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The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 Episode 5 Review: A Harrowing Cliffhanger

The Handmaid's Tale Season 4 Episode 5

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The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 Episode 5 has such an unexpected ending, I was left sitting on the couch in shock as the credits roll. On one hand, I have hope for a brighter storyline in the coming episodes. But on the other hand, I’m left wondering if one of my favorite characters lived or died.

This is a review of The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 Episode 5, and will have major spoilers for the episode. 

In the episode “Chicago,” we got a deeper look at the frontline battle between Gilead and American forces, although we walked away without ever really seeing which American forces were in the thick of the fight. It appears that what’s left of America might have devolved into factions that are struggling to hold their own against Gilead’s formidable military. Meanwhile, some groups like June and Janine’s scavenger group are simply struggling to survive while avoiding as much fighting as they can.

But most harrowing of all was the bombing that almost killed June, and the unexpected switch from Janine to Moira as the person who will be accompanying June next on her journey.

Did Janine Live or Die?

Let’s get this most pressing question out of the way immediately: did Janine live or die?

Unfortunately, this question wasn’t answered. Some people are wondering if we saw Janine at about 41:35 when a woman was helping another woman and June was yelling for Janine.


Sadly, despite the woman wearing a beanie like Janine was, she appears to be wearing a light-colored jacket with it, while Janine had on a darker-colored jacket. See these photos below of Janine and compare them:


Janine’s fate is unknown. I almost wish that June had simply hallucinated Janine coming on the journey with her, since she was so traumatized. But I don’t think that hope is going to be answered. 🙁

But I have hope for Janine anyway.

As we saw previously, Janine is a survivor. In some ways, she even adapted to surviving in the scavenger group better than June did. She did what she had to do, which included sleeping with Steven, by tricking herself into believing it was a mutual transaction and they had some type of romantic relationship. When she chose to continue journeying with June, however, it seemed like she decided to leave the fantasy behind and move forward in reality. This was something she couldn’t do in her fantasy of Commander Putnam after he assaulted her, so it shows true character growth and added strength for Janine’s character.

Sadly, this courageous decision only ended up harming her. 🙁 She told June that she felt safer with her, and that’s why she chose to go with her as she looked for the rebel forces. But just a few minutes later, they found themselves caught in the Gilead bombing that the Council forced Nick to order. Nick knew that June was somewhere in Chicago and he had confided that to Commander Lawrence. But Lawrence ordered a bombing, just before the ceasefire began, despite knowing that information. And Janine and June were caught in that crossfire.

Ultimately, we were left with no clue whether Janine is alive or dead. But after what happened with the other Handmaids, I’m just not ready to lose Janine.

June & Moira’s Reunion Was Amazing

The “bright light” at the end of the tunnel, for me, is the possibility of June finally escaping to Canada. Amid the rubble, while calling out for Janine, she found Moira instead. Apparently, Moira volunteered to provide medical care during the ceasefire to the people in Chicago who are fighting Gilead. But instead, she unexpectedly found herself face-to-face with June.

That was an epic moment for certain. Moira emerged out of the darkness, a beacon of light for June.

But will June leave?

During previous times when June had a chance to leave, she chose to stay in Gilead and fight from the inside, trying to get Hannah released. Each time I wondered if that was the right decision, believing June could do more good in a free society than in one where she could be captured so easily. Now, June may have the chance to escape again. And this time I think she has to take it. Gilead knows her weak spot. They know they can threaten Hannah and she will tell them anything they want to know. She’s no longer an asset to the fight within Gilead, but a liability. She needs to leave.

Of course, I don’t know the terms of the ceasefire. They may have to smuggle her out if they want to get her free. But I can’t imagine Moira not doing that. Sure, June may balk at leaving Janine behind. But she needs to go.

June Made a Number of Questionable Choices This Episode

Another reason I think June needs to leave is because she’s making more and more questionable choices. In this episode alone, I could count three choices she made that put others in danger. First, she wanted Steven to kill a Gilead soldier simply because they “had the shot.” Never mind that this could draw more troops to them that they weren’t prepared to take on. She wanted the immediate gratification without waiting for a better, long-term strategy.

I understand why she feels this way. They tortured her, they threatened Hannah, and she watched them kill her friends. Of course, she’s suffering immensely and wants them dead. But this also makes her a liability if she’s not thinking long-term.

Her second questionable decision was in another scene, during a late-night bombing, when she stood at a window with a lantern. Haven’t you heard the stories of villages that were bombed during World War II, and how they learned to blackout their windows so no one would know who was home and where to aim? Not only did holding a light actually make it harder for June to see outside at night, but it also made her a target.

And finally, there was the moment she was walking in the middle of the streets of Chicago, before Janine found her. This was a tactically poor decision, because she wouldn’t have had time to take cover if she heard someone coming.

However, I have to admit that from a cinematography standpoint, it was a gorgeous scene. They did a beautiful job creating a war-torn, dystopian Chicago.

In my opinion, June is understandably at the end of her rope now. She needs to go to Canada where she can regroup and work with others to figure out how to best fight Gilead next.

The Council Meetings Were Fascinating & Confusing

I won’t pretend to fully understand the Council meetings or the motivations behind Commander Lawrence’s decision to bomb Chicago just before the ceasefire. I think Lawrence is playing a deep-cover long-con, but even Nick isn’t clued into what his plans actually are.

I’m a bit confused about how this Council in Boston works, and if they are the main leaders of Gilead now or simply leading part of the continued war effort. It seems like they are the main leaders, considering that it was suggested that they bomb other areas where they are fighting, like Nevada, while they have a ceasefire in Chicago. However, Season 3 told us that D.C. was still the capital where the head of the regime resides (see Fandom’s article here.) If it weren’t for D.C.’s representation in Season 3, I’d believe this Council was now the main leadership. So I’m left a little confused about the power structure at play in Gilead.

Meanwhile, Nick is still suspicious to me in some ways. We know that he did something terrible that allowed Gilead to beat America. We know that he was an Eye from the beginning, but has now risen the ranks to leading the fight in Chicago and sitting on the Council. He appears to be a lower-level Council member who is expected mostly to just take orders. However, he still had enough power that he could comfortably kiss June with other people watching and not fear reprisal. Nick is high-ranking and possibly deep undercover, but it’s not clear how far he will go to maintain that cover.

(By the way, speaking of Nick and June’s kiss, did anyone else notice that June was thinking about Luke when she was uncomfortable around Janine and Steven? Her heart still beats for him too.)

On a lighter note, I loved the banter between Nick and Lawrence. When Lawrence made the joke about how Nick’s “heart glowed” to show him where June is, I laughed out loud. However, I couldn’t truly understand why the Marthas would volunteer June’s location to him. From an outside perspective, it might seem like June was caught every time Nick got involved. I’m surprised the Marthas aren’t at least a little suspicious of him.

Meanwhile, Aunt Lydia has also risen the ranks and is back to her former position. She appears to be a true believer, despite the corruption she sees in the men in leadership around her. But she and Lawrence have reached an uneasy truce so they can help each other out in a power-hungry Gilead.

All in all, this was a powerful and compelling episode. The ending cliffhanger left me counting down the minutes until next week’s episode. I can’t wait to see June in Canada and all the fallout around that, if it happens. But I hope that Janine survives and perhaps can escape right alongside her.

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    Stephanie Dwilson started Post Apocalyptic Media with her husband Derek. She's a licensed attorney and has a master's in science and technology journalism. You can reach her at [email protected].

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