There are spoilers in this review for THESE SPECIFIC EPISODES.
I was going to do a season 2 wrap up and realized there was simply too much to talk about for that, so I split it into a half season each. It worked out well because a major turning point happened at the end of episode six, so voila. I promise no spoilers will be in here for the finale, I know exactly where the show was at by episode six and where my head was at then too. I will be good! The Handmaid’s Tale is obviously freaking a lot of people out right now, myself included, because of how the world is changing. It’s always been a harrowing experience watching this, but I feel like it’s been harder with time. In episode 5 “Seeds” I actually decided to take a break from the show. It was too sad and my head was in a bad place for it. I caught back up a few weeks later when I could handle it, but it’s that sort of story. It hurts. I understand people who simply cannot take it. Previously on The Handmaid’s Tale, we’re in a dystopian future where a religious sect took over the USA now called Gilead and kidnapped women and children. The women who had children were turned into Handmaid’s, beaten down emotionally and broken so they willingly submit to high ranking officials who rape them every month to try and get them pregnant. Offred/June is our lead character, played by Elisabeth Moss, who we get to hear the inner monologue of proving she’s not completely broken. They took her daughter from her, and her husband fled to Canada where a lot of refuges are, including her friend Moira. Offred lives in the house of the Waterfords, Fred and Serena, who are both people who helped this entire disaster happen. Serena wanted a baby so much she persuaded their driver Nick to impregnate June, and the two started a relationship that was more romantic than they expected. There’s a lot else going on but the end of the season had June being taken in a van off because she defied an order to stone to death their friend Janine, and she’s now pregnant by Nick, who assured her that it was going to be okay.
That’s where the book ended, so now we’re in AU territory. Gilead proves it is continues to be terrifying to new levels when June and several other Handmaid’s are taken to a place that seems like they’re about to be executed. Instead they’re spared, but it’s a warning to them. One of the Handmaid’s Ofglen had her tongue cut out for speaking up. June is surprised to find in her first medical check up that the Mayday group are ready to rescue her. She spends the next few episodes on the run, hiding out at the Boston Globe headquarters for a bit. She loses her mind a little with so much anxiety and separation, but she is ready to be free, even if it means waiting. She and Nick reconnect again, as he was part of getting her out. Something goes wrong but she persuades the driver to not leave her there, and he will come to regret this decision. He helps her, but then she’s captured anyway, and he’s executed and his wife turned into a Handmaid, their child taken away. It’s so brutal it took my breath away, and this was about the time when I said this was torture porn and needed a break. June breaks down entirely after finding out what happened to that kind man, and she becomes a ghost. She realizes she’s bleeding and the baby might be in peril, but does nothing about it, clearly having given up entirely. Serena’s strangely disturbed about this, mostly because while June annoys her a lot by her insolence, she also got used to someone pushing her buttons and now it’s boring. That woman, man. I have a lot to say about her.
Serena punishes both her and Nick, because they have their moments of seeming genuinely happy together, by pushing her own husband into getting Nick married off. By implying that June likes him more. I have a lot to say about him too, hahah. Nick is married to a very young girl, I’d say maybe 15 at most? Eden. She is heartbroken when Nick seems to despise the situation, but June persuades him to sleep with the girl even if it’s disgusting because otherwise he’ll be in peril. Everyone’s miserable. June shook herself out of her emotional disconnect by realizing her baby was tough and not willing to die just because she shut down. So she promised herself and the baby she’d try to fight for them. Serena seems to feel a little guilty about it but their peace is very quickly destroyed when June asks to see Hannah. This bitch right here. Anyway. A huge ceremony that Fred planned goes horribly awry, or wonderfully awry, when Ofglen gives the big old F-You to all the powerful men inside by setting off a bomb. I will admit that I cheered. We don’t know yet at this point if Fred survived or not. I spend pretty much all the episodes hoping they’ll all die. DIE DIE DIE.
I also forgot to mention we see Emily and Janine within the Unwoman camps where they send non-useful (or punished) women to work until they die. I actually didn’t know if we’d see Emily again, and Alexis as usual rocks this role. Emily was a former professor, a scientist, and she helps people medically while there as best as she can. We never heard much detail about those places, so I was intrigued to see it, even if it was terrifying as usual. We also get some flashbacks about June’s mother and Luke’s wife. I find this angle interesting. June’s mother was a fierce feminist and hated her daughter getting married, but one of the first times June gives up upon becoming a Handmaid is she sees her mother as an Unwoman. Jeeeez. I think the intention was to make us uncomfortable seeing Luke’s ex-wife Annie deal with June, and how she begged her to back off from the affair but she wouldn’t. I appreciate the show likes to give nuance even to their protagonist. She’s not a blameless person. She doesn’t deserve any of this, no one does, but it’d be easier to make her into a saint in the show. June’s a real person. I loved the episodes of her stuck away from the others, regaining her sense of self and memories from her life before.
I will admit I didn’t want June to be captured again. I didn’t want her to be back in that house. I wanted her to escape. But this show is not about people getting what they want. It’s not going to be an easy revenge story either. As much as I’d like June or the Handmaid’s to have a revolution and murder their oppressors one by one, it’s not realistic … at least not yet. It was so painful to see June broken, and while she was starting to get herself back again at the end of episode six, it’s not the same. So let’s talk about Serena, who I’ve seen a lot of think pieces about. She is definitely an antagonist and a villain, but she’s an interesting one, and it helps that her actress Yvonne Strahovski is incredible in the role. We see a little of her past when she’s shot for speaking up, probably resulting in why she can’t have a baby, but Fred’s also sterile so there’s that. Serena was a powerful woman once upon a time, but it was her own actions and choices that set Gilead as it was, and took all of that power away from her. She caused her own destruction as the identity she had before, and clearly she wasn’t as ready for it as she no doubt thought. She likes to take out her disappointment and fury on June, because she is a vicious person at heart. I can see how she’s compelling, but I would never call her sympathetic personally. She is a monster and her actions and complicity is why all these woman are being destroyed now. It’s not as if she’s just a sympathizer or looked the other way; she actively made the country what it was and continues to strongly support that. And abuse June and others to get out her spite.
Fred also is fascinating although obviously despicable too. I find he represents very well toxic masculinity and the fragility of men in power. In a weird way, he seems like he’s desperate for love and believing he’s a good person. We saw this in how he treated June; he wanted her to be grateful and for them to have a special connection, and it continues this way. She can manipulate him by being nice to him and flattering him. How pathetic is it that just flattering him makes him fluff his feathers and feel powerful? But he is powerful, and a monster too. I will just cross my fingers some day he’ll get what’s coming to him. I want them all to suffer. ALL OF THEM. Oh and Aunt Lydia, who I never brought up, who is so good at breaking women, yikes. She’s the one who brings June down once she’s back, cuffing her to a bed at one point and then showing her the body of the man who helped her. There are so many villains in this show, and they’re GOOD villains. Cruel, insidious, and a little bit crazy. There’s so much I could say. The acting is superb. Max does a great job as Nick, who just wants to love and protect June but never forget he’s a part of this system either, y’all. Maybe he is trying to destroy it from the inside, but IDK, I think people excuse him a lot too. There are no weak links in the casting. I am sorry that June had to come back, but once I saw why and where the story was going, I accepted it. If she got away, who would we have in Gilead to keep showing that they’re evil? Shrug. Time to keep going. I can do it. I just need some wine first.