The following contains spoilers for The Handmaid’s Tale S5E6, “Together”
This episode kicks off where we ended the last, with the Osbournes in cages after being taken captive near the Canadian border. June (Elisabeth Moss), used to this treatment, calmly reserves her energy. Her husband, on the other hand, is irate. She quickly becomes frustrated with his need to do something, but of course everything snaps back into perspective after he is injured. Luke (O-T Fagbenle) is not accustomed to this, and is only now starting to see just how many horrors his wife must have been subjected to in Gilead.(Photo by: Sophie Giraud/Hulu)
As we move through S5E6 it is clear that Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) is struggling with her new place in the world. She is trapped in her new home—a guest but more like a prisoner. Craving to go outside she looks forward to her doctor’s appointment, only to be disappointed: not only is her doctor’s appointment taking place on the top floor of the Wheeler’s house, but her hosts are keen for her to marry her doctor. Mrs. Wheeler (Genevieve Angelson) reminds her, “a baby needs a mother and a father and that’s more important than your feelings.” She is claustrophobic and uneasy and starting to realise just how little power she has left.
Sick of being treated like a handmaid, Serena goes into No Man’s Land under the guise of wanting to see and kill June herself. We learn that June and Luke were captured by a militia affiliated with Serena’s new household. She manages to persuade the Wheelers to allow her to go to the captured June and kill her herself. Desperate to get out of the house, and apparently still desperate to avenge June for escaping Gilead and causing the Waterford’s so many problems, Serena sets off into No Man’s Land.
But then something unexpected happens.
Serena, knowing how strong, intelligent, and resilient June is, makes a plan. She banks on June’s survival skills and her moral sense of justice and, at the last minute, spares June and instead shoots the man who brought her there. Barking out commands, she orders June to drive the two of them away from the scene. June, understandably incredibly confused by the situation, takes what she can get and drives the car quickly away from the scene.
Serena knows that now June is her only hope of escape… How the tables have turned.(Photo by: Sophie Giraud/Hulu)
In this episode, we also re-join Ester (Mckenna Grace), who has survived her poisoning. Her doctor informs Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) that she is pregnant, which shocks her because her posting began after the date of conception that the doctor lists. Lydia goes straight to Ester to ask her what happened, and learns that she was raped by Commander Putnam (Stephen Kunken) the day before she was officially posted as his household’s handmaid. She tells Ester that what has happened is terrible, and vows to do something about it.
Despite the horror of the assault, there is a small glimmer of light from Lydia’s reaction. Having promised to do and be better, Aunt Lydia chooses to defend Ester, reporting the abuse to Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) and requesting that something be done.
Lydia really and truly believes that God has blessed Gilead’s way, and that this distinction between rape in the ceremonies and rape outside of them matters. Whilst to the rest of us there is clearly no difference, her determination to stick to exactly the plan that she believes is the plan of God gives her more humanity. She is more understandable in light of this, although no more excused.
She sees the ceremonies as a sacred ritual implemented to give children to the earth. She believes the ‘sacrifice’ made by the handmaids is worth the blossoming of the state of Gilead.Photo by: Sophie Giraud/Hulu)
Aunt Lydia takes the issue of Ester’s rape to Joseph Lawrence. He is aghast by her abhorrent hypocrisy, but eager to punish a man he knows to be corrupt and immoral. He sees no difference in the ‘shades’ of sexual abuse, and is unhappy with what Gilead became. Despite being a key architect in its creation, Lawrence didn’t want the regime to become militaristic, bloody, or so restrictive on women. Somehow he did not foresee the devastating consequences Gilead’s implementation would have on the women there. It is not clear exactly what he did want, but his actions in the present paint a picture of someone with regret.
Lawrence recruits Nick (Max Minghella) and the two ambush Mr. Putnam whilst he is eating at a restaurant with his wife. She seems alarmed and asks him what he has done—he insists he has done nothing, and that she will be pleased when she finds out. Outside on the steps, Nick shoots him dead. This is a turning point for Gilead. Powerful, previously untouchable men are being held to account for their actions. Abuse is still very much part of Gilead’s culture, but the unchecked, animalistic, vile actions of some men are beginning to come right back at them.(Photo by: Sophie Giraud/Hulu)
It was disappointing to me that Nick’s wife did not view his actions as just. She tells him she is “worried about the kind of person” this makes him, and is concerned for his future. In previous episodes we have seen that they are closer than most Gilead couples, and that Nick has shared details about his past activities with his new wife. This is risky for him and he must know that sharing details about his rebellious actions might land him in a lot of trouble. We can surmise that he trusts Rose (Carey Cox), something that will be valuable to him.(Photo by: Sophie Giraud/Hulu)
Her reaction makes sense in so much as, living in Gilead, women would want to stay away from men who display violence, but when that violence is in defence of women who have been severely wronged I think that should be a promising sign. All said, Rose doesn’t know what we know about Nick. She doesn’t quite trust him, and who can blame her?