The Handmaid’s Tale season 4, episode 5 recap – what happened in “Chicago”?

By Daniel Hart
Published: May 12, 2021 (Last updated: February 17, 2024)
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Hulu series The Handmaids Tale season 4, episode 5 - Chicago


The change of pace and journey has not phased the writing; episode 5 continues the marvelous storytelling, putting the characters’ purpose on a pedestal.

This recap of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale season 4, episode 5, “Chicago,” contains spoilers.

Any fears that season 4 would reduce in quality, especially due to production delays, have been swatted in the first four chapters. Instead, the Handmaid’s Tale continues to ride a wave of consistent, quality writing with a fine measure of direction.

Following from the more subtle ending of “Milk,” the opening of episode 5 brings the audience a flashback, showing June and Luke passionately hooking up with each other. It then flits to the present day, and Janine is having sex with Stephen nearby while June lays there, looking up at the ceiling. Then, in the distance, there are explosions. June checks it out and sees artillery and gunfire in the distance. This really is a warzone. The next day, June speaks to one of the women in the group and asks how long the food will last — she tells her they will trade some food for batteries with another camp. June wants to help, but the woman tells her that it’s “Stephen’s call.”

Getting permission from Stephen 

As proactive as always, June decides to speak to Stephen about the matter — as hinted in the last episode, June is not comfortable with this rebellion set-up.

Stephen is showing Janine how to shoot a pistol, and June watches them together, and they seem slightly giddy — June asks Stephen about the other camp, and she wants to help. Stephen tells her that “fresh meat” stays where they are. Janine explains that June is resourceful, and he should let her go, so Stephen changes his mind. On the way to the other camp, June asks Stephen if she can have a gun, but he tells her she needs to earn it. Janine tells June not to be too pushy. I mean, it’s not entirely unreasonable to ask for a weapon in a warzone!

Aunt Lydia is inactive // Joseph Lawrence consults with the Handmaids 

Due to losing the Handmaids, Aunt Lydia has been taking off command — she’s now inactive. She asks Aunt Ruth if she can be reactivated and requests she speaks to a Commander so she can return to duty. Aunt Lydia is told to rest as she’s inactive. She now has no use or purpose in this terrible world. Meanwhile, the commanders discuss the disappearance of the two Handmaids. Joseph raises the issue that the sanctions imposed against Gilead are suffocating them. They need money — he recommends a ceasefire so that they can have international aid, food, and healthcare. He wants to end trade restrictions and hit the enemies harder elsewhere.  The commanders doubt Joseph due to him liaising with a Handmaid, but Joseph states he was deceived. All the commanders oppose Joseph’s proposals.

Seeing Joseph Lawrence in a diminished position makes him look weak and useless — it’s a great story arc and good use of character development — it feels like the writers can switch the characters from power to weakness rather easily due to the hard work they’ve put into the writing.

Janine is smitten by Stephen

There’s a decision to make in The Handmaid’s Tale season 4, episode 5, as June gets rather impatient with her time in Chicago. It did cross my mind at this stage where I wonder if it’s too late for June ever to be part of normal society — would saving her daughter change what this world has done to her?

June questions Stephen’s methods on the way to the camp when they had an opportunity to kill some soldiers. They end up in a wrecked museum. Janine finds a baseball cap and tells June she will give it to Stephen as he’s a baseball fanatic — she really likes him. June tells her not to get attached as life is too short. Janine tells her that life is too short everywhere.

Later in the night, June tells Janine that she wants to find the Nighthawks. Janine believes she has more of a life again where they are now — she feels she can be pregnant and be a mother. June believes Stephen is taking advantage of her, but Janine insists she had sex consensually. June gives her a choice and states that regardless, she’s leaving the next day.

The next day, Janine tells June that she’s staying with the group. The pair struggle to contain the emotions, and they hug each other tightly. It’s been a journey for both women since they became Handmaids, so they struggle with this moment. Janine gives June a baseball cap as a way to remember her.

Joseph and Lydia make a deal 

Meanwhile, Aunt Lydia visits Joseph Lawrence; she wants to be of service to him — she has witnesses and sources to his many waves of abuse of power; she threatens to reveal all unless she reinstates his position. Lawrence does not seem phased and asks what information she has on other commanders — he wants his seat back with the other commanders and asks for a trade. Aunt Lydia accepts his collaboration, but only if she gets June in her care so she can be handled “her way.”  Meanwhile, Nick meets a couple of Marthas and asks if they know anything about the location of June — he knows of rumors that she might be in Chicago.

It doesn’t take long for Aunt Lydia to be reinstated as she’s given a group of Handmaids to look after. You can see the emotions on her face as she realizes she has a purpose again. The Handmaid’s Tale frequently shows how purpose and meaning can be a weakness just as much as a strength in the human race — episode 5 powers that theme into the story, and the theme feels like a character in itself in season 4 as the characters begin to wonder where they stand in the world that has not been kind to them.

Commander Lawrence returns

Commander Lawrence is reinstated — Nick tells the commander that he believes June is in Chicago. In the commander’s meeting, Nick brings up Lawrence’s proposal for a ceasefire again. However, it isn’t an argument, as the commanders agree instantly for the ceasefire. But in a cruel twist, they ask Nick to coordinate bombing on all insurgent fronts moments before the ceasefire. Nick struggles to contain his emotions, knowing he may kill June by coordinating the attacks — he tells them that he does not believe there is enough time to pull out the troops. Commander Lawrence gives him a stern look, so Nick agrees.

The ending

June walks through broken Chicago on her own, and there’s a sense of anxiety that fills the screen. Suddenly, she hears something and hides under a police car. In a surprising moment, it is Janine — she’s decided to join her. When they reach the location, Janine wonders where all the soldiers are — it’s completely dead. June believes that something is not right. Above them, Gilead military planes soar, and they have to run. However, rubble usurps them both in the coordinated bomb attack. As Nick feared, the attack hits June.

When June wakes up, she’s disorientated and covered in rubble ash. She can hear people in the distance struggling and shouting — June screams for Janine — she has no idea where she is. June stumbles across a war-torn land, and then, suddenly, in the distance, amongst the smoke, stands Moira — she’s part of aid efforts, so this makes sense. F**k. What a moment. This changes everything.

The change of pace and journey has not phased the writing at all — The Handmaid’s Tale season 4, episode 5 continues the marvelous storytelling, putting the characters’ purpose on a pedestal.

Additional points
  • A man named Brad offers to help June, but she’s not interested.

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