The Handmaid’s Tale season 4 recap: five key questions after last season

Alexis Bledel and Elisabeth Moss in The Handmaid's Tale
Alexis Bledel and Elisabeth Moss in The Handmaid's Tale (Image credit: Sophie Giraud/Hulu)

NOTE: This post contains spoilers for The Handmaid's Tale season 4. Read our previous The Handmaid's Tale season 4 finale review

June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss) finally escaped Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale season 4. June is not the only person who found themselves in Canada, as her former commander and his wife reside in Toronto. However, Fred (Joseph Fiennes) and Serena Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski) are not free to roam the streets. Finally, this couple is facing the consequences of their actions. 

Actions have consequences and Bruce Miller’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s classic 1985 has expanded the dystopian setting. Season 4 is a transitional outing beyond the Canadian arrivals as Gilead’s power is threatened by American rebel forces and the covert Mayday resistance. This isn’t to say the ruling commanders aren’t going to fight for what they believe is their right to deal with the fertility crisis using the handmaid system. The next generation of girls and young women are still being forced to wear the signature red and white uniform.

Before The Handmaid’s Tale season 5 debuts on Wednesday, September 14, with two all-new episodes, here is a refresher of what happened in the lead-up to the bloody finale and the five burning questions heading into the fifth season.   

June's escape

Elisabeth Moss in The Handmaid's Tale

Elisabeth Moss in The Handmaid's Tale (Image credit: Sophie Giraud/Hulu)

June starts season 4 wounded after being shot during the daring plan to send Gilead’s children to Canada, which was ultimately a success. A farm run by teenage wife Esther (McKenna Grace) provides sanctuary before the Eyes led by Commander Nick Blaine (Max Minghella) capture the escaped handmaids. 

More torture is on the cards for June, with Nick maintaining his cover (though the pair share an illicit smooch to show there are no hard feelings). June and the other handmaids escape once again, but an ill-timed train kills Brianna and Alma, leaving June and Janine (Madeline Brewer) to continue. When they arrive in Chicago, they find fierce fighting between rebels and Gilead forces and the two women are injured during an air strike. 

An emotional reunion awaits June when she wakes as her best friend Moira (Samira Wiley) is working with a Canadian NGO. Moria goes against protocol and sneaks June aboard their boat and while June doesn’t want to leave Gilead with her daughter, Hannah, Moira convinces her it's the smart choice. June leaves thinking Janine is dead. 

June reunites with her husband Luke (O-T Fagbenle) in Toronto but struggles to adapt to her freedom as she cannot simmer the rage and desire for revenge. She bonds with Emily (Alexis Bledel) over their inability to overcome the horrors that were done to them in the past. Appearing in court opposite Fred reopens old wounds and while the Commander still breathes, June cannot find peace. 

A secret meeting with Nick gives her an update about Hannah and he is on hand to help set in motion the vengeance scheme.

The end of Fred Waterford 

Joseph Fiennes in The Handmaid's Tale

Joseph Fiennes in The Handmaid's Tale (Image credit: Sophie Giraud/Hulu)

Toward the end of season 3, Fred was arrested for war crimes (after Serena double-crossed him) and he tries to use religion as an excuse for being a rapist. His relationship with his wife is at a low ebb, but he is thrilled to hear the news of Serena’s miracle pregnancy (his former Martha, Rita tells him) and sees it as a sign from God. After June gives testimony against him, he uses what little leverage he has to strike up a deal with the American government. He will provide them with everything he knows about the inner Gilead workings in exchange for his freedom. 

When June finds out about this potential deal, she uses her connection to Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) to stop this from ever happening. Lawrence agrees to switch 22 political prisoners for Fred and June’s revenge plan comes to fruition. 

The season finale ends with Fred in the middle of a wood in No Man’s Land (between Canada and Gilead) at the mercy of June and other handmaid escapees. He tries to run but is beaten to death before his body is hung from the wall. June sends Fred’s severed wedding ring finger in an envelope addressed to Serena in a bloody power display.

Back in Gilead

Anne Dowd and Bradley Whitford in The Handmaid's Tale

Anne Dowd and Bradley Whitford in The Handmaid's Tale (Image credit: Sophie Giraud/Hulu)

Throughout the season, moves are taken to stabilize the fractured Gilead landscape. Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) struggles with several humiliating failures, including the handmaids' escaping under her watch. She is about to be retired when she makes a deal with Lawrence to keep her position if she tells him the dirty secrets of the other commanders. He uses this information to blackmail himself back into a position of power. Everyone is using someone.  

Five key questions for The Handmaid's Tale season 5

Elisabeth Moss in The Handmaid's Tale season 5

(Image credit: Hulu)

What will June do next?
The last time we see June, she is covered in blood, holding baby Nichole. She wanted revenge for so long, but will she be able to let go of some of the anger after Fred’s death? Serena is still alive, so she is the likely next target. 

What will Serena do next?
Without Fred, Serena becomes a more sympathetic figure to the outside world. Her pregnancy is excellent PR for Gilead’s methods and she already has followers. June knows how dangerous Serena’s perfect wife image is and will do anything to stop her other former captor.

How will Gilead react to Fred’s death?
Yes, Fred wasn’t on good terms with his old co-workers as he was about to snitch on them, but the optics of a handmaid killing her commander aren’t brilliant either. Nick and Lawrence’s involvement in aiding June could put them in danger.

Can June save her daughter?
Rescuing Hannah has been a long-term goal. Now that Fred is dead, will June shift back to her youngest daughter? Will she wait for Tuello and the American government to do things by the book? Nick is now married, which could impact his ability to help from afar. Also, will he have to get a handmaid?  

How will Janine handle being a handmaid again?
Janine begs Lydia to go easy on Esther (who is made a handmaid after her transgressions) and Lydia’s attachment to Janine might help her in the long term. Esther’s anger makes her unpredictable and how this power dynamic will play out is an intriguing prospect.

The Handmaid's Tale season 5 returns Wednesday, September 14, on Hulu (US) and an TBD date for the UK.

Emma Fraser

Emma Fraser spends most of her time writing about TV, fashion, and costume design; Dana Scully is the reason she loves a pantsuit. Words can also be found at Vulture, Elle, Primetimer, Collider, Little White Lies, Observer, and Girls on Tops. Emma has a Master’s in Film and Television, started a (defunct) blog that mainly focused on Mad Men in 2010, and has been getting paid to write about TV since 2015. It goes back way further as she got her big start making observations in her diary about My So-Called Life’s Angela Chase (and her style) at 14.