Warning: contains spoilers for The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5 Episode 5.
Should have seen that coming. Two nice things in a row just happened to June and Luke (hot marriage sex plus romantic Al Green slow dance), so by the laws of The Handmaid’s Tale, one of them’s now going to have to lose a limb. No good deed goes unpunished on this show, which keeps its finger hovering over the ‘electrocute’ button anytime a character even comes close to having a good time.
That played out in the sad story of Jaden (Owen Painter), a young Guardian raised by Gilead after being stolen like Hannah from ‘unfit’ parents. Somehow, Jaden had retained a simple, instinctive goodness despite the regime’s brutality, and was working with Mayday to try to help. His political philosophy? “People should just be able to talk to each other, see their families, do whatever they want.” Casual wisdom from a teenager with a big heart. And now, no leg. Jaden just witnessed true love in Luke’s serenade, but The Handmaid’s Tale couldn’t let the sweetness stand, ergo: exploding landmine.
Luke and June took a similar misstep in their gung-ho choice to go behind enemy lines. Moira’s eyes said it (even if she admires their mutual devotion) and our guts said it too. As a general rule, if Serena Waterford wants you to do something, don’t do it. Serena goaded Luke last episode about him not having taken the same risks as June to save their daughter. This episode, he volunteered for needless danger as a result. Now Luke and June are in Gilead’s custody and surely nothing would make Serena happier.
Expect perhaps the keys to the Wheelers’ front gate, an iPhone 14 and a Mercedes X-Class? Serena spent ‘Fairytale’ discovering that she was less a guest of her wealthy new hosts than their prisoner. Locked gates, armed guards on patrol, no freedom, no cell phone, forced to stay in, stay quiet and grow that baby…Why, she’s nothing more than a walking womb in that house! I can hear your laughter from here.
If Serena doesn’t recognise the irony of her present situation, then she’s a good deal dumber than she seems. That woman’s gone from being the wicked witch holding the key to the tower, to being Rapunzel herself. And speaking of Serena’s baby, just imagine if the Wheelers found reason to believe she was an unfit parent. They’d simply have to do God’s work and raise the child themselves, wouldn’t they? Under his Eye.
Yvonne Strahovski once again played her scenes beautifully, as everybody tends to in this excellently cast, strongly directed series. (What foresight, incidentally, in giving O-T Fagbenle a role that would barely have featured had The Handmaid’s Tale not lasted beyond a season. He’s now one of its most valuable players, and surely its best singer.) Strahovski fluently conveyed both the humiliation of Serena having her leash yanked by an odious cretin like Warren Putnam, and her fearful obedience at being forced to swallow her considerable pride alongside Mr Wheeler’s pill.
‘Dear Offred’ had sparked the idea that the fanatical Mrs Wheeler was the dangerous prospect in Serena’s gratifying new plot line – wrong. Alanis Wheeler’s a self-righteous sap who, along with her waspy friends, sees Serena as a walking fertility charm, but she’s not in the driving seat here. That role, obviously, goes to her husband. Ryan Wheeler (Lucas Neff) turns out to be a High Commander in all but name. Wheeler’s a misogynist with a direct line to Gilead and clearly very powerful and very dangerous. If The Handmaid’s Tale’s happiness scales could send a little punishment magic to him at a future point, we’d be mightily grateful.
We were grateful for Serena’s flashbacks to early Gilead, which is always a dubious treat to visit. What brilliant evil there was from writer J. Holtham in that scene of Serena, Naomi Putnam and two anonymous white blondes evaluating those kidnapped children as if they were choosing a new couch. (The boy sitting under the window could easily have been a younger Jaden.) None of those dark-haired and brown-skinned children were the right match, unfortunately, and so off to Aunt Lydia’s Agency of Enslaved Wombs it was to flick through the menu while Lydia offered sommelier-like insights. A fine choice, madam. Good body and a fruity bouquet. Note that Serena rejected the pick that came pre-approved by Fred and went for a different variety. We all know how that went.
The scene of the episode though, was Luke’s song. Director Eva Vives had kept the tension up throughout their journey, which made the bowling alley a surprising and welcome punchline. Less naïve than Luke about the danger they were in, June stayed wary but even she was won over by his fairytale gesture. It was a beautiful moment for Luke. Which, in this drama, also makes it an ominous moment for Luke.
June’s return to Gilead has been signaled all season, the twist here is that she’s joined by her husband. Now that Luke is closer than ever to Hannah, would The Handmaid’s Tale be cruel enough to cut his story short? Or might Commander Lawrence’s ex-pat-forgiving “New Bethlehem” plan work in the captives’ favor?
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5 streams on Wednesdays on Hulu in the US. It’s expected to air on Channel 4 in the UK at a later tbc date.