The Handmaid’s Tale S5E4: “Dear Offred”

June hunches down to touch dirt in a wooden frame
Photo by: Sophie Giraud/Hulu

The following contains spoilers for The Handmaid’s Tale S5E4, “Dear Offred”

S5E4, ‘Dear Offred’ is named after a letter June (Elisabeth Moss) receives to inform her that Gilead have opened an office in Canada, in an abandoned building that, through some technicality, is still classed as a Gilead territory. She knows immediately that the letter is from Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) and becomes enraged, wanting to kill her. She finds out where the building is and then drives there in the middle of the night. She has no plan, but it is clear she is still set on destroying Serena and everything she has stood for.

This creates an interesting parallel, and a pattern that I am sure June is not happy with. As June stands in the street near her abandoned car and looks up at the building to see Serena in a window, the two are once again staring at each other, Serena high up and June down below. The last time this happened, Serena couldn’t see June but June could see her. This time there is no question about their power play.

Luke (O.T Fagbenle) takes a more pragmatic approach, finding building permissions and laws that the Gilead centre does not abide by and threatening Serena that way. It is obvious and predictable that, of course, it is the threat from June that has her quaking. That being said, it is nice to see that Luke, while not fully condoning or seeing any value in June’s hatred of Serena, is starting to support her cause in a more constructive way.

After a particularly nasty confrontation, June and Luke are alone in his car. June had the opportunity to hurt Serena, but she did not take it. This is perhaps because she values the life of Serena’s unborn child more than she wishes Serena harm. When she warns him that she may not be able to refrain from causing harm to Serena Joy the next time they see her, he matches her, saying that he might not either. She relishes this and the couple end up having passionate, healthy sex for the first time since June’s escape. This is clearly a very powerful moment for them both and it seems like the shared concern for Hannah might be what finally put the couple on the same page.

Like the funeral and the ballet scenes in Episode 2, this scene is shown alongside Serena being driven to her new home. As the couple get more and more passionate, Serena becomes more and more apprehensive, realising that, although she is powerful in certain circles, she is going to be living in the house of another wife – almost like a handmaid. This style is prominent in this season and I like the way it encourages us to directly compare the characters rather than just seeing their differences. Despite everything, Serena and June are both incredibly driven, powerful, manipulative women. They share memories from Gilead and, in places in their past, they shared more tender moments together that nobody else could ever understand. Much as they are different, and certainly in almost every way Serena is the darkness to June’s light, the similarities between the two are on display for us here. We see similar expressions in Serena as we saw in June when she was in Gilead. Serena is starting to taste the true nature of Gilead without a husband to hide behind. I can only imagine that it gets worse for her from here. She is starting to fear for her security and the security of her child, and perhaps starts to understand June’s relentless fight for Hannah.

And as for June’s other child, Nichole, there is better news. Moira (Samira Wiley) is no longer afraid of leaving June alone with her, and it is obvious at all times that when June is with Nichole she is very aware and protective. There are times when this protectiveness is taken too far—in one scene a Gilead-aligned stranger tries to talk to June when she is with Nichole in the park and June not only threatens her physically but also turns her back on Nichole for quite a long time to aggressively hold the woman against a swing frame. This raises questions about whether her anger is able to overshadow her love and innate desire to protect her child.

After the broken, overly aggressive, confused June we saw near the end of Season 4, seeing her regain control over herself and her surroundings is wonderful. There is a light that is coming back to her, without diminishing the fight she still has for her elder daughter, her hatred of Gilead, and her need to see change. This is the June we always loved.

There is someone else who is changing too—under the watchful eyes of Gilead, Aunt Lydia seems to be developing a conscience. She realises that she really does care for her girls, and that much of her harshness in previous years was coming from her frustration about her aims and her faith not being understood. In her ideal world, all of her handmaids would obey her and would be successful in bringing new life to the world. Lydia does not understand that these girls are people and had lives far beyond this. To her, bringing life into the world is God’s will and she cannot understand why any of ‘her’ girls would not want to be a part of such a process, even forcibly.

This being said, she is starting to see through her righteous commitment to Gilead and her faith and through to the real people in front of her. She talks to Janine with care and seems genuine about doing things differently. There had been brief glimpses before of her affection, especially toward Janine, but these were always fleeting and more attributed to her being a person than her being a good person. There does however seem to be some integrity in her change of heart this time. I suppose, believing as she does in God and Christianity, there is a part of her that wants to be seen as a good person, and has only just realised some of the harm she has caused. I hope this change is permanent and meaningful. I suppose time will tell.

Written by Anna Green

Politics graduate based in the UK. I'm passionate about writing so I can usually be found buried in ink and paper. Proud writer for 25YL!

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