‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ finale delivers what we need: hope

Our review of season 1’s final episode (with spoilers)
By Avital Norman Nathman  Published on 06/16/2017 at 9:00 AM EDT
Elisabeth Moss in 'The Handmaid's Tale' George Kraychyk/Hulu

Hulu aired the season finale of The Handmaid’s Tale this week, and we’re already clamoring for more. This show has done its literary namesake proud in many ways, and this finale really sealed the deal. (Some major spoilers ahead.) Not only does it end very much like Margaret Atwood’s novel — leaving the audience with an uncertainty as to Offred’s fate — but it leaves viewers with a sense of both foreboding and hope.

Watching the Handmaids stride through the town with purpose — fresh off of defying orders to stone Jeanine to death — sent chills down my spine. Walking to Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” (“It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me”), you could feel the shift in the air. It felt like we had been building to this moment, needing this moment — the moment of rising up and taking action — all season.

This episode gave me something that had been hard to find in previous episodes: hope. Hope is scarce in Gilead. The hope for new babies is limited, the hope to escape the prison of a Handmaid’s status and any hope for salvation is beaten out of them. When we meet Ofglen, a flicker of hope arrives for Offred in the form of Mayday, the resistance group; but when Ofglen is arrested for being a “gender traitor” and is the victim of female genital mutilation, the hope was quickly squashed. Ofglen steals and drives a car in an act of defiance and freedom, briefly igniting hope for the Handmaids that is once again promptly smothered when she is dragged off by police and never seen again. When Offred sees Moira at Jezebel’s, she is initially elated that her friend, who she’d been told was dead, is alive; but that hope is dampened after seeing that Moira, formerly a fiery and passionate beacon of hope, had had her own hope snuffed out.

But this final episode? It felt like it was overflowing with hope. Offred is pregnant, which fills Serena Joy with all the hope and promise of a family (and drives her to desperation, as she heartlessly dangles June’s daughter Hannah in front of her as a threat to ensure the safety of the unborn baby). There’s a little spark of unexpected hope when Nick finds out Offred is pregnant — when he kneels down and caresses her belly. Is either of them wondering if they could have been a family in another life? Moira’s triumphant escape to Canada — beginning with stealing a car to drive her toward freedom — presented the possibility of  hope, made more solid when she reconnects with Luke. And finally, Offred’s resistance in the form of a deliberately dropped stone: so much hope, particularly when the other Handmaids followed her lead.

But where there is hope, there’s also uncertainty. This is Gilead after all, and nobody is ever really safe. Daniel Monroe (Jeanine’s commander) repents for his sins by losing his hand (due to his wife’s suggestion, he gets a harsh punishment to appease the Lord). This in turn shakes Commander Waterford — Serena Joy knows of his escapades at Jezebel’s, he wonders if the future may hold punishment for him. After all, his wife helped write these new bylaws, she knows them intimately. And, with a clear desperation to become a mother, I wouldn’t put anything past Serena Joy when it comes to ensuring that happens, at any cost to anyone, even her husband the Commander.   

Interestingly, this series has sparked actual resistance in its own right.

Back in May, protesters dressed as Handmaids filled up the Texas Capitol in Austin. They showed up in opposition to Senate Bill 8, which would require health care facilities to bury or cremate any fetal remains (whether from abortion, miscarriage or stillbirth).

Also in May, women in Missouri donned red Handmaid’s robes and white bonnets to protest a bill that would prevent taxpayer money from going to health clinics that provided abortions as well as to ones that don’t provide the service, but talked about it as an option. That’s right, state money would be withheld from clinics that even counseled patients about abortion.

Earlier this week, over a dozen pro-choice activists descended on the Ohio Statehouse to protest Senate Bill 145, which would ban a common abortion method called dilation and evacuation. According to Jaime Miracle, Deputy Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, the state has passed 18 different restrictions on access to abortion care since 2011.

And what of Offred? Where does the end of season 1 leave her?

In the book, Offred hasn’t had as much of a hand in the resistance as is depicted in the show, but the one thing that remains the same  from Atwood novel is the ending: We — the audience, whether of the book or the show — are left uncertain as to what Offred’s future holds. And while that has vexed me ever since I read the book back in high school, I’m hopeful that the next season will help answer many of the questions I’ve grappled with since then:

  • Is Offred being saved? Whisked off to some unknown location by Nick because he now has something significant at stake? Or has she been arrested?
  • Do we trust Nick? Can we, given the flashback scenes we’ve been privy to? Is he an Eye masquerading as someone in the resistance or is he someone who has finally had enough of this so-called better world, and is using his position as an Eye to resist?
  • What consequences did the other Handmaidens suffer for their act of solidarity with Offred?

Looks like we’ll have to wait until season 2 (shooting begins in September) to find out.

Did you watch the series? Do you have any thoughts about the finale? Let us know in the comments! If you haven’t watched and want to join Hulu, sign up here.

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