'The Handmaid's Tale' Season 5 Episode 1 Proves That June is Not The Monster

'The Handmaid's Tale' Season 5 Episode 1 Proves That June is Not The Monster

Paul Hunter
September 17 2022 - 06:13pm

Warning! This article contains spoilers for season 5 episodes 1

Blessed be the Fruit! 

The Handmaid's Tale season 5 premiere was released on Hulu Wednesday, and half of the fandom still has goosebumps. Unlike other seasons, we have no idea where the characters will end up. Everyone is in a unique predicament, and we're not playing by Gilead's rules any longer. There's no way of knowing what will happen. It's exciting.

The first episode is a gutwrenching performance focused on trauma and stigma. It examines how Serena and June process Fred's murder, and how their reactions affect the people around them. It's realistic and unsettling, and at times it's difficult to watch. But ultimately it gives us a little bit of comfort, and we get many of the answers we've been waiting for. It also sets the stage for what is sure to be an epic struggle between the two female titans.

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Courtesy of Hulu

Where We Left Off

At the end of season 4, June recruited a group of former handmaids to kill Fred in the woods. The murder was framed as a salvaging, an unspeakable practice where handmaids swarm a person and tear their bodies apart with their bare hands. June even bit off his ear.

After committing this heinous act, she goes straight home, still covered in blood, and pulls her daughter Nichole out of her crib, smearing Fred's blood onto Nichole's cheek. 

Luke walked in and slumped to the ground. He met her eyes, and shook his head as if to say that her crimes were too much for him. It was almost as though he was breaking up with her. June understood. She declared that she just wanted five minutes with her daughter and then she would leave. 

We didn't know what she was going to do. Would she live in her car? Go with one of the other handmaids? It didn't sound right. Where would she go?

Courtesy of Hulu

Blood on June's Hands: The First Moments of the First Episode

When the episode begins, we see June fully clothed and standing outside a bathtub with the shower running. 

She's in a daze. It's important to note, that handmaids are often worked up into a frenzy before a salvaging, almost to the point where they get so angry that they dissociate. In the franchise's first salvaging they were told that the offender raped a pregnant handmaid, resulting in the death of the child. 

It was a lie meant to push them so far over the edge that they would be willing to rip his flesh off. It worked.  After the act, they experience a sort of euphoric afterglow. This is likely what the show's creators intended to depict.

June is supposed to wash the blood off. Instead, she's elated and reveling in the moment. She picks up a washcloth and lets the blood smear across the embroidered fabric. It's almost like she wants to keep it as a souvenir, so she can pull it out and smell it to remind herself of the murder. 

Luke bangs on the door calling out to her, but she doesn't seem to notice. She's still in a daze. She turns the water off, ignoring the blood, and walks out past him. He calls to Moira, and they rush after her as she grabs her coat and goes out the front door. 

Both Moira and Luke are panicking. They want to know what happened and whose blood that is, and they want her to stop so they can get control of the situation. June stops in the front yard, presses her forehead to Moira's and confesses her crime. Moira looks at June's fingers and realizes she tore Fred apart with her bare hands. 

'By her hand,' June declares, 'by her fucking hand.'

She runs to the car and drives off before they can stop her.

By her hand! Courtesy of Hulu

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Nick's New Wife

The internet exploded when we saw Nick slip a wedding ring onto his finger in season 4. Obviously, he had a wife, and we needed answers immediately. Was she competition? Was he in love with her? Was it another kid like Eden? Would he abandon or betray June in favor of this new temptress? 

When Nick arrives home after the night of the murder, he walks into his kitchen and finds his wife Rose waiting for him. She's his age, and she seems relatable and almost fun. She's not ugly, but she's not pretty, either. She also walks with a cane from hip dysplasia. 

She's not competition for June. She's someone that Nick might be able to love but in a different way. They could be partners. It's the perfect dynamic. Fans don't want to see him fall head over heels for someone else, and they don't want to see him end his relationship with June. They don't want him to be stuck with someone irritating like Eden, either. That could make him seem insensitive.  

Rose made him coffee. She insists on getting it for him, quoting a verse about how wives should serve their husbands. She is a believer, but her attitude is refreshing. We can forgive that one flaw. 

She asks if June got what she wanted, and Nick says yes. He's been honest with her, another sign that they could be happy. He never trusts people with his secrets. Rose says that maybe June will find peace, adding that she'll pray for her. 

This entire scene must've been written by a savant. Only the best could please all of the fans at once and make Rose likable. That's like catching lightning in a bottle, and somehow they did it.

Rose, Nick's New Wife. The Handmaid's Tale

Serena Finds Out About Fred's Death

There has been a lot of talk about Serena's reaction to Fred's death. We know that she plans on getting revenge, because well... she's Serena. We knew that she would throw a fit, yell, and act like she's grieving. But we didn't know if she'd actually grieve. Sure, she'd be upset. But did she really care enough about Fred to shed a genuine tear over him? Or would she be more worried about how his death would affect her? 

We got our answer right away. 

A group of guards rushes into Serena's cell while she's having a yoga session. They instruct her to come with them. She refuses. She wants to know what is happening, but they're not having any of it. They end up grabbing her and pulling her out. She's confronted by the head of the ICC detention center, who informs her that her husband's body was found. She's then shoved into an elevator, and the camera zooms in on her moment of torment. 

Am I the only one that smiles when Serena cries?

There's a flashback to the ball in Washington DC, where the crowd parted to watch Fred and Serena dancing the tango. That was the moment when viewers realized that the pair were actually in love. It was undeniable. It was a toxic union between two monsters, but they had feelings for one another. 

Serena's grief is real, which is fun for viewers. We know that she's actually suffering and not just faking it. But that means that June is probably going to suffer as well.

Try not to laugh. It's a serious moment. Courtesy of Hulu

June Processes Her Trauma

As we mentioned before, the first episode centers around trauma and the ways that we process it. The act of tearing Fred apart is, in reality, just another traumatic event on top of five years of horror. June doesn't process what she did to Fred, not at first. Instead, she goes to a diner, where she finds the other handmaids from the woods. 

She gives them a nod and they nod back. Clearly, she's become the leader of the group, a role that she's taken on before. 

It's easy to see why they're so loyal. Like June, they would spend their time locked up in their commander's house or in the Red Center, begging for an angel they knew would never come. Now that angel is among them, supposedly ready to hand them the justice they desperately need. 

They're all still covered in blood, even though they're out in public, sitting in a restaurant. It's a sign that they're just as elated and dazed as June--drunk on their sin. They haven't processed what they did to Fred, and they don't care. Instead they scarf down a giant breakfast to the tune of Gettin' Happy by Dolly Parton. 

June loves it. She even orders a giant vanilla milkshake with a cherry on top. While she slurps it down, Danielle, one of the other handmaids, talks about how amazing it would be to see the look on her mistress's face.

June looks down at her glass and notices the blood smeared on it. She's starting to come to her senses, but she hasn't crashed yet. That adrenaline is still pumping through her. Danielle announces that she has something for June, and they go out to her car.

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Courtesy of Hulu

June Still Has Her Limits

Danielle opens her car trunk, revealing a pile of shotguns, handguns, and rifles. She gives June a handgun and says, 'I can get a lot more.'

This is more significant than it might seem. 

Judging from the context, it sounds like these guns are contraband, not consumer products you can just buy at a store. It means that Danielle is somehow connected to the illegal arms trade, which is likely part of the resistance. 

We received news that one of the new actors in the series will be a member of that resistance. In the trailer we see a woman cocking a gun before June and Luke declare their intention to go back into Gilead. 

Danielle also talks about going back into Gilead, hoping to 'spend some time with' her old mistress. She's been driven mad with rage, and she cannot imagine a world without justice. So she asks June if Nick can bring her mistress to the border. June doesn't think so, and that enrages her, so she tries another angle, asking if they can get across the border.

June confronts her, asking if she was planning on leaving her husband. Danielle can't take it. June reminds her that they crucify spies. She says that Danielle will never get close to her commander's house, but Danielle won't hear it. She's like Janine. She wants to live in a world where justice is possible, so she invents fantasies of revenge.

The entire exchange seems to knock June back to her senses. She can't lower herself to that level of madness. She's still logical. She still has a survival instinct, but considering all of the things that happen next, we have to ask whether or not that will change. She doesn't have Hannah, and Serena definitely has a plan to hurt her. God knows what June will have to go through next.

Courtesy of Hulu

Serena Learns the Truth

Serena has been placed in what looks like a posh, Silicon Valley home with glass walls. She paces around the second-story bedroom above the driveway, watching as Tuello pulls up in his car. 

She immediately tears into him, demanding to know what happened to her husband. She can barely let him finish a sentence. He tells her about the prisoner exchange and she exclaims that he's responsible for Fred's death, adding in a Biblical reference to Judas for good measure. 

Tuello has the perfect poker face. He was born made of stone. He can take anything that she throws out at him, but that seemed to throw him off. 

He tells her that he saved 22 women from the colonies, an argument that would silence many grieving wives. But not Serena. She starts to pout, and he backs off. 

It's hard to tell with Tuello. The man is basically a spy, so we can't be sure if he knew what happened or not. But he goes on to tell Serena about the ring, which only makes her cry harder. Then he shows her a picture of the graffiti on the wall where June hung Fred's body. 

'Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum.'

He asks her if she knows what might've happened. They have seen that type of threat from Gilead before. 

Serena says it wasn't Gilead. It was June Osborne, and Tuello seems surprised. 

Serena declares that Mark doesn't know what June is, basically calling her a monster.

Courtesy of Hulu

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We Finally Find Out What Happened To Emily

While arguing with the handmaids at the diner, June realizes that Emily isn't around. Nobody seems to know where she is. The argument escalates, and one of the handmaids fires shots into the air. They all rush into their cars and drive off. June heads to Emily's to find out what happened.

Sylvia, her wife, comes out and tells June that Emily left to go to Gilead. She wanted to fight, maybe find Aunt Lydia. It was what Emily had to do. Emily called to say that she was leaving, but she wouldn't say goodbye to their son, Oliver. Sylvia seemed shocked by that.

In season 4, June forced Emily to confront Aunt Irene, who was responsible for the death of her former lover, a martha. Emily refused to forgive the woman and later found her hanging from a tree. Irene was so fraught with guilt that she committed suicide, and Emily loved it. It brought out her old sadistic streak that defined her character in Gilead, which was exactly what June had intended. It's the reason Emily attended Fred's salvaging.

We realize that instead of having Emily take part in the fight onscreen, which we expected, they used her newfound mindset to send her on a reckless journey across the border. It was a way to make up for Alexis Bledel's departure from the cast. 

It's assumed that she will die and that Sylvia will never see her again. We might not hear about her death, but that is most likely going to be her fate. 

This is when June starts to feel guilty. She pushed Emily to go back to her old, brutal self and it sent her to her death. Sylvia stops her and says that she doesn't need it to be anyone's fault. She doesn't want to be mad. She wants to cherish the time she had with her wife and move on. 

At this point, June could never accept that mindset. She's too upset at herself. She asks Sylvia to tell her if there's any news. Sylvia refuses and tells her goodbye. Likely this will be the last time we hear anything about Emily. It was scathing, and it's a shame that such an amazing character had to exit with nothing more than an angry goodbye.

Some people say that it was a sloppy solution to Bledel's departure. Emily might have been a killer, but she wasn't reckless. I highly agree. 

June gets back in her car and finally realizes that there's blood on her hands. Her actions had consequences. Someone she loved is going to die, and she's responsible for it.

Courtesy of Hulu

June Needs To Wash Her Sins Away

June can't handle the blood any longer. She's upset about Emily, and now she's starting to realize what she did to Fred. She tore his pectoral off. She bit off his ear. She loved every single second of it, and she can never take that back. But she has to try. 

There's an emotional scene, filled with screeching violins. She drives to a public bathroom and struggles to scrub off the blood, rubbing her skin raw. But it won't come off. She slams the stall walls in anger, scrubbing violently. It won't go away. 

This is a straightforward expression of extreme regret and guilt, and the audience felt it. They knew exactly what she was thinking. Finally, June drives to a lake, desperate to feel like she's washing it away. She's hysterical, half laughing, half crying--clearly losing it. She dips her hand in the water and runs it along her skin. 

She's searching for some sort of catharsis, anything to make her stop feeling this way, but it won't work. The stains are still there. Her hands are red throughout the entire episode. In fact, it looks like one of her fingernails has been torn off, a stark reminder of what she did. 

The scene ends with a police officer calling out to her, asking if she's alright.

Luke and June in police station lobby. Courtesy of Hulu

Luke's Reaction

June was taken to the police station where we see Luke kneeling in front of her in the waiting room. She is still on a journey to get the blood off of her hands, metaphorically speaking. She tries to make Luke understand what happened, the brutality of it, the sadism, and the gore.

She talks about Emily and how Gilead is calling to her, pulling her back. She asks Luke if he feels the same way. He says he feels Hannah, and he felt June. He felt her so much he couldn't take it. The man spent 5 years unable to feel comfortable in his own skin because his wife was a slave in a totalitarian regime. He could rather die than lose her. 

Perhaps that's why he keeps telling June that she did nothing wrong. He says he gets it. But he was really weirded out every time she talked about Fred in season 4, and that was 3 days ago in the Handmaid's Tale universe. He's holding in his gag reflex, probably because he knows what she's about to do. 

June declares that she's turning herself in, and he can't take it. He tries to get her to leave, ready to fight the police off to drag her out of there. His heart clearly breaks when they drag June away.

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June confessing to her crime. Courtesy of Hulu

June's Quest for Justice

June is taken back into an interrogation room where she tells the police that she followed Commander Waterford into the woods alone and killed him. 

They give her a stern talking to and refuse to charge her. The murder happened in No Man's Land. It's not their jurisdiction. 

She says that there has to be consequences, but she's not given any, just an $88 dollar fine for mailing biological material. She doesn't even have to pay for it upfront, which seems like a slap in the face for June. 

The point is that she wants to do herself harm, and she wants justice. It's a little bit of both. She can't live with herself. She inspired Emily to run off to her death. She tore a man to shreds, and even worse, she loved it. She needs to feel some sort of pain to feel comfortable in her own skin. She also believes that the universe has a balance sheet, just like she told Commander Lawrence in season 4. She killed. She has to pay. 

But it's not going to happen, and she can't live with that. It's a huge disappointment for her. When she leaves, she is completely defeated. It's very difficult to see.

Try to look at this as long as you can without laughing. Courtesy of Hulu

The Hissy Fit To End All Hissy Fits

Serena walks into the morgue, where Fred's body is lying on a gurney covered by a sheet. She stares at it crying, thinking about their dance at the ball until Mark Tuello walks in. 

She declares that she would like to formally petition the Canadian government to reconsider their capital punishment statutes, 'considering that woman's heinous acts.'

Not a chance. 

Tuello puts on his best customer service voice and tells Serena that there won't be a Canadian investigation. The crime was committed in No Man's Land. 

Serena wants to know how she could possibly feel safe. How is she going to live with June on the streets? Tuello's response is that she can apply for refugee status. There are resources available. Her and her child won't be alone in this. 

He's cool, calm, even warm and understanding, but his response means nothing. Food stamps and refugee community resources. 

She wants to know if he's going to protect her. She starts shrieking and whimpering. We have seen Serena upset before, but not like this. She's crying so hard she's making weird vocalizations. She rips off the sheet covering Fred's body screaming, 'Take a good look at what she is capable of!'

Tuello looks out of the corner of his eye, but he really doesn't seem fazed--a surprise considering Fred's missing a pectoral and half of his right calf. Perhaps Tuello served in the war. 

When Serena walks outside, it's made clear that she really does have a community. Gilead supporters are lining both sides of the front walkway holding candles and signs. In the captions, they're labeled as 'acolytes,' a term that seems fitting given their blind support of the regime.  

She seems moved, but she also seems emboldened. Maybe this deluded bunch can be utilized to her advantage. They would probably give over their life savings if she asked nicely. Before leaving, she declares that she's going back to Gilead to bury Fred. Tuello gives her a roundabout no, and she plays the grieving widow card. He'll see what he can do.

It looks like she's planning something.

The acolyte's vigil. Courtesy of Hulu

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Moira's A Blatant Hypocrite

When June and Luke get back from the police station, Moira is freaking out still. She insists that everything is not fine, and Luke declares that he's taking a win. June is with them, and that's what matters. 

That's exactly what Moira is worried about. In the behind-the-scenes take, Samira Wiley, who play Moira says that the salvaging was too much for her. She can't have June in her safe space.

She hates that June killed for satisfaction. But she was fine when Emily talked about slowly poisoning a wife to death. Moira herself killed a commander when she didn't have to. She told Emily that it's OK. They were doing what they had to do, and they hadn't killed since, so they weren't killers. 

It's the same with June, but Moira can't see that. She's so shaken by what happened that she doesn't even want June to take care of her own daughter.

Courtesy of Hulu

June Has a Soul

This episode is incredibly difficult to watch because it's set up to instill the same sense of doubt that June feels about herself. We see her losing her mind. Her body language shifts. She trembles. She seems manic. She's disheveled. But she hasn't been transformed into a monster.

She's facing an inner conflict between her deeply rooted moral values and the fact that she loved killing Fred. June is so guilty about what she did that she tried to punish herself by turning herself in to the police. She couldn't stand it when they refused to file charges.

How many protagonists go through this level of mental anguish over killing the bad guy? The show took great pains to prove that June had a soul. But June can't see that, because she's so disgusted with herself. It really does reinforce her sense of morality.

Courtesy of Hulu

Tuello Saves The Day

In this episode, we see a portrait of two very different women who are both dealing with trauma. June spends most of the hour trying to make ammends. Serena does nothing but lash out, cry, and play head games. Her grief is real, and June's sadism is also very real, but only one of them is capable of feeling guilt. 

June can look inside herself and see when there's something wrong. She cares about doing the right thing. We see that clearly. Serena has blinded herself to unspeakable crimes. She will not confront any of it. She flat-out refuses. The woman is the definition of a war criminal and she sees herself as an innocent victim of the world. 

Let's get some perspective here. 

The slaughter of congress was partially Serena's idea. She beat her slaves and forced them into solitary confinement. She threatened the life of an innocent child. When faced with a revolution--which included slavery and a holocaust--she looked around at a crowded movie theater and said, 'There's already so much pain.'

June killed a man using the same methods that he devised. Fred was the one that had handmaids tearing dissidents apart all throughout Gilead. Collective executions, known as particicutions, were his idea. He thought it would make women feel like they were working together to make the world a better place. 

And here we have poor June second-guessing herself, ready to punish herself, while the people closest to her can barely look her in the eye. 

Sometimes when things get really intense, and there's a lot of emotion being thrown around, we need an outsider to tell us what's really going on. That's why I was so relieved when Mr. Tuello showed up at June's door. 

He saw what June did, and he didn't disparage her for it. He came to warn her and congratulate her. He said, 'well done.' June did a horrific thing, but it had to be done. Fred needed to die for so many reasons.

It wasn't until that moment that we realized how much June needed that affirmation. It was like someone finally getting a hug after crying for 3 days straight. Both the characters and the viewers went through so much during that time, and he made it all worth it in the end.

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