Breaking down everything that happened in that shocking ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 2 finale

0
5

First, let’s all take a moment to pat ourselves on the back for surviving one of the most grueling seasons in all of TV history. 

Second, let’s try to digest that very divisive finale.

Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 left no prisoners, both in the treatment of its characters and the audience that witnessed every horror done to them. There were a lot of turns in this final hour. 

So we put together a roundtable discussion/general therapy group for dealing with all the contradictory feels you experienced throughout that rollercoaster ride:

June’s decision

Entertainment Reporter Jess Joho: I want to start off with the two question on everyone’s mind. 1.) How do you all feel about June’s final decision to stay in Gilead? 2) Are you OK right now?

We're not sure how to feel about June's escape to Canada being canceled in "Handmaid's Tale"

We’re not sure how to feel about June’s escape to Canada being canceled in “Handmaid’s Tale”

Senior Entertainment Reporter Alexis Nedd: 1) I’m not 100% pleased with June’s decision to stay in Gilead. I get why she made that choice and Hannah has been a huge motivating factor for June’s entire resistance narrative, but I feel like she could do more good for herself and her family if she left. 

There is zero recourse for her in Gilead right now — she can’t exactly go back to the Waterfords and say “yup, I gave my baby to an escaped lesbian and they’re eating poutine in Canada right now” and she doesn’t have the freedom of movement to search for and save Hannah by herself. It should have been clear with the Martha network that the resistance in Gilead is bigger than her and that their reach is farther than she could have imagined. June can’t help Hannah if she’s dead or captured! 

Taking the baby from the Waterford house was the first step in what had to be a one-way trip and now she’s wasted the time and effort it took into organizing her escape in the first place. Also, fuck naming that baby Nicole. 

There is zero recourse for her in Gilead right now

2) I’m more shocked and confused than anything else. I’m obviously not a writer for The Handmaid’s Tale but it feels like they’ve written themselves into a really weird corner. As I mentioned before, what can June actually do with herself now that she’s rejected her escape? Ending aside, I thought this was a really strong episode that drove home the idea that Gilead is irredeemably unsafe for everyone in it. Serena’s maiming, Emily jabbin’ that knife into Aunt Lydia, the hot older guy from Get Out actually helping someone get out of a bad situation…I was pretty much shocked and on the edge of my seat the whole episode. I am OK now. I was not OK for the entire runtime and at least a few hours after. 

Entertainment Fellow Alison Foreman: 1) Honestly, I feel like June staying in Gilead does a major disservice to Elisabeth Moss’ acting ability. She has created such a fleshed-out human being. To boil down one of her major decisions to “motherly duty” seems unrealistic. Yes, choosing to leave Hannah behind would be unbelievably difficult. But it was the situationally logical choice. I worried this would happen during her plane escape early in the season. I was grateful when it didn’t. Unfortunately, it happened anyway and I don’t love it.

Even worse, I won’t be surprised if Season 3 starts with a June torture scene. She’s got some explaining to do. 

Serena and June's relationship gives me straight up anxiety

Serena and June’s relationship gives me straight up anxiety

2) I am distinctly not okay! I cried four times during this episode (two more than my average sob count.) Here’s when and why.

First and second go to Serena scenes. When she’s sitting in utter shock and reveals her hand to June? And then when she says goodbye to the baby? Oh my goodness. Give Yvonne Strahovski an Emmy, today.

Third sob: The moment I realized all of the Marthas were calling June “June” and not “Offred” I fully wept. Identity is so important and to know June is holding onto hers gave me such hope.

Lastly, I could not contain myself when Emily realized she was escaping Gilead. What a rollercoaster that woman has been through. And to think it all started in the little Connecticut town of Stars Hollow. 

Run all the way back to Stars Hollow, Emily!

Run all the way back to Stars Hollow, Emily!

Jess Joho: Yes to all of that. I cannot reconcile the June who would (and did) make the decision to leave Hannah behind once already before being recaptured. I understand the baby is out now, so she doesn’t have to make a Sophie’s choice anymore. 

But ironically, it feels like the show is reducing her to a womb in a lot of ways, painting motherhood as this replacement of selfhood with motherhood. That reductive portrayal of mothers is everywhere, and Adrienne Rich’s Of Women Born beautifully explains the harm that myth can do to women. Women have vastly different experiences of motherhood, like postpartum depression, which can be exacerbated by society’s expectation that they should want to sacrifice everything about themselves for their children. 

June is a human being, not just a mother. And it’s hard for me to believe her maternal instincts trump all the trauma and PTSD she’s been through at the hands of Gilead.

Ironically, it feels like the show is reducing her to a womb

Obviously, I sympathize with a mother’s love. But the more annoying part of her decision is that it reeks of being a plot device rather than a character’s choice. They can’t let June leave Gilead yet, since the creators said they’ve got a five season arc (oof I’m already tired) in mind. 

I mean look at Moira: She’s barely in this season because they didn’t seem to know what to do with her after she escaped. Plot-wise, it’s also more convenient for the baby to be out of the picture, since it’s notoriously difficult to work around babies in a writers room or on set.

Overall the illogicality of her decision points to my major critique of the season: They put June on a hamster wheel. In terms of the emotional beat, we’re pretty much exactly where we left June at the end of Episode 1 of Season 2: on the run in Gilead and pissed off. But I don’t even know whether to trust that anymore.

I’m pretty much not OK at all, though, because the rest of the episode destroyed me for all the reasons you two pointed out. Especially the scenes with the Marthas, since Rita’s my personal fav.

Serena’s choices

Jess Joho: But let’s first go back to Serena. 

Serena embodies white feminism in the finale of Handmaid's Tale Season 2

Serena embodies white feminism in the finale of Handmaid’s Tale Season 2

Alexis, you wrote a fantastic article earlier in the season on why we shouldn’t be fooled by her redemption narrative. And that summarizes a lot of why I’m pretty conflicted about her turn in this episode. Yvonne Strahovsk is incredible and gave one of the best performances of the season. But I worry the enormous feat of her acting lets us forget that this woman is Eva Braun! 

I worry her shift feeds into a false narrative people use as an excuse for being shitty in the past. Like I’m a father or mother of a daughter now, so I totally understand women’s rights now!

The world is filled with shitty people who have kids. Off the top of my head: Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kellyanne Conway have kids. That doesn’t excuse them for actively supporting fascist policies that put kids in cages and propose we give teachers guns to stop school shootings.

Alexis Nedd: I’m not conflicted over the redemption arc Serena had this season because it does make absolute sense that a smart, capable woman would experience regret over creating a world where her fake daughter won’t be able to read and wants to give a child she thinks is hers a chance at a better life after experiencing painful consequences for her own actions. I get where she’s coming from, she realized she made a huge mistake, and yet, at the same time, screw her. 

This episode made me think a lot about the writers of the show and what they’re actually trying to say with The Handmaid’s Tale, which is as much of a “message” show as we get on TV these days. I’m worried that they genuinely expect watchers to see Serena as brave or tragic, or as a person who can be trusted to attempt to right the wrongs of her past, but I’m palpably uninterested in any narrative that expects me to empathize with her. I don’t feel bad for her. Nothing they can do to Serena on this show can make me feel for her or care about her, and while Yvonne Strahovsk is doing a fantastic job showing Serena’s emotional journey I can’t bring myself to consider her feelings in any situation. Her well-rendered pain cannot possibly move me. 

We're not falling for Serena's redemption narrative

We’re not falling for Serena’s redemption narrative

I think it’s telling that Serena’s big rebellion was to allow women to read. Like…that’s the biggest problem you think you have in Gilead? Eden wasn’t killed for reading, she was killed because her interpretation of the Bible led her to believe that being 15 and having a crush was a sign from God that she should leave her husband. She was killed for kissing the cute guy she wasn’t forced to marry in a horrifying cattle call of a wedding. As much as banning women from reading is a symbol for the overarching suppression of women’s rights is, it’s 100% not the hill I’d be dying on. Serena forced two people to rape each other until June got pregnant, then stole the baby. Fuck reading! There’s a bigger problem here, Serena, and the problem is YOU. 

Alison Foreman: Regarding Serena’s multiple faces this season, my hope is that her arc will lead to the kind of demise that is just. More than anything I want to see a working, democratic criminal justice system take down everyone who created Gilead based on evidence and facts. (That’s why Aunt Lydia’s stabbing left me both happy and a little queasy…)

“Oh, I took care of a baby for a hot minute so now I’m Ruth Bader Ginsburg”

Serena’s arc is fascinating to watch because it expands her character and is in many ways a fair representation of how people can change. I would agree with Jess that, “Oh, I took care of a baby for a hot minute so now I’m Ruth Bader Ginsburg” is a ridiculous, but prevalent overtone this season — particularly in the finale. Serena’s “motherhood” is a big part of this season, but should not play any part in her redemption. She raped a woman to get that baby. Plain and simple. 

That being said, I am moved by a lot of what’s happening to her (sorry, Alexis.) People make horrible choices and our ability to atone for them is a huge part of what makes us human. If she’s going down, I don’t want her hacked to pieces (physically and psychologically) by her husband. I want the world to pass its judgment. I want the returning United States government to put her on trial. And I want her peers to choose her fate. Not sure what happened to Michelle in the rebellion (if Oprah is still out there so are the Obamas, don’t try me), but this seems like an excellent time to go high.

But, also, if she gets stoned to death by Handmaids in the middle of the street… I’m breaking out some popcorn and hunting down the discontinued theme wine. Cause that’s just good TV.

A quick point on Serena’s reading stunt: Literacy is really important. Totally agree. But her focus on “our children must be able to read” rather than educating the entire population is a classist crock of shit. I will not have this discussion with you, ma’am.

Jess Joho: Yeah I thought the whole sequence with Serena and the Commanders was stellar because it demonstrated everything you two brought up. 

Rita (Amanda Brugel) is the real hero of "The Handmaid's Tale"

Rita (Amanda Brugel) is the real hero of “The Handmaid’s Tale”

Only someone with Serena’s privilege would be fool enough. And what she was proposing, while radical enough to lose her a finger, is still an effort to create more inequality rather than less. It’s a perfect metaphor for white feminism, which supposedly advocates for the rights of women while very narrowly defining those rights to conveniently leave out women of color and women in the LGBTQAI community.

But I’ve been a bit obsessed with the increasing emphasis on women’s literacy in Gilead throughout the season. It has so many parallels to our world right now, like Pakistani women’s rights activist Malala Yousafzai who was shot at eleven-years old for the crime of being on a school bus. Now, she’s a Nobel Peace Prize-winning activist and the Taliban’s worst nightmare. 

I think those scenes with Serena in Handmaid’s Tale — and how threatened the Commanders felt — is proof that this reclaiming of literacy will play a huge role in the rebellion that brings down Gilead. June writing “nolite te bastardes carborundorum” on the wall — while a little confusing in terms of, uh, the time she had — was the creators reaffirming how important access to words are when it comes to your own sense of personhood.

What we hope for the future of The Handmaid’s Tale

Jess Joho: With all that said, the Marthas and their Underground Railroad was by far the best part of this finale. Margaret Atwood’s book mentioned an Underground Railroad, but the decision by the writers to make the Marthas the ones who run it was spectacular. 

I saw it as an acknowledgement of the women behind the real Underground Railroad, who were often house slaves forced to do the cooking and cleaning.They very strategically used their proximity to the slave owners to gain information, risking everything and using their own invisibility in the eyes of the slave owners to their advantage.

In conclusion: I could not be more Team Rita, and honestly I hope the first thing June does is help her escape next season, now that she’s made this choice to squander her sacrifice.

What about you two? What do you hope to see next season?

Alexis Nedd: The last 10 minutes of the episode gave me some hope that next season won’t be as relentless a misery-fest as this one was. The amount of organization and planning that must go into the Marthas’s underground network is astounding, and I liked the idea that while we were watching the Handmaids and Wives, the Marthas/domestic laborers who are primarily women of color (at least in the casting) were the ones putting in the work to take Gilead down. I had an inkling that something was going on when both Rita and Commander Lawrence’s Martha were said to be missing at different parts of the episode and it was such a dope storytelling tactic. Go Marthas! 

Anyway, the reason that gives me hope is because it shows that they are aware that the resistance narrative is what people want from The Handmaid’s Tale and that they do (kind of) have a plan to implement that in the narrative. Now that June has nowhere else to go, hopefully the focus will shift more to how Gilead crumbles from the inside and outside — the Canada visit episode was one of the best this season and I’m still really interested in seeing what the world at large thinks about and is going to do about Gilead. 

Sadly, my prediction for a Canadian invasion did not come true but there is still time.

Alison Foreman: Fingers crossed for that baby boy! 

I think we can all agree Commander Waterford and his unborn baby boy can rot in fucking hell

I think we can all agree Commander Waterford and his unborn baby boy can rot in fucking hell

JK, here’s the best I think we can hope for: If the writers can start thinking big and get us out of this horrible loop of June infinitely going back to the Waterfords, we’ll be in for a treat. The first two seasons have firmly cemented the horror of Gilead. Now, let’s start pulling back more of the curtain hiding the resistance to that horror. 

Alongside the Underground Railroad, Commander Lawrence was an incredible addition to the world of Handmaid’s. I am hoping he can provide the access and information necessary for beginning a political take down, while continuing to assist with escapes. If Lawrence built Gilead, he can sure as hell tear it down. Maybe sabotage the banks? 

Additionally, I want to see more of his wife. Her brief moments on screen were fabulous and I’ve got a gut feeling Lawrence is headed for a choice between the greater good and the safety of his wife sometime next season. It will be horrible and amazing.

Lastly, just because I live for drama, June, Luke, and Nick need to have a little get together! Make some guacamole, spill the tea, get awkward! June’s proclamation of love to Nick was so touching and I can’t wait to see that cripplingly uncomfortable reunion. 

I mean, assuming everyone lives that long. 

Https%3a%2f%2fvdist.aws.mashable.com%2fcms%2f2018%2f4%2f1a54bee9 82a0 a817%2fthumb%2f00001