The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5 Episode 2: Ballet Recap

In episode 2, June (Elisabeth Moss) returns to normal life with her family in Toronto while Serena returns to Gilead for Fred’s (Joseph Fiennes) funeral. Both have some difficulty achieving what they want and clash with their allies in the process. At the Red Center, Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) prepares the latest crop of handmaids for placement, including Esther (Mckenna Grace) and Janine (Madeline Brewer).

This is a triggering episode for all of the women, whether they’re in Gilead or Canada, no matter their social station. The episode studies how each woman handles the crisis she faces, especially comparing June and Serena (Yvonne Strahovski), now that their positions have reversed. Serena is pregnant, alone and in danger of losing her child and her freedom, as June was at the beginning of S2, while June is married, in a safe place, with a home of her own and among friends, as Serena was for the first 2 seasons. But the threats that Gilead and the war pose to women and to the citizens of the US are always in the background for every character, whether they choose to acknowledge those threats or not.


As in episode 1, the Everly Brothers get the opening voiceover with All I Have to Do Is Dream, while June lies awake in bed running her reel of Serena memories on a loop. Among Serena’s greatest worst hits are the many times she violently manhandled Offred; the way, as the Wife, she (and Fred) took credit for June’s pregnancy (with Nick’s (Max Minghella) baby); and of course, her worst offenses- when she dangled her access to Hannah in front of June without letting June near her own daughter. Serena abused June/Offred just as much as Fred did, and in some ways the pain she caused was more insidious.

Never forget that Fred and Serena drove the handmaid prior to June to suicide with their physical and mental abuse and almost broke June multiple times. Plus, Fred was one of the three Commanders who created the handmaid system. The structure of Gilead’s classist, oppressive society was largely designed by Serena, then the Commanders tweaked it to add even more misogyny.

Eventually June gives up on sleep and goes outside. She goes to the car and retrieves the gun Danielle (Natasha Mumba) gave her, then buries it in the yard. Looking satisfied, she goes back inside.

Last season, Luke (OT Fagbenle) buried a green persimmon in the yard and it brought June home. Who or what will the gun bring home? Or will it send June back to the war?

As their plane approaches Boston/Gilead, Tuello (Sam Jaeger) explains to Serena that all of the arrangements have been carefully made for her visit.

Tuello: “Our security detail will be with you at all times and of course I’ll be by your side every step of the way.”

Serena: “Just like you protected Fred.”

To be fair, Fred’s trip across the border was also carefully arranged. By June.

Joseph (Bradley Whitford) and Nick, the new Gilead dream team, meet Serena at the airport. Serena has already become Mrs Waterford™️ again. Tuello walks several paces behind her, now relegated to acting as the queen’s retainer. They all exchange false pleasantries, full of lies and subtext. I cackled through the whole thing, especially when Lawrence referred to the Putnams as Serena’s friends.

Circling sharks are rarely friendly.

Serena breaks the mood when she chastises Nick for a lack of loyalty to Fred and insults June. Nick doesn’t take the bait, but Joseph gets suspiciously happy when Serena asks to see the church where the funeral will be held.

Oh my, it’s a chapel so tiny it will barely hold Fred’s casket and Serena’s belly. The queen is not amused. Joseph adds insult to injury when he tells her that they plan a quick funeral and a less than illustrious burial in a cemetery with other revolutionaries. Then Serena can take herself right back to Canada and become a hockey fan. Joseph notes thats the game is elegant but brutal, just like her.

A quiet, “tasteful” ceremony and a traitor’s grave is not at all what Serena had in mind.

Serena: “It looked like a pack of wolves tore into Fred. Not really the work of the Eyes. It made me wonder what really happened to Fred.”

Nick: “We can’t control what the Americans do along the border, Mrs Waterford.”

That doesn’t even make sense, but it sounds like it should. Kudos to Nick for delivering the line with confidence. Also, this is the second time June has been associated with wolves. The first time was S2Ep11, when a spirit wolf guided her through Nichole’s isolated birth. Out of everyone on this show, Serena is still the person who instinctively understands June best.

Serena: “There’s only one person who could express that kind of rage. And there’s no way that she could have gotten to Fred on her own. Could you imagine what the other Commanders would do if they knew that you had helped a handmaid kill her Commander?”

Joseph: “Bold accusation.”

Serena makes it clear that she will go to the other Commanders if they don’t give Fred the funeral she thinks he deserves. Lawrence tries to argue that he and Nick don’t have that kind of power- Nick is young and Lawrence is an outsider they need because of his strategic brilliance in certain areas. Serena tells him to figure it out anyway, then sweeps out of the room.

All of that teal draping does wonders for her dramatic exits and entrances.

Serena’s Plan to Rise from the Ashes

Of course, the other Commanders truly don’t care that Fred is dead and barely know who June is, so it might not bother them that Fred was killed by his ex-handmaid as much as Serena hopes. June did some infamous stuff, but most of it wasn’t under Putnam’s (Stephen Kunken) watch, and now she’s in Canada. The current lot of Commanders are too lazy and stupid to worry about anything that doesn’t affect them directly. We were shown this repeatedly in S4.

And, as I’ve said many times before, the punishment for raping a pregnant woman is for the handmaids to rip the rapist apart with their bare hands. This applies even to Commanders. Putnam had his hand amputated for abusing Janine, while Fred stood by and didn’t lift a finger to defend him, even though he was also having an illegal affair with his handmaid. Once he was in Canada, Fred publicly admitted to raping June while she was pregnant, with Serena’s help and approval. If he were returned to Gilead alive, Putnam would have happily had Fred torn apart by his handmaid, taken Fred’s son for his own and turned Serena into a handmaid for her part in the rape.

Warren and Naomi (Ever Carradine) are circling sharks. They want that baby and they want the public parts of their own sordid past put behind them. June played a role in exposing Warren’s affair, so her disappearance is undoubtedly fine with them. They aren’t going to agitate for her return home.

Fred’s public funeral is Serena’s Hail Mary pass, a way to remind Gilead that, unlike the rest of Gilead’s leaders, she and Fred were important, sympathetic public figures long before Gilead’s establishment. The Commanders would be fools to throw away Serena’s fame and innate talents for marketing and evangelizing, just when Gilead needs those talents most.

She wants to design a big, influential public event to remind them that most of Fred’s public successes were actually her brain children, not his, and they still need her. Gilead needs to improve it’s reputation on the world stage so that it can normalize trade and diplomatic relations. None of the trolls who sit on the council has the slightest notion how to achieve that, not even Joseph.

Creating or seizing moments and making them spectacularly memorable is one of Serena’s many talents. She won over the Mexican delegation in S1Ep6 with her gala presentation of the children of Gilead. With Fred’s funeral, she’ll win back Gilead as a grieving widow, mother-to-be and scorned woman.

Aunt Lydia turns the dial up to 11 as she gives her handmaids in training a pep talk before they leave for Fred’s wake, which is being held at the Putnams’ house. She ecstatically tells them that tragedy has blessed them with the opportunity to impress their potential Commanders at the wake and encourages them to make themselves worthy of this gift.

Aunt Lydia can find a silver lining in any cloud.

Esther is one of the new handmaids lined up for the red van. Aunt Lydia reminds her to be obedient before sending her off. Then she pulls aside Janine, who’d been busy primping Esther. Lydia has decided to reward Janine for her help with Esther and the other girls by letting her accompany Esther to the wake as her minder. Janine gets excited, since her biological daughter, Angela, is the Putnam’s toddler daughter and this raises her hopes for a rare glimpse of the child.

Aunt Lydia goes on to explain that the Putnams are in the market for a new handmaid and Esther is the Commander’s type- young, attractive and previously the victim of horrific sexual abuse and gang rape by people she should have been able to trust (just like Janine). Lydia wants Janine to help Esther make a good impression on her former abuser and the father of her stolen child.

WHAT IS LYDIA THINKING RIGHT NOW? I can’t imagine that she’s trying to set up both Janine, her favorite of favorites, and Esther, the young woman they’ve worked so hard to rehabilitate, for failure. But why on Earth would she send a young woman as fragile as Esther to Putnam, a known abuser? Because of his high status as council chair? Couldn’t she send Esther to someone who’s not evil, or at least to Joseph? Did Putnam request Esther?

Lydia tells Janine that she hopes Esther’s placement will redeem all three of them, but Janine shouldn’t assume that will mean she’ll get more visits with Angela. Then Lydia sends Janine off to get dressed in funeral wear for the wake.

The Putnams have provided their usual party spread of barely edible food, including the pastel cookie tree that June cursed while Janine was in labor with Angela in S1Ep2. There’s a suitably terrible portrait of Fred in the living room and a reasonable showing of the local Commanders and their wives. Wives and minions are in the living room. The Commanders have retreated to Putnam’s drawing room to discuss Important Matters of Men in Private.

The Putnam residence looks even less lived in than usual. Does anyone ever feel comfortable in that house? Oh wait, there was that one time, in S3Ep4, when June and Serena shared a cigarette by the pool and plotted treason against Fred. Good times.

Serena and Tuello step out of the light into whatever circle of Hell serves bad party food and awkward hugs. They’re greeted by Warren and Naomi’s awkward condolences. “Fred was like a brother to me.” Maybe if those brothers were Cain and Abel. Serena replies with a Gileadean almost Bible quote, not quite John 4:24. Though it must be noted, Serena is the master at pulling out memorized, weaponized quotes for every occasion.

Naomi draws Serena into the living room. Tuello starts to follow, but is waylaid by Putnam. Tuello congratulates him on his promotion and says he looks forward to future negotiations. Is Putnam now the Gilead Ambassador to Canada? He and Naomi proved they could be trusted to travel when they made the trip to visit the Waterfords in S4Ep9. With Fred dead, the position was open.

Putnam presses Tuello into a chair next to a side table just inside the front door and tells him to stay put. Not very diplomatic. Tuello’s outfit is close to Commander wear, but his tie is a little too loud, and the cut of his suit isn’t quite right. He doesn’t quite blend in, but maybe he passes well enough at first glance to serve as a fly on the wall. Which is probably his intention. He likes to watch.

Tuello reminds Warren that their agreement allows him to stay with Serena at all times. Putnam assures him that Serena is among friends.

She was among the same friends when her finger was amputated for reading a Bible verse.

Tuello’s position is still advantageous, since he’s seated right next to the door to the room where the Commanders are hiding out. He can see the entire living room and into a couple of other rooms, plus everyone who enters or leaves the house. In fact, Putnam couldn’t have picked a better spot for a spy to sit and watch all day.

I predict Putnam’s reign will be short and come to a bloody end, hopefully at the hands of one of the many women he’s wronged.

Naomi and a few other wives cluster around Serena, cooing over her physical state. Naomi is sad to have missed so much time with her during her pregnancy, echoing Serena’s sadness when Offred was missing while pregnant with Nichole. The wives hope Serena can stay in Gilead with them now, so they can hold a lottery for who gets to steal her baby boy, the most coveted trophy in Gilead. Serena makes bland noises about doing whatever the Lord wills, then excuses herself to speak to Joseph about last minute funeral details.

She’s in that awkward position of no longer actually being a wife, while they’ve never actually been pregnant and can’t share experiences. As Serena’s mother once pointed out to her, when she tried to leave Fred in S3, Gilead doesn’t have a place for unmarried, adult upper and middle class women. Other than the aunts, and becoming an enforcer-nun in their later years isn’t an appealing choice for most women. Given that they’re always at war, there are probably many widows like Serena and her mother, but never enough men to provide the older women with husbands. Especially since the older men are likely to pick teenage wives, just like Esther’s ancient husband did. So widows are a superfluous drain on the system in the eyes of the Commanders, unless they’re young, attractive and fertile.

Gilead, as it stands now, does not need confident older women with status and no husbands to control them. Serena is as dangerous to Gilead as she is to June, but Putnam and the Commanders will always underestimate women.

Joseph admits that he didn’t bring up the change in funeral plans with the rest of the Commanders. After reading the room, he decided they wouldn’t be open to celebrating a traitor any more than they already are. Serena watches him return to the other men.

June tends to her garden of indoor greens while Moira (Samira Wiley) and Rita (Amanda Brugel) discuss her in the next room. Moira thinks gardening in the winter is weird. Rita is thinking about taking a real estate class. June joins them and Luke soon follows, carrying a stack of board games. Scrabble is one of the games.

It’s the contraband game Offred and Fred played during their nights alone in his office. June is triggered straight back into her memories of Gilead, from the monthly ritual rapes to those evenings with Fred. None of the others seem to notice or understand what’s happening. Not Rita, who was there, and not Moira, the best friend who counsels refugees. Luke notices June handling the wooden letter blocks in a daze, but doesn’t pursue it beyond asking if she’s okay.

When Rita leaves the room to check the bread she’s baking in the kitchen, June follows, taking the opportunity to escape the triggering situation. She tries to talk about Serena with Rita, bringing up how upset she is that Serena has permission to legally reenter Gilead. She fantasizes out loud about the punishments her nemesis might receive. June’s time in Gilead is still visceral to her- Serena was the one holding her down during those rapes she just relived a minute ago.

Next June tries to find a point of common trauma between herself and Rita, bringing up the time Serena slapped Rita at the end of her baby shower for Nichole, when she wanted to hurt a pregnant June. But Rita is trying to put everything Gilead- except her friends- behind her and doesn’t want to stir up those emotions.

Rita and Moira react like June is a sociopath for bringing the memory up. By the time they make her stop talking, it does feel like she’s become Mrs Bankole™️, the opposite of OfLuke, who she played in S4 when she tried to fit in. Mrs Bankole™️ tried to pass her pain on to Rita the same way Serena did after the baby shower.

In this sequence, June experiences harsh judgement and little understanding from her family, just like Emily (Alexis Bledel) appears to have experienced. June can’t even garden properly.

Back at the wake, Tuello stretches his legs in the foyer, nodding in greeting to Nick just as Lydia and her ducklings make their grand entrance. As she pauses in the light, Lydia greets Nick by name. Tuello says “Hello” to her. She looks at him, confused because she doesn’t know him, and says, “Blessed day.” Tuello says, “Blessed day, Aunt…?”

Aunt Lydia is so shocked that someone at the wake doesn’t know who she is that she drops her fake singsong voice for a moment and says “Lydia” in her normal voice. Then she sends her girls toward the dining room and kitchen. Nick rejoins the rest of Commanders.

Lydia heads into the living room, which causes the temperature to drop several degrees. She pretends not to notice and speaks to the wives at top volume. Naomi and Serena face off against her. Lydia tries to keep it polite as she offers Serena condolences and congratulations.

She escapes Serena’s glare as quickly as possible by taking Naomi to meet Esther, her potential future handmaid. Just before they arrive, Esther is busy trying to plot a rebellion with Janine, but Janine has seen enough death and is done with that. She tells Esther that it will be enough for the two of them to stay alive for now.

Naomi knows that Esther used to be a wife and hesitates to accept her. Lydia says that means Esther understands the respect a wife deserves (certainly a double edged sword) and Esther pretends to be obedient, so Naomi agrees to accept her.

Lydia wastes no time in presenting Esther to Putnam in front of the entire room full of cigar-smoking Commanders, who are lined up in a row which would intimidate any survivor-as it’s clearly meant to. Warren’s show of dominance is certain to trigger Esther’s worst memories of gang rapes by her former Commander husband’s friends and neighbors.

It’s a tough day for the failed wives of Gilead and Canada and wherever Emily is.

Naomi and Janine’s daughter Angela escapes her Martha and runs straight into Janine’s arms for a hug. (Does she still remember Janine? Maybe her voice?) Janine holds her and chats with her for a minute, then lets her go when Naomi tells her it’s time.

Janine: “You have a beautiful daughter, Mrs Putnam.”

Naomi: “I thank God for her every day… And for those who brought her to me.”

Janine smiles and nods in acceptance when she realizes what Naomi has said to her. It’s a lovely, if heartbreaking, moment between the two, after everything they’ve been through.

Back to Putnam’s pedophile den. Aunt Lydia coaxes Esther in and greets the Commanders. Putnam speaks to Esther like she’s a child, then sends the rest of the men out. Next he tells Aunt Lydia to leave him alone with Esther. Aunt Lydia doesn’t want to leave- it’s against the rules- but there’s no one above Putnam for her to complain to, so she has no choice. Esther is already terrified.

Just in case anyone wondered how corrupt Warren Putnam’s government is- there’s your answer. Commander Pryce, Nick’s mentor, would cut off his other hand hand for this if he were still alive. But the religious men, like Pryce and Calhoun, and the somewhat decent men, like Joseph and Nick, who feel women should be respected whether or not those men care about giving them equal rights, are in the minority since the Red Center bombing, so corruption rules.

Once they’re alone, Warren tells Esther not to be scared, because God wants him to molest her. He starts the grooming process with an offer of a chocolate truffle. But he ruins it by playing infantilizing games with her as her feeds it to her. Esther is back on familiar ground now and puts on her best manipulative smile.

This is the Esther who poisoned her Commander for years with a common plant growing in her yard. Wonder what else her Martha taught her.

Back in Toronto, Luke finds June tending her little garden of sprouts the way you’d care for a baby. He asks if she’s okay. She confesses that Serena already knows she killed Fred. Luke can’t figure out how Serena would find out.

How would she not find out? There’s literally nothing to do in Gilead but gossip and it doesn’t take a genius to connect the dots from Lawrence and Nick intercepting him at the border to the quote spray painted under Fred’s body to June’s involvement. It’s not like Tuello is particularly known for discretion either.

But of course that’s not how Serena found out. June admits that she told Serena herself, by way of the severed finger. Personally, I love the symmetry of it, but Luke doesn’t appreciate the inside joke.

June: “I cut it off of him. Because I wanted her to know it was me.”

Luke: “Do you want her to come after us and our family?”

June: “No. But I know her and I know what she’s capable of. And I know she has a plan. This is what she’s doing…”

Luke cuts June off: “You’re obsessing over her. You sent her a finger. How is that gonna help our family? How is that gonna help you? That is not gonna get Hannah back.”

June: “I know. You don’t think I know that? I know that.”

Luke sits next to her, sticking his face in her face: “June, you gotta be here. You gotta be right here. All right? Because I need you here and Nichole needs you here. Your family needs you and if you’re not, I don’t know what’s going to happen… to us.”

June: “I’m sorry.”

Luke: “She’s gone. She’s probably terrified of you. ‘Cause you won. You’re here. She can’t get to you. All right? So you’ve just got to let go of her, forget about her.”

What Just Happened and What Are the Implications?

First, let me note that Luke framed June’s actions according to how they would affect him and the family, but didn’t focus on June’s needs or suggest she get help for her “obsession” or trauma. By the end of the conversation, he threatened to end their marriage if she doesn’t pull herself together quickly enough to satisfy him. He dismissed her very realistic fears, calling them an obsession rather than listening to her concerns.

I won’t go back and count how many seasons it took for Luke and Moira to act like normal humans again after they got to Canada (it was when having to take care of Nichole forced “normalcy” on them), but I will point out that Luke has a beer in his hand for much of this episode, reverting back to his preNichole coping mechanism.

What happened to that sweet, understanding guy from the police station in episode 1? Turn out that ripping Fred’s body to shreds and hanging it on the wall were tolerable, but confronting Serena with the act was one step too far for him, even though he sees Serena as harmless and June as the villain? Or does June’s latest confession just give Luke the out he wants, now that he’s had time to think about what she did?

Second- what will it take for Luke to take June and Serena seriously? Does he believe the Waterford version of their story, that June had a consensual affair with Fred, just like she did with Nick and Luke? It seems that Tuello may also still feel that way, even now, since it allows him to keep Serena up on a pedestal. If June had a consensual affair with Fred, then she’s much less damaged than if she was “legitimately” raped* hundreds of times. In this fantasy Fatal Attraction scenario, June is a jilted lover who murdered Fred for obsessive revenge.

That’s a harsh way to view June, but it’s an easier view for a “normal” person to live with than the reality of what she went through in Gilead driving her to rip Fred apart to satisfy her sense of justice. In a patriarchal society, an insane, obsessed woman’s violence is much less scary than a sane woman filled with righteous anger, seeking and expecting justice. An insane or corrupted woman can simply be locked up, with no further inconvenience to anyone.

Janine acted out the Gilead version of the Fatal Attraction scenario in S1Ep9 when she kidnapped Angela and threatened to jump off a bridge with her, exposing her illegal affair with Warren. The Waterfords drew on this event and some of Janine’s other actions to lie about June having a consensual affair with Fred.

Janine was exploited and abused by Putnam. Her consent to the affair was coerced. None of the women in Gilead are able to give full consent, even the wives, because their options are to agree or face torture or death. Serena’s missing finger is a daily reminder of this truth. They’ve learned to go along to get along. Compliance with abusers or enslavers doesn’t equal full consent, even if the compliance appears enthusiastic at the time.

*According to the concept of legitimate rape, it’s not rape unless the victim and rapist didn’t previously know each other, the setting was clearly a crime scene (such as a dark alley rather than a bedroom) and the victim physically fought the rapist hard enough to satisfy other men that she would rather die than submit. Gilead’s handmaids and Jezebels are considered willing sex slaves by some, such as Mark Tuello and Chicago Steven, because they don’t meet this standard.

Third, Luke doesn’t give June the chance to explain what she thinks Serena is planning next and how that will affect the search for Hannah, showing he thinks Serena is a powerless victim and always has been. June’s contacts in Gilead are their best hope for getting Hannah back, along with her understanding of Gilead’s culture and power structure. A lot of characters are wrong about a lot of things in episodes 1 &2, but June isn’t one of them, other than her assumption that someone would put her in jail for Fred’s murder.

Serena and June are currently establishing their post Gilead, post Fred personas. Serena hasn’t even begun to discover who she is on her own. She’s still playing Mrs Waterford™️ to survive. June is struggling mightily with two conflicting sides of herself, the Warrior and the Wife. She at least seems to be done with the handmaid.

Luke’s misconception that Serena can’t touch them is just bizarre. Two episodes ago, when June visited Fred in prison, they had guards outside their house to protect them from the Waterfords’ followers in Toronto (S4Ep10). If Serena tells her followers to attack Fred’s killer and names June, the nuts will be back in a heartbeat and they’ll be carrying more than candles. Maybe sometimes all of the glass in episodes 1 & 2 represents the delusional glass houses some of these characters live in.

June provided a public service by executing Fred, but eventually there will be consequences- just not official ones.

One last note- June starting a garden in a room of her own is therapeutic, but it also mirrors Serena’s use of her greenhouse/glass house for private space and as a way to make Fred come to her on her own territory when they were fighting. Luke just came to June and she chose that moment, on her own territory, to give him news she knew he wouldn’t like. Unlike Serena, June’s garden is not in a glass house.

Speaking of Serena, it’s her turn to face her demons, in the form of the Commanders who cut off her finger for reading from the Bible the last time she stood in front of them (S2Ep13). Or a group who might as well be the same Commanders, anyway.

She steels herself and enters the pool house, where Commander Calhoun (Jonathan Watton) acknowledges her, then Putnam arrives to take his throne. When he asks Serena what she wants, she replies that she wants to talk to them about Fred and thanks them for honoring his legacy. The Commanders stare at her, so she goes into her pitch. She tells them that she wants her son to be proud of his father and she’d like to show the world that Gilead has created God’s Kingdom on Earth. Showing the rest of the world how they grieve by broadcasting Fred’s funeral globally will help change the way the international community views them.

Putnam disdainfully calls her a hysterical pregnant woman before Joseph cuts him off.

Joseph: “We’ve shown the world our fist. It’s time to show them our humanity.”

Putnam: “Why should we listen to you? You don’t even adhere to our way of life. You have no wife, no child, no family.”

Joseph reminds him that he had a wife, who recently and suddenly died. Calhoun thinks it’s worth listening to Joseph and Serena’s plan. Serena takes note of who she should back in the next coup.

Joseph: “I’ve watched you gentlemen squander one opportunity after another that could have led to more prosperity. The public mourning of one of our peers is an opportunity we cannot waste.”

Putnam: “But a traitor’s funeral for all the world to see? How will that make us look?”

Nick says they’ll look merciful, then reminds them that he knew Waterford well. While Fred wasn’t perfect, Nick thinks Gilead should honor the sacrifices he made for his country. Serena jumps in and adds, “Sacrifices that yielded a miracle. A barren woman made fruitful by His grace.”

Joseph: “And a symbol that could accelerate the international acceptance of Gilead, so that we can finally take our rightful place among the nations of the world.”

Putnam dismisses Serena so the men can discuss Official Man Business without a woman interfering, but she gets encouraging nods from Nick and others as she leaves.

Remember how excited the Mexican delegates were by the children and fertile handmaids in S1? So excited that they threw their ethics out the window and set up a trade for fertile handmaids? Don’t underestimate the power of Serena as a symbol in this world, a woman who was formerly unable to conceive and is now pregnant by her husband through natural means, or the fact that it was Gilead’s lifestyle that brought her fertility back. The show hasn’t focused much on the fertility crisis outside of Gilead in the present time, but it’s still there and it’s still urgent. It’s one of the major reasons why Serena is attracting followers again now that she’s returned to the public eye.

Serena wrote the book that led to Gilead as a conservative nation dedicated to restoring fertility through requiring traditional lifestyles and working to restore the environment. Now she’s returned from Gilead to prove that her ideas were, let’s say, fruitful. She can live in Canada and profit from marketing that lifestyle by herself. Or Gilead can get on board and market themselves to the world more effectively, with her help. Joseph was the only Commander who understood the implications of what Serena was offering who was also willing to stand up to Putnam. But Joseph is a terrible communicator on his own. He needs someone like Serena on his team to market Gilead’s message, and his own- they need each other.

In the van on the drive back to the Red Center, Esther confides to Janine that she doesn’t want to get posted. Janine’s advice is to get close to her Commander so she can get pregnant faster. She tells Esther that getting pregnant is her only protection. Esther pretends to accept her advice, but it’s not what she wanted to hear from a friend.

We’ve seen and Esther knows that Janine is wrong. Pregnancy is only temporary protection. Handmaids are caught in a terrible cycle that eventually breaks them, with either death or the Colonies as the only ways out. We have never seen or heard of any other outcome for a handmaid, except for the few who escaped to Canada- and many more died trying. But Janine is currently high on her interaction with Angela and praise from Lydia and Naomi. She wants to present the best case scenario to Esther with the hope that it will help her adjust.

Serena and Tuello wait for an answer in her hotel suite. Joseph arrives just as Serena bums a cigarette from Tuello. He tells them the Commanders said yes. Then Joseph and Serena give Tuello uncomfortable looks until he gets the message and leaves them alone. Serena jumps straight into planning the guest list. She wants Commanders from out of town to attend, including Johnson, Davidson and Scott.

Nick waits in his car on a dark, secluded road. Tuello pulls up in a second car, driven by Guardians, which suggests that Nick arranged the meeting. He asks how June and Nichole are. Tuello praises the file on Nichole and says Nichole is fine.

Tuello, looking Nick straight in the eye: “You’ve risen fast, while somehow managing to help June. That takes talent, to fly under the radar like that.”

Nick: “Just trying to stay out of trouble.”

Tuello: “Wouldn’t you like to see your daughter in person rather than asking about her?”

Nick: “That’s a pipe dream.”

Tuello: “I know you’ve got a complicated past, but America can be a very forgiving place. If you make amends, gain us some visibility, play your part for a while. I’d like to help you and your daughter. If you’ll let me. We could help each other.”

Nick, in a thoughtful but neutral tone: “I’ll remember that.”

Handmaid's Tale S5Ep2 Nick & Tuello MeetHandmaid's Tale S5Ep2 Nick Watches Tuello LeaveHandmaid's Tale S5Ep2 Angel June in the Window

Nick Is Still A Film Noir Anti Hero (And the Show Doesn’t Want Us to Ever Forget It) (And I’m So Okay with That 😉)

My S4 essay on June, Nick and Film Noir: The Handmaid’s Tale and Its Film Noir Influences

This scene was shot like a dangerous spy scene, not like a happy scene where Nick has found a way out or even a neutral scene where he made a deal to help the resistance. Tuello is dangerous to Nick, not a friend. Maybe Nick is dangerous to Tuello as well. As a rogue spy and rebel, Nick is almost universally underestimated because he’s so quiet and keeps his actions under the radar. But he’s built a network of loyal Guardians and other friends within Gilead.

Note that Tuello dangled Nichole as bait, not June, even though she was the first one Nick asked about, and deflected rather than giving Nick any real information about June. Tuello doesn’t understand how Nick works at all. Tuello doesn’t value June and it causes him to underestimate her value to the rest of the characters, whether as an enemy, friend or lover. June is Nick’s first priority and the one indulgence he takes purely for himself. As he’s said before, he needs to know she’s alive in the world, even if they can’t be together. She is the weakness Tuello would exploit to build trust if he understood his new target.

But Tuello also underestimated Nick in other ways. Nick was an adult when he joined the Sons of Jacob, a man who joined out of desperation because he’d run out of options for taking care of his family. Loyalty to family is one of Nick’s core values and he sees June as part of his family. He also sees her family as his family, since he trusts them with Nichole, while he looks out for Hannah. And he still respects Serena, which is, I think, the part Tuello noticed about him, along with his proximity to Joseph, since June is a blind spot for Tuello.

Anyway, Nick knows that America isn’t the forgiving, welcoming place that Tuello painted. He may or may not be able to get a deal.

Nick’s two bridge scenes have a similar feel to this scene. In S4Ep3, he and June meet on a bridge just before the accident at the train tracks. June is guilty and traumatized. Nick brings her back from the edge with a few words, kisses and touches. In the midst of torture porn and death, suddenly the episode is in bright daylight, showing us one of the most romantic, loving, honest scenes of the series. In S4Ep10, Nick picks up Fred during the nighttime prisoner exchange. He and Tuello don’t interact. Nick and Joseph are both cool and confident, in control of the situation, as Fred realizes how much trouble he’s in. The bridge is dark, but punctuated with color, foreshadowing the blood and violence to come. The colors, like the emotions, are clear and bright.

This scene takes the show right back into the silvery and black film noir lighting that was frequently used during S4, especially for Nick and June when Nick was working to keep her alive. The last time we saw it, Nick was handing Fred off to June for the salvaging. The harsh lighting shows moral ambiguity and the potential for betrayal. Tuello isn’t someone Nick should trust. They may be able to work together, but Nick needs to keep his distance so that Tuello can’t betray him the way he betrayed Fred. Thankfully, Nick is an expert at keeping his own counsel and he didn’t take the bait.

As June dresses for the ballet, she’s framed in front of her bedroom window the way she was when we met her in the pilot. She’s backlit and wearing a white dress, recalling angel imagery once again. In the pilot, June broke out of the haze she’d been in for years and reclaimed her name.

Serena is also backlit as she dresses for the funeral. Marthas drape her in layer upon layer of black, from head to toe. Both women look in triple mirrors and see multiple selves. June reassures herself that her handmaid tag is still on her ear. She hasn’t left her mission behind.

As Esther joins Janine on a bed in the Red Center, she notes that it must have been hard for Janine to leave Angela behind. Janine says she’s used to it, unfortunately. Esther reveals that she stole a few cookies from the Putnams. They each take one and as they eat, Janine describes how incredible it feels to go through pregnancy, even if you don’t get to raise the child. Janine hopes they can be walking partners, once they’re both placed.

Esther: “You know, I really didn’t like you when we first met. [Janine laughs and agrees.] And I was right the first time. [Janine asks “Why?”] You don’t care about me. You just wanted to see your daughter, right? No, you lied to me. You used me. Like Aunt Lydia. Like they all do. And you’re one of them.”

Janine says she was just trying to help, the way June would.

Esther: “You’re not June. You know, you’re a disgrace? And I f**king hate you.”

Esther takes another bite of cookie, then coughs it up. She also coughs up blood and says they’re going to make June proud. Janine begins coughing up blood, too. They cling to each other as they fall to the floor. Janine yells for help and asks what Esther did. Lydia arrives and also yells for help. She begs them to tell her what happened, but they’re beyond speech. As Aunt Lydia screams and begs them to survive, they pass out.

Serena waits with Fred’s coffin for the funeral procession to start in a giant rotunda. While she’s alone, she forces herself to cry over the casket just long enough so that real tears will be streaming down her face during the march. When Joseph enters to tell her they’re ready to start, she lowers her veil and takes her place behind the casket as Mrs Waterford™️.

Meanwhile, in real time, June has come into her own as Mrs Bankole™️, enjoying the ballet Sleeping Beauty with her husband and being so present in the moment that it moves her to tears.

It snows lightly as Serena leads the vaguely Nazi themed procession through the streets, with Joseph and Nick right behind her. The procession is huge and the streets are lined with onlookers, everyone looking suitably bored sad. When she reaches the seated Commanders, Serena bows to them and turns to the crowd. She’s briefly framed with angel’s wings thanks to a statue behind her, a dark angel to contrast June’s Angel of Light.

Two rows of young women in purple are brought to stand before Serena, who looks touched by their beauty and fertility. Because these look to be middle schoolers and the switch from pink to purple can only mean one thing. As the camera scans the girls’ faces, Hannah (Jordana Blake) comes into view.

The time we’ve all been dreading has arrived. According to Gilead, Hannah is no longer a child.

June and Luke go out for a hot chocolate at the city center after ballet. As they’re flirting their way through the square, they stop to kiss. June is distracted when the funeral, featuring Serena, Nick and Joseph, appears on the giant news screens above her. More and more of the ubiquitous screens switch to the funeral. Luke turns to watch as well. They watch the rows of girls arrive and Serena bow to the Commanders. By now, every screen features the funeral. June’s eyelid twitches.

Hannah brings a bouquet of white flowers to Serena, who takes it and kisses Hannah on the forehead. She turns Hannah to look straight into the camera for her close up. There’s no doubt who this is meant for. Serena holds Hannah’s hand and smirks into the camera. This is a renewal of the promise and threat that Serena will hurt Hannah if June hurts Serena’s child. June sends lasers at Serena with her eyes, but they don’t reach Boston. Luke just stares. This is the first time he’s seen video of his daughter since she was taken by Gilead.

Handmaid's Tale S5Ep2 Angel June Doesn't BelongHandmaid's Tale S5Ep2 Mr & Mrs Bankole on a DateHandmaid's Tale S5Ep2 Vaguely Nazi Funeral Procession- Wives & GuardiansHandmaid's Tale S5Ep2 Serena, Nick & JosephHandmaid's Tale S5Ep2 Girls in PurpleHandmaid's Tale S5Ep2 Serena Kisses HannahHandmaid's Tale S5Ep2 Hannah On ScreenHandmaid's Tale S5Ep2 Luke Watches HannahHandmaid's Tale S5Ep2 Serena SmirksHandmaid's Tale S5Ep2 June Watches Serena On Screen


This was one of those episodes where I felt like Guy Fleegman from Galaxy Quest, yelling at the characters, “Did you guys ever watch the show?” So many repeating patterns. Janine nearly dies every season, but will probably be the last character standing. Luke takes the path of least resistance and has taught Moira to do the same. As a Martha, Rita maintains a cool distance from the issues of the handmaids and busies herself with practical matters instead. Aunt Lydia bulls through difficult situations by mustering as much cheerfulness or authority and bravado as she’s capable of, but inside, her feelings may be very different. Esther will not passively submit to abuse and poison is her weapon of choice.

I hope she lives. I can’t imagine that this is how Janine will finally die, after they just wrote off Emily. Maybe they’ll both live, but the poison will render them infertile.

I’m not sure Naomi’s brittle exterior has ever really slipped and I find her fascinating because of it. Warren treats her terribly, but she’s First Lady of Boston because they’ve maintained appearances and soldiered on through thick and thin, in contrast to the disaster that was the Waterfords’ marriage. The Putnams have the life that the Waterfords wanted and navigated through very similar waters to get there, but Naomi stayed in her place as a Gilead wife and Warren watched and waited while Fred’s ambition was his eventual undoing. June played a role, but the Putnams also had an unstable handmaid, Janine, who brought scandal to the house. It was each couple’s reactions that made the difference. The Putnam’s got Janine out of their lives and then kept their public images clean. The Waterfords maintained contact with June and fed their obsessions and ambitions. The two couples aren’t that different, but the Putnams’ veneer of control has saved them, so far.

Hannah was standing next to Serena, but Nick was close by, still keeping his promise to watch out for her.

Aunt Lydia showered a lot of affection on Janine while they were on the floor together waiting for help to arrive. Will this be some kind of breaking point for her?

Serena looks like Queen Victoria in her widow’s weeds at the end, an untouchable icon of grief. I won’t be surprised if, like Victoria before her, she intends to remain in mourning and wear her widow’s weeds in some form for the rest of her life in order to avoid remarriage.

Does she also have an ongoing plan for Hannah and the other girls or was reminding June of her threat/their deal enough for now? It could be that Serena had her unborn son in mind when she put Hannah on those screens, not revenge for Fred’s death, which, after all, benefits both women. The original deal was that Hannah would be safe as long as June didn’t threaten her unborn child meant for Serena (Nichole) (S1Ep10). Killing Fred may feel like a threat to Serena’s current attempt to create a family, but let’s face it, Fred himself was also a threat, and Serena didn’t want to raise her baby with him (S4Ep7). It’s a complicated situation, but the reality is that June did her a favor. The real issue is whether June is an ongoing threat to Serena, since neither woman has let the bad blood between them go.

Moira, who was adamant about not becoming a mother (S2Ep7), has now positioned herself as Nichole’s protector, willing to stand between the baby and her parents when she thinks they aren’t in the right place. Nichole is Moira’s safe place. Nichole was Luke’s safe place as well, but now that June is back, his safe place doesn’t feel right unless she’s also there. Moira associates June too closely with her own experiences in Gilead for her to feel safe right now. Together, Luke, June and a baby recalls the happiest times of his life, so he was ready to put Hannah on the back burner in order to raise Nichole in peace. His priorities may have changed now that he’s seen Hannah in real time and seen the threat of early marriage to much older men that very young women in Gilead face.

Hannah could be Esther before very long. This is what haunts June.

I believe Tuello’s visit is the first time we’ve seen a free American visit Gilead. Certainly none have been given the access he had. I don’t like seeing him anywhere near Nick, who is so far one of the most incorruptible characters (Okay, other than that time that he helped overthrow the US government- but he’s reformed now! 😉). He doesn’t always make the legal choice or do what’s best for the greater good, but he follows his heart and protects his own. Tuello does not have anyone’s best interests at heart but his own and he’s all about using manipulation and corruption in order to turn those he meets into his assets.

I want to watch more of the season before delving further into these metaphors, but the first two episodes feel like, in addition to the Dark/Light Angel symbolism, June has been set up as the fairy tale Huntress (or the Archangel Michael), who is a protector and spirit warrior, leading a pack of protective spirits, whether they are wolves, thieves, miners or songbirds. Serena is a Dark Fairy or Evil Queen (or fallen angel). And Hannah is Sleeping Beauty or Snow White, coming into that dangerous time of young adulthood where her potential threatens the Evil Queen/Dark Fairy.

Images courtesy of Hulu.

2 thoughts on “The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5 Episode 2: Ballet Recap

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