Well, that was quite a finale.
Tuesday night’s episode of “The Handmaid’s Tale” wrapped up a disturbing, gory and riveting second season of the acclaimed Hulu drama. Is your head still spinning, particularly after that final scene? Let’s revisit the five most shocking moments.
1) Offred slaps Commander Waterford
In the last episode, Eden (Nick’s 15-year-old wife) and Isaac (the guardian) were caught trying to run away together. Because Gilead is a living nightmare, they were subsequently forced to plunge to their deaths in a swimming pool. After that horrific spectacle, all the members of the Waterford household are on edge — at least the ones with human emotions.
“Commander Waterford, Mrs. Waterford. You were so kind to welcome Eden into your godly home,” Eden’s father tells them.
“A grave mistake, as it turns out,” the commander sneers.
June/Offred is disgusted by the whole scene. “You turned her in?” she blurts out when Eden’s father reveals he called the authorities when his daughter and Isaac turned up at his home. Offred also can’t stop herself from asking the commander about Gilead’s tradition of teenage brides: “What are you going to do when they come for your daughter?”
Furious, the commander slaps Offred across the face for speaking out of turn. In one glorious moment, Offred’s rage spills over and she slaps him right back.
2) Serena’s punishment
The show has been hinting all season at Serena Joy’s slow-growing realization that Gilead’s mission of enslaving women to procreate might have some drawbacks. Of course, Serena helped create the autocratic society — but she starts to see the light even more after a confrontation with Offred in the greenhouse.
While going through Eden’s things, Offred finds a Bible with notes written all over it, even though women in Gilead are forbidden to read and the punishment is losing a finger. Offred is distraught over the idea of young Eden desperately trying to understand the Bible and the reasons behind Gilead’s brutality, and she begs Serena to think about her own daughter (who, of course, is technically Offred and Nick’s daughter).
“How are you going to keep her safe? What are you going to do?” Offred pleads.
“She will understand the word of God, and she will obey his word,” Serena says automatically.
“She cannot read his word,” Offred hisses.
Serena kicks Offred out of the greenhouse. However, the conversation stays with Serena, so much so that she gets together with a group of wives to approach the council (where her husband is in charge) about a “radical” change to the rules: Sons and daughters should be taught to read the Bible, to make sure the children of Gilead live by the laws of scripture.
The all-male council is condescending (“Forget your lunch today, Waterford?” one snarks when Serena enters the room) and shocked to hear a woman actually speak up. Commander Waterford humors his wife and says the council will “seriously” discuss the issue. Still, nothing prepares the men for when Serena does the unthinkable: She picks up the Bible and starts to read. “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God.”
If you thought Serena might be spared from punishment for reading because she’s Commander Waterford’s wife, think again. He simply watches as she’s dragged away to have half a finger sawed off.
Credit to Yvonne Strahovski’s portrayal of this character: Even though Serena is responsible for unspeakable terrors in Gilead, it’s hard not to have sympathy when she gets home and tearfully holds up her mangled hand to Offred: “I tried,” she says.
3) Emily stabs Aunt Lydia
Ofglen/Emily is out of the colonies and sent to the high-ranking Commander Lawrence (played by Bradley Whitford), who seems fairly evil at first — even as he declines to hold the monthly “ceremony”/rape of the handmaid.
Yet he tells Aunt Lydia that Emily did “splendidly” during the ceremony. As Aunt Lydia comes to visit and delivers that news, beaming, Emily takes a chance she might not get again: The moment Aunt Lydia’s back is turned, Emily grabs a hidden knife and stabs her as hard as she can.
Then she pushes Lydia down the stairs and kicks her over and over. A horrified Martha comes in and sees the bloodshed and drags Emily away, leaving us until next season to ponder the fate of Aunt Lydia.
4) Commander Lawrence turns out to be … not a bad guy?
This is still unclear. He’s made some gross comments, and it seemed like he was taking Emily to her death following the Aunt Lydia stabbing. Instead, he drives her to a secret drop-off spot where she can safely flee Gilead.
“What is happening?” Emily says, shaking.
Commander Lawrence wryly responds that he’s getting himself into major trouble. No explanation why: As he drives away, he yells, “Have a nice life. Don’t get caught!”
5) Offred doesn’t get in the van
Are we really going to fall for another “Offred is going to escape” plot? As it turns out — yes. As Offred is putting baby Nicole to bed, Rita runs in the room. “We can get you out,” she whispers. “You and the baby. But you have to get out right now.”
Fresh off a chilling conversation with Commander Waterford, who dangles the idea of more visits to her older daughter, Hannah, if Offred stays their handmaid and tries to help them have a baby boy, Offred has a choice to make. She instantly accepts Rita’s deal, and hurries the baby out of the house while a fire distracts the neighborhood. Then she runs into Serena.
Serena starts to have a meltdown when she sees Offred running away. “No, no,” she begs. “Give me my baby.” But Serena isn’t the same after the amputation. She actually listens to Offred, who drops some harsh truths: “Serena, listen to me, please. I can get her out of here. She cannot grow up here. You know she can’t.”
Indeed, Serena can no longer deny how Gilead tortures women. She has a tearful goodbye with Nicole, says a prayer, and allows Offred to flee with the baby.
It’s a long, drawn-out, tense scene as Offred is guided by Marthas, who lead her to a tunnel across from a cornfield. Suddenly, a car appears. It’s Emily, with Commander Lawrence. And there’s another van arriving to take them away, presumably to Canada.
Yet in the final moments, Offred thinks of Hannah, who is still in Gilead. Fleeing means probably never seeing Hannah again. Even though the chances of seeing her in Gilead are slim, Offred decides she has to stay. Emily starts screaming at Offred to get in the van, and Offred just hands her the baby.
“Call her Nicole,” Offred says. “Tell her I love her.” She shuts the door, and the van drives away.
The season ends with a close-up on Offred’s face, as she pulls her red hood over her head and stares directly into the camera. Then she turns around and walks away. To where? We cannot even begin to imagine.