Over the last few weeks, I’ve been wondering what The Handmaid’s Tale finale had in store for us. I knew the show had been picked up for a number of additional seasons, and I also sensed the possibility that it was heading—slowly and thoughtfully, in classic Offred fashion—toward an annoying, till-next-season! style conclusion.
Well, we did get something of a cliffhanger ending, although there was just enough resolution as to not be grating. Moreover, after I finished watching the episode I immediately looked up the ending of the book—which, as I believe I have mentioned at some point, I read about 15 years ago and basically forgot the plot points of (to my credit, there are only like two plot points!)—only to discover that the book itself has an equally if not more ambiguous and unresolved ending. So credit where credit is due: This book is more or less the epitome of something that should be almost impossible to translate to television, and yet it was really, really f—ing good. Emmys for everyone! Especially Elisabeth Moss. And now on to our regularly scheduled recap.
The episode opens with yet another series of flashbacks—back to the red center, where it all began. Aunt Lydia, who has really softened over the course of the season, is at her evil best, calling the handmaids-to-be “sluts,” tasing June for no reason, and administering the insertion of a tracking device into June’s ear. “You are so very precious—we wouldn’t want to lose you,” she says, as an industrial staple gun plunges something through June’s cartilage.
But now, as June walks through the gates of her house, she’s thinking back on that time and actually feeling positive. She’s got her coterie of rebel handmaids, she’s got her secret package, and she senses that change is coming. Finally. Inside, she scopes out a hiding spot for said secret package in her bathroom and is walking down the steps to her room when she’s jolted out of her reverie with a slap in the face. Literally. Serena smacks June across the cheek so hard that blood comes oozing down. At this point, I had to pause the show to check Instagram for a few minutes because, for Christ’s sake, it can just be so gruesome and emotionally exhausting.
Serena sleuthed out June’s affair with the commander, obviously. “I trusted you. I tried to help you,” she says. “You could have left me with something.” June has a huge gash on her face and she’s in excruciating pain—it’s all she can do to apologize. Then Serena yanks her to her feet, pushes her over to a toilet, and thrusts a pregnancy test in her hands. June’s having a hard time peeing—can you blame her?—but finally manages. “Now get on your knees and pray,” Serena instructs.
Serena herself is kneeling on the floor, crying, hands clenched in prayer. June, meanwhile, is bent over the tub, blood dripping onto the porcelain. Guess what: The test is positive. “It’s the answer to our prayers,” Serena tells June, when she re-enters the room, pregnancy test in hand. June laughs cynically. “You think I prayed for this? You think I prayed for a baby in this house?”
Commander Fred walks into his office that night and is surprised to see Serena there, playing with the Scrabble board. She asks him if he wants to play, but he demurs—work, he says. (It appears to be, like, 11 p.m.) Plus, he adds, you know the law. “Yes I do,” she says. “I helped write it.” Zing. She then lets him know she’s aware he’s been playing these games with June, taking her to Jezebels, etc., but that she needs him to keep his hands off of her—to control himself—so that June won’t kill herself like the last Offred did. Somehow, Commander Fred spins this as Serena’s fault; he says she was the one who brought lust and temptation back into the house—and then, for good measure, he reminds her that she answers to him. “She’s pregnant,” Serena says, of June. “It isn’t yours. You’re weak and god would never let you pass on that weakness. You can’t father a child because you’re not worthy.” With that, she storms out of the room—knocking some crap off a desk as she goes, just for good measure. I once compared this character to Ann Coulter but I definitely think she has a little Kellyanne Conway in her, too.
The next day, Offred heads to breakfast in the handmaid’s version of leisurewear—basically, a red sweatsuit version of her regular outfit, I’m into it—and Rita is very excited to see her. She knows about the baby. Nick enters, and June tells him the news, too. They enjoy a tender moment, which, frankly, I’m not thrilled about, because I’m on team Luke here. Anyway, it doesn’t last long; Serena enters and tells June to get her cloak, because they’re going on a little journey. Nick asks if they need the car, but Serena says she made other arrangements. In other words, she doesn’t trust him to drive. Soon we’ll find out why.
After awhile in the back seat of the car, Serena and June arrive at their destination. Serena tells the driver that June will be staying in the car, and then goes into a big brick building. A few minutes later, she comes out—with Hannah. June is momentarily thrilled; she thinks she’s going to get to see her daughter. But no. Serena has come here to show June the power she wields; that she knows where her daughter is, and she can hurt her at any moment. Serena and Hannah chat on the front steps for awhile, and then Serena brings her back inside. June, meanwhile, is losing her shit. Screaming, sobbing, banging on the division, begging to be let out, calling out to Hannah, who can’t hear her. Finally, Serena walks placidly back to the car and climbs into the front seat. “Listen to me,” she says. “As long as my baby is safe, so is yours.”
“What is wrong with you?” June screams from the back seat. “You are deranged. You’re f—ing evil.” She rants on like that for a while, until Serena finally turns: “Don’t get upset. It’s not good for the baby.” Then she raises the partition and stares straight ahead.
Next up, the trial for Warren, who is admitting to engaging in the sin of “lust and covetousness” with Janine. Commander Fred is inclined to let him off the hook, but the other guys on the panel are not so sure—they might even think he’s trying to let Warren off easy because he, too, is getting some on the side. Then one of the guys on the panel (Is this the guy from a few episodes who recruited Nick? Genuinely don’t know) says Warren’s wife came by and requested the harshest possible punishment—because she fears his immortal soul. Uh huh. Anyway, in the next scene we see Warren’s hand get cut off in graphic detail. It’s truly horrifying to watch. Time for another quick break to look at cute cats on social media!
Back at the house, June is banging on the door to Nick’s cottage, but he doesn’t answer. She sits down and cries for awhile, but then regroups and reroutes—to the commander’s office. She asks him for help; she wants him to protect her daughter. “Protect her from what?” he asks. “From Mrs. Waterford.”
That night, June is sitting in her room, watching the ballerina from the jewelry box spin around and around, when she decides to open the secret resistance package. It’s a bunch of letters, testimonials from other women like her. She starts to read them and is filled with hope—we see her laughing and crying, clutching them to her chest as she reads. There are hundreds of them. “Please don’t forget me. Please don’t forget us all. We are prisoners,” the letters read.
Guess who’s not a prisoner anymore. Moira! She’s in Ontario, where the refugee assistance guy is being so nice to her she is completely beside herself. He gives her food, money, a cell phone, a prescription drug card. Canada!! If this show is as prescient as it seems, everyone reading this in the United States should move to Canada right f—ing now.
June wakes up the next morning on the bathroom floor, covered in the letters. This really stresses me out. June, hide that shit!!! Anyway, she manages to get them back in their hiding place before meeting Ofglen. There’s a salvaging today.
As soon as the handmaids arrive on the scene, we know something is not normal (ha ha) about this particular salvaging. Aunt Lydia seems a little more emotional than usual. “My special girls. So beautiful,” she says to them.
“What’s going on?” Alma asks, suspiciously, and rightly so. The girls are all given stones, and then the victim is brought out. Of course, it’s Janine.
The handmaids are stricken. Even Aunt Lydia is crying. “Not too hard, okay?” Janine says, with her heartbreaking crazy smile. Ofglen, unexpectedly, is the first one to object: “Aunt Lydia, come on. We can’t do this!” “Seriously? Guys, this is insane. I’m not going to kill Janine, okay?” The guard whacks Ofglen with a gun and blood flies everywhere as she hits the ground, hard. Lydia barely stops him from shooting her point blank, and instead orders that she be taken away. But it’s enough. Janine looks a little hopeful. Snow is falling and the other handmaids stand in silence in a circle around her. Finally, June steps forward. She drops her stone on the ground and walks away, and the others do the same. I’m not really the type to be too flowery but I will admit that the word “beautiful” pops up in my notes about this scene.
Next we have another stunning scene of ladies walking down the street. Honestly, these directors really know how to knock it out of the park with a walking scene. I’m not even kidding. The handmaids are trooping down the street in a line, one by one breaking off for her house until June is alone, marching down the street defiantly, with that gash on her head glaring like a headlight.
Cut to Canada, where Moira is released from the refugee way station, only to find Luke (Luke!!!) waiting for her. He had marked her down as family, so he was notified when she was rescued. It’s a happy, tearful reunion, there’s really not much more to say about it for now.
June, meanwhile, is back at her window, waiting for the consequences of her actions to roll in. She doesn’t have to wait long. A black van pulls up to the house. “I ought to be terrified but I feel serene,” she says. “I tried to make things better for Hannah. Change the world.” As the guards come for her, Nick appears. “Just go. Trust me.” Ugh, fine. He better be sending her to Canada, although that wouldn’t make for a very exciting second season, I have to say.
Rita, crying, goes to hug June. June looks back, and Rita follows her gaze to the bathroom, where she immediately finds the letters behind the tub. Something to give her hope.
As June is led out, Serena starts calling out in protest: “What is going on? Where are you taking her?” Because, after all, she finally had her chance at a baby; she finally has a vested interest in keeping June safe. But the guards ignore her, and June ignores her, too.
June holds her head high as she walks down the stairs and into the black van. “Whether this is the end or my new beginning I have no way of knowing,” she says to herself. “I have given myself over into the hands of strangers. I have no choice. It can’t be helped, and so I step up, into the darkness within, or else the light.”
As the car starts moving, Tom Petty’s “American Girl” starts playing the season out. A little heavy-handed? Yes, but I’ll forgive it, because that was one otherwise impeccable hour of television. See you next season!
Margaret Atwood, Elisabeth Moss, and the Women of The Handmaid’s Tale
From left: Margaret Atwood, Elisabeth Moss, Alexis Bledel, Samira Wiley, Ann Dowd, Madeline Brewer, and Yvonne Strahovski.
Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale and consulting producer of its Hulu series.
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