THE HANDMAID’S TALE
Episode 5: “Unknown Caller”
BY CHRISTOPHER HASKELL
JUNE 20, 2019
“We’re all in danger.”— Mr. Lawrence (Bradley Whitford)
The moment that baby Nichole/Holly made it to Canada, I began worrying for everyone involved. Not only is June (Elisabeth Moss) now separated from both of her children, but there is a massive target on Luke’s (O. T. Fagbenle) back for harboring the child. Even the teetering sanity of Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) worries me. We hope that her breakdown will sway in the direction of the rebellion, but let’s not kid ourselves, she’s still a villain.
Last week, June brokered a deal between Fred (Joseph Fiennes) and Serena, where Serena would return to her wifely duties if Fred let her in on some more significant decision-making. If that deal doesn’t reek of backfiring on June, then you haven’t been paying attention. This week, Fred concedes to letting Serena into the deliberation room where the commanders discuss the baby. There’s very little consistency when it comes to Gilead and its rules. One week Serena’s losing a finger over getting involved, the next week she’s invited right back in, no questions asked. Are they merely taking pity on her because the baby was taken?
Let’s also go ahead and remind ourselves that June and Fred are both using Serena for their own personal gains. As soon as June doesn’t need her anymore, she will throw Serena under a bus. The same goes for Fred once he has his house back in order. And, as I touched on with the backfiring comment, Serena will almost assuredly screw over June as soon as her feet are back on solid ground. Continuing that theme, Fred and Serena decide to use June so that Serena can say “goodbye” to the baby in Canada. To broker a meeting between Serena and the baby, they must get Luke on board. After June makes a deal with Serena (“You have to owe me”), she gets to speak to her husband, Luke, for the first time since being captured.
The title of the episode refers to Luke’s cellphone displaying “Unknown Caller” when June calls. You can tell by Luke’s initial reaction that he believes June is free. We saw a similar response a few episodes ago when Ofglen (Alexis Bledel) calls her partner after escaping. This moment plays huge, as Luke pours over his love for June, who gets straight to business as a clock ticks in her face. You can’t help but recall everything that’s happened since these two were taken from each other. You also can’t help but feel for Luke when their daughter, Hannah, is mentioned. June has seen her since they were separated. Luke has not. They set up the meeting, but Fred’s not invited.
June reels after the phone call and ends up having a pleasant exchange with Mrs. Lawrence (Julie Dretzin), who tells her that as long “the love came through” in the conversation, that’s all that matters. She divulges that Mr. Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) used to make mixtapes for her when they were younger and that she still has them in the basement. This leads June to seek them out and listen to them. Can no one hear the music through the floorboards? Or do they just not care? How are things so liberal at the Lawrence household?
There’s an overarching dread to this Canada meeting. How is something terrible not going to happen to Luke by the end of all this?
Before Serena meets Luke, she runs into a familiar face at the airport, Mark Tuello (Sam Jaeger), the man that offered her asylum on her last visit. This time he offers her civilian clothes so that she can blend in and an escort to meet Luke at the airport.
Serena and Luke have an engaging face-to-face. Fagbenle nails the emotion of facing someone you presume is evil, but that comes off as an average person. He’s edgy and skeptical. He even pushes her, picking the worst possible thing to say to someone dealing with the loss of a child, telling Serena that the baby will know nothing about her and will only ever know of June’s bravery. Serena forces Luke to take a gift for the baby, after jabbing him with what feels like a threat, saying she has “helped” June in the past. She also passes along a small package from June.
For most of this season, I’ve wondered if Serena was going to commit suicide. When she started the fire in the Waterford house, I thought for sure that she would meet her demise. Not long after, wading into the ocean, I did not believe she intended to return. Then, we reach this episode, where she’s traveling back to Canada. The writers go out of their way to make sure Mr. Waterford isn’t going with her on the trip, and I find myself praying she runs into Mark Tuello (Sam Jaeger) again, which she does, and once again declines his offer of “coconuts and treason.” Why? I hope that she has a more intricate plan hidden away and that she isn’t just turning full villain again, for what feels like the hundredth time.
The package to Luke is one of Mr. Lawrence’s mixtapes, but after a bit of “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing,” June’s voice cuts in and she has a longer message for him. She divulges the parentage of the baby, telling him that the baby’s real name is Holly and that she was born out of love between her and Nick (Max Minghella). She explains that she has needed to make a new life for herself in her current predicament and that he should too.
Serena returns to Fred, saying, “Now it’s over.” Fred responds, “It doesn’t have to be.” We quickly come to see what he means by this when June is escorted to a sound stage by Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd). Fred and Serena are sitting in front of cameras, and Serena won’t make eye contact with June, making you wonder if she’s done something she’s ashamed of or that she can’t face June about. As the cameras go live, Fred speaks about needing the Canadian government’s full cooperation in returning their baby, as they are a “family in mourning” and want their child back.
One has to imagine that nowhere is safe. If Gilead doesn’t have spies in Canada, they will definitely have their foot on the throat of someone in power that is willing to give up Luke and the baby. The bigger question is whether Serena is doing a complete about-face or if she has some other agenda that still fits in line with June’s. No matter the outcome, the last frame of the episode shows you the state that June is in as she stares, enraged, at the camera. U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” plays just before the credits start to roll, a go-to stopping point for many of the epsiodes of “The Handmaids Tale.”
June 19, 2019
Marissa Jo Cerar
“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood
Marissa Jo Cerar