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The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 Finale Explained

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Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS ahead for The Handmaid's Tale season 2 finale, "The Word"

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The Handmaid's Tale season 2 finale a slow build in tension and unease up until the end - when everything got very exciting, very quickly. June, having failed in two escape attempts so far this season, was given another chance to get out of Gilead when the Marthas created a distraction, setting fire to the house across the road, and ushering June and baby Holly/Nicole to a getaway vehicle. At the last second, though, June makes the heartbreaking decision to stay behind in Gilead, handing her baby to Emily so that the two of them can escape to Canada.

It's not just a time of change for June. After enduring great abuse, tragedy and torment, Emily finally strikes back at Aunt Lydia - and awaits the consequences with terror. Meanwhile, Serena tries to use her position as a Commander's Wife to effect change for the daughters of Gilead, but it doesn't go the way that she hoped. Here's our recap of The Handmaid's Tale season 2 finale.

Serena Makes a Stand

Serena Waterford might be a terrible person who has participated in unspeakable cruelty, but she's also been showing increasing dissatisfaction with the way things work in Gilead. Serena was the key to establishing the ideology behind the fledgling nation, but found herself shut out of the decision-making once Fred Waterford and the other leaders took over and decided that women should have no role beyond making babies and obeying their husbands. When Serena and Fred visited Canada in "Smart Power," Serena got a difficult reminder of all the freedoms and rights she has given up by helping to create Gilead, and in "Women's Work" she was whipped with a belt by her husband as punishment for forging his signature.

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In "The Word," Serena attempts what she believe is a smart, diplomatic way of achieving a few rights for the newborn daughters of Gilead - leading the Wives of her district to speak in front of the Commanders, and shockingly daring to read a passage from the Bible, to make the case that the girls of Gilead should be taught to read alongside the boys. The move was an expression of faith in Gilead - a naive belief that the Commanders are reasonable, and that Serena still has power to effect change in the nation she helped build. She was swiftly disillusioned of the belief, however, when Fred had her arrested and ordered one of her fingers to be amputated - the usual punishment for any woman who dares to break the no-reading rule.

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Related: Handmaid's Tale Showrunner Explains Oprah's Surprise Cameo

Emily Attacks Aunt Lydia

An Emily-Aunt Lydia showdown has been a long time coming. In addition to the role that Aunt Lydia has played in cruelly pressing all of the handmaids into submission, she also gave the order for Emily's genitals to be surgically mutilated in order to "cure" her homosexuality. While Janine's outbreaks of disobedience seem to have made Aunt Lydia somewhat sympathetic to her, there's nothing but animosity between Lydia and Emily.

In "The Word," Emily steals a knife from the kitchen, clearly intending to use it on Commander Lawrence before he can perform their first "ceremony." To her surprise, however, Lawrence is annoyed to see her kneeling in preparation for the ceremony, and tells her that he has no intention of carrying it out. The next morning, Lydia comes to congratulate Emily on what she has been told was a very successful first ceremony, and becomes irritated by Emily's silence, saying, "It's like I cut out your tongue." That, apparently, is the last straw: as Aunt Lydia turns her back, Emily stabs her with the stolen knife and then proceeds to kick her brutally down the stairs. Lydia isn't killed in the attack, but she's badly injured, and after a brief moment of triumph, Emily is left to await her fate with slowly dawning horror.

However, her fate turns out to be kinder than she expected.

Page 2: The Jailbreak and June's Decision

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