The season 5 finale was written by Bruce Miller and was directed by Elisabeth Moss!
Episode 510 – Safe
“Under threat, June must find a way to keep herself and her family safe from Gilead and its violent supporters in Toronto.” (Safe, Season 5, Episode 10)
The season five finale opens on a quiet street in June and Luke’s neighborhood. The camera tracks backwards as we prepare to see some of our beloved characters end up right back where they started, in many ways. June is kneeling in front of her destroyed, now barren garden; it looks very much like a grave as the life she thought she was building in Toronto is dying. The sound in this episode is so eerie and unsettling. In an interview with my friends over at the Above the Garage podcast, lead director of photography Nicola Daley mentioned that she and Elisabeth Moss were heavily inspired by horror films for this episode, and it’s very clear in the final product. I felt so unsettled and terrified the entire time watching this, and Nicola and Lizzie truly accomplished what they set out to do with this episode. A package arrives at the house for June. Once inside, we see that it’s a bullet proof vest for her to wear to more funerals for those lost (in what I assume is the raid attempt, we aren’t told if any lives were lost at the shooting); June is supposed to say a prayer for a service. Luke eerily appears in the mirror and comes to help see how the vest fits her. He says he hates this world but loves her. She removes the vest and sits alone in the window, much like shots in the series pilot at the window in her bedroom at the Waterford household.
In an office building filled with Commanders milling about, Nick approaches Lawrence and asks to speak with him alone. Nick brings up the shooting at the memorial where June was and says that she is not a target. Lawrence says “Well, she could be, given everything she’s done…The government of Gilead does not target expatriates for execution. That is our current policy, far as I know.” The conversation does not sit well with Nick.
Back at the red center, Janine and several handmaids are scrubbing floors and windows. Janine starts to softly sing “It’s a Hard Knock Life” from the musical Annie, and the handmaids begin to chime in. Aunt Lydia hears this from the hall and smiles to herself. Hearing her approach, Janine whispers “code brown” to the others and they quiet down to stand and greet her. Lydia surprisingly says, “It’s no sin to enjoy one’s work. Joyful labor is God’s blessing. I do believe he would prefer a more appropriate hymn.” This is further evidence that Aunt Lydia’s has gone through a major shift. Years ago, she would have punished them all. Aunt Elizabeth mentions that the other Aunts are beginning to notice her favoritism towards Janine and she will need to be assigned to a new posting.
Lydia heads right over to Naomi’s wedding dress fitting to propose that Janine be posted within the new Lawrence household. Naomi is appalled by this suggestion and doesn’t want Janine to live under the same roof as Angela. Aunt Lydia excuses everyone else from the room so that they may speak privately and tells Naomi “…I believe Commander Lawrence is looking for a different image; one that would reflect Gilead’s new values. Having this particular handmaid join his household would complete that picture.” Naomi said she will look like a fool if she takes Janine into their home. But Lydia assures her that she will be viewed as an example of grace and forgiveness. She finally decides to consider it.
June, Moira, and Luke are enjoying a quiet morning at home, while Nichole sleeps in a bit. We get a peaceful close up of June, but it’s the calm before the terrifying storm. There’s a loud knock at the door and Mark Tuello comes over to let them know that the shooter was arrested, “He’s an angry man with a gun. There are millions of them, but we got this one,” and if that isn’t a portrait of our current America, then I don’t know what is. June walks Tuello out to his car down the street as she checks to see how he’s feeling after so many losses. She mentions that she knows what it’s like, “to be responsible for people and then lose them.”
As Mark gets in his car, June takes a look around the neighborhood as countless people are packing up to leave, undoubtedly feeling threatened by the anti-refugee sentiment taking root in Canada. The camera does a long 360 degree shot all around and lands back on June as she starts to walk back to the house. We see a large red pick up truck start it’s engine and start to follow her, while the driver is listening to “Kokomo” by The Beach Boys. All of sudden it speeds up right behind her and shockingly slams right into her, launching her several feet to the ground. She tries to get up but the truck backs up and comes back even faster, driving right over her arm. The sound becomes warped as she tries to fight through the pain of what’s just happened. She starts to get up again as the truck backs up again towards her but stops and we can see a bumped sticker of the Canadian flag with the leaf replaced by a red Gilead flag’s symbol. Luke comes running out of the house screaming at the driver and pulls him out of the truck. The man is holding a rifle and clearly meant to kill June. She watches from under the truck as Luke fights him and knocks him unconscious before coming to check on June and call for help. At the ER, it’s complete chaos as doctors try to help her through excruciating pain. Police have arrived to question Luke about what happened. He understandably wants to stay with June, but the police take him to the station to make a statement.
At the Canada/Gilead border, on the bridge we’ve seen several times in season 4, Nick meets up with Mark Tuello where he’s checked by U.S. military to make sure he’s unarmed and they head together into Canada.
Back at the Red Center, the handmaids are making their beds, when Aunt Lydia arrives to tell Janine of her grand plan to post her in the new Lawrence household. She presents the idea as a reward to Janine, who immediately says she doesn’t want to be posted. Lydia points out that she can’t stay at the Red Center indefinitely and that this is an opportunity for her to spend time with Angela. Janine eventually agrees and says that she is grateful.
Mark brings Nick to see June at the hospital while she is still asleep. They stand in the hallway as Mark gives Nick an update. Nick asks about Luke, and Mark lets him know that the police brought him in for questioning, but that he’ll be back at the hospital when he’s done. Nick quickly realizes he doesn’t have much time and says it’s best if June doesn’t know he came to see her. Tuello leaves to give him a moment, and Nick walks into June’s room to be at her side. He places his hand on hers and is clearly heartbroken to have nearly lost her for good. He finally stands to gently kiss her forehead, careful to never wake her, and leaves. At the border, Tuello brings him a contract to formalize their agreement. Nick says, “I’ll keep my end of the deal, you just keep her safe.” Mark asks why Nick never tried to run away with June while they were in the Waterford household and he says “She has people who care for her. She doesn’t need me. I’m nothing”, breaking the hearts of Nick fans everywhere.
June is back home in her bedroom and Luke comes in to see her sitting in the window, wearing a sling. Luke has a gun and June asks him if he’s ok with having a gun around Nichole. He’s convinced it’s the only way to protect them and that the police don’t want refugees in Canada either. He says something interesting which is that this won’t be like Boston, meaning their failed escape attempt just as Gilead was beginning to take over. He leaves her to get some rest.
At the Lawrence household, countless Marthas are preparing the house for the wedding. There are flowers and macaroons everywhere, as Naomi tells Janine that she’s considered Aunt Lydia’s idea and will grant her a trial period while Angela is staying with her grandparents for the summer. Janine remains compliant, all the while Naomi is reminding her that Angela is her daughter and that Janine will be closely monitored. “She’s my daughter. To say anything else, to suggest, is heresy; you could lose your tongue.” Lydia is so relieved to see Janine performing well, and is then absolutely delighted when Naomi suggests that Janine be in the household portraits the new Lawrences will be taking. Lydia is so proud, to the point of tearing up, before leaving Janine to get settled. A Martha approaches Janine to whisper that June has been hurt, “A truck hit her on purpose. They want to kill her in Toronto…They never let anyone get away. Fuckers.” Janine’s composure has been rocked by this news. While the photographer is snapping away taking photos of the whole household together, Lawrence finally decides he’s had enough and dismisses everyone to return to what they were doing. Naomi approaches Janine, thinking she’ll be the same agreeable person she just spoke to earlier. She even calls her by her name and offers to show her her room. “…it’ll just be nice to have a friendly face in the house, Ofjoseph,” and Janine finally snaps, asserting that that’s not her name and that she and Naomi are not friends. Naomi seems confused by this and Janine continues, “I think that you are one of the worst people I have ever known…I hate you Naomi. How can you not know that?” Naomi is disturbed by this, but Lawrence calls her into the other room. Janine finally seems like herself again, but maybe even more like June or Emily from seasons past and heads upstairs.
June wakes up at night to the sound of wind. This scene is the most horror-like of the entire episode as she begins to hear voices arguing downstairs. She heads down and sees that it’s Rita, Moira, and Luke arguing. Rita is telling Luke that he is underreacting to the situation. Luke tries to send June back upstairs, not wanting to worry her. But Rita tells her that her friend who is a Toronto police officer told her that the man that attacked June died. June asks what it means and Luke says “It means I killed him,” but he is unbothered by this. Rita stresses that the police may already have a warrant out and that they will arrest him. Luke starts rambling about being unafraid and that he’s glad he protected her, but she starts to softly try to stop him and then gets louder saying, “Luke. We have to run. We waited last time, and we waited too long. And we didn’t see how much they hated us. I lost you. And then we lost Hannah…we cannot help her if we are dead. It’s changing, Luke, this country is changing.” Luke says that Canada is not Gilead, but June wisely points out, “America wasn’t Gilead until it was, and then it was too fucking late. Luke, we have to go. We have to run. Now.”
Moira books June, Luke, and Nichole for a flight to Anchorage and then Honolulu, and she and Rita rush them out to the car. Just before they pack into the car, Mark Tuello pulls up to let them know that the police have already flagged their flight reservation and Luke would be arrested upon arrival and June will even face charges and lose Nichole. He offers them another way out: “American refugees are on their way here from all over. Canada doesn’t want them anymore. No one does. They’re all coming here, we’re putting them all on trains to go west. I can get you on one.” June and Luke exchange a look, knowing this is their only option.
Nick arrives at Lawrence’s house during the wedding reception, storming through the house past Rose and the other wives, into the study where Lawrence and the other commanders are celebrating. He walks straight up to Lawrence and punches him right in the face, yelling “you could’ve fuckin’ killed her!” as Guardians drag him away. Lawrance claims it was not him. Commander MacKenzie watches Nick being escorted away with a very knowing look and I think we all need to worry about Nick from here on out.
Aunt Lydia confronts Janine at the Red Center for the way she spoke to Naomi. Lydia is convinced that Janine can fix it and needs to beg for forgiveness, but she refuses. This breaks Lydia, but Aunt Elizabeth bursts in to alert them that the Eyes have arrived to take Janine away and that Lawrence gave the order. They muzzle her and cart her off immediately, while Lydia yells at them all the way outside. They put Janine into the van, and Lydia keeps trying to argue, and the Eyes push her to the ground before driving off. In the van with Janine is a frightened Martha who has also been taken prisoner. Janine comforts her, taking on the steadfast role that June often played. Lydia gets up and we get a close up of her looking more determined and angrier than ever before.
At the train station, Tuello explains that the train will take them to Vancouver and then they’ll be able to get on a boat into the U.S. June sees the massive amount of people arriving at the station, all in search of a safer place. Luke thanks Mark, and June quietly asks Mark to tell Nick that she and Nichole are safe. They head inside with all the other refugees and it reminds the viewer of the airport in the flashback to when Emily and Syl were trying to flee in season 2. June starts to notice the heavy police presence all over the train station as they slowly make their way through the crowds to get closer to the trains. Armed soldiers are stationed around as well.
Down on the platform, Luke tells June to just take Nichole ahead and go; that he’ll be right behind them. She cautiously goes, while Luke waits back. The attendant checks her ticket and allows June and Nichole to go towards the train. June is waiting for Luke but notices that the police are looking everywhere for him. Her phone rings and it’s Luke, telling her that she has to get on the train. June is stil convinced that he can make it onto the train, but he says she won’t be safe if he’s with her. “So do this for Nichole. Get on the fucking train, okay?” She begs him not to do this, but he begs her to get on the train. She says, “ I don’t want to do this alone anymore” and my heart shattered. Luke says they’ll find each other because they always do, and begs her to get on the train. She finally tells him to come find her and that she loves him. He puts his hands up and police detain him instantly. June finally gets on the freaking train just before it leaves, and just weeps for the family she thought she was keeping together, against all odds.
Rose is let into the room that Nick is being held in. He apologizes but she gets straight to the point, asking why he pretended to love her. He says that he does love her but she calls him a liar. This is a very different Rose than we’ve seen. “…a good man wouldn’t leave his pregnant wife every time his girlfriend calls…You will never let go of her, will you?” Nick says he’s tried but he can’t. Rose drops another bomb and says “I don’t want to be with you anymore.” She leaves and I am truly worried she’s going to ask her dad, who is a High Commander, to punish Nick and I don’t know how severe it will be. MacKenzie knows what’s happening and Nick is not safe anymore.
On the train, June makes her way through the crowds on the cars with Nichole, trying to calm her down telling her they’re going to Hawaii, as she looks around the car. She hears another baby crying, and asks Nichole if she wants to go see the baby. The whole time she is on the train, I’ve been thinking that I desperately hope there’s someone else she knows on the train too. Even someone from Mayday or even one of the women that helped her kill Fred. I just don’t want her to be alone. When she heard the baby cry, I started trying to think of anyone she knows that might have a baby when all of a sudden it hit me: SERENA JOY WATERFORD. And as soon as I had the thought, they reveal her standing at the back of the train. WHOA. June is as stunned as I am. They stare at each other in shock for a moment before June approaches her and they stand face to face at the back of the car holding their children. Serena is the first to speak, saying “Hi June” and June replies “hi Serena” but does not sound excited. Serena asks, “you got a diaper?” and we get a classic June smirk as “Bury a Friend” by Billie Eilish kicks in. The camera zooms back like the opening shot of the episode, but this time showing June and Serena facing one another in the back window of the train car, showing the train barreling down the tracks into the distance.
Friends, I had a huge realization: Serena is finally getting her “treason and coconuts” that Tuello promised her the very first time they met at the hotel bar in Toronto in season two, episode nine “Smart Power”. I also have a sneaking suspicion that after Serena escaped from the Wheelers, she got in touch with Mark and he personally arranged for her and Noah to be on the train. I had a weirdly emotional response to see her come full circle and be well on her way towards “treason and coconuts”. It was not relief or joy; I am of the belief that Serena does not deserve a redemption arc. But we’ve spent so much time with her over the course of five seasons, that I was bound to feel some sort of response to this. I am worried for everyone after this finale. Particularly Nick, Janine, Luke, and June. I don’t have faith that the train will arrive in Vancouver without incident. Nick, Janine, and Luke have all been arrested and we have no idea what happens next for any of them.
It will be a long wait for the final season next year. Season five has been a wild ride, to say the least. As a long time fan of the book, and mega fan of the series from the beginning, this season has been an absolute dream come true for me. After ten episodes, I STILL cannot believe that Hulu believed in me enough to partner with me and provided me with screeners for each episode. It was an honor and absolute treat to be able to watch each episode before the rest of the world, some even before final edits were made. It made me feel like I had a small part in one of my favorite things in the entire world and I will forever be grateful to the press team at Hulu for allowing me such an honor as a blogger. Every single writer, director, cast and crew member, Elisabeth Moss, and Bruce Miller put their whole hearts into every episode and I am always blown away by the artistry and care that has gone into this series. “Thank you” will never be enough for this special opportunity, and I will always treasure this season.