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The Handmaid's Tale Discussion: 'Mayday' leads us out of Gilead
The third season of The Handmaid's Tale has officially come to an end.
"Mayday" sees June finally realize her plan of rescuing a group of Gilead children by ferrying them north to Canada, but she faces some surprising roadblocks on her way to finding them some sense of freedom. Meanwhile, Serena Joy must contend with her past when Fred betrays her, and the show sets up a game-changing fourth season in the final minutes of the episode.
We're Alyssa Fikse and Jessica Toomer and praise be, we've survived another season of The Handmaid's Tale. Celebrate with us.
The Calm Before The Storm
Jessica: I honestly never thought this day would come, but we made it, Alyssa! It’s the end of The Handmaid’s Tale. Praise f***ing be! Look, I still love this show, and I’ll watch as many seasons as they’ll give me of Elisabeth Moss close-ups, but I don’t think I’m alone in saying this season was ROUGH. Before we break out the hard liquor and toast to the Lord finally opening up a way for us to escape Gilead, we’ve got to get through this final episode. Again, it was ROUGH.
Alyssa: Leaving Gilead was never going to be easy, but that was a tough last episode. From opening on June’s flashbacks of being carted away at the genesis of Gilead through to the last devastating minutes, it was a hard watch. There was no way The Handmaid’s Tale was going to let us off easy after this season. Can you imagine the fear? Like, the early handmaiden really made things difficult for June in the long run, but can you even begin to imagine that kind of fear? I enjoyed June’s heart-to-heart with the little girl because it was good to see June getting to look one of these kids in the eye and be reminded of why she’s taking this risk. It’s for them. She may not have been able to save Hannah, but she’s still putting it all on the line so these children could have a shot at a better future. As annoyed with June as I’ve been for most of the season, it was good to be reminded of that.
Jessica: Yeah, the early going of this episode reinforced just how right a decision June made in getting these girls out. When that baby asked what life was like on the outside, and questioned who she’d be if she wasn’t a wife and mother, I broke a little inside. It’s those moments that remind me why we need this show — to remind us why we never want our complacency to contribute to a real-life Gilead. June’s single-minded focus on rescuing these kids has been frustrating this season, but this episode, I just felt inspired by her and her willingness to see things through. She was cold as ice when they were prepping for the big escape while other Marthas were puking their guts out and losing their sh*t. Not our girl June. You’ve gotta respect that.
Alyssa: Before we get to June and the Marthas, we really need to discuss that final showdown with Lawrence. Was I surprised that he got one last waffle in before he committed to the cause? Absolutely not. Did I gasp when June informed him that this was no longer his house? Absolutely yes. As much as I roll my eyes when we get another intense close-up of Elisabeth Moss’s determined/angry/ecstatic face, this scene reminded everyone watching why she’s one of the best in the biz. She really can command a room like no other.
Jessica: Hooo boy, when June beat Lawrence in that d*ck measuring contest, I cheered like the feminist fangirl I know I am. Again, it reminded me how used to power these men are, and how quickly they cower when that authority is challenged in a meaningful way. Lawrence wasn’t prepared for a woman to speak back, to argue his control over his own home, and when June did, he folded embarrassingly quick. He came through in the end, but I’d like to think he needed that lesson in (wo)maning up to find his courage.
Alyssa: If there’s any message that can be taken away from The Handmaid’s Tale, it’s that females are strong as hell. These Marthas and Handmaids really are risking it all, and while we really didn’t need a full season of false starts to get there, ultimately the show delivered. And it really raised an interesting moral question: Was June right not to shoot the fleeing Martha? I’m just not sure.
Jessica: I think this whole season has built up to that question of ruthlessness: How does one become ruthless? Are there circumstances where ruthlessness is called for? Is being ruthless in a place like Gilead a bad thing? I don’t know the answer. But I’m glad the show is presenting it as a dilemma June faces, this unavoidable fact that Gilead has changed her. I hope next season we see her reckoning with that truth and really examining herself and her choices more. But, if we’re being honest … yeah, I would’ve shot the Martha.
Alyssa: Someone else forced to reckon with their decisions was Serena Joy. At the beginning of the episode, it seemed like it was all working out for her: She was getting her freedoms expanded, she had gotten rid of her shitty husband who was seemingly going down for war crimes, and she was getting time with Nichole. I swear that if everything had worked out for that woman, I would have screamed.
Jessica: Just seeing her with a day pass to explore the city and a cute caramel peacoat was enough for me to pull my hair out. Serena Joy has always felt like the more venomous of the Waterford duo and I was worried her supervised visits and new wardrobe might mean the Canadian government had unwittingly invited a snake into their slowly-recovering refugee camp. Thankfully, Fred proves it’s not just scorned women the world needs to worry about. He’s petty AF when it comes to his conniving wife and I actually loved that about him this episode.
Alyssa: Trust neither Waterford is probably a good rule of thumb. Serena really overplayed her hand here, believing that being a pretty white woman who “just wants her baby back” would be enough to atone for all of the evil sh*t that she did. Surprise, b*tch! It’s not! Fred was/is obviously an evil dude, but he wasn’t alone in helming Gilead. Serena was right there with him, stripping the rights from women everywhere and tormenting June specifically. While I may want to ask her where she got that fab coat, I am so, so glad that she’s going to have to face up for what she has done.
Jessica: Yeah, something tells me I’ll like seeing Serena in an orange jumpsuit, behind bars, just as much as I stan that gorgeous coat. With both of the Waterfords in custody and ready to rat out Gilead for a chance at freedom, I’m really interested to see where the show takes them next season. Will they continue to try to sabotage each other? Will they wise up and work together to give vital info in exchange for more leniency? Will we ever find out what kind of relationship Serena Joy had with that American handler?
Alyssa: Well, there have been many times when I’ve thought that Serena would never go back to Fred, but she always does. However, I think the fact that this new twist may have separated her from Nichole for good might be the last straw. As far as Tuello, I think that bridge has also been burned. I think the Serena Joy of next season will be one without allies.
Escape from Gilead
Jessica: Which is such a contrast to June, who is basically like a red-robed Messiah right now. She’s leading her people out of Egypt via a cargo plane and defending them by throwing stones and sacrificing herself. Subtle, this show is not. There were so many times I just knew, "This is it. The jig is up." But June managed to get the kids to the airport by sneaking through the woods and creating a distraction with the guards. Alyssa, when June was ready to throw that first stone on her own, and then all the Marthas and Handmaids showed up ... I bawled like a baby. I just love the power of sisterhood, you guys.
Alyssa: I will admit that the last 20 or so minutes of the episode got me good, Jess. I’m in general a bit of a cryer, but I well and truly lost it when they came back for June. They had a clear ticket out of there and June was ready to take the fall for them all, but having them by her side was such a beautiful show of support. The whole escape scene was incredibly tense, but I held my breath while they threw the rocks. As you said, the show isn’t exactly subtle, but there was something really poetic about women using what they had to fight against their oppressors. Even when women are seemingly down and out, they just don’t stop fighting. That’s goddamn beautiful.
Jessica: It’s the most beautiful g*dd*mn thing I’ve ever seen! The courage, the selflessness — no man could do what they did for each other. I was in awe, even as the bullets were flying and my anxiety was rising. I want to praise June a bit more though because she really went all-in with this sacrificial plan, running through the woods with a trigger-happy guard on her trail. She even got nicked by a bullet before going down and surprising her attacker with the gun she had hidden in her stockings. June doesn’t have any tactical training in weapons or anything like that, but it’s nice to see she can still be dangerous, even without it. Us women are scrappy, yo.
Alyssa: June did indeed come through, as did Moira, Luke, and Emily up in Canada, ready to welcome in the Gilead refugees into a new life where they can “wear what they want.” This sequence was the other one that made me sob. Moira’s shock at the number of kids that got out. Emily and Moira working as a team. Luke’s devastation when he realized that neither June nor Hannah were on the plane. Rita reuniting with Moira and meeting Luke. It was A LOT.
Jessica: Rita! I was so happy to see our loyal Martha touch down on Canadian soil. I just knew the show would kill her off in the final moments, just to rip our hearts out a bit more. Hearing her tell Luke that all of this was June’s doing was another emotional moment for me. Their friendship was one of my favorites and I love that Rita is honoring June, even now. But damn, poor Luke. He’s never been my favorite, but he’s stepped up this season and to see the sheer agony on his face when Hannah wasn’t in that group of rescued girls was just heartbreaking. Luke, like his wife, needs a break next season.
Alyssa: Listen, we can argue over whether or not The Handmaid’s Tale justified its third season, let alone a fourth, but at least this time it makes sense for June to stay behind. However, I’m hoping she finds her way out of Gilead soon. After everything that’s gone down, it is seriously going to stretch the bounds of believability for her to escape the Wall after shepherding out dozens of children. I’m sure Lawrence will do what he can to shield her, but I would really like to see June in Canada, working to bring down Gilead from the outside. There is only so much she can do from within, and I want to see her working with Emily and Moira again. Seeing June stuck in Gilead didn’t quite work this season, so I think they need to shake things up. Also, I’m just not sure if The Handmaid’s Tale can shift away from its more problematic tendencies at this point. As much as I enjoyed the last few episodes (as much as one can enjoy The Handmaid’s Tale), I haven’t forgotten what happened with Ofmatthew.
Jessica: We can (and should) never forget. Honestly, the show has too many bad habits to break at this stage of the game. I hope nothing as terrible as what happened to Ofmatthew happens in Season 4, but The Handmaid’s Tale likes shooting itself in the foot each season so just come prepared. I hope they lean into Moira and Emily more, I hope June finds a bit of her humanity and is able to leave Gilead (with or without Hannah), I hope Lawrence will continue to help her and the Waterfords will get what they deserve, but if this show has taught us anything it’s that hope is a dangerous thing. So just keep your expectations in check next season, guys.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the authors', and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.