Season 5, Episode 5 Of The Handmaid's Tale Finally Gives Fans A Glimpse Of Gilead's Early Days

There are dangers in romanticizing the past. If you can't look at it clearly, can't take accountability for your hand in how your life got to this point, you're just going to be doomed to repeat the cycle. Unfortunately for Serena Waterford, this cycle she's found herself caught up in had a significant role shift for her; she's the pregnant woman this time and, in Season 5, Episode 5 of "The Handmaid's Tale," called "Fairytale," she learns exactly what being pregnant under Gilead's rules means.

In case you've forgotten the smaller details of the "The Handmaid's Tale" storyline: when we met Serena in Season 1, she was the meek wife of a commander June thought may have been powerful. As nice and warm as Serena could act, however, we learned quickly how dark Serena could be — especially if she didn't get her own way. "Don't mistake my meekness for weakness," she had warned.

The only time June had been safe from Serena's physical wrath had been when she was pregnant with Nichole. Like we heard Janine tell Esther in Season 5, Episode 2 and heard again from the young guardian in Season 5, Episode 5: If you're a woman in Gilead, the time you'll be treated the best is if you're pregnant.

The best, Serena is learning, is all about what's best for the child inside of her. Her own wants and needs — her autonomy — are pushed aside in ways that, for her, she probably couldn't have imagined.

Serena's living like a handmaid now

Throughout all seasons of "The Handmaid's Tale," we've gotten glimpses of the past. We've seen June's full story, from when she was taken to how she ended up at the Waterford's, in chopped up flashbacks in the early seasons. Other characters' stories have been filled out, too: Moira's, Emily's, and we've even had a taste of Aunt Lydia's. Serena and Fred Waterford, however, remain question marks.

One flashback of Serena's we did see was in Season 2, Episode 6, "First Blood." Serena is giving a speech at a university campus when it's suddenly shut down due to protestors. After giving a rousing speech about how women need to embrace their "biological destiny," she's shot in the abdomen. Up until Season 5, Episode 5, this gunshot wound was understood as the reason Serena couldn't have children. Not that Fred could have gotten anyone pregnant — until now, allegedly.

As Serena spends a morning reminiscent of one June would have spent in the Waterford home in Gilead, down to being so touched-starved the feeling of running your hand down a wooden bannister feels like a hand on flesh. She eats a huge breakfast made by Martha and talks about nothing of substance with Mrs. Wheeler.

But the more time she spends locked inside the Wheeler's, the more she relives the early days of Gilead and her own journey with fertility — something that is still very much a problem for the rest of the world. 

Serena's flashbacks reveal shocking information about the origins of the handmaid system

Serena and the women of Gilead aren't the only ones struggling with trying to get pregnant. As we're being reminded by the gathering group of supporters for Serena and Gilead, getting pregnant is rare everywhere. It's why the children were displayed for the world to see during Fred's live-streamed funeral.

So it makes sense that, after being bombarded with the awe and wonder of Mrs. Wheeler's friends as they worshiped at the altar of her swollen stomach, Serena be pulled back to the days she, too, had hoped pregnancy would happen for her.

In the memory, Serena and Naomi Putnam are at a medical center outside the rooms holding the children of "unfit" mothers. When it comes to adopting the children, Naomi is apprehensive, preferring to have her own child instead. "You never know where they come from, or who they come from, do you?" she says to Serena. Serena, too, doesn't seem super thrilled with the idea of adopting and asks Naomi if she's been told about the handmaids and if she's going to take one on.

The idea of women given a choice about anything in Gilead is laughable, especially when it comes to what men want from them. Chances are, this was one of those "choices" where no matter what their wives say, the husbands were going to get what they wanted. For Naomi and many others, it's easier to shrug, accept, and obey. 

Was Serena actually able to get pregnant this whole time?

In Serena's flashback, she tells Naomi she wasn't going to bring on a handmaid yet: she and Fred were going to keep trying because she believed God would still bless them. Maybe what we're seeing are hazy, golden memories in a romanticized version of her past that show how she's always seen thingsm that she is doing God's work, that she is good, and what she is doing is right.

But in a technique we've seen in previous episodes in this season of "The Handmaid's Tale," Serena's framing in her flashback is very much to the left while Naomi is firmly on the right — sign of where they actually fall on the good versus evil scale. As idealistic as Serena wants to believe she was, it's hard not to see the already out-of-control obsession with babies.

Yvonne Strahovski, who plays Serena, doesn't think her character's intentions are evil, but the way she follows through on her wants is problematic to say the least. "She wanted to inspire women to really embrace their biology and focus on babies, and staying at home, and staying healthy, and babies, babies, babies," Strahovski told Vanity Fair. What Gilead turned into is something she believes Serena never wanted.

So the question still remains: How did Serena get pregnant, or by who, considering her gunshot wound and Fred's sterility? If Serena's child is discovered to not be Fred's, things can get much worse very quickly.

Serena is realizing the reality of her situation in Season 5

How much worse things can get for her is something Serena is starting to understand by the end of Season 5, Episode 5 of "The Handmaid's Tale." From the beginning to the end of the episode, Serena lives out a day that mirrors one of June's back when she was Offred, but for more reasons than just how Mrs. Wheeler and the house staff interact with her.

In the beginning of the episode, Serena asks Ezra, her bodyguard, if she'd be able to talk with Mr. Wheeler to thank him. Ezra says it probably won't happen — Mr. Wheeler is a busy man. Later, Serena is told not to go outside the gates — not even to talk to supporters — because, Ezra explains, they need to keep her safe.

These safety measures also include bringing Serena's OBGYN to her, as well as putting a whole birthing suite inside the old Victorian-style mansion the Wheeler's live in. Plus, Serena won't have to trouble herself with any of the diplomatic duties she still very much wants to take on: A phone call with Commanders Lawrence and Putnam let Serena know exactly how little power she actually has.

By the end of the episode, Serena's been denied a cell phone, being able to leave the house for literally anything, and has had everything she's cared about taken away from her — except her child.