Among other themes, such as helplessness, fear and revenge, The Handmaid’s Tale hallmark is intensity. In its premise, setting, and character drama. It can sometimes be hard to watch; we wouldn’t blame the bingers for taking a weekend off the show. That signature anxiety is taken to a series high with the fourth episode of season five titled “Dear Offred.”
The episode explores the ever-increasing tensions between June Osborn and Serena Joy Waterford and reflects the conflict unfolding within Gilead itself as it tries to get its word and ways across the world. “Dear Offred” basically grabs you by the throat from minute one and refuses to let go until the credits roll.
The episode begins with an innocent image of June pushing her baby girl Nichole on a swing in the park. A passerby compliments Nichole and comes a little too close before she begins to rant about Gilead’s joys and accomplishments. This causes her to slam against the seesaw in June, setting the tone for the rest of the episode.
We start to see June get really unhinged in her hatred for Serena Joy and Gilead; she is consumed with revenge against her former captor. She brutally murdered Serena Joy’s husband, Fred Waterford, at the end of season four, but she still isn’t done. This murder, while it sated her at the time, is now a half measure since Serena Joy is still out there. Consider June’s desperate desire to his daughter Hannahwho’s still inside the borders of Gilead with a new adoptive family, and she’s a walking time bomb.
June snaps and decides she’s going after Serena, digging up the gun she buried in the snow before. Traffic jams and June can only watch helplessly as Serena Joy lounges in support of the pro-Gilead crowds outside her window. June has to just get out of the car and stare coldly at Serena before driving off and being slammed by her husband, Luke. Luke wants to try to dismantle Gilead’s presence in the refugee city of Toronto through activism, while June wants to settle scores with a bullet.
Expelled from Gilead
Serena was effectively exiled from Gilead, as seen in episode four, “Border.” The High Council of Gilead wrapped the banishment with the appointment of Gilead’s ambassador to the rest of the world. In this task, Serena Joy is given new excavations of a freshly built Gilead “information center” in Toronto, essentially an embassy and extension of Gilead.
One of her first tasks is to create a mass invitation in the center, with a card destined for June’s mailbox. The card is addressed to Offred, with Serena suggesting that she still possesses June even though she lives in physical freedom. “She’s going to bring it here,” laments a frantic June, fearful that Gilead will expand beyond its current borders. The dread is palpable for June and us. She just broke free of that hell, and now it’s rising through the ground for the rest of us. June’s tirade continues as she wonders out loud if she’s just an automated revenge machine, consumed entirely by the need to defeat Serena.
Following the letter, Luke bumps into Serena, threatening her with numerous building code violations and threatening to shut down the center unless she helps them get their daughter back from Gilead. Serena taunts Luke with images of Hannah being better off, with a “godly” family instead of the degenerates she suggests he and June are.
She strikes a chord and Luke threatens to kill her himself if she doesn’t stay away from her family. It’s here that we see Luke’s bottled-up rage seep through the cool, rational demeanor he’s maintained since Gilead took over and enslaved his wife and “resettled” his daughter.
Aunt Lydia keeps her word
Back in Gilead, Janine slowly recovers her legs after being poisoned by her servant Esther. Lydia talks as usual about God’s way and intentions, but Janine isn’t the good soldier she was before her impending death and questions the whole purpose of the handmaidens.
Trying to keep her promise, Lydia visits Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) to propose changes to the handmaid’s “system.” Lawrence shoots him down, saying, “Gilead opens his door a crack”, and everything should appear in order. As Gilead grows more brazen and its side effects pile up, Lydia seems to back down. Lydia is a true believer, not wrapped up in the politics that Gilead is increasingly playing. There’s a good chance she’ll turn against her nation of God before the show ends with the upcoming season six.
The episode ends with an intense protest/counter-protest scene outside the center of Gilead. Toronto’s pious cry that protesters will be on their knees begging God’s forgiveness. Anti-Gilead activists shout back the horrors of the totalitarian nation. Enter a month of June armed and nervous. A protester punches Moira (Samira Wiley) and June snaps, firing the gun in the air before pointing it at the assailant.
As Luke pulls June away, they encounter a runaway Serena Joy and her bodyguard. The camera pans from June’s enraged face to the gun on the back of her belt and finally Serena Joy’s heavily pregnant body. June’s grip on the gun loosens and Serena flees to a mysterious mansion in the woods run by Gilead loyalists. The episode ends with June dropping Serena’s card into a fire, the embossed symbol of Gilead slowly burning.
The season so far has been heavily focused on the micro of the power struggle between June and Serena Joy, but seems to be getting closer to the macro which is the fight against Gilead himself.