The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 was a huge turning point for the series. Not only did June finally escape to Canada and face down the PTSD scars of Gilead, but she also exacted revenge. Fred Waterford’s murder was a cathartic end to the season, but also one that left a lot of loose ends, namely Serena Joy and the unborn child she’s carrying. But with The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5 heading toward its finale, audiences are starting to wonder why June has yet to murder Serena when she’s gotten so many opportunities. At this point, even Serena is asking.
Warning: Spoilers for The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5, Episode 9 follow. To take out Fred Waterford, June had to move logistical mountains and enlist the help of at least two of Gilead’s commanders on the inside.
On the flip side, Serena Joy was delivered to her on a silver platter. This season, she was officially dispatched to Canada under the excuse of preaching the word of Gilead in a rundown warehouse with little to no security. There were multiple opportunities to take her out: The time she went to Serena’s place in the middle of the night; the moment Serena was escaping and June ran into her, gun in hand.
Most recently, Serena seemed to have the upper hand when she chose not to shoot June and instead orderer her into a car and told her to drive. But once, but once June realized Serena was in labor, things changed. June had control of the car, and she eventually took the gun from Serena. She could have taken the woman out a hundred different ways, or simply left her to give birth alone in the woods, where she would have likely died.
And yet, she did not. Instead, June helped Serena give birth to a healthy baby boy, Noah. When Serena asked why June hadn’t taken any of those opportunities to kill her after she’d so joyously run Fred into his grave, June said with a shrug, “I didn’t want to.”
Fans have long known that June and Serena have a complicated relationship, but the crucial flashback that happens during this episode really helps drive it home: It was a memory when June was a handmaid newly assigned to the Waterfords. She and Serena were attending a birthing ritual in which a handmaid labored to bring a baby into the world, while the wife of the household, the baby’s “mother,” pretended to be the one in labor. June and Serena shared a funny look, acknowledging the ridiculousness of the whole situation but playing their parts anyway.
But then things went wrong. There was a complication with the birth, and doctors were called in to operate on the handmaid to get the baby out of her. Tthe wives were ushered from the room, making no move to save the handmaid’s life. Meanwhile, June stood helplessly while the handmaid died bringing the baby into the world, something Aunt Lydia dismissed as “God’s will.”
That memory drove June back to help Serena give birth. She would not be like those in Gilead, refusing to see women as people. She wouldn’t take Noah from Serena either; she insisted on taking mom and baby to the hospital, even though both women would agree Serena did not deserve her kindness.
Or would they?
June’s flashback ended in a singular moment as she exited the room after the handmaid’s body was rolled away. The wives were cooing at the baby, the person who birthed the child already forgotten. But not Serena. She stood toward the back of the group, her eyes silently asking what happened to the handmaid. June just shook her head slightly.
Serena Joy may have been a part of building Gilead, but there was always something inside her that remembered women were not merely vessels. Like June, she knew they were people with desires, lives, and ambitions beyond just staying home with their kid all the time, even if she pretended otherwise. And that’s perhaps why, at the heart of it, June didn’t kill Serena. Maybe she always knew this was one worth saving.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 5 continues Wednesdays on Hulu.