The Handmaid's Tale recap: Gilead strikes back

The Handmaid's Tale recap: Gilead strikes back

Season 5's penultimate episode wastes little time picking up last week's heart-pounding, Hannah-rescuing plot thread. June (Elisabeth Moss) and Luke (O-T Fagbenle) meet with agent Tuello (Sam Jaeger) in an aircraft hangar, where they learn the details behind the raid. Three jets will cross the border into Colorado, where 30 girls "stolen from their parents" will be extricated from Gilead's wife-prep school. The elite unit of paratroopers won't hesitate to kill anyone who gets in their way.

June's concerned for Hannah and the other girls' safety, but the commander leading the mission  – who also has a young daughter – immediately puts her at ease. "My plan is to bring your daughter home and go home to mine," he says with confidence and kindness.

Meanwhile, Serena's (Yvonne Strahovski) settling into the Wheeler's home for the second time. She and Noah are posing for publicity shots to be presented at the opening of Gilead's new fertility center in Toronto. She asks to attend the event in person, but Mrs. Wheeler refuses to let her leave the house again. Wheeler also wants her to wean Noah off nursing and switch to bottle-feeding, which will mean less alone time for Serena and her son. The Lady Wheeler also refers to Noah as "my smart boy," a stinging comment that clearly sets Serena's blood boiling.

But she continues to play nice, and obediently delivers her pumped milk to the fridge later that evening. She also takes the opportunity to swing by Mr. Wheeler's office and butter him up before pitching him on her request to attend the center's opening. He responds with snark and sarcasm, but says he'll consider it.

Back in Gilead, Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) has invited Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) and recent widow Naomi Putnam (Ever Carradine) to his home. He awkwardly proposes marriage to the latter  – "You can move in here with the kid if you want" – suggesting the arrangement would benefit both of them. Mrs. Putnam's initially relieved she's not being sent to the colonies, but is shocked to hear this offer coming from the Commander who ordered her husband Warren's execution.

The Handmaid's Tale
The Handmaid's Tale

Sophie Giraud/Hulu Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford), Naomi (Ever Carradine) and Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd)

The next day, June and Luke join Tuello at the rescue mission's command center. As they watch a live-feed of the military jets flying toward Colorado, we get a rare peek at Hannah in her school. Following bedtime prayers led by a supervising Aunt, Hannah and the other girls retreat to their tent-like dorms. Rather than going right to bed though, Hannah secretly signs a piece of her artwork, displaying a rebellious side her mother would no doubt be proud of.

At the command center, June approaches the live broadcast of the raid, smiles hopefully, and whispers, "You're coming home." But just as the trio of aircraft cross the red line representing the border, Tuello's team loses contact with them. Alarms sound, chaos ensues, and he urgently has June and Luke escorted from the room. He later meets them in the hallway to inform them the mission was a failure, Gilead had anticipated their arrival and swiftly shot down the planes. There were no survivors.

Lawrence calls June the next day. He's angry with her for siding with the Americans, who invaded his  country. But his offer still stands. She can safely move her family to New Bethlehem, where she'll live alongside Hannah (and her eventual Commander husband) and Nick (Max Minghella.) But she also must go public, allying herself with Gilead and denouncing America's attempt to rescue the girls in Colorado.

June not only refuses, but doubles-down on her defiance, telling Lawrence his late wife Eleanor hated him. She also confesses she allowed Mrs. Lawrence to die, rather than helping her upon realizing she was attempting suicide. The conversation ends with Lawrence telling June she'll never get Hannah back, and June hanging up with a furious "Go f— yourself!"

Serena's day isn't off to a great start either. Mr. Wheeler has permitted her to attend the opening of the fertility center, but the missus is none too happy Serena circumvented her decision by going up the Wheeler chain of command.  She slaps her hard across the face, twice, calls her a whore, and tells her to stay away from her husband.

But things are better at the center's opening, where eager female visitors fawn over Serena and Noah. She sings Gilead's praises, suggesting the country's clean air and devotion to God helped her get pregnant. But Mrs. Wheeler's still pissed. She tells Serena to go home and leave Noah behind in her care.

The Handmaid's Tale
The Handmaid's Tale

Russ Martin/Hulu Yvonne Strahovski

But Serena didn't pack a bottle for the baby – again defying Mrs. Wheeler – so she must nurse Noah before leaving. But rather than feeding her son, Serena holds him tight and makes a break for it out a nearby emergency exit. As the door's alarm sounds, she frantically flags down a car outside and convinces the confused driver to take off.

When we catch up with June, she's composed herself following the fallout with Lawrence. She's also ready to take the fight to the next level. She meets with Tuello to hash out a new plan, leading them to reach out to Nick for help. But Tuello also tells June that Nick previously turned down his offer to come to Canada under an immunity agreement.

Fast-forward to June and Nick's secret rendezvous, where she immediately confronts him about not accepting Tuello's offer. He explains he can't leave new wife Rose, who's both pregnant and happy with her life in Gilead. He also says he's supporting Lawrence in attempting to make the totalitarian country a better place. The meeting's a bust, but the pair still express their love for each other. Nick also sends his love to Nichole, while June advises him to set the right example for his coming baby.

Speaking of Nick's pregnant wife, she's gathered with the other wives — including Mrs. Putnam and Mrs. Mackenzie, a.k.a Hannah/Agnes' Gilead mom — in Lawrence's living room. Meanwhile, Mr. Mackenzie is in the next room with the other Commanders. They're celebrating their recent military victory, boasting over the respect it's brought them from allies Russia, China, and North Korea.

The Handmaid's Tale
The Handmaid's Tale

Sophie Giraud/Hulu Max Minghella

But Mackenzie soon pivots to the problematic June Osborne, whom he wants dealt with once and for all. His proposal doesn't gain much traction though, as Lawrence attempts to brush it off – "It's certainly worth considering" – before joining the wives. As they enter the room, Mackenzie raises a glass and praises Lawrence's leadership skills. The Commander awkwardly plants himself by Naomi and puts a hand on her shoulder. Mrs. Putnam looks quietly horrified as she gazes toward the unwelcome physical gesture, noticing a wedding band on Lawrence's finger.

The episode's final scene takes us back to Toronto, where Tuello's memorializing those killed in the Gilead raid at a candlelight vigil. June, Luke, Moira (Samira Wiley), and Rita stand by the victims' family members, including the young daughter of the commander who'd comforted June prior to the mission. The girl approaches the podium, where an American flag hangs over pictures of the victims, including her father.

She attempts to lead the group in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, but anti-refugee protesters are yelling and picketing in the background. She struggles to focus and remember the words, so with her mother's permission, June joins her to help her get through it. As they're about to complete the pledge, however, gun shots ring out. The crowd attempts to take cover, bullets pierce the flag, and June grabs the girl in a protective embrace, narrowly evading the shots and diving to the ground.

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