The Handmaid's Tale season 5 episode 4 offers fresh intrigue

Shots are fired in this battle between the former handmaid and wife.

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

What to Watch Verdict

A well-paced episode that moves the story and characters forward while offering up some intriguing developments.

Pros

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    *June and Luke are on the same page

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    *June attempts to explore her anger issues

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    *Seeing Serena look unnerved at the end of the episode

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    *Ann Dowd and Bradley Whitford sharing a scene

Cons

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    *Some slightly contrived moments

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    *Underutilizing Moira

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    *Tuello is a disappointment

NOTE: This post contains spoilers for The Handmaid’s Tale season 5, episode 4, “Dear Offred.” Read our previous The Handmaid’s Tale season 5 episode 4 recap.

Anger has understandably been a dominant emotion experienced by all who have escaped Gilead. June’s (Elisabeth Moss) rage isn’t as pronounced as it once was, but it still rises quickly. One trigger is Serena (Yvonne Strahovski), and the back-and-forth between the two women cranks up another gear in “Dear Offred.” It is an episode exploring whether the capacity for change exists and if Serena poses an existential threat in Canada. While the answer to both questions is unclear, it is a well-paced outing that shows every main character negotiating their role in this troubled world.

The episode opens with a stranger approaching June in public while she is nonchalantly pushing Nichole on the swings. “You’re so lucky you were in Gilead” is not the best way to appeal to June, and it gets ugly fast. Nichole is considered a miracle to this woman who lost two pregnancies, and June is the “slut” who doesn’t deserve her. June snaps and pushes the stranger. June makes it sound worse in her therapy session than we see, but she is clearly afraid that she cannot control her short fuse.

Later, when Tuello stops by to tell them Serena is no longer in his custody, her fury takes a different shape. She reiterates her fear that Gilead is gaining control, but Tuello claims Serena has no power or rights here. “God, you’re such a f***ing disappointment,” she tells him. Tuello represents all the red tape and doing things the right way, so his only answer is that her expectations are unrealistic. He has a point, but also, he is ineffectual and a frustrating presence.

Elisabeth Moss in The Handmaid's Tale

(Image credit: Sophie Giraud/Hulu)

Luke (O-T Fagbenle) plans to shut down the Gilead Information Center for building code violations, which sounds like it will take a long time. June switches from frantic to calm, but she has a plan involving the gun she secretly buried in the garden. Unfortunately, mud has jammed the trigger, making it a useless weapon until it can be cleaned. All she can do is stare at her enemy, a simple act of intimidation that Serena knows how to one-up. 

All it takes is two words to twist the knife. A note announcing the Gilead center's opening addressed to “Dear Offred,” which has the desired destabilizing effect. “What if this is who I am now?” June asks Moira (Samira Wiley) after this correspondence sends her spiraling. Moira points out that a lot has changed since the premiere episode; she is no longer afraid to leave June alone with Nichole. 

Despite this shift, killing Serena consumes June’s every thought, and by a contrived set of circumstances, she ends up face to face with the woman she loathes. Unlike with Fred in the woods, there is hesitation, and even though June previously told Serena she hopes her baby will die inside her, she cannot be the one who pulls the trigger. Or at least she can’t at the moment. In the aftermath, June has a welcome heart-to-heart with Luke, revealing they are on the same page for once. 

How did Luke end up on Team Let’s Kill Serena? First of all, his building codes plan isn’t as much of a long shot as it first appears. By the end of “Dear Offred,” the short-lived Gilead PR scheme is dead in the water, and Serena finds herself in a secret location. Luke does have a conversation with his wife’s former captor, and Serena pushes his buttons too. She questions his manhood and why he didn’t try to rescue his daughter before noting that June at least had Nick’s (Max Minghella) when she was in Gilead. It temporarily flusters him but cements his desire to kill Serena. This Luke is very different from the one to who June returned last season.  

Yvonne Strahovski in The Handmaid's Tale

(Image credit: Sophie Giraud/Hulu)

Serena doesn’t let it show that she is intimidated by anyone, but the look of fear on her face when she runs into Luke and June is visceral. A skirmish outside the center between pro and anti-Gilead supporters (in which an underutilized Moira is struck) leads to Serena's exit from her brief cultural center tenure. Still, her security detail is lucky June hesitated. 

Watching Serena smugly navigate her new surroundings while she harbors some discontent is an interesting juxtaposition. The call with Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) shows her attempts at pushing back at the narrow parameters the Commanders have laid out. She seems relatively at ease when negotiating with this familiar figure. However, she looks genuinely concerned about where she ends up after the scare at the center. 

A monogrammed gate suggests opulence, and Serena is greeted enthusiastically by Gladys, aka Mrs. Ryan Wheeler (Genevieve Angelson). This stranger talks more to Serena’s stomach than her face, which is a red flag even for the woman who loves Gilead. 

Serena’s arrival intercuts with June and Luke physically reconnecting, which is somewhat jarring (ditto the cover version of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”). The best moments of “Dear Offred” involve this evolving dynamic between the couple and Serena, as it is no longer an entirely predictable conflict. 

Ann Dowd in The Handmaid's Tale

(Image credit: Sophie Giraud/Hulu)

One thing Lawrence told Serena not to do was provoke June. Her note card taunting shows how little stock she put in his opinion. Lawrence is also trying to keep a handle on the handmaid program, which has recently gone off the rails. Lydia (Ann Dowd) agrees it needs to change, but he barely entertains her suggestion that the girls should no longer get posted because the commanders would never go for this reform. Two-handers between Whitford and Dowd are always a treat, and this is no exception. 

Lydia resorts to a different tactic to try and placate the despondent Janine (Madeline Brewer). Far from blaming Esther (Mckenna Grace) for attempting to kill her, she instead points the finger at Lydia for not listening to her about Esther’s trauma. It isn’t June’s influence that is the issue; it is the system that treats these young women like disposable objects. Janine has been through more than most, and this recent incident profoundly impacts Aunt Lydia.

Not that it can make up for the horrors she has enacted or that she is an active participant in this brutal society, but it is a step in the right direction. Change is slow, but The Handmaid’s Tale season 5 proves it is possible in an episode that redraws battle lines.

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.