The following contains spoilers for the Season 5 finale of The Handmaid’s Tale, S5E10, “Safe”
The Handmaid’s Tale S5E10 was an episode of two halves. The opening scenes were steady, tense, and emotional, before we descend into action, reaction, and devastation. This is the final episode in this season, and we certainly go out with a bang.
Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd), amid accusations of favouritism, has been warned that Janine (Madeline Brewer) cannot be without a posting indefinitely. Lydia, being fond of her, has enjoyed having her around, but recognises that this is not the Gilead way. In an extraordinary act of kindness, she arranges for Janine to live in the same household as Angela, her daughter. Whilst Janine is not pleased about being posted again, the thought of being near Angela (Ella Ryan) gives her enough motivation to be compliant.
And then the real drama begins.
June (Elisabeth Moss) is walking along the road near her house when she notices a red pickup truck playing music and following her slowly. It then runs her over, backs back over her, and lines up for the final hit before Luke (O-T Fagbenle) runs out of the house and drags the driver from the vehicle. He hits him, shouting, before throwing him to the ground. What struck me about this scene is why June continued walking along the road after noticing the suspicious truck, or perhaps she just knew that it would make no difference if he were on the pavement or not. She looks into the eyes of the man who had been driving the truck as they both lie on the ground on opposite sides of the road. Luke comforts her and makes sure she is taken to hospital.
Janine, after hearing about June’s injuries, decides she has had enough. It was surprising to see her telling the new Mrs. Lawrence (Ever Carradine) that she hates her, although how much can anyone really take, even Janine? Of course, for this she loses her posting.
The marriage between Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) and the old Mrs. Putnam is going less than well anyway, regardless of Janine’s behaviour. In one scene, Lawrence calls out to his wife, trying multiple times before humorously attempting to summon her with, “darling”. It was already abundantly clear that their marriage would be for nothing but mutual convenience, but this solidifies that as fact. I wonder if Lawrence will find his new wife a hindrance, or if he will be able to sink further under the radar now and continue his scheming over New Bethlehem. Either way, throughout this episode he becomes increasingly erratic in his approach and decreasingly stable in his morality.
Someone else who is on thin ice? Nick (Max Minghella). Again darting between Gilead and Canada, Nick somehow persuades Tuello (Sam Jaeger) to allow him a visit to June in hospital. This is a very tender scene, with him, clearly distraught, being present with June as she begins her recovery. His wedding ring glints under the hospital lights as he watches over her. Although a man, Gilead has messed with Nick in complex, devastating ways. When he leaves her bedside he places a gentle kiss on her forehead. The fact that June will never know he was there is what makes this so heart-breaking.
(Un)fortunately, the man Luke beat for trying to hit June again with his car dies from his injuries, which June only finds out about after slipping downstairs in the night and hearing him discuss with Rita (Amanda Brugel) and Moira (Samira Wiley) what their next options should be. June briefly seems to return to her old self, and takes control of the situation. She tells Luke that they must run now because last time they waited too long.
“America wasn’t Gilead until it was and then it was too late.” They prepare to leave for Hawaii but Tuello shows up to tell them their tickets have been flagged and they won’t make it out of the airport. He instead sets them up to board a train for refugees that will take them out of Canada. June makes him promise to let Nick know that she and Nichole are safe.
Back in Gilead, Nick storms into a gathering, punches Lawrence square in the face and tells him he could have killed June, before Lawrence coolly denies involvement in her attack. Nick had warned Lawrence earlier in the episode that June is ‘not a target’. Clearly, someone thinks that she is. Whether or not we believe Lawrence’s protests of innocence remains to be seen. Perhaps Lawrence did orchestrate the attack, and underestimated the emotional involvement of Nick, arguably his closest ally, or perhaps it is true that it was not him, but if so his callous lack of anger is surprising. It is very clear to us as an audience that Nick still loves June, but with his actions in this scene it is now clear to Rose (Carey Cox) as well.
Rose later confronts Nick and he apologises, but admits that he can’t let June go, something Rose knows already. Rose tells him that she doesn’t want to be with him anymore (“we had a good thing and then you have to go and ruin it”), clearly upset that the man she saw as a good husband has let their relationship down, no less for another woman.
This is disheartening to see, knowing that Nick has tried to conduct himself with integrity (as far as is possible in Gilead). Outside of Gilead, he and Rose would have been an unlikely match, but they gelled better than one could have hoped, considering the circumstance. It is likely that the breakdown of their relationship will leave them both worse off than they were together. Perhaps now Nick will be ready to leave Gilead for June—it would be interesting to see how he would fare outside the narrow social mindset of Gilead. Or perhaps his care for his second and unborn child will prevail over his need to be near June. It is entirely possible that the choice will be made for him, one way or another.
Much to Aunt Lydia’s distress, the Eyes come for Janine (allegedly ordered by Lawrence, who perhaps really has snapped since his conversation with June concerning his late wife). Aunt Lydia fights for her so hard that she is knocked to the ground, perhaps displaying that she really has changed. Her character arc has certainly not completed, but there are signs of progression in her approach to the role she sees herself in. I wonder if she will at any point realise the damage Gilead is doing, or if she will go full-circle and pick-up where she began—bitter, spiteful, and nasty.
Being driven away, Janine comforts the other girl in the back of the van, holding her hands and looking at her with reassurance. I wonder how Janine will cope without June to guide her now that she is, once again, in acute danger.
Meanwhile, Luke and June are trying to make their escape. Unfortunately, there are guards looking for Luke and he tells June to take Nichole and get on the train. June realises that he always intended to sacrifice himself for his family, but is very upset to be leaving him again. It occurred to me at this point that perhaps they would be better, all things considered, going to New Bethlehem after all at this point. This either did not occur to them or they were too against the idea, but it might have made an interesting development.
As they parted, Luke told June, “take care of our baby”, in a sweet gesture toward Nichole. I think June needs Luke more than she ever has, so it will be interesting to see if she reverts back to her old cut-throat self, or if she becomes more passive in the events that meet her when she alights the train.
She can see Luke being apprehended as her train pulls out of the station. Despite all of the recent challenges that were perfectly poised to drive them apart, the couple have remained stronger than ever.
And June’s character may be tried out before she even steps foot from her carriage. As she walks down the train to find the parent of another child, she is met with Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) and Noah. Serena had been suspiciously absent from the rest of this episode, and what a comeback. How incredible that, given everything, these two women have ended up in exactly the same position.
The excellent choice of Billie Eilish’s ‘Bury A Friend‘ accompanies this final scene, asking all of the unsaid questions between the two women:
“What do you want from me, why don’t you run from me, what are you wondering, what do you know? Why aren’t you scared of me, why do you care for me?”
What perfect words to describe what we have just seen. The episode ends with the refugee train gliding into the distance. Who knows what awaits its occupants when it reaches its destination.