The previous season finale of The Handmaid’s Tale infuriated a lot of viewers who wondered what June could really achieve by returning to Gilead when she had the chance to flee it. It turns out quite a lot, as this week’s season 3 finale saw June emancipate more than 50 children, her ambitious cargo plane mission coming good.
Though this plan has been the focus of season 3, this oddly wasn’t the most compelling part of the finale, which was beautifully written and had the best dialogue exchanges of the season.
June and Joseph’s tense alliance came to a head, an initial stumble in the plane mission causing him to try and abort the whole thing. All the deaths leading up to it can’t be for nothing, June insisted, Joseph blithely replying: “The universe doesn’t keep a balance sheet, I’m afraid.”
Ultimately, June established dominance over her former master. Last week I noted she had her Heisenberg moment, and this week continued down that Breaking Bad path, showing a newfound strength and ruthlessness that even Joseph couldn’t match. He was left to read Treasure Island to the kids waiting to be freed, in probably the season’s most charming moment. Bradley Whitford (Joseph) has been a great addition to the show, and it remains to be seen if he’ll return to it after electing to go down with the ship this week. It’s easy to imagine the opening shot of season 4 seeing Joseph hanging from the Wall, but given the power vacuum in Gilead right now, perhaps he can still spin his way out of it.
In Canada, Serena was on the verge of being released into the world as Fred faced hours of deposition. Commander Waterford seems to desperate to exact revenge on his wife, however, hooking her for Nick’s “rape” of June. Serena was certainly complicit in a lot of what went on in Gilead, but I don’t see how her ‘under pressure from husband/the state’ argument holds true here, really. To be continued next season, I suspect, which I pray will take place more in the wider world and not be filled with quite so many trips to the local Gilead supermarket.
This season’s climax proved more logically sound than the last, though I was still a little disappointed by it. There was room for some really interesting twists and turns in the plane plot, but instead the decoy boiled down to ‘I’ll throw rocks and you run in the opposite direction’. This is where Breaking Bad comparisons don’t favour The Handmaid’s Tale. Its dialogue, character work and cinematography are excellent, but it often feels like it doesn’t quite know how to stage a thrilling set-piece.
Still, the scene with the rescued children disembarking in Canada was pretty moving (that aid worker recognising his kid!), and the often bleak show needed this rare moment of triumph. Bar some alibi that strains credulity, June is surely done working undercover in Gilead now she’s pulled off her masterplan, and would be shot by Eyes on sight. So where from here? Some sort of forest resistance stronghold? A new identity? A different border? Even if Gilead did accept her back, that bullet to the lower abdomen makes me wonder if she’ll become infertile and thus be of no ‘use’ to the state.
A solid ending to a season here that started off slow but gathered pace in the second half. Now here’s hoping it escapes the hazy, golden suburbs of suburban Massachusetts and builds a wider universe in season 4.