This review contains spoilers.
Appreciating that our hero’s next move may be bleeding to death before she can be hanged by the state – all things being relative, that was a happy ending. June’s plan worked. She got the kids out. Nobody we care about died, and both Waterfords are going to jail. That’s a good day in Gilead by any metric.
A happy ending wasn’t a given. Until Moira stepped onto that plane and was met by the shocked faces of more than 52 children (many of whom were so young they’d never seen an woman with short hair, trousers or inalienable civil liberties), things could have gone the way of dread. The chastening experience of watching June’s failed and then refused escapes in season two taught viewers not to take anything for granted. After this finale’s many jeopardies were navigated, the plane door could well have opened to reveal nothing but a dusty floor and a can of beans.
Instead, it was filled with kids – the children of Gilead. Their escape presents a whole range of story possibilities for the already-commissioned next season. With half of this show’s playing pieces now over the border, Canada is set to be as vital a location as Gilead next year, more even. The main characters’ pre-Gilead flashbacks having mostly been ticked off and the Commanders dropping like misogynistic flies, The Handmaid’s Tale is moving towards the future.
And hopefully, it’s also moving towards an eventual end. Showrunner Bruce Miller has said that he wants to see the Waterfords’ version of the Nuremberg trial, and we’re already on the doorstep of that. There’s only so much more that June – our window into this world – can survive in a place as hazardous as Gilead without her longevity becoming farcical. Many more seasons of swerving close calls and she won’t be a Handmaid anymore, she’ll be a Highlander – a battle-scarred immortal.
As our eyes and ears on the ground, we know that June isn’t about to bleed to death or be strung up on the Wall anytime soon. An escape route will surely be found for her and the others – perhaps via Mayday, perhaps via Nick (who didn’t return to save the day in this finale as some expected) or perhaps via Commander Lawrence who’s pledged to clean up his own mess.
Joseph Lawrence was one of several spanners thrown into the machinery of June’s plan this finale – spanners she ground up in the cogs through sheer force of will. First came the early bird Martha, who jeopardised things twice by arriving in daylight and then by running away and getting arrested, leading to the roadblocks and door-to-door searches that gave Lawrence cold feet.
Lawrence learning the lesson of his irrelevance was a particularly sweet moment. Even that late in the day, he was still so infused with Gilead’s patriarchy that he continued to labour under the misapprehension that June required his permission to act. “Young lady” indeed. When will men like him learn that all that’s required of them is to stay out of women’s way?
He learnt. And it led to the pleasant surprise (not too many of those in Gilead) that instead of selling June out to the authorities, he’d gathered the runaway kids together for story time. Treasure Island was a fitting choice for a group of children on their very own travel adventure.
Unexpectedly, this finale was full of pleasant surprises. Sienna standing up to the Commander. Janine and the others coming to June’s aid in the fight against the airport guards. Serena’s arrest. June and Lawrence’s rapprochement. Rita meeting Luke (she lost a son in the war and loves his step-daughter Nichole. Maybe those two can be something important to each other. She’s certainly going to prove a vital witness to the Waterfords’ trial). It was tense and emotional, and after a series that’s see-sawed between rousing and frustrating, a very satisfying ending.
Season three has been the story of June’s radicalisation – that was the point of the opening flashback to immediately after her capture, to show us exactly how far she’d been changed by Gilead. The June that pleaded with that guard to tell her where they’d taken Hannah was someone who still believed, fundamentally, that people in authority – men in authority – could be relied on for help. Just as the pre-eye removal Janine being loaded into the truck and screaming about suing them for mistreatment still believed she had unimpeachable legal rights.
Gilead disabused them both of those notions. As June said, it made her ruthless, which is exactly what she needed to be to pull off her plan. Over the episodes, she sacrificed a portion of her sanity, compassion and mercy to do the things she had to do – murder Winslow, let Eleanor die, soothe and thank that guard before shooting him in the head because the past five years had taught her that men in authority mean the opposite of help. Now the question is what other lessons Gilead has to teach her.