Today’s episode was written by Jacey Heldrich and was directed by Dana Gonzales.
Episode 504 – Dear Offred
“June fights her need for violent revenge as Serena settles into her new role in Toronto. Rattle by Janine, Aunt Lydia makes a surprising suggestion to Lawrence.” (Dear Offred, Season 5, Episode 4)
We open on June with sweet little Nichole at a playground in Toronto. Nichole is dressed in pastel pink, notably like young girls in Gilead, and June is pushing her on the swings, which are in the hue of Gilead wife teal. Gilead’s presence lingers with June and all around her, even if she remains north of the border. June seems to be zoning out a bit as she quietly pushed Nichole on the swings, when a woman interrupts her daydreaming to ask how old the baby is. She seems innocent enough until she says, “It’s Nichole, right?” and June immediately moves to pick up her daughter to leave. The stranger knows exactly who June is and starts to talk about her own pregnancies before saying, “You’re so lucky you were in Gilead. Now you have this beautiful, precious, healthy little angel.” She then shockingly reaches forward to touch Nichole, before June stops her saying “Hey, hey, do not touch my daughter.” The stranger keeps pushing forward June starts to physically push her back. The woman yells, “You don’t deserve her, slut! Whore!” and June finally snaps, slamming the woman up against the swing set and screams, “what did you say to me? FUCK YOU!” before storming off with Nichole in the stroller.
Later, June is with her therapist and Luke, and I am so happy to see her in some actual, professional therapy! The show appears to be focusing more on mental health this season and I am so here for it! The therapist points out that the fertility crisis has made it so that interactions like the woman’s are relatively common, and that June was right to “be on guard” and Luke agrees saying that she was just protecting Nichole. June mentions that “it went a little past protecting…it got physical.” Luke looks worried as the therapist asks if the woman was alright, and June tells her, “I didn’t stop to find out” with a very sorry-not-sorry expression. Luke asks the therapist how they are supposed to know that June won’t get physical again, which June hilariously points out is a great question. The dark comedy continues with the therapist responding with, “that sounds…. like it would be really difficult” and June just says, “yeah.” So we have obviously not seen the last of June’s violent streak, but I don’t think anyone thought she would be at peace the rest of the series.
Back at the I.C.C. Detention Center, Mark is walking Serena outside, discussing her new “freedom” and Serena asks if the Canadian government will be keeping tabs on her like the I.C.C. has, to which Mark says, “They don’t anticipate any need for around the clock surveillance.” He again urges Serena to “accept Canada’s offer of asylum, to keep you safe, as an American citizen.” Serena considers but says, “I’m not an American citizen, my allegiance is to God.” In countless flashbacks, we have seen exactly how Serena has betrayed her former country of the United States, and after all these years she is still not backing down. Mark immediately shifts and begins formally calling her Mrs. Waterford, instead of Serena, and says that she’s officially released from the American government’s custody and that she will “be restricted to Gilead affiliated properties in accordance with your lack of diplomatic status.” They approach a black car where Serena’s new escort, Ezra Shaw, is waiting to pick her up. Mark stiffly wishes her good luck with her future endeavors, which is a stark contrast to his normally warm tone with Serena. She tells him, “I don’t need luck. I have God on my side.” Mark says, “then may he guide your steps. Please though, step carefully. You aren’t in Gilead; this is a free country Mrs. Waterford.”
Ezra drives Serena over to her new digs: the Gilead Information Center in Toronto. Serena gets to see her new home as crews are quickly decorating it in wife teal and the ever-familiar symbols of Gilead’s theocracy. She will be living above the center in residence as an unofficial global ambassador for Gilead.
Mark arrives at June, Luke, and Moira’s house where June immediately begins to ask about Hannah. They point out how close he was to Hannah and are furious that he didn’t do anything to try to save her. He tells them, “We are combing through the intel we’ve gathered. That’s all I’m able to disclose.” He then drops the bomb that Serena has been release from custody, furthering angering all three of them. June calmly, yet eerily asks where Serena is, and Mark lets them know that she’s here in Toronto, “Gilead owns pre-war property in Toronto; Canada has decided to unfreeze this asset in an effort to improve relations. They will technically be considered Gilead territory…Serena will be in residence to represent Gilead’s life ways, advocate for their values.” June slams a chair down, and Luke tells Mark to “get the fuck out of my house.” On his way out, Mark tells June that Serena “has no standing here. She has not status. She doesn’t have a passport, there’s no money in her name, she can’t even drive a car. She’s limited.” June points out that she warned him about her, but he won’t listen, “God, you’re such a fucking disappointment.” He leaves and Luke begins to reassure June that he’s going to make some phone calls to the city and that he has connections to the House of Commons. He is determined to get the Gilead Information Center shut down, but June acts oddly detached saying that Serena “always gets what she wants.” Luke tries to reassure, and she creepily says, “I’m not worried.”
Later that night, June gets out of bed and heads outside to dig back up the gun she buried. She jumps in her car; this cannot be good. She arrives outside the Gilead Information Center to find a crowd of Serena’s supporters. Before exiting her car, she grabs the gun and attempts to load it but finds that it’s frozen from being buried in the snow-covered ground. She looks up and sees Serena standing in the window upstairs, silhouetted much like season one shots of June in her room at the Waterford house. June takes off in the car and pulls around, right up to the building, and jumps out, allowing Serena to see her. They stare one another down until June finally gives up and takes off to head home. Serena is visibly terrified and asks Ezra what can be done. He assures her that they are keeping Serena and her baby safe.
Back at home, June enters the kitchen where Luke has been awake waiting for her, obviously hitting the red wine again. He waits for her to talk as she paces, saying “ummm…I just drove to her building…like a fucking crazy person.” Surprisingly, Luke calmly says, “ok, is that it?” to which June laughs and says, “All I can think about is shooting her in the fucking head, and I don’t know how to stop myself from actually doing it.” Luke attempts to assure June that they should go through the proper channels of the city government to shut her down. When this tactic doesn’t work, he pivots to reason that if June were to shoot Serena, “they’d take Nichole from you, you get that? We lose our best chance at getting Hannah. That’s what happens, so can you let me try?” She agrees, but I personally don’t buy it for a second.
Back at the hospital, Janine is doing a bit of physical therapy with good old Aunt Lydia. She is in a tremendous amount of pain, and I truly don’t know how much more she can take. Lydia attempts to use faith in God to assure Janine, and we finally begin to see her push back. Janine asks her if Esther has woken up yet and Lydia says, “No…serves her right” which sets Janine off: “She is a child, who was hurt and abused! I told you that, I warned you about her!!” Lydia snaps back with, “I gave her an opportunity to live a life of service and grace…” to which Janine interrupts, “or else, right?! Live a life of service and grace or else, you would let her rot in the Colonies. Why don’t you just pluck her eye out??” Lydia is still convinced that she has taken care of the handmaids, rather than delivering most of the abuse they face. Janine continues, “I know what you do, what you do to those precious girls, your precious girls. I see you; I see who you really are. I’ve still got one good eye, remember?” This seems to have struck something deep within Aunt Lydia as she exits Janine’s hospital room.
In the main office of the Gilead Information Center, Serena has clearly been working, finally in her element. She has been forced into the role of a pious Gileadean wife for years and told that business was no place for a woman. She is now able to get a taste of working again, and she appears to be thriving. She takes a call from Lawrence to try to make some more diplomatic moves, all while Gilead is still trying to limit her powers. Time and time again, Serena proves her abilities, and every time, the men in power are threatened and attempt to further restrict and oppress her. Lawrence has learned of June’s surprise visit and warns Serena to avoid her.
Back at home, we find June is gardening, but in stark contrast to Serena’s tidy greenhouse, June isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. She walks into the house where Moira hands her an envelope that arrived for her, addressed to “Offred”. She opens it to find an announcement for the Gilead Information Center, clearly sent directly from Serena. June begins to pace and becomes more furious by the second while Luke futilely tries to assure her that building codes are enough to stop Serena, but June knows better and is convinced that Serena is going to bring Gilead’s regime to Canada, “The only way to stop her and to stop them is to put them all in the fucking ground.” She smashes a plate and rushes off to take care of a crying Nichole. Moira follows her up to check on her. June says that Luke has no idea what he’s talking about, but Moira says that he’s right, they need to play by the rules, “Look, I will dance on her grave with you, as soon as the dirt’s in, but she’s not worth losing your family over.” June pivots a bit and begins to wonder if this is who she is now: a violent, vengeful person. Moira acknowledges her recent growth, telling her that she no longer worries about June with Nichole.
Over at the Gilead Information Center, Ezra interrupts Serena’s work to let her know that Luke has arrived to see her. Once he comes in, Serena asks Ezra to check him for security purposes a second time to try to employ a bit of power. After finally excusing Ezra, Serena asks why Luke is there (which is exactly what I want to know). Luke has not had a history of taking action; he has been pretty passive over the first four seasons. He tells her that he found fifteen building code violations and threatens to call to have the whole building condemned. He continues, “I also came here to tell you that my wife is gonna kill you, and I’m gonna let her…So you can get kicked out, or killed, or just help us get Hannah back.” Serena digs the knife in further, referring to Hannah as “Agnes”, saying she’s now with fit and loving parents. Going even further, she wonders aloud why Luke never made attempts to go save Hannah, even saying that June has, and with Nick’s support. Serena has picked at his biggest insecurity: his inability to save Hannah and his inaction for several years. After tearing up, Luke tells her to stay away from his family, “or the next time I see you, I’m gonna fucking kill you myself.” He storms out, leaving Serena visibly shaken.
Aunt Lydia pays Commander Lawrence a visit to discuss Esther’s attack on Janine. Lydia points out that Esther is the last handmaid to be influenced by June. She assures him that things will get smoother, and he says that it better because “Gilead is opening its doors just a crack, and when the world peeks inside at our handmaid system, let’s just say it needs to be running smoothly. No, uh, breakdowns, no assaults, no chocolates dipped in poison.” I personally want to go back to the first part of his statement and ask how and why Gilead is opening its doors. And Lydia decides to present her new plan to change the handmaid system within Gilead: “Handmaids would remain under my care, Commanders and Wives would visit each month when it’s time to perform the Ceremony.” As Lawrence pushes back, Lydia passionately insists that handmaids should not be posted in households, in an effort to prevent incidents like what transpired between Esther and Janine, but also like countless other handmaids. Lawrence puts his foot down and refuses to change the system, siting the commanders’ desires to have the handmaids accessible in their homes (gross).
Outside the Gilead Information Center, a crowd of protestors has gathered while Serena attempts to have a photoshoot inside. June shows up with her gun in her waistband (this will clearly go well) and finds a sexist, hateful Canadian man yelling at and harassing Danielle. Moira intervenes and the man punches her in the face, and she goes down. June has had enough and pulls the gun on him, but then fires a shot in the air. Inside, Ezra rushes Serena out to try to move her to safety, away from the center. Luke arrives and tries to stop June and tries to rush her away from the crowd when they stumble upon Serena about to get in her car. She and June have a standoff, while June puts her hand on the gun. But when she looks down at Serena’s baby bump, it stops her allowing Serena to flee. Ezra tells her that they’ve found a safe place to go. June and Luke run off. Will Serena’s child be the one that saves her?
Aunt Lydia escorts Janine out of the hospital, back in her full handmaid gear, unfortunately. She is still not fully healed and requires braces to walk. When Lydia tries to reason that there is a reason that God has saved her again, we see a very different sentiment from Janine than we have in the past. Janine has always managed to keep her faith in God, felt like everything happened for a reason, and that God was always looking out for her and the handmaids. But this time she says, “I don’t think God is doing this to me…I don’t care anymore.” Once inside the van, Lydia admits that she should have listened to Janine when she warned her about Esther. She asks Janine to help her with the handmaids since she understands them by reporting any struggles they have to Lydia. Janine points out that it won’t change, and Lydia will continue to abuse them, but she says, “I want to do things differently…with more compassion.” Once back at the Red Center, the handmaids greet Janine with hugs and well wishes.
Luke and June pull into the driveway at home when Luke gets the call notifying him that they got the Gilead Information Center’s building shut down due to construction violations. He asks June to see the gun, and is impressed with her gun cleaning skills, which she learned from a YouTube video. This earns a laugh from Luke (and from me). June seriously turns to Luke and says, “I didn’t do it this time, but I’m not going to promise that I won’t do it next time,” referring to shooting Serena. Luke continues to surprise me and says, “I can’t promise I won’t either…I guess we’ll just have to trust each other.” June looks surprised and delighted, and they passionately kiss. They move inside where Luke continues to take charge in the bedroom; a major shift from June’s issues with her sexuality last season when she had sex with Luke even after he tried to stop her. I have major issues with June raping Luke last season, but I know that rape survivors often struggle with sexuality. This absolutely does not excuse her actions, but I think it was an important story for the writers to tell.
Their love making is intercut with Serena’s arrival at a gated mansion with the letter W featured prominently on the gate. We still have no idea where she is when Ezra walks her to the front door. Kerala Dust’s incredible cover of “The Chain” plays; this is one of my favorite and most memorable music queues of the season. A maid welcomes Serena in and asks her to wait in the foyer. A young woman, dressed very modestly, approaches Serena and is so excited to see her. We learn that her name is Alanis Wheeler, and she is the wife of the household. She falls to her knees, in awe of Serena’s pregnant belly. While they are still in Toronto, Mrs. Wheeler is notably wearing Gilead wife teal. Serena rightly looks concerned: this cannot be good.
As the song continues, June is in the backyard, lighting a fire in the fire ring. She holds up the announcement that Serena mailed to her, prominently showing “Offred” written on the envelope, and drops it into the fire. As it burns, June slowly looks up and directly into the camera while the phrase “You will never break the chain” repeats. Remember, “Gilead is within you.”
My first question is who the hell is Mrs. Wheeler and what is her connection to Gilead? Why is this the place of safety Serena has been taken to? But my biggest interest is in Luke. He has been passive over the course of the series thus far and has just wanted things to go back to the way they were before, even when it’s unsupportive of his wife. But now that he is taking more of an interest in June’s vengeful ways, what does this mean for him and his story moving forward?