The Handmaid’s Tale season 5 episode 6 recap: what do Serena's hosts want?

Yvonne Strahovski in The Handmaid's Tale
Yvonne Strahovski in The Handmaid's Tale (Image credit: Sophie Giraud/Hulu)

NOTE: This post contains spoilers for The Handmaid’s Tale season 5 episode 6, "Together." Read our previous The Handmaid’s Tale season 5 episode 5 recap right here.

You don’t have to live in Gilead to feel trapped in a cage. In "Together," Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) experiences a fraction of what she put June (Elisabeth Moss) through back when they were a wife and a handmaid. Serena’s stay at the Wheelers has been cordial, but several red flags fuel her impulsive action when she faces June at the end of the episode. 

Director Eva Vives emphasizes the prison-like imagery of Serena's location. The house is beautiful, but its aesthetic is reminiscent of Serena’s old abode and this doesn’t go unnoticed by the guest. Serena hasn’t left the grounds since her arrival and she is surprised when the OB-GYN stops by for a house call. 

Unknown to Serena, the Wheelers have converted one of their many rooms into a fully functional birthing suite. Alarm bells grow louder when the doctor asks Serena out for dinner. The fact that this group of people operates like they are Commanders in Gilead is disconcerting. 

Serena outright tells Mrs. Wheeler (Genevieve Angelson) she doesn’t want to accept this dinner date. In fact, she comments she might never want to remarry. Choosing to be a single mother is unacceptable to Serena’s host, turning a friendly conversation frosty instantly. "Go to your room," Mrs. Wheeler orders her guest. 

It's hard to feel much (or any) sympathy for Serena, as  she has stood where Mrs. Wheeler is now; this is very much a case of reaping what you sow. Serena wants all the freedom and power but is more than happy to create a world in which others will be subject to Draconian laws. As she cries alone in her room, it's hard not to picture all the times she made June’s life a living hell. The Wheelers are trying to create their own mini Gilead and Serena is now along for the ride.

So when Serena gets called to Mr. Wheeler’s (Lucas Neff) office, it conjures images of Fred (Joseph Fiennes) doing the same to June. Mr. Wheeler doesn’t want to reprimand her for her conversation with his wife but instead has news about June. His men patrol No Man’s Land to return anyone trying to escape Gilead (the parallels to the US-Mexican border are not subtle), revealing they are the ones who scooped up June and Luke (O-T Fagbenle). 

Mr. Wheeler doesn’t trust Gilead will deal with her accordingly and Serena agrees with this assessment. She also insists on going with Ezra (Rossif Sutherland) to enact the appropriate punishment. 

O-T Fagbenle and Elisabeth Moss in The Handmaid's Tale

O-T Fagbenle and Elisabeth Moss in The Handmaid's Tale (Image credit: Sophie Giraud/Hulu)

Before getting to the episode's climax, we need to turn the clock back to the opening scene when June quickly deduces it isn’t Gilead forces that captured them. The van smells like chemicals, which is not something Gilead uses. Luke tries to break his cuffs, but June tells him there is no point in wasting his energy. She has been in this position many times and uses this experience in an attempt to guide her stubborn husband. 

Unfortunately, Luke can’t help himself but try to get their bindings off or make a run for it. The latter earns him a hefty beating; it's impressive that June never tells him, "I told you so." He eventually listens to his wife, even if he is incredulous that this is not her first time locked in a cage. Thankfully, there are some lighter moments as the pair uses humor to ease the tension. 

June remains calm throughout the cage ordeal and leans on the fact she has survived worse. When she mentions calling Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) and Blaine (Max Minghella), it becomes clear her usual get-out-of-jail-free cards are unavailable. They don’t even know June is imprisoned. 

The two commanders are dealing with another pressing issue that stems from Commander Putnam’s (Stephen Kunken) actions before Fred’s funeral. He raped Esther (Mckenna Grace) in his office, which has been discovered because the handmaid is pregnant. 

While Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) does ask if the teenager did anything to prompt this action (of course she didn’t), Lydia doesn’t sweep it under the carpet. Instead, she goes straight to Lawrence, who is less empathetic. He reminds her of the station the Aunt holds. It appears Putnam will remain free to do whatever he pleases.

However, Putnam is vehemently against Lawrence’s New Bethlehem plans and this new scandal offers a solution to this obstacle. Earlier, Lawrence says he has taught Nick how to "accept when you have been outplayed;" little does Putnam knows he is the one that is outfoxed. 

Nick shoots Putnam in a public setting as a sanctioned punishment. When Nick returns home, his wife Rose (Carey Cox) is concerned about his motivations. Nick claims he has done this to make Gilead safer for her and their baby (the way she cradles her stomach seems to confirm she is pregnant), but once again, Nick is a man of little words.

Bradley Whitford and Max Minghella in The Handmaid's Tale

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

The mother of Nick’s other child is currently staring down the barrel of a gun, but unlike Putnam, June survives another day. After confidently telling Luke they will survive this, June falls apart when they are forcibly separated. Luke is taken back to the border while June is on her way to the executioner. How will she get out of this one? 

When she faces Serena, she seems to accept her fate. June is ordered to pray and uses this moment to wish their children a life of peace. 

"May they do better than we did," are her final words — or so she thinks. Instead, Serena shoots Ezra in his bulletproof vest before ordering June to get in the car. None of this appears to be premeditated, but no doubt Serena has weighed up what it will mean to return to the Wheelers. Now the pair are at a literal crossroads and The Handmaid’s Tale has cranked up a gear. 

New episodes of The Handmaid's Tale release every Wednesday on Hulu for US audiences.

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.