The Handmaid's Tale premiere recap: Fred is dead, but June's troubles are far from over

·8 min read
The Handmaid's Tale premiere recap: Fred is dead, but June's troubles are far from over

Aptly dubbed "Morning," the first episode of The Handmaid's Tale's fifth season picks up in the early hours following June's (Elisabeth Moss,) brutal, vengeance-fueled slaying of Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes.) 

The former handmaid's standing in front of a running shower, hands still bloodied from the previous evening's hunt. But she's not washing away the evidence. No, she's bathing in beautiful flashbacks of what she and her Gilead survivor support group did to the vile commander. Slow motion scenes of Fred's beating and murder are intercut with glimpses of June smiling, all while the Everly Brothers' "All I Have To Do Is Dream" plays in the background.

The Handmaid’s Tale
The Handmaid’s Tale

Sophie Giraud/Hulu June (Elisabeth Moss)

June heads to daughter Nichole's room, where she nuzzles the precious baby she's recently been reunited with. Their loving, mother-daughter exchange is crossed with a quick cut to her biting into Fred's face like a wild animal. Luke (O-T Fagbenle) and Moira (Samira Wiley) enter the room, and ask about the blood, but June's off in a hurry. She's got a brunch date with her Fred-killing cohorts. The women are hungry for both breakfast – they eat like lumberjacks – and more blood. With a mouthful of pancakes, one giddily exclaims, "Everything tastes better when Fred's dead!" They all want revenge on those that abused and subjugated them in Gilead, and they've got a car full of guns to help make it happen.

But June's not convinced more revenge-murder is the best move, an unpopular opinion her new friends/accomplices see as a betrayal. June heads to Emily's (Alexis Bledel) house, where she discovers her friend is also out for more blood. Emily's partner informs her that she's fled to Gilead to hunt down the evil-doing aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd). Feeling guilt over Emily's rash decision, and with the high of Fred's murder wearing off, June scrubs off the blood and turns herself into the Toronto police.

But the authorities aren't at all interested in her confession, as the murder wasn't committed on Canadian soil. June does owe an $88 fine, however, for attempting to mail an "unsecured biological sample," which, in one of the episode's funnier moments, she's told she can pay online. Of course, that intercepted mailing was Fred's severed finger, the bloody digit June attempted to send to Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) along with her dead husband's wedding ring.

The Handmaid’s Tale
The Handmaid’s Tale

Sophie Giraud/Hulu

Speaking of Mrs. Waterford, the newly pregnant Gilead wife is still being held in Canada, where she's eagerly awaiting a call from Fred to see how his immunity deal went in Geneva. While practicing some yoga in her detention room, she's suddenly whisked away by armed guards. Following Fred's unexpected demise, she's being moved to a safe-house. Agent Tuello (Sam Jaeger) breaks the news that Fred was traded for 22 Gilead prisoners, a new deal that somehow left him hanging in the woods. Tuello also tells her about the finger and wedding band, and gives her the latter. Serena is furious and insists that only June could be responsible for Fred's brutal murder.

Later, at the morgue, Serena and Tuello continue their conversation near the former commander's mutilated corpse. Serena wants Canada to consider capital punishment for her husband's killer. Tuello informs her the crime didn't take place on Canadian soil, and suggests she move on and make a new life for her and her baby. But outside the morgue, Serena's emboldened by a group of Gilead supporters holding a vigil for Fred. Serena tells Tuello she wants his body transported to Gilead, so he can receive a proper burial.

Tuello heads to June's house, where she's just had an emotional exchange with Moira. June's blood-lust scares her friend, and she's uncomfortable leaving her alone with baby Nichole. But June feels better after talking to the kind agent, as Tuello says her actions not only scared Serena, but probably all of Gilead. More importantly, he validates her violent act: "You did something terrible that needed to be done. May he rot in hell." June replies with a spot-on, "Praise be." June returns to Moira, who's bathing Nichole with Luke. She picks up the crying baby, and is quickly able to soothe and quiet her as only a mother can.

This tender, comforting scene concludes the first half of season 5's two-episode opener, but it's not long before Serena stomps on June's  temporary happiness with all the force of a disciplinary cattle prod. The second half, titled "Ballet," begins with June lying in bed, having flashbacks of the trauma she suffered at Serena's hand back in Gilead. She gets up, heads outside, and buries a pistol she'd accepted from her survivor support group friends.

The Handmaid’s Tale
The Handmaid’s Tale

Sophie Giraud/Hulu Nick (Max Minghella)

In addition to appearing in June's nightmares, Serena's also popped up in Gilead. With Tuello and  Fred's cardboard casket in tow, she arrives at the airport, where she's greeted by commanders Nick Blaine (Max Minghella) and Joseph Lawrence (Bradley Whitford.) They escort her to the church where her husband's services will be held, but she's unimpressed by the small venue. Gilead's rulers want to keep things low-key, especially given Fred's traitorous turn, but Serena wants to go big. She attempts to blackmail Lawrence, suggesting he helped June.

While in Gilead, we also catch up with aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd). She's working on new handmaid assignments, and none other than former commander wife/farm girl Esther Keyes (Mckenna Grace) – whom we haven't seen since she was captured after helping June last season – is next in line for a husband. In fact, commander Putnam and his wife are in the market for a new handmaid, and Lydia thinks the "young and fertile" Esther could be a great fit for the family.

Speaking of Warren (Stephen Kunken) and Naomi Putnam (Ever Carradine), they've been gracious enough to host Fred's wake, an event that finds Serena, Tuello, Nick, Lawrence, Lydia and her handmaid prospects, and even the recently recaptured Janine (Madeline  Brewer) all under the same roof for a number of developments. Lawrence informs Serena the commanders denied her request for a bigger funeral, Janine is briefly reunited with her birth daughter Angela before Naomi puts a stop to it, and Warren creepily feeds Esther chocolates in an attempt to "get to know her."

On the way home from the wake, Esther tells Janine she doesn't want to be assigned a husband. But Janine insists following the rules and getting pregnant is the only way to survive in Gilead. Later, the pair continue their conversation, as they laugh and share candy Esther stole from Putnam. Things take a dark turn, however, when Esther accuses Janine of using her to gain access to the Putnams' so she could see Angela. Esther then voices her hatred of Janine and says she wants to "Make June proud." As Janine attempts to process all this, the two begin coughing and choking on the candy and bleeding from their mouths. Aunt Lydia storms in and cradles Janine as she loses consciousness.

The Handmaid’s Tale
The Handmaid’s Tale

Sophie Giraud/Hulu Janine (Madeline Brewer)

Back at the Putnam's, Serena's still pushing for a proper funeral for Fred. She addresses an entire room of commanders, where both Nick and Lawrence support her, suggesting such a spectacle would help show Gilead's human, merciful side to the world. Later in the evening, Nick also has a secret rendezvous with Tuello. The agent gives the new commander an update on June and Nichole, before offering to help get him out of Gilead. But it seems Nick has other obligations in the totalitarian territory, as the premier also introduces us to his newly assigned wife. In a brief scene, the woman seems unlike the other wives – she's sweet and understanding, and openly discusses June's ordeal over coffee with her commander husband.

While "Ballet" unfolds primarily in Gilead, we do get an update on June, who's traumatically triggered during a game-night with her family. Seeing "Scrabble" atop the pile of games brings back toxic memories of playing it with Fred during her earliest days as a handmaid. This prompts her to help Rita in the kitchen, where she tries to fire up the former Martha about getting revenge on Serena. Rita's not interested though, and June apologizes. June also confesses to Luke that she sent Serena Fred's severed finger. Luke's upset by her obsession and the potential danger her actions could invite. He strongly suggests she move on and focus on her family.

The two soon make up, and hit the town for a fancy date night. While they attend the ballet in downtown Toronto, we see Serena soaking in all the attention at her husband's globally-televised funeral. Surrounded by the pomp and circumstance she pushed so hard for, she's clearly enjoying the spotlight.

But she also uses the occasion to cut June deep. Following the ballet, June and Luke enjoy a warm embrace and a rare moment of happiness in the city square. Before they can get too lost in the moment though, they notice the square's many TV's are broadcasting Fred's funeral. As they focus all their attention on the massive screens, they see a close-up of their daughter Hannah, who brings Serena a bouquet of flowers before standing by her side and holding her hand.

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