Spoiler alert: for watching The Handmaid’s Tale 3
An uplifting climax, full of tear-jerking moments and heroic last stands. But how much further can June go in her fight against the evil men of Gilead?
When Mayday was introduced in season one, it was a shady resistance June wanted to turn to for help. We glimpsed only the skinniest branches of the organisation and assumed that there was some central hub somewhere, a powerful figure running the show. But in this season three finale, we learn that Mayday isn’t some grand plan or a hierarchy of rebels – it’s anyone who wants to damage Gilead. Right now, Mayday is a handmaid and two Marthas in Commander Lawrence’s kitchen. June has become Mayday – and suddenly the show’s decision to name ‘Offred’ June feels a wee bit on the nose.
Within moments, June has resorted to keeping her plan to rescue 52 children on track with the gun that’s been waiting patiently to become a plot point since episode 11. She’s convinced that ruthlessness is how the men of Gilead won, and that victory goes not to who is right, but to whoever has the hardest heart. These days June’s heart is hard enough to threaten a frightened child with a gun, and stand firm against Lawrence’s final spasms of fragile masculinity (“You’re still in my house, young lady!”). She still believes all her suffering and all her crimes must amount to something, even if Lawrence insists that “the universe doesn’t have a balance sheet”. She’s going to rescue those kids if it kills her and everyone else involved in the plan – including Rita and Janine.
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Their route to the airport intentionally mirrors the woods in which June had Hannah torn from her arms. This time, she is determined not to be helpless, and no one will stop these children from reaching safety, especially not one solitary Eye guarding the airport. That’s when June realises it won’t be her ruthlessness that saves the day – it will be her selflessness. Her drive to hurt Gilead may have begun as revenge, but here we see her realise a greater purpose: she wants to save anyone in danger in Gilead. She wants to bring the whole thing down, and she will give her life to do so – which, for as long as she is alive at least, makes her unstoppable.
This leads to a rather contrived scene where Janine and a group of Marthas join June in her heroic last stand and throw a bunch of rocks at the Eye, when June could surely have just shot him. But we’ll let the show get away with it, for the image of women standing together in the face of oppression is a powerful one. Better still was June’s handmaid friends searching the woods for her after she is shot and carrying her to safety, walking in their customary two-by-two formation, with a gravely injured insurrectionist held between them. The Martha network has done their bit – season four is surely time for the handmaid network to rise, as June vows to lead ‘her people’ to the land of milk and honey (or, well, Canada). Season three has now truly turned June into a freedom fighter, and it’ll be fascinating to see just how far she will be go in the fight against Gilead.
The episode’s most uplifting moment was the arrival of the children in Canada, greeted by a welcoming committee of Moira, Luke and Emily. Kiki/Rebecca being reunited with her father was a shamefully manipulative twist but we loved it, and Rita sinking to the ground as she realised her freedom was movingly played by Amanda Brugel, especially that simple, powerful “hi” she shared with Emily. No more “blessed be the fruit” for her. But it was a sad ending for Luke as he watched the plane door, so desperate to see Hannah emerge that even we began to hope that, somehow, maybe she would.
Elsewhere, in a move that will surprise precisely no one, the Waterfords’ separation has gone nasty, with Fred turning in Serena for arranging June’s rape by forcing Nick to impregnate her. Hearing Serena’s crime termed “sexual slavery” is shocking and, of course, completely accurate. But when you’re immersed in the world of Gilead, as we have been for three seasons now, it’s easy to forget that these crimes have names out in the real world. Seeing Serena confronted with hers and realising the truth of it was, frankly, glorious.
The sound of music
Into Dust by Mazzy Star plays as the handmaids carry June to safety, risking themselves in the process. The song seems more like the sort of thing that would accompany a poignant character death, but it instead punctuates a rebirth for June – out of ruthlessness, and into solidarity. Long live the revolution.
Under his eye
• How handy that Rita – one of the few people whose testimony is enough to bring down the Waterfords – has landed in Canada just in time for the trial? It would be interesting to see in season four if Gilead has any spies in Canada who may wish to interfere in such a trial.
• Fred’s obfuscating in his deposition might have had the intention of downplaying his importance in Gilead, but his ego couldn’t resist implying his power anyway. What a petty, weak, monstrous man. Joseph Fiennes has done a marvellous job.
• Lawrence has decided to stay behind and ‘clean up his own mess’, but he has a long history of shying away from bravery, so we don’t expect him to bring down Gilead any time soon. That said, it was a big step for him to finally admit that much of the ‘mess’ that is Gilead is actually his fault, and no amount of effective economic strategy can justify it. His characterisation has been all over the place this season, but Bradley Whitford has been wonderful.
• That opening flashback was a timely reminder of the horrors of Gilead, back before everyone had become numb to such relentless atrocities. It’s nice to see how far June and Janine have come.