Reel Thoughts: ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ season five depicts the power of forgiveness and long-held grudges


Illustration by Elisa Huang

The Republic of Gilead in “The Handmaid’s Tale” is a dystopian, totalitarian society where women lack rights.

Nicole Markus, Social Media Editor

Content warning: This story contains mention of sexual assault and violence.

This story also contains spoilers.

“The Handmaid’s Tale” season five is the perfect full-circle television moment I’ve been waiting for.

The show follows the Republic of Gilead, a dystopian, totalitarian society that has taken over the United States. In Gilead, women are treated as property, forced to conceive, carry and turn over their children to religious fanatics who believe this process is God’s will. Understandably, the show is hard to watch, especially given today’s political climate. Nevertheless, I am too attached to the characters and their fates to turn back now, and this season didn’t disappoint. 

Season five follows the series’s protagonist, June Osborne, (Elisabeth Moss) and her desperate attempts to get her daughter, Hannah Bankole, (Jordana Blake) out of Gilead and the “wife school” where she’s enrolled. I don’t know when, or if, the pair will ever be reunited, but I do know Osborne will move heaven and Earth to get her daughter back.

The season starts with a satisfying end to Commander Fred Waterford’s (Joseph Fiennes) reign of terror. After Osborne killed Waterford in the woods of no man’s land, I was prepared for the wild ride that was certain to follow.

What I didn’t expect, however, was that the season would end with an almost-friendship blooming between Osborne and Serena Waterford, the late commander’s wife. The two hated each other throughout the show’s first five seasons, and despite my previous hatred of Serena, I found myself rooting for the duo. I also found myself hating the show’s version of the Canadian government, sympathizing with Aunt Lydia Clements (Ann Dowd) and, once again, praying for a safe outcome for Janine Lindo (Madeline Brewer).

But how did we get here? 

I struggled to watch certain scenes throughout the season, the most difficult of which involved the realization that 14-year-old Esther Keyes (Mckenna Grace) was raped and forced to conceive by Commander Warren Putnam (Stephen Kunken), an apparently God-fearing and pious man. The devastating abuse illustrates the hypocrisy of Gilead: despite its “ideals,” Gilead’s architects and devoted inhabitants are evil, often unforgivable people.

On the other side of the border, the Canadians aren’t doing much better. More and more, the Osbornes and other American refugees face hatred and vitriol from the country that promised to protect them. The irony in this reality is not lost on me, and I struggled to understand the change in the citizens of the country that welcomed Americans with open arms in earlier seasons. One particularly disturbing moment occurred in episode nine, titled “Allegiance,” when an anti-American protestor shoots at a grieving child reciting the national anthem at the memorial for her recently murdered father. 

I knew then that trouble was brewing for Osborne, her husband Luke Bankole (O-T Fagbenle), and their daughter Nichole. How could they stay, knowing they were being targeted by both Gilead and Canada?

After Bankole kills a Canadian who attacked Osborne with a car, the couple decides to move their family to a safer place. It is here that the unthinkable occurs yet again, and the pair are forced to split up when police issue a warrant for Bankole’s arrest. This heart-wrenching twist ends with Serena and Osborne meeting again on the train, as she also escapes with her son, Noah Waterford. Osborne had helped Serena through a difficult and tumultuous birth, encouraging her to keep custody of her son. 

This ending encapsulated everything I love about “The Handmaid’s Tale.” The irony, the ever-changing political field and the complicated relationships between damaged characters make the show difficult not to keep watching. 

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Twitter: @nicolejmarkus

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