Women Take Back The Power In Season 5 Episode 6 Of The Handmaid's Tale

Gilead's biggest mistake is, and always has been, how much it underestimates and undervalues women. In Season 5, Episode 6 of Hulu's "The Handmaid's Tale," the queens of this dystopian chess board enter play and shake the game up right before the penultimate episode of this season.

With Serena, played by Yvonne Strahovski, living with the Wheelers, Gilead seems to be sleeping easy without having to worry about Commander Fred Waterford's widow, his funeral the last time they really had to deal with her. June, too, is not a problem: a captive of Commander Wheeler's missionary border patrol, she's about to no longer be an issue for anyone.

Aunt Lydia, too, has even been cowed, her normally discipline-heavy training methods swapped out for compassion, understanding, and something closer to caring than we've seen from her in the past. Even though she's been complaining to Commander Lawrence, he's wholly unbothered by her: it's Commander Putnam's quest for power that is a bigger concern to not just Lawrence's life, but Gilead as a whole — something Lawrence seems genuinely invested in the success of. Not for the power, but for the future generations, as he'd explained to June in Season 3, Episode 3.

But just because these women look meek doesn't make them weak. With June's explanations of how to survive Gilead to Luke woven between Serena and Aunt Lydia's acting out her advice, "Together" is a major turning point in Season 5 of "The Handmaid's Tale."

Serena is living like a handmaid

Serena is beginning to seriously consider how she ended up living with the Wheelers In Season 5, Episode 5 of "The Handmaid's Tale." Instead of June's hopeful flashbacks of Hannah, we saw Gilead's early days and the hope Serena felt in the beginning. But whatever vision of Gilead Serena had built up in her head is nothing like the nightmare of liking the reality of it.

In Season 1, Episode 4, "Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum," June is sentenced to her room by Serena for not the crime of not being pregnant. The only escape June experiences is when she goes to the OBGYN for an appointment to make sure she's healthy enough to go through with that month's ceremony. In Season 5, Episode 6, "Together," Serena doesn't even get to leave the house to see the doctor: the doctor — birthing suite included — have all been brought to her. The Wheelers have made sure Serena never has a reason to leave the house or contact the outside world.

Life as a high-valued commodity isn't an easy one, Serena is learning. Whatever small freedoms available to women living under Gilead's rules have been stripped from Serena because — much like Americans are learning in a post-Roe world — when given the opportunity, a fetus's safety will always be more important than a pregnant person's.

Now that Serena is living in the reality of the world she created, she's experiencing first-hand the horrors of it and isn't a fan.

Aunt Lydia makes an unlikely ally

Serena isn't the only one reeling from the reality of her situation. Aunt Lydia, too, is confronted again and again with the realization that Gilead is not what she thought it was — it's smokescreens and hypocrisy. In Season 5, Episode 5, she and Commander Joseph Lawrence face off about the reality of the role of the handmaids in Gilead: that they're there to make the commanders happy. Upon learning Esther — played by the unbelievably talented McKenna Grace – was pregnant, Aunt Lydia confronted Commander Lawrence again.

To Aunt Lydia and any reasonable human being, Esther's pregnancy prior to being posted with the Putnams is proof that Commander Putnam raped Esther — proof that there was sexual activity outside the pre-prescribed ceremony days.

What's important to remember about the horrors of Esther's particular situation is that Esther is only 14. When she was talking to The Hollywood Reporter about the role, Grace — who was 14 at the time she was cast in the role — reminds viewers that Esther is "still a young girl dealing with all of these traumas that she's been put through and cracking under the pressures of Gilead." Now that Lydia actually sees the damage Gilead is doing, and understands the motivations behind it, she can see these cracks and exactly where they formed.

Before leaving her weekly face-off with Commander Lawrence, he warns her to watch her tongue — a threat that she could lose it if she's not careful.

Janine finally sees some justice

Commander Lawrence wasn't lying when he told Lydia she had given him a lot to think about. But it's hard to tell whether Lawrence would've pleaded Aunt Lydia's case to the other high commanders without his eye-opening conversation with Commander Putnam.

To Putnam, having access to any handmaid at any time is a "spoil" of his position. Everyone is saying the inside thing out loud and Putnam doubles-down, not only calling out Commander Lawrence for not living like the rest of the commanders, but admitting he doesn't understand the point of going after power if there were no "spoils."

Still, these particular spoils came with consequences. Mrs. Putnam — still in the dark about Esther's pregnancy — bears witness to the waves of gossip from the other commanders and their wives at breakfast. Then, she watches as Putnam is executed right in front of the restaurant, finally learning what her husband had done. The ultimate change? "Rape of unassigned property."

Putnam's body was hung on the wall in front of handmaids who are normally responsible for delivering this brand of Gilead justice. As they watch, Aunt Lydia makes a promise to them: that they'll be protected now, that things will be different.

Janine, Putnam's former handmaid, was there, smiling. "I wish I could have watched," she admits. Our last surviving original handmaid finally gets justice for the rape and abuse she experienced during her imprisonment with the Putnmans.

Some of Nick's motivations are finally clear

Questions around Nick Blaine have been building throughout Season 5 of "The Handmaid's Tale." We've only been given a little of what his life is like now, the writers keeping things about his character as close to the chest as Nick does in the show. But in Season 5, Episode 6, more curtain is pulled back on what is keeping Nick in Gilead.

After Commander Putnam's execution, Nick returns home to his wife, who is crying. She's upset by what he just had to do and the blood on his hands is starting to worry her. Here, we finally get a better understanding of what is keeping Nick in Gilead: Rose is pregnant. Like Serena, Lydia, and even June, Nick explains that what he does — as horrible as he knows it is — is because he wants to make Gilead safer for their child. What "safer" looks like could be anyone's guess, but according to showrunner and creator Bruce Miller, Nick is beginning to not just see the blood on his hands, but care that it's there.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Miller explained that in Season 5, Episode 6, you really "feel the walls closing in on Nick in this episode," which makes the question about who Rose is and whether or not she can be trusted a bigger priority. With how much she knows about what Nick does, she'd be a frightening enemy to have.

The relationship between Serena and June gets even more complicated

Nick's pregnant wife isn't the only shocking twist to come in the last few minutes of Season 5, Episode 6 of "The Handmaid's Tale." Just as we think we're finally going to see Serena execute June, their game finally over, Serena shoots Ezra —her bodyguard and henchman of the Wheelers' — and orders June to drive them away from No Man's Land.

Showrunner and creator, Bruce Miller, told Entertainment Weekly that Serena's choice wasn't an impulsive one. Earlier in the episode, Serena has a confrontation with Mrs. Wheeler about staying single and raising her child on her own. Mrs. Wheeler is shocked, telling Serena that her baby needed a mother and a father. Serena reminds Mrs. Wheeler, "This isn't Gilead." Offended, Mrs. Wheeler not only tells Serena to go to her room — not unlike when Serena would order June to her room — but reminds Serena that her baby "having a mother and a father is more important than [Serena's] feelings."

Perhaps the Wheelers are true Gileadeans after all because, just as June's been able to in the past, Serena convinced what's essentially her commander into letting her witness June's execution. Ezra, too, falls victim to Serena's swollen stomach and sad eyes: when she asks him for his gun, he hands it to her.

As far as what this means for Serena and June's civil war is unclear. What is clear, though, is that we're heading at a break-neck speed toward Gilead's inevitable downfall. Tick, tock.