The Handmaid’s Tale season 3 is over, so here’s what happens in the finale and what it all means. The third season of the Hulu drama, which stars Elisabeth Moss as handmaid June Osborne a.k.a. Ofjoseph (formerly Offred), wrapped-up with “Mayday.”
Already long past the ending of June’s story in Margaret Atwood’s novel of the same name, The Handmaid’s Tale season 3 has explored the reverberations of June’s decision to stay behind in the season 2 finale, with her now intent on taking the fight to Gilead and attempting to bring it all crumbling down from the inside. That’s something “Mayday” is particularly concerned with, with the title referring to a plan from the network of Marthas to help 52 children escape from Gilead into Canada.
It’s a tense, terse hour-plus of television, which concludes some of season 3’s long-running plotlines while also setting the stage for The Handmaid’s Tale season 4, which has already been confirmed. “Mayday” has June risking it all as part of her mission, which brings both a sense of hope and some major consequences too.
June Succeeds In The Handmaid’s Tale Finale
June’s mission in The Handmaid’s Tale season 3 finale is a continuation of the plan from the previous episode, “Sacrifice”, which is to work with the Marthas and handmaids who are part of the underground network in order to help 52 children get on an airplane that will take them from Gilead to Canada, giving them a safer, brighter future. However, with more soldiers patrolling the area because of an escaped Martha who has had a change of mind, it becomes an even more dangerous task than it already was.
That’s compounded when even more children than expected start turning up at the Lawrence household, but June, Commander Lawrence, and the Marthas are committed to helping them. They make it to the airplane, with June and the Marthas who are staying behind throwing rocks at the soldiers, allowing the children to get on the plane and make it to Canada.
It’s a hopeful note for The Handmaid’s Tale, because these children were supposed to be the future of Gilead; the ones who’d continue its rule for generations to come. Although not every child is out of Gilead, and countless women remain in slavery there, it’s nonetheless a huge blow struck in the fight against the Republic, and one that suggests even if it doesn’t happen in June’s lifetime, Gilead can and will fall.
The Handmaid's Tale S3 Finale Is Emotional & Relevant
The Handmaid's Tale is often quite a powerful show, given how it deals with themes and topics that can often be quite shocking, timely, and emotionally-charged, but even by those standards there were moments in "Mayday" that were real tear-jerkers, but also gave the series yet another connection to the real world. There have been various parallels made between Gilead and the treatment of women both in America and around the world over the course of The Handmaid's Tale's run, but this episode shines a spotlight on a different aspect.
The Handmaid's Tale concludes with the children arriving in Canada. While this is definitely an optimistic note to end on, the sight of a young girl, Rebecca, being reunited with her father and talking about being allowed to wear what she wants now, and that feeling of safety, calls to mind the detention camps in the U.S., where a number of media organizations have shown footage of young children being reunited with parents as such camps. Although The Handmaid's Tale decides to offer a more positive spin on things for once, and it makes for a beautiful moment in the episode itself, it also packs a huge emotional punch because it's clearly designed to have echoes of the real-world.
The Handmaid's Tale Delivers A Big Serena Joy Twist
In “Sacrifice”, the Waterfords were arrested and detained in Canada for war crimes, before it was revealed that Serena Joy has helped orchestrate that so she could strike a deal with the Canadian government, allowing her to move freely and be closer to Nichole. For a moment, it seems as though that’ll remain the case, but The Handmaid’s Tale season 3 finale throws in a big twist, as Fred betrays his wife in turn and tells Mark Tuello, the Canadian officials dealing with their case: “I can assure you that what Mrs. Waterford did was far beyond the laws of Gilead, and the laws of God.”
Serena is then arrested on charges of sexual slavery and rape, for having forced Nick to have sex with June in order to get her pregnant. Serena has walked the line between being a full-blown villain and someone who wants to be better this season, but it's an important reminder that she is culpable for her own actions, and this spells the end of not only the Waterfords' marriage, but perhaps the beginning of the end for their time on the show. Both Fred and Serena are now imprisoned, and while each possesses a wealth of information about Gilead that may prove useful to the Canadian government, it's still difficult to see how either of them can get out of it right now. Given they started as ostensibly the two big villains of The Handmaid's Tale, it's a surprise to see this twist play out now, but also one they deserve, and it continues the shift from it being more personal to June taking down Gilead as a whole.
'Where Is Hannah?' Is A Mystery For Season 4
"Mayday" leaves the fate of a few characters uncertain. Nick doesn't get a look-in, although he's been such a spare part this season that it suggests he might not even matter all that much going forward. There's no room for Aunt Lydia either, but unlike Nick we can assume that she will have a big part to play next year, especially after she learns of the handmaids' rebellion and comes to punish them. But the biggest question mark is Hannah, which in one way leaves The Handmaid's Tale in a similar position to the season 2 finale. She's not among the children rescued by June, so she is still out there somewhere.
June is, assuming she lives, going to continue trying to get people - and mainly children - out of Gilead, and this sets up a strong enough connection whereby the likes of Luke, Moira, Emily, and now Rita can work from the Canadian side, with June, Janine, and others in Gilead. But Hannah will surely still be central to that, as Luke's searching eyes told us when the kids were getting off the plane. Hannah and her family relocated earlier in season 3, but we can expect June to do everything she can - maybe with some help from Commander Lawrence - to find her and get her out in season 4.
Has The Handmaid's Tale Really Killed Off June?
In a word, no. While it's not 100% certain that June isn't dead, it's almost unthinkable that The Handmaid's Tale would kill off its central character and biggest star at this point of its lifespan. It'd be a bold move for sure, and arguably an exciting one, but Elisabeth Moss is the face of the show (and undeniably brilliant in it), so it's hard to imagine she's actually going anyway. So even though The Handmaid's Tale season 3 ending has June shot, being carried out of the woods by other handmaids, and closing her eyes, it's probably safe to say she lives.
What's harder to say is what comes next. Assuming she heals from her gunshot wound, then June will continue to lead the resistance from inside Gilead, but what about her own future? This is the third finale of The Handmaid's Tale to dangle the prospect of escape, and the third where ultimately she's going to be staying behind. That's a pattern that maybe can't be broken, and while it's unlikely June will die now, it does suggest that she isn't ever going to make it out of Gilead. What's more, though, is that the serenity on her face at the end tells us she has made peace with that. Her role now is as the resistance leader, and she seems focused on destroying Gilead. That feels like a one-way mission that she won't survive.
What Is The Significance Of June's Scripture?
In the closing moments of the show, as June lays maybe dying (but probably not), we hear her in voiceover read a bit of scripture: "And the Lord said, I have seen my people in bondage, and I have heard their cry. I know their sorrows, and I am come to deliver them from the hand of evil men, and to lead my people out of that sorrowful place to a land flowing with milk and honey." It's not an exact match from the Bible, but does most closely echo Exodus 3:7-8, with a few lines taken directly and some swapped out to better fit the series, but both are dealing with freeing people from slavery and persecution and leading them to something better.
The Handmaid's Tale season 3 has at times tried to pain June as an anti-hero, but at others make her more divinely gifted and unique, as though she alone can save the day. It's the latter this leans into, although it further begs the question of whether this is June with a God complex, or we're supposed to believe this is God acting through June (or if it's just a nice bit of thematics). That's something season 4 will likely explore more of, and we can expect to see June continuing to try being Gilead's messiah, but for now this passage - and her leading the children, Marthas, and handmaids to the airplane, paints her very much as a Moses-type figure. That further suggests that, after years in Gilead, June will die having brought it down.