Spoiler alert! The following contains details of "The Handmaid's Tale" Season 2 finale, "The Word."
Now we're getting somewhere.
After two seasons of consistent (and darkly-lit) suffering, "The Handmaid's Tale" takes a big swing in its Season 2 finale.
June (Elisabeth Moss) escapes her oppression in the Waterford house, but declines to leave across Gilead's border. Instead, she stays in the country, presumably to find her eldest daughter Hannah, and help with some kind of resistance.
It's at times both a frustrating and gratifying way to end a downer of a season that couldn't quite match up to the heights of the first. Moving beyond Margaret Atwood's novel as source material, "Handmaid's" has floundered a bit, trying to tell a story about June that moves forward, yet doesn't take her too far.
The finale marks a prime example of that problem. As much as we want June to be happy and leave this dystopian hellscape, the show won't go on with a happy June raising her new baby in Canada. The meat of the story is her struggle against Gilead, but it finally looks as though she can do more than suffer in semi-silence. If June is going to stay and fight, I want to see an actual fight in Season 3.
The finale also finds Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski), who has slowly been evolving away from her pro-Gilead worldview, admitting that the world she helped build was not suitable to raise a child. Eden's (Sydney Sweeney) death in last week's episode has affected her deeply, and when June finds a Bible with Eden's notes scrawled in it, questioning the word of God and Gilead, Serena appeals to the other wives about their children's futures. They go, as a group, to the commanders in session and propose lifting prohibitions on women from reading. Serena goes so far as to read out the first lines of the Bible in the chamber.
It's all nicely empowering until Fred (Joseph Fiennes) has the guardians take Serena away and cut off her finger. He follows the letter of the law, sure, but also puts his wife "in her place" after she has resisted him all season. Above all, Fred wants to be a patriarch, the undeterred king of a household of obedient and loving women.
Serena once gave him that, but Gilead's continued oppression and June's influence has changed her. Broken and disheveled, Serena sees June creeping out of the house with the baby and doesn't stop the handmaid. Serena doesn't want baby Nicole/Holly to grow up in Gilead any more than June does.
Rita (Amanda Brugel) and a network of Marthas facilitate June's escape, passing her and the baby from house to house, under and over fences. It's a thrilling sequence that, far better than last year's "I'm sorry, Aunt Lydia" bit, shows the infallibility of the women of Gilead and their quiet resistance. June takes a picture of Hannah with her and carves "Nolite te bastardes carborandorum" (don't let the bastards get you down) in her room in the Waterford house, just in case they didn't get the message that she won't be held down by Gilead.
Eventually, she reaches a tunnel where Emily (Alexis Bledel) abruptly appears. The season's most traumatized character moved to a weird posting last week, and her new commander (Bradley Whitford) seemingly locked his mentally-ill wife away and refused to do the "ceremony," raping Emily. Emily took advantage of being unnoticed in the house to steal a knife from the kitchen, and when Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) comes to check on her, Emily stabs her in the back and pushes her down the stairs (of course, Lydia was still alive when we last saw her, so she'll likely return, with a vengeance).
Emily's commander takes her away in his car, presumably to be killed or sent back to the Colonies, but instead, he drives her to June, a truly radical and illogical series of events but hey, I'm just going with it. Emily climbs in the car that will take them to freedom and June hands her the baby, instructs Emily to call the baby "Nicole" and then walks away, back into Gilead and an uncertain future.
As she escapes, June repeatedly thinks of Hannah, as the episode flashes back to their time together before Gilead. Although she has a chance to get herself and her new daughter out of the country, she can't help but worry about her eldest daughter. She says nothing as she walks into the night after handing Nicole to Emily, but it's clear that Hannah's safety is a big reason she decides to stay. And if she happens to knock over a few Gileadian heads in her quest, I wouldn't be upset.
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