Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS ahead for The Handmaid's Tale season 2 finale
The season 2 finale of The Handmaid's Tale once again inspired hope that June might be able to escape Gilead - only to dash that hope when June decided to stay behind to rescue her firstborn daughter, Hannah. Handing off her second daughter, Nicole, to her friend Emily, June decided not to get into the van that would take her across the Canadian border, and the season ends with her walking away, alone, in the rain.
Many fans of the show are understandably frustrated by June's decision. This marks the fifth time that she has attempted to escape Gilead, and the second time that she has voluntarily decided to stay behind in the oppressive, dystopian nation. But while it was heartbreaking to see June say goodbye to Nicole, along with her chance for escape, the way that season 2 had played out makes it clear that this was the only choice she could ever make.
- This Page: Staying Behind is the Only Hope For Saving Hannah
- Page 2: How Season 2 Carefully Built Up To June's Decision
No One Else Will Help Hannah
Those who are critical of June's decision may argue that Hannah's best chance of getting out of Gilead was for her mother to make her way to Canada, tell her story, raise a public outcry, and create pressure for the Canadian government to intervene. But while it's nice to think of Canada swooping in to the rescue, what we've seen of Gilead's neighbors to the north doesn't inspire much hope. Canada has been accepting refugees from Gilead who manage to make it to the border, but their diplomats were also ready to meet with Fred Waterford and were supposedly open to sending refugees back to Gilead, before the publication of Mayday's letters torpedoed those talks.
We have been given some reason to hope for Canadian intervention, given Luke's mention of Canadian and British troops performing military exercises along the border. But if and when those other countries do decide to intervene (and it could be years before they do so), it won't be to rescue a single child. There's simply no way that the Canadian and British governments, who so far have limited their opposition to accepting refugees and placing trade sanctions on Gilead, would send in troops to rescue Hannah and risk kick-starting a war that they're not ready for (sending potentially fertile soldiers to die amid a population crisis is no easy decision). June would hardly be the first handmaid to escape to Canada and, sadly, her case is no more tragic or special than any of the other mothers who have been separated from their children.
The Biggest Blows to Gilead Have Come From Within
Though Gilead at first seemed unshakeable, we've already seen the nation hit heavily by rebellion. There was Lillie/Ofglen's devastating suicide bombing, which injured Fred Waterford and killed dozens of commanders and handmaids. Emily killed a Guardian with a stolen car, while Moira killed a Guardian and succeeded in escaping to the border. Nick managed to smuggle Mayday's handmaid letters out of the country, which put paid to any hope of the sanctions being lifted against Gilead. Aunt Lydia was stabbed and beaten by Emily (though unfortunately it seems like she survived), and Joseph Lawrence worked together with the Marthas to help Emily escape with Nicole. Serena led all the Wives of her district in a plea to allow their daughters to read, and although she ultimately bore a harsh punishment for it, we'll almost certainly see Serena's rebellious spirit return in season 3.
There's a clear pattern here: every time someone has succeeded in disrupting Gilead's ruthless rule, it's been a blow from within. It's clear that a lot of people are very unhappy with their lives under Gilead rule, and in addition to the underground railroads that have been helping people escape, there have been stirrings of outright rebellion. Once June crosses the border it will be nearly impossible to return without surrendering, but while she's still inside Gilead she has a lot of options for fighting back.