/ 19 November 2022

One Show, TwoTakes: ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ (Season 5)

Handmaid's Tale Season 5cr: Hulu
Handmaid's Tale season 5 CR: Hulu

Kicking off its penultimate season, the Hulu original series The Handmaid’s Tale returned with a gut wrenching two-episode season premiere for its fifth season. We are immediately thrust into the cold war brewing between Serena Joy and June Osbourne, taking place across international turfs — in light of June’s escape to Canada while Selena is still in Gilead. The disdain between the two is palpable at every turn, due to the happenings of season four, when June masterminded the brutal killing of her captor and tormentor, Commander Waterford, much to the heartbreak of Selena, his widow and partner in numerous crimes committed in Gilead.

Even though June has achieved a lot, there’s still a void inside her. She may have managed to escape, and dealt her captor a cathartic death, but she is struggling to lean into her purpose now that she has reunited with her husband and younger child. Most importantly, she is still trying to find her daughter Hannah, who remains in the hands of the surviving Waterfords.

If the two episodes are anything to go by, this season of The Handmaid’s Tale is going to be an epic showdown between two women at loggerheads, both with unrelenting spirits. Serena’s mind games are in full view when she manages to have her husband’s funeral televised in order to ensure that June sees it. Knowing that June is viewing the funeral procession, she taunts her by menacingly kissing Hannah on the forehead. Serena is hauntingly sinister as she hovers around clad in funereal black garb, with eyes piercing each time she gazes into the distance. 

A subplot emerges that looks at how June will navigate the position she occupies when it comes to how the other women in Gilead view her. The women who helped her exact her revenge by joining in her killing of Commander Waterford also have expectations. The same way they helped her, they expect her to be involved in their cause as well. And this puts June in a predicament, where we now have to ask ourselves whether June was solely concerned with her own emancipation or that of everyone who was dealt the same cards as her. 

The internal conflict June is faced with, as well as the arresting exploration of the feud between her and Serena, are what will serve as the livewire for this season. While the show itself may never reach the blistering fever pitch of the early seasons, it still has great dramatic storytelling that is both compelling and engaging. With season six being the final season to conclude the Margaret Atwood television adaptation, season five will do well in developing the breadth of the story in order to reach a fully explored, fitting and unrushed conclusion to the dystopian tale.

  • Sekese Rasephei 

The Handmaid’s Tale is hardly a show that creates a sense of relief when watching and usually requires viewers to prepare themselves for traumatic and often triggering scenes that unfold from the perspective of the main character, June Osborne, played by the impeccable Elizabeth Moss. By season three I was personally ready to tap out of the series; the slow and indulgent cinematography had felt played out and it felt like no change of pace was on the horizon. But by the end of season four I was happy I stuck it out, because in its finale the viewer is given the opportunity to thirst for revenge as much as June, while we watch her and a handful of other handmaids brutally murder Fred Waterford, one of the founding fathers of Gilead. Season five is no different, the change of pace is welcome, and like the previous seasons, Elizabeth Moss’ acting is top-notch.

The opening scene is powerful. June and a group of other freed handmaids had just returned home from killing Fred Waterford. The murder, we find out later, took place on “No Man’s Land” and since Canada and the fictional country of Gilead are in an ongoing dispute as to who owns it, there will be no punishment for the murder. After the murder June is in a state of euphoria… or is she manic? For the rest of the first episode, one is not sure how to answer this question, because the truth is, both could be true. June is a martyr, and she also just returned from a country where everything you do as a woman and as a handmaid is reason for punishment. So when she turns herself in, only to be told that there will be no punishment, she almost seems disappointed. This scene and this realisation sets the tone for the first couple of episodes in this season. What is morality? Who gets to judge our actions and if the law has no interest in punishing us for a crime against humanity, is it enough to punish ourselves?

Serena Joy Waterford, widow of Fred, seeks out her own form of revenge, returning to Gilead to bury her husband, and using her influence to ensure that Fred’s funeral is broadcast on all international channels. She smirks knowingly into the camera when Agnes, June’s daughter and formerly known as Hannah, hands her flowers.

Serena knows June killed Fred, and wants revenge. She also understands the power of performance and with her return to Gilead, she makes every effort to perform her way back into the Gilead society. Season five is a rollercoaster of emotions. What would you do in any of the situations on screen? What would you do when your values and reality clash? What is the meaning of justice? And how is this a fictional series when the themes explored are no different to the lived realities of millions of women and gender-diverse folks around the globe?

  • Kim Windvogel