The first season of Hulu’s critically acclaimed series The Handmaid’s Tale has come to a close, leaving fans with as open an ending as there was in the book, while still setting up threads for a potential season two. True to the rest of the season, the finale was grim and emotionally draining. However, seeds of hope were also planted, seeds that will hopefully come to fruition in the coming seasons.
The Handmaid’s Tale was a standalone book and the show has already gone through the canon material, so season two will venture into entirely original territory. Whether that will be a good decision or not remains to be seen, but the first season has been a triumph for Hulu, which has yet to reach the same levels of acclaim as other streaming sites. Whether you need a refresher on the finale for watercooler discussions or if you have questions about what happened in Gilead, here’s a complete breakdown of what happened in the finale.
The finale, “Night,” is set a few days after Janine’s (Madeline Brewer) suicide attempt and Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) realizing the Commander (Joseph Fiennes) was infatuated with June (Elisabeth Moss). Moira (Samira Wiley) had managed to get June the package she needed from the Jezebels, and later on made a second daring escape attempt.
A Look Into the Past
The episode opens with another one of the show’s flashbacks, this time to the day that June (long before she was given the mantle Offred) arrived at the Red Center. As she and other captured women file past, Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) tuts over their outfits, calling them sluts. She then tells them to humble themselves by clasping their hands and bowing their heads; when June is distracted by two other Handmaids walking by, Aunt Lydia shocks her and demands an apology, setting up a scene that will occur later in the episode.
This is, notably, the only flashback in the episode save for a brief moment where June remembers being with Luke (O. T. Fagbenle). Most of the episodes have had multiple flashback sequences, but this episode focuses entirely on the present and where the characters are going, rather than where they have been. It also might be that next season, which is promised to have multiple perspectives rather than just June’s, will do away with the flashback model and focus on the present. Either way, this is a marked difference from the usual episodes, which also makes sense given how the episode sets up characters who are finally growing and changing.
In an episode that alternates between darkness and heartbreak, Moira emerges as the one bright spot of hope. When we first see her in this episode, she is stumbling through a snowy field, clearly exhausted. She hides in a garage, and when she checks the plates of a nearby car realizes that she is in Ontario, safely away from Gilead. She sinks to the floor, gasping in relief. Later, we see her with a case worker who treats her with kindness. Moira is clearly taken aback as she is given money, a cell phone, medical insurance, and new clothes – unused to kindness after the cruelty in Gilead.
Perhaps the happiest moment – which is contrasted with June walking home alone – is Moira being reunited with Luke in Canada. Even though the last time we saw them they were fighting, Luke still listed Moira as a member of his family and was alerted to her arrival at the refugee center. The pair share an emotional reunion, and will likely be the protagonists of future episodes set in Canada. Even though they’ve both lost so much, and June and Hannah are still trapped in Gilead, to see the pair reunited and safe across the border provides a much needed dose of hope for the future.
The Season’s Real Villain
A case could be made for the entire nation of Gilead to be the villain of the piece, or the Commander himself. But ultimately the character who is the cruellest is Serena Joy, who proves that while all women suffer under Gilead’s rule, there are many complicit in it’s sins. Despite attempts at humanizing her, Serena Joy ultimately seems to care very little about the women who are suffering beneath her. She confronts June and strikes her before all but saying if she’s not pregnant she will die. Thankfully, June is pregnant, which buys her some time, but that is not enough to stop Serena Joy’s rage.
Later, she takes June on a trip that ends with her enjoying a conversation with June’s daughter Hannah as June screams and begs to be let out from the car. Afterwards, she tells June that as long as her baby is safe, Hannh will be safe. This leads to June finally snapping and releasing a tirade of hate, which is frankly cathartic. However, by the episode’s end, Serena Joy has lost her last, greatest hope, and should she return in season two it will be interesting to see whether or not she turns on her husband or remains complicit in Gilead’s crimes.