It’s the season finale. But only the season finale, not the series finale, as ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ will be returning. I’m glad, because as much as I loved the book, its rather ambiguous, ‘The Lady and the Tiger’-ish ending is very frustrating, in the best possible way. The novel’s epilogue gives you some idea, but life is rarely neat and tidy, even in Gilead. Heck, especially in Gilead. But now, we get to see what happens next.
As the episode begins, we see June and some other newly recruited/press ganged Handmaids arrive at the training center. We see Aunt Lydia be a bitch right from the start. June is given her eartag. So much easier to keep track of the breeding stock that way, doncha know.
The present day: Offred is walking back to the Waterford house with Ofglen 2.0 and her package. She is just able to hide the package before being greeted by Serena Joy with a slap and a demand to take a pregnancy test. The test is positive. All is forgiven, S.J. is thrilled, and tells Offred to rest. But S.J. still has to confront the Commander, who blames S.J. for bringing lust and temptation into the house. It hardly needs to be said that slut shaming is alive and well in Gilead.
Moira is walking in the cold, clearly exhausted. She stumbles into a barn where a truck is parked. A truck with Ontario license plates. She’s made it to Canada, and is safe.
But don’t feel too much sympathy for Serena Joy. The next day, S.J. takes Offred on a long drive. She isn’t allowed out of the car when they reach their destination, but S.J. enters a building and brings out Hannah, dressed like a little Wife-in-Training, in a dress and cloak of pink. She gets back in the car and tells Offred that as long as S.J.’s baby is safe, so is Offred’s. Wow, I get that in Gilead, women have to take what power they can, but that’s pretty vicious. Offred curses S.J. out with all the rage she’s been bottling up since she first arrived at the training center, and got a cattle prod to the neck for looking too curiously at a Handmaid, followed by an apology to Aunt Lydia, the first of what one suspects were many such apologies.
Warren Putnam confesses to the “sin of list and covetousness.” When the other Commanders discuss the punishment, Waterford suggests they be lenient. Quelle surprise. But it seems Naomi Putnam has suggested the harshest punishment, as it seems she is anxious for his immortal soul, according to Commander Pryce, who says this with an admirably straight face. Poor Gileadian men, they really are so convinced that women are stupid that they take everything women say at face value, because the idea that a woman could play them simply wouldn’t occur to them. Putnam loses a hand.
Offred is in her room and opens the package. It is filled with letters written by Handmaids, of their lives, of the horrors the face every day, of the children that were taken from them, of the family members who have no idea if they are alive or dead. It is incredibly moving, and Offred knows more than ever that she is not telling her story to no one, none of them are, because they are not alone.
Moira is at a refugee center, being taken care of by a social worker. She is provided with food, clothes, and necessities including several hundred dollars in cash, and it is clear that the refugee efforts are well supported, and it seems not just in Canada.
Three bells. A death knell. There is a Salvaging today. Ofglen 2.0 is annoyed because Offred is making them late, and she doesn’t want Offred to get her into trouble. But despite all her insistence all along that she doesn’t want anyone or anything to screw up her gig, when the Handmaids learn that that they are to stone Janine, Ofglen 2.0 is the first to speak up and refuse. She is beaten and taken away, but then all the Handmaids refuse to do it. And all of a sudden, the oft-repeated phrase “I’m sorry, Aunt Lydia” sounds a lot more like “Screw you, Aunt Lydia.”
It is a powerful scene, and of course you can’t help cheering for the Handmaids, even as you know there will be consequences, as promised by Aunt Lydia.
Moira is at the refugee center, not sure what to do, when Luke walks in. It seems he had put Moira on his list of family members and he was contacted when she arrived. Moira collapses in tears in his arms.
That night, a black van comes for Offred. Nick tells her to go with them, and to trust him. The Waterfords have no idea why the Guardians are there, and even Fred is ignored when he demands to see the paperwork. Interestingly, at some point in this episode I stopped thinking of Fred Waterford as the Commander. He doesn’t really seem in command of anything, and his control even over his own house seems to be pretty much an illusion maintained by Serena Joy, until it no longer suits her to do so. Offred hugs Rita and whispers to her, about the package. She goes outside and steps into the van to the sound of Tom Petty singing ‘American Girl.’ Because that is what Offred is, an American girl, not a Gildeadian Handmaid.
As I said, I’m very excited that this has been renewed for another season. I’m not sure if more than one season was the plan all along, but if TPTB had intended this to be the one and done, they certainly wanted to go out with a bang. The episode was powerful and moving, a fitting end to such a riveting season. We saw the careful control over emotions that Offred, and all the characters have, really, to varying extent, snap and it was glorious to see. We see the Handmaids, who once were wary and distrustful of one another, come together to protect one of their own, risking everything to openly defy the laws of Gilead. Whatever comes next for the Handmaids, that was a masterclass in badassery that will be hard to beat. At least until next season, when the Handmaid Army returns.
So, until next season, ‘under his eye.’
– So where was Hannah living? Some kind of orphanage? A boarding school for children not born in the official Handmaid program? I thought she had been adopted, but Serena Joy threatened her so casually, and I can’t imagine that would fly if she had been adopted by another Commander and his Wife. Maybe children of Handmaids are kept for just that kind of leverage.
– Will Putnam have a chance to sin again? I mean, once a Commander and his Wife have a child, do they still get Handmaids to try for a second one, or are the limited Handmaids reserved for people who don’t yet have children? For that matter, what happens if a Handmaid has two children for different Commanders and they grow up, meet, and fall in love? Are they kept apart because they’re siblings, or does the belief that a child belong to a Commander and his Wife go so deep as to pretend genetics couldn’t possibly be an issue?
– Am I the only one who was wondering/hoping that the Handmaids would use their rocks to stone Aunt Lydia?
“You think I prayed for this? You think I prayed to bring a baby into this house?”
“As long as my baby is safe, so is yours.”
“Oh man, I hate stonings.”
Bonus Quote, or; The Emmy Award for Line of Dialogue Most Likely to Become a Meme goes to,
“They should never have given us uniforms if they didn’t want us to be an army.”