Jacey Heldrich Breaks Down Handmaid’s Tale Season 5, Episode 4

WARNING: Spoilers for The Handmaid’s Tale season 5, episode 4.The Handmaid’s Tale season 5, episode 4 sees June and Serena come face-to-face once again after their harrowing encounter in episode 3, while the stage is set for a battle of wills between the two. As June has dealt with the personal fallout from murdering Fred, Gilead has taken advantage of the unique position they find themselves in. Serena has been sent to Canada as an ambassador in the effort to shore up support for Gilead on an international scale.

In Gilead, Janine is still recovering from her poisoning at the hands of Esther, an incident that has inspired a new kind of fervor in Aunt Lydia. Finally, June and Luke bond over their shared desire to kill Serena, ending with a scene that could see them go down a dangerous path.

Screen Rant caught up with The Handmaid’s Tale season 5, episode 4 writer Jacey Heldrich to talk all the latest developments, including Aunt Lydia and Janine’s relationship, that moment between Nick and June, and Serena’s return to Canada.

Screen Rant: What was the thought process behind bringing Serena back to Canada, making sure her and June were in the same place?

Jacey Heldrich: I think it all does tie into Gilead’s larger aims, which is to start spreading. And when Serena was back in Gilead, they really genuinely did see an opportunity, with the success of what those images do to kind of inflames passions across the world. Just like the pregnant woman, grieving her husband – that event genuinely did have a net positive effect for Gilead.

And so sending her back, it was the [the] best use of Serena, of this pregnancy. The commanders really took that, and it was also a way to kind of dispense with a woman that’s been a little bit problematic without un-alive-ing her. That was really the kind of driver, because I think we could have we did a season with Serena and June in different places, but I think, in this story and kind of following the arc of how the Gilead way of life is going to start spreading through the world, it was important to have somebody in the outside world kind of opening that window and Serena was really the perfect person to do that. A victim on her own success.

I have a bit of a theory that the commanders were like, « If June does kill Serena, no great loss there, » because they’ll get more sympathy.

Jacey Heldrich: 100%. Their desire to make June public enemy number one certainly helps. I think, like we said early in the episode, the Gilead commanders are not going to stand for a Handmaid who killed her commander, and similarly, Serena has been no friend of the regime when she was in Canada last season. She was giving [Canada] information, and she was cooperating before she kind of pivots back. So they recognize that all kinds of powerful women are problematic and if they can take care of each other then…

We get that moment where June runs into Serena again, has the opportunity to kill her, but doesn’t. I think part of it is Serena being pregnant, but what’s her mindset in that moment? What’s the deeper reason she’s hesitating there?

Jacey Heldrich: So much of this season is about combating the demons in yourself, and I think so much of June’s angst over Serena, which, of course, is all justified – it’s very much about who she is coming out of Gilead as well. So much of the show is predicated on this idea – Serena has reiterated this season what June said about Serena – « You don’t know what she is. » So much of this episode and of the season is June reckoning with a monster inside of her, with the Offred inside of her. And when she thinks about Serena, all she can see is the blind rage and the ways that Serena has hurt her, and unable to let go. And then challenging Rita and saying like, « Somebody agree with me on how horrible she is, » and it’s not happening.

And when she faces Serena, the person, and she sees that she’s pregnant, it suddenly humanizes her in a way that speaks to June’s own humanity that she’s been fighting to find herself. She doesn’t want to kill a pregnant woman, but it’s also important for June to know that she has the restraint, that she has the fortitude, and the wherewithal to stick around for her family, to not shoot a woman in broad daylight. When she says to Luke, « I didn’t do it this time, but I don’t know if I’m going to stop myself next time. » And so much of this episode’s journey for June is reclaiming those June pieces of her and pushing the Offred pieces away so that she can reconnect with her family and continue to live in Canada for a little bit longer.

In the scene with Luke where June says, « I can’t promise I won’t do it next time, » and then he says, « I can’t either, » that got me thinking. Are June and Luke healthy for each other anymore? We see them have sex together afterward, hate bonding almost. Are they genuinely overcoming things? Or do you think their mutual hate for Serena is maybe driving them down a bad path?

Jacey Heldrich: I guess it depends on what your definition of overcoming is. I think what is so amazing about Luke this season is he is also reckoning with his own darkness, his own rage, his own anger, his own trauma, and what he’s lost. As much as he’s been a good boy and the star husband and father, he has had so much ripped away from him, very much by Serena. June kind of gives him permission to explore that. And in exploring that, in connecting with those pieces of yourself, with that rage and that anger, that is so important in the process of overcoming. And overcoming in our world doesn’t necessarily mean forgive and forget. It can mean something a lot darker. And I think that’s what we’re trying to go through. I wouldn’t call it a dragging down. But it is a way of them reconnecting with these new pieces of themselves.

The darkness in June is not going to go away. It’s a permanent part of her, and she’s reckoning with that. And Luke has to figure out whether he can embrace that [and] accept those new parts of her. I think that’s more what it’s about. It’s more about, this is who I am now, this is who you are now, these dark parts of us, these brutal parts of us that might be here to stay – can we forge a relationship, not in spite of it, but in those pieces together. And that’s what June finds with him, is that he can not only accept her darkness but be there in it with her. And that is really profound for June and something that really kind of opens her up to being intimate, like really, truly intimate with him in a way that she hasn’t before.

Another relationship in the episode that we see more of is Janine and Aunt Lydia. You guys kind of lay this groundwork for The Testaments, the eventual turn we get from Aunt Lydia. What is it like to explore that kind of relationship, especially in contrast to the relationships between June and Nick, and these other pairs that we’re seeing?

Jacey Heldrich: So many of these kinds of patriarchal structures are predicated on these women who subjugate other women. And that’s Lydia’s primary role. And what we’ve seen of her is that she loves her girls, but she’s kind of used them all with the same brush. And the more that she gets to know Janine as a person, the more that she sees Janine’s resilience, and the more that she really comes to believe that Janine has been touched by god or chosen by god, the more she can’t deny that Janine is a person in and of herself, not just a Handmaid, not just a simple woman who needs retribution, but like, a powerful entity in and of herself. And it’s kind of undeniable for Lydia in these moments when she sees the effect that Janine has on the other girls and when she sees Janine with her nine lives over and over and over again.

It’s like, how can you deny that this person is special? And if you’re putting this special person in this system that’s hurting them, what does that mean for you? I think, true believers, it’s almost impossible to turn the tide, but generally, if you do, it’s because of these relationships that form. And I think that’s what we were really excited about with this love that’s kind of growing from Lydia to Janine. She can’t just dismiss her as a fallen woman or just a Handmaid or just a vessel for birth. She can’t. Janine is a person who can affect things. And that’s a big part of why she starts to do them a little differently.

June faces consequences for killing Commander Waterford while struggling to redefine her identity and purpose. The widowed Serena attempts to raise her profile in Toronto as Gilead’s influence creeps into Canada. Commander Lawrence works with Nick and Aunt Lydia as he tries to reform Gilead and rise in power. June, Luke and Moira fight Gilead from a distance as they continue their mission to save and reunite with Hannah.

Check out our other interviews for The Handmaid’s Tale season 5:

The Handmaid’s Tale airs new episodes every Wednesday on Hulu.