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The Handmaid’s Tale season 5 episode 1: June's bloody hands set the stage

Will June face punishment in The Handmaid's Tale season 5 premiere?

Elisabeth Moss in The Handmaid's Tale season 5
(Image: © Sophie Giraud/Hulu)

Our Verdict

A strong start to the season that immediately addresses some of the big questions in the wake of Fred's death.

For

  • Elisabeth Moss is excellent in front of and behind the camera
  • Grappling with the messiness of this situation
  • Solid soundtrack songs
  • Nick's dynamic with his wife Rose is intriguing

Against

  • Aunt Lydia, Janine and Esther are absent again
  • The abrupt and jarring conclusion to Emily's story

NOTE: This post contains spoilers for The Handmaid’s Tale season 5, episode 1, “Morning.” Catch up with our The Handmaid’s Tale season 4 recap.

June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss) escaped Gilead midway last season, but she still can’t shake its grip in The Handmaid’s Tale. Anger rippled through every molecule of her being and revenge upon the man who kept her captive occupied her thoughts. Fred Waterford’s (Joseph Fiennes) death was not swift, as he definitely suffered. 

Season 5 picks up in the immediate aftermath as June comes to terms with what she has done, while a pregnant Serena Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski) discovers her husband’s fate. What follows is a tightly directed hour by star Moss that underscores the difficult journey ahead.

"All I Have to do is Dream" by The Everly Brothers accompanies the flashes of Fred’s final fight for his life as June runs the shower at home. A look of peace and a smile crosses her face, but she doesn’t get into the bath. Luke's (O-T Fagbenle) and Moira’s (Samira Wiley) concern is understandable, as June is literally covered in dried blood. June barely utters a word in the first 15 minutes of the episode, but she is giddy when she tells them, "I did it. I killed him." This does nothing to quell their concern and they cannot stop her from driving away.

June doesn’t tell them she is heading to a diner in the middle of nowhere for a celebratory breakfast with the other women from her therapy group who helped kill Fred. Dolly Parton’s "Gettin’ Happy" is the second music track to contrast the visuals as June tucks into eggs, bacon and pancakes. Yes, June bit part of Fred’s cheek off, but it is still pretty nauseating seeing her eating her with bloody fingers. Her inability to recognize how disgusting (and unsanitary) this is points to her state of mind.

Elisabeth Moss and Samira Wiley in The Handmaid's Tale season 5

Elisabeth Moss and Samira Wiley in The Handmaid's Tale season 5 (Image credit: Sophie Giraud/Hulu)

After breakfast, the former handmaids show her a trunk full of weapons and start to plan who is next on their vengeance list. They helped vanquish her monster, so picking another target of their choosing is only fair. Unfortunately, June’s connections only have so much power and it would be a suicide mission to go after a sitting wife. They call June a coward and this therapy group has likely ended.

Emily (Alexis Bledel) isn’t at the diner, so June heads to her home and is surprised when Sylvia (Clea DuVall) explains that her wife has returned to Gilead. This development is out of the blue and comes on the heels of Bledel leaving the series. It isn’t the most elegant plot turn, but it's a solution out of necessity. Like June, Emily found it hard to shake the trauma inflicted. 

DuVall delivers an emotional reflection on this choice and says she is grateful for the extra time she had with Emily. She also has zero time for June’s guilt and is emphatic that she won’t tell June if Emily gets in contact.

This conversation is a wake-up call as June has been in a post-killing daze. Yes, she is still covered in Fred’s blood when she talks to Syliva, so it's no wonder she wants nothing to do with June. In an empty public restroom, June scrubs off the blood from her hands, neck and arms with such force it's surprising her skin doesn’t break. Outside she edges toward a lake and the water leads to flashes of Hannah in the before and after. A voice off camera asks if she is okay, allowing June to confess her sins when she is taken somewhere safe.

At the police station, June tells Luke that she can feel Gilead pulling and that she enjoyed killing Fred. She wants punishment, but the Canadian authorities explain that the crime did not occur in their jurisdiction. She does get an $88 fine for sending Fred’s finger in the post and the delivery of this news is some much-needed levity (as is June telling Luke they have to pay the fine online). 

Back home, Moira tells her best friend how much she scares her; June is in agreement. It's quieter moments like this when The Handmaid’s Tale is at its best. 

A visit from Mark Tuello (Sam Jaeger) allows June to apologize to the American for deceiving him about what would happen to Fred. He lets her know how he feels as he thinks Fred can rot in hell.  

This contrasts with how Tuello interacts with Serena; underlying compassion could be read as a romantic interest. Serena is angry when Tuello tells her there will be zero charges against June and thinks his offer of protection is an empty promise. The morgue serves as the dramatic backdrop for this conversation, with Serena eventually pulling the sheet off Fred’s body, showing us the full extent of the damage. Images of the couple dancing in happier times flash in Serena’s mind. Strahovski more than rises to the emotional challenge of the scene. 

Yvonne Strahovski in The Handmaid's Tale season 5

Yvonne Strahovski in The Handmaid's Tale season 5 (Image credit: Sophie Giraud/Hulu)

As a compromise, Serena wants to take Fred back to Gilead and is buoyed by the number of supporters outside. "She will always be dangerous," is June’s response when Tuello tells her that Serena is scared. The battleground looks set between the former wife and her handmaid. 

Gilead is a distant thought aside from one scene with Nick (Max Minghella) and his wife Rose (Carey Cox). They are not intimate, but she knows about June and that he helped her. It's unclear how much information his wife is privy to. This potential ally adds a level of intrigue. 

Moss directs that scene beautifully, as she has a strong eye for the signature visuals, such as the use of sunlight and closeups. 

In the final moments of "Morning," there is a flicker of hope as June has a moment of calm with baby Nichole. Bookending the episode in the same room is a powerful tableau, showing space to move forward after she has scrubbed the blood clean.

New episodes of The Handmaid's Tale season 5 release on Hulu in the US every Wednesday.

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.