in that diner to Dolly Parton’s Getting Happy – which she absolutely was. In four and a bit seasons, we’ve seen every emotion imaginable pass over Elisabeth Moss’ miraculous communicator of a face. This feels like the first time we’ve seen bliss.

The dream (dream, dream, dream, dream) couldn’t last of course. In that gas station bathroom, the bubble burst and reality came rushing in. Fred’s blood was no longer enchanting to June, now she felt the urgent need to cleanse. What followed was the beatific joy of self-baptism in the ocean followed by a drive to confess and accept her penance like a good Catholic. June braced herself for impact and… nothing.

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The twist for this season opener? Punishment came there none. Not only that, but June was actually congratulated on her act by US government official Mark Tuello, and wished a good day by the fine officers at the Toronto Police Department. The absurd comedy of her confessing to murder and being told she had to pay an $88 fine would not be lost on this show’s audience. The question now is how June will cope with her free pass. Luke may be happy to take this one as a win and move on, but his wife is a complicated nest of trauma. If she’s not punished by the state, will she find a way to punish herself.

Is that what Emily’s doing by crossing back over that terrible border? Actor Alexis Bledel’s personal decision to leave the show necessitated her character being written out, and The Handmaid’s Tale used the opportunity to send Emily on a last-minute suicidal revenge mission back to Gilead. She’s wouldn’t be the first one to choose to go back, Moira tells June, “people are breakable”. Emily’s inexplicable return to Gilead feels like a shadow hanging over June’s potential recovery. She too might break and choose to go back and fight. The lure of Gilead, and of Hannah, is powerful. 

All of this inner turmoil was convincingly and movingly acted by this episode’s director Elisabeth Moss, even armed with only the barest dialogue at points. By this stage it’s hardly remarkable just how remarkable she is as this show’s lead. With much less material and screentime, O.T. Fagbenle too, continues to utterly convince as Luke. And speaking of compelling performances, now that Joseph Fiennes is out of the picture save for flashbacks, Yvonne Strahovski has moved center stage to become The Handmaid’s Tale’s co-lead. Season five is June vs Serena, a battle this emotionally wide-ranging episode set up.

Fewer emotions were on show in our brief introduction to Nick’s home, but that short scene still contained plenty of information. Nick’s new wife Rose (Carey Cox) is not a teenager like Eden was, nor does she appear to be a signed-up believer in Gilead, despite the ‘Blessed Day’ exchanges. Though theirs is clearly a new relationship (she doesn’t know yet that he takes milk in his coffee) Nick has confided in her about June and what she did to Fred. That’s powerful intel to share, and Nick is such a closed box that he must have had good reason to share it. Let’s hope we see more from inside the Blaine home soon.

June’s bubble wasn’t the only one burst in ‘Morning’. We met Serena in a calming pregnancy idyll, doing yoga in the stylish décor of her glass prison cell. That spell was instantly broken by the arrival of armed guards and the news of Fred’s death. Serena’s reaction to that news promised to answer a tantalising dramatic question for this series: how she really felt about Fred by the end. The answer we were given suggests that Serena’s as good at lying to herself as she is at lying to other people. Weeping, she remembered the tango they performed in Washington D.C. and the applause they received. That contrived, public performance was her preferred way to remember Fred. It’s the memory you’d choose of a man who beat you and allowed you to be mutilated and essentially became your enemy, if you wanted to cast yourself as a bereaved and wronged victim to yourself.

Serena’s most fascinating scene in this episode came when, seconds after raging at Mark Tuello and blaming him for Fred’s murder, she span on a dime and composed an entirely different face for her adoring public. Leaving the morgue, Serena saw the candle-lit vigil being held in the Waterfords’ honor and instantly calculated her odds. If she could present herself as the loving and gracious widow, and paint the US government as monstrous for denying her grieving wishes, she could use it to get what she wants. And what does Serena want most right now? Revenge on June Osborne. Your move, Mrs Waterford.

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The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5 airs on Wednesdays on Hulu in the US. Read our episode two review here.