The Handmaid’s Tale season 5, episode 8 recap – “Motherland”

By Adam Lock
Published: October 26, 2022 (Last updated: January 27, 2024)
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More powerful performances and gripping twists as the two mothers battle for their children’s futures, while Bradley Whitford steps it up a gear, providing a vulnerability and regret to his portrayal of Commander Lawrence that is award-worthy.

We recap the Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale season 5, episode 8, “Motherland,” which contains spoilers.

The Handmaid’s Tale has spent the majority of its fifth season focusing on two rival mothers – Serena and June. In “No Man’s Land,” these two enemies finally met once again, and both defied expectations. Serena chose to save June’s life and June returned the favor, sparing her nemesis so that a new-born baby could live with its mother. In “Motherland” these two mothers find themselves battling to keep their baby (in Serena’s case) or to be reunited with their child, in June’s. Episode eight explores themes of motherhood and the motherland in another outstanding instalment.

The Handmaid’s Tale season 5, episode 8 recap

It feels like a little bit of time has passed since the last episode. Serena continually calls June’s household from the Immigration Detention center, whilst protestors march the streets of Toronto, calling for change. Canadians have grown weary of the Gilead refugees pouring into their country and want them out. Of course June and her family can be categorized under this banner and find angry mobs walking up and down their street. Commander Lawrence is fully aware of this bubbling tension and has a plan in place to capitalize on the current political climate.

Lawrence has constructed a safe haven, which he calls New Bethlehem. An island for the refugees to inhabit so that they can be away from the protestors in Canada and closer to their families in Gilead. He doesn’t struggle convincing the other Commanders to agree to his proposal, but getting citizens to move there may be a trickier task. Lawrence wants June to be the first refugee to come aboard, in the hopes of inspiring others to follow.

Meanwhile, Serena’s worst fears have come true and her baby son Noah has been left with the deranged Wheeler family. She breast pumps in prison, with Alanis routinely visiting to collect the bottles of milk for Noah. Serena tries to apologize for her actions, but this just allows Alanis the chance to label her as crazy. Alanis talks about Noah crying too much and she informs the mother that they are trying the cry-it-out method on a one-month-old, which is pure insanity. Serena is distraught, yet she has absolutely no power over these outcomes whilst incarcerated.

The protestors start to become more aggressive, leaving graffiti on the pavements and speeding by in their cars. June’s family have never wanted to leave Canada more than they do right now and Lawrence’s New Bethlehem scheme seems like a perfectly-timed masterstroke. Coincidence or not, June meets with Lawrence to discuss this opportunity. She thinks he’s crazy at first, but the option to spend time with Hannah cannot be ignored and June slowly starts to come around. From Lawrence’s point of view this is a skilled political maneuver, as well as a chance to build upon his earlier work and make a real change.

After planting a seed in June’s mind, Commander Lawrence then pays Serena a visit too. He wants her to live with the Wheelers again, under their supervision. Serena is appalled by the suggestion, arguing that they are trying to steal her baby. Lawrence counteracts, stating that they have the legal status to care for Noah, Serena has no other options. She is adamant that she will not be a handmaid though. It’s the most ironic of subplots, Serena becoming the handmaid that she once belittled. But it all just goes to show the power of Yvonne Strahovski’s performance, we still feel sorry for her after all these sins.

While June weighs up the pros and cons of moving back to Gilead, her close allies all chip in with their own thoughts and feelings on the matter. Tuello is quick to dissuade her, concerned that she could be trapped there if she goes. Rita offers her advice, stating that she would do anything to be reunited with her own child, which goes some way to convincing June. And finally, in another bout of irony, it is Serena who provides June with the final ammunition to make her decision.

June finally accepts Serena’s call and visits her at the center. They discuss New Bethlehem and Serena practically begs for June’s assistance. June refuses to get involved though, telling her enemy that she hasn’t forgiven her for what she did and reminding her that she only saved her life for Noah’s sake. Serena asks how she is expected to live in a house with a woman who is trying to steal her baby, providing even further irony to the situation. June responds by giving Serena the advice that she followed herself, pretend to be the perfect handmaid on the outside, plot your revenge on the inside. June concludes by stating that you can’t help your child unless you are there with them. The realization sinks in fast, June needs to move back to Gilead.

The ending

June’s mind is practically made up, but Luke is still unconvinced. She heads back to Lawrence, hoping he can dangle one last carrot to persuade Luke to change his mind, but he provides no good answers. Lawrence admits that he is aware of the horrors that go on in Gilead, but wants to use New Bethlehem as a way to create a better future. Lawrence confesses that if this new idea doesn’t work, he’ll probably end up killing himself. Here, Bradley Whitford really comes into his own, lifting the veil on a sarcastic leader and showing the inner turmoil beneath.

Possibly working as a final lure, June is sent a disc containing recent footage of Hannah. It’s only a few seconds long, but the parents are floored. They replay the video over and over again. For June this is the final push she needed, the mother demands that they go back, but Luke still isn’t swayed. An emotional argument follows as June fully makes up her mind and Luke regrettably concedes. He realizes that he is going to have to watch his wife leave him once again.

Serena takes June’s advice and returns to the Wheeler’s house. She plays her submissive role well and apologizes to the couple. Alanis remarks that Serena isn’t fit to be a mother and she has to just bite her tongue and take it. You can see how she squeezes her fist tight, battling to keep control of her emotions. Serena hears her baby cry and runs up the steps to his bedroom. She holds Noah after days apart and quickly feeds him, lost in the moment.

Luke obsesses over the footage for the next few days and shows Moira the disc. She has a brainwave, what if the data within the CD can be traced? They pass it on to Tuello and he promises to throw everything he’s got at this new plan of attack. June and Luke’s prayers are answered, the idea works. Tuello calls up June to confirm that they have Hannah’s location, they are now one step closer to finding their daughter.

What did you think of The Handmaid’s Tale season 5, episode 8? Comment below.

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