In The Handmaid’s Tale season 5, episode 8, three major twists change the landscape of the show and alter the futures of several major characters. Commander Lawrence, Serena, and June have all been working toward their own goals, some clearer than others. June’s desire to rescue Hannah has been a motivating factor in all of her decisions, while Serena has hoped to take revenge for June’s murder of Fred and protect her newborn baby Noah at all costs. Commander Lawrence, on the other hand, has been working toward subtly bringing down Gilead, but whether that’s to absolve his own guilt for being instrumental in its creation or for moral reasons remains a mystery.
With Serena having given birth to Noah, she is sent to the Wheeler home to serve as a pseudo-Handmaid, flipping her role on the show on its head. June, on the other hand, has finally received a glimmer of hope when it comes to getting Hannah back, but the end of The Handmaid’s Tale season 5, episode 8, while uplifting, could ultimately be a fake-out. And finally, Commander Lawrence’s motivations are slowly revealed as his plan for New Bethlehem is implemented in Gilead. Each of these twists changes the show and sets up The Handmaid’s Tale’s future in interesting ways. A new chapter may be starting for June if Hannah is rescued — or, on the likelier chance that Hannah isn’t saved, June may be going down an even darker path. Meanwhile, Serena’s role in the Wheeler home will test the former Commander’s wife in ways she’s never been tested before. But Lawrence’s plan may be the most important of all: The Handmaid’s Tale season 5 has slowly hinted at the unraveling of Gilead’s power structures and his New Bethlehem plan could play a key part in the regime’s ultimate downfall.
Commander Putnam’s reticence to implement Lawrence’s New Bethlehem plan resulted in his death, and now Lawrence is getting exactly what he wanted — even if his end goal still remains murky. While Lawrence gave an impassioned speech to June about his own guilt, he has proven time and again that self-preservation always wins out for him. Despite his motivations remaining hidden, though, his primary goal has been achieved: New Bethlehem will change the landscape of Gilead drastically and permanently. Allowing a flood of refugees back into the country will only cause problems for Gilead; many of these refugees presumably have ties to the resistance or left Gilead because of the pain they experienced there. They will harbor that resentment upon their return and, even if Gilead allows them to reunite with their stolen family members, they’re unlikely to change their minds about the regime.
Those who escaped Gilead will not go back easily, which is why Lawrence is so adamant about luring June to New Bethlehem. Her return would certainly indicate to other refugees that New Bethlehem truly is a safe place, but it remains to be seen if that’s really what it will be. Regardless of how New Bethlehem pans out, though, one thing is clear: this settlement will irrevocably alter Gilead and further stir division within the ranks of the regime. Ultimately, Gilead falls, in part, due to the in-fighting between various high-ranking officials and there is already tension involving Lawrence’s plan. Putting it into action will only exacerbate that tension and lead to new problems that won’t have clear solutions.
Getting Hannah back from Gilead has been Luke and June’s primary goal from the beginning of The Handmaid’s Tale, and they may be closer than ever to achieving this. With the United States military mission in Gilead looming, they could extract Hannah from the wives’ school. While June is still driven by her desire for revenge against Serena and Gilead at large, getting Hannah back would close the door on a long-gestating chapter. The Handmaid’s Tale season 5, episode 8 certainly indicates that rescuing Hannah is June’s ultimate goal, but her relentless pursuit of revenge against her tormentors hints that even this may not be enough for her.
If, and when, June and Hannah are reunited, if Gilead is still operating in the world, June will not be able to truly rest. Of course, The Handmaid’s Tale sequel book reveals that Hannah and June are not reunited until after the fall of Gilead, but the show has taken liberties with its source material before. This leaves some wiggle room for the show, but the latest developments in rescuing Hannah will likely end in tragedy, pushing June further down her path of vengeance. How Luke will handle that will be a defining factor in June’s future. He’s been more inclined to revenge in The Handmaid’s Tale season 5, but June has a way of pushing people away when working toward her own goals, and this new failure in rescuing Hannah could drive a wedge between them once again.
Serena’s worst nightmare has come to fruition as she has been sent back to Gilead by Canadian immigration officials and will now live with the Wheelers. Although she isn’t one in title, Serena’s new Handmaid-like role echoes that of June’s during her time in the Waterford home and flips The Handmaid’s Tale on its head. June and Serena now occupy positions that echo each other’s at the beginning of the series, with June serving the United States government in some capacity and Serena being a captive in the Wheeler home. During a pivotal meeting, June even encourages Serena to plot her revenge while living with the Wheelers, but she may not have the wherewithal to cope with the physical and emotional abuse June endured during her time in the Waterford home.
Serena has cracked under the pressure of Gilead before, and now they have an even more potent weapon to use against her: Serena’s newborn son, Noah. The Wheelers can use Serena’s baby as leverage against any rebellion, and Serena acting out could result in her being unable to see Noah. A child is a powerful bargaining chip, as evidenced by June and Hannah’s relationship, so Serena will be reticent to do anything that could put her at risk of having to leave Noah. Serena has proven to be strong on her own, but now that she has a baby to think about, this could result in her acting out of fear rather than pure survival, and this will add a new layer of danger to her situation. With any potential allies abandoning her, Serena’s future in The Handmaid’s Tale is bleak, and it could see her reaching a point of desperation that will cloud her steely resolve.
New episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale premiere Wednesdays on Hulu.