I have spent a lot of time this season recommending Handmaid’s Tale to just about everyone I know. Whether I’m praising, discussing, or debating it, the one constant is that I always make a point to mention that this is not a show to binge. The events depicted are too terrible to take in all at once, and even with the hopeful (or resigned) note that season one ends on, the same holds true for the finale.
The episode starts with a quick flashback to June arriving at the Red Center, and the terror with which the Handmaids once looked at each other. Between the tasing and the brainwashing, the tagging and tormenting, there was a camaraderie within the “holy ranks” of fertile women. Offred herself says it: “They shouldn’t have given us uniforms if they didn’t want us to form an army,” and unlike earlier this season, the bond between these women doesn’t feel forced.
Back in the present, Offred has just finished hiding the package she got from the store/May Day in the bathroom and as she turns to leave, THWACK! She gets smacked upside the head by Serena Joy and my ears are still ringing. Basically, Serena Joy knows about Offred and Fred’s little field trips and is all over Offred about them, as if Offred is an actual Jezebel and Serena is the scorned wife. Now, that is part true, but to assume that Offred would have any choice in the matter is, at best, disingenuous of Serena Joy. Saying “No” is simply not something she can do, and you’d think Serena would understand this better, considering she is using the staff as her own personal breeding stock. After smacking Offred around and berating her, Serena Joy forces her to take a (contraband) pregnancy test and you could almost feel bad for her as she prostrates herself, waiting for the results. Ya know, if she weren’t a monster who betrayed her gender and country… if she were just a woman praying for that stick to turn. Serena is never more relatable than when she is lamenting her childless state. It’s heartbreaking but at the same time, this very desperation is what has driven her to these monstrosities. The test comes back positive, and she goes to Offred again, all smiles and “praise be’s.” Offred has no time for this shit, though and basically laughs in her face when Serena Joy says their prayers had been answered, because who would pray for this for their child? Especially when they know what a truly joyous miracle creating a baby out of love is?
Serena Joy is making the rounds, too, and heads to Fred’s office to tell him to keep his creepy grubby paws off Offred. Not out of any compassion, but because she doesn’t want another suicide tainting their house and now there is a baby to consider. Not Fred’s baby, she’s sure to tell him, since he’s too weak and pathetic and God wouldn’t allow him to give life (this is one moment where I fist pumped for Serena Joy. Like, the one). Fred blames her for his transgressions, but not for any reason we’d think of now. He’s pissed not because his wife wouldn’t put out, no. He’s upset that she wants to have sex even without any chance of procreating. Honestly why even be married in this place? I don’t for a minute believe that any couples other than the elites are living without sex. Just sayin’.
The next morning Offred goes down for breakfast and sees an overjoyed and sweet Rita has made her breakfast. The good stuff, now that she is knocked up. Nick comes in and she tells him about getting hit and Serena Joy finding out about the trips to Jezebel’s. It’s also a heartbreaking and sad moment when she tells him she’s pregnant. He puts his hand on her stomach and disagrees when she says it’s terrible. I can’t help but feel for them. I also can’t help but ship them a little. It’s this portrait of heartache that Serena walks in on, telling Offred to get her coat and dismissing Nick. They go for a long, silent drive, and when they come to a stop Serena Joy tells the driver to keep Offred in the car. It’s an odd moment, but we all understand her instructions when she soon emerges from the house with Hannah. Moss goes from joy to fury and anguish in such an amazing performance you can’t help but feel it. She screams and cries and begs to see her daughter and calls Serena Joy a monster and evil when the other woman warns her that “as long as my baby is safe, yours is, too.” Moss has had some amazing performances this season, but none hit me as hard as this one. I think Serena Joy miscalculated, though. Knowing my child was alive and well would only fuel my flame, not diminish it. Perhaps she thinks she can hold Hannah over Offred’s head now. Either way, everyone (except Serena Joy, I guess) knows that the most dangerous place in the world is between a mother and her child, so we’ll see how that works out for her. It does however, prompt Offred to go to Fred and ask him to protect Hannah from his wife.
In other, non-Offred news, Moira makes it to Canada!! I am not going to lie, I cried along with her when Moira wiped the license plate that said “Ontario.” I’m so glad she made it, but we will come back to that. Back in Gilead, Commander Putnam is on trial for fuckin’ around with his Handmaid and despite Fred’s arguments that he’s “a good and faithful man with a young family” the council decides (with Mrs. Putnam’s blessing/insistence) that dude should lose a hand. I’m pretty okay with this, to be honest. Part of me understands the wives’ resentment of the Handmaids. I remember when I was trying to get pregnant and harboring some of it when I saw my friends all having babies, and it just not happening for me; I couldn’t imagine how much worse it would have been if A) I didn’t know or care about these people on any personal level and B) IT WAS MY HUSBAND’S BABY. Obviously, it’s wrong for them to feel this way, since these girls can’t say no and don’t want to bear these children any more than the wives want them to, but the resentment is understandable, if misplaced.
The next morning, after opening the package from May Day and reading all the letters from Handmaids, Offred wakes up to the Death Knell. There is a Salvaging, so she goes to the park with a salty as fuck New Ofglen. They get to the park and Aunt Lydia seems weird. She is saying all the things, but something is missing. We learn what when the Handmaids are ordered to stone Janine for endangering a child. New Ofglen points out that this is pretty fucked up, and gets a rifle butt to the face for her trouble. Aunt Lydia, though crying herself, orders the girls to do their duty, yet when the whistle blows nothing happens. Offred steps forward and Aunt Lydia stops another Guardian from hitting her. Offred drops her stone and says “I’m sorry, Aunt Lydia,” which she was taught first thing in the Red Center. The other Handmaids follow suit and Janine lives for at least the next minute. I hate to say it, but Janine probably died, anyway. The point was that there was a line and a unified front for the girls. There was a shift of power, and even if Janine is killed, it’s not at their hands (though killing a fertile woman seems counterproductive, but I personally wouldn’t want to live as a walking womb, either sooo…).
Meanwhile, in Canada, a very confused and overwhelmed Moira is getting the rundown on her new status as refugee. Samira Wiley is so good in every scene she is in, so I shouldn’t be surprised when I again broke into tears along with Moira when she walked out of the office to see Luke there. He told her she was on his text alert list for family and she drops everything and crashes into him, finally letting the dam break. It is, in my opinion, the most beautiful scene of the season.
Again in Gilead, the Handmaids are told to go home, and be prepared for consequences. The women strut home to Nina Simone’s “Feelin’ Good” but that good feeling doesn’t last terribly long once the black van arrives. Nick tells Offred to trust him and go with them, and she does, serenely. She has accepted whatever fate has in store for her, and finally feels filled with Grace.
What did you think of the finale? Are you with me in my hope that Nick has found a way out for her and their baby?? I really don’t want a love triangle, but I can’t help myself. What has been your favorite moment in the first season? How does the show compare to the book for you?