The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5 Premiere Review: Blood on Her Hands

Television

On the day Senator Lindsey Graham suggested he’d like to enact country-wide abortion restrictions comes The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5 Episode 1, and if that doesn’t sink like a rock to the pit of your stomach, I don’t know what will.

June has fallen victim not only to Gilead’s rule and the atrocities that the “government” forced upon her, but now she’s fallen victim to her moral compass.

For all that June has suffered, she’s never been able to stamp out her hope for a better world.

That hope just might be the death of her.

Gleefully attacking Fred Waterford for all of the reasons she had, from his hand in creating Gilead to raping June to his treatment of Serena Joy and so much more, sated June.



Mark: I just came to say, um, well done. You did something terrible that needed to be done. I understand what that costs. May he rot in hell.
June: Praise be.
Mark: Don’t let the bastards grind ya down.

There’s no doubt that, as Mark said, June did what had to be done. But she also hoped the crazy world wouldn’t let her get away with it like they’d done by allowing Gilead to flourish.

She was let down again.

It’s disturbing on so many levels how society keeps letting down the women of Gilead, but heading to Canada wasn’t the cure-all for those who spent any time there, as it was their loved ones who escaped before it got too bad.

June had an entourage of women who helped her hunt down Fred and killed him like a wild animal. Now, they’d like their due. When it came to Fred, the stars aligned.

June had Canada on her side, although they wouldn’t admit it. Not because they wanted her to kill Fred, but because they couldn’t live with themselves, allowing Fred and Serena Joy safe passage and the probability that nothing bad would come of their crimes.

So they made a trade that saw 22 women given safe haven under The Crown and turned the other cheek about Fred’s death and June’s confession.

Woman: I take it you meant to inflict harm on this man.
June: Yes, mam. As much as possible.
Woman: Can you tell me why?
June: He raped me and kept me prisoner. He was a monster, and he deserved to die.
Woman: I see. Society leaves decisions like those to people like me, Ms. Osborne. Not our citizens, and certainly not refugee guests in our country.
June: I understand that. That’s why I came here. I came myself
Woman: You did. Unfortunately, as they say, this is not my department. Maybe, fortunately. These events did not occur in Canada. It is not a concern of The Crown.
June: [cries] I killed him.
Woman: Be that as it may. We appreciate you coming in. Have a good night.
June: There can’t just be no punishment.
Woman: That is between you and your deity of choice, Ms. Osborne, but The Crown has no quarrel with you. You’re free to go.

All June had to do was pay an $88 fine, online, no less, and she was free to go, which messed with her head. She’s got her sanity on a very short leash threatening to untether at any moment.

It scares Moira, but in a very telling moment, it scares June, too. She needs others to respond to her withering sanity. She’s clinging to it. The world they once lived so happily in wouldn’t allow such things to stand, and if they’re ever to have that world again, it can’t stand now, no matter who does it or why.

The real kicker is that allowing so many inside of Canada without fully understanding who they were when they arrived let some of Gilead’s ways sprout outside of it.

Serena Joy was emboldened by the support she received after seeing Fred’s body. She’s so securely in the poor me and poor us frame of mind that she remembers only the good from her marriage and the world that, at one time, she wanted to escape almost as much as June.

If Serena weren’t pregnant, perhaps things could be different, but as I noted earlier, the stars have been aligning for this group. Each person has played a role that is almost throwing Canada off its axis.

When Serena emerged from the morgue to a sea of well-wishers, it physically made me sick. Yes, it’s fiction, but it’s so easy to interpret what these fictional characters are experiencing on an exaggerated scale against what is unfolding in our own country that it gives me great pause.

It’s so rich that Serena calls out June for being such a despicable human capable of anything (and she is, now) but fails to hold herself and the place she helped create to the same standards.

Of course, Serena gets her way. Fred gets his state funeral, and she pushes harder until it’s a worldwide spectacle.

Only when The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5 Episode 2 ends does it finally seem like Luke could begin to take his wife’s fears seriously.

It’s never going to be as easy as just letting go for June, and it shouldn’t be. After two episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5, it becomes clear that you are either with June and others like her or you are against them.

And, God help them, everyone who tries to get June to forget and move on is as culpable as those who are still living that sadistic and callous life in Gilead.

You cannot turn the other cheek or look away when people are suffering. To do so feeds the behavior of those responsible. It encourages them to carry on and to do it on a grander scale.

Esther understood. In the short time she spent with June, she learned what her life did to feed the cause. When she found herself being groomed for the life of a slave, a ‘birthing person’ with no other rights, a woman in biology only, she wanted comfort.

Instead, she got Janine’s version of June. June helped Janine survive to fight another day, but Janine too readily accepts her lot in life and plays by the rules without retaining the fighting spirit June cannot release.

Esther: You know, I really didn’t like you when we first met. [Janine laughs] And I was right the first time.
Janine: What? Why?
Esther: You. You don’t care about me. You just wanted to see your daughter, right? You lied to me. You used me like Aunt Lydia. Like they all do. You’re one of them.
Janine: Esther, I was trying to help you survive like June helped me.
Esther: You’re not June. You’re a disgrace. I fucking hate you. [laughs, spitting out blood]
Janine: Oh my God. Esther.
Esther: We’re gonna make June proud. [laughs and chokes on blood]

The premiere leaves us wondering for how long Serena can continue to triumph. She and June are in a delicate dance in which one or both of them will not survive.

Mark was willing to swing low, believing that an angry Serena is a dangerous Serena, but June knows that Serena is just plain dangerous, no matter what befalls her.

Yes, she used Fred’s death to take a violent swing at June (and Luke) by having Hannah a part of her elaborate performance that took place on the world’s stage, but will the world really be willing to overlook the muzzled women and the Naziesque spectacle of Fred’s funeral?

We do it every day. We sit by and allow people to curtail our rights, and as days pass, we let go of the anger. Nothing changes and the suffering continues. Why would it be any different on The Handmaid’s Tale?

Nick and Commander Lawrence and Mrs. Putnam and Mark all have the potential to make a difference in this bleak world, but by working within the framework built by Gilead, they are enabling the abusers to continue their reign of terror.

I’d like to believe that Nick and Commander Lawrence came to Serena’s side of the funeral because they, too, believe that what she shows the world will open their eyes and force action.

But Canada’s inaction and determination to provide for the refugees without ever addressing why they’re in that predicament shows that it’s unlikely anybody will act — other than the oppressed. Please, oh, please let this be the time my cynicism loses!

We’ve got two seasons for Gilead to be destroyed from the inside, for the oppressed to rise against their oppressors in greater numbers, and for those who fear for themselves and live a lie to emerge from their cocoons to help fight the battle that needs to be fought.

What do you think? Was the premiere almost a little too on the nose for these troubled times?

We know June will go down fighting, but will others join the fight? When will the cause become greater than their creature comforts?

Hit the comments below and share your thoughts on this brutal beginning to the latest season.

Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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