The final episode of Season 1, "Night," begins with Offred flashing back to her first days in the Red Center, after she was taken by Gilead. Aunt Lydia teaches them to be submissive. Sensing that Offred is willful, she asks for an apology: “I’m sorry, Aunt Lydia.”
In the present, Serena has uncovered Offred’s secret—the one where she’s gone out with Fred, not the one where she’s smuggling an unknown package for the underground organization, Mayday, which she keeps behind the bathtub. Serena beats Offred, then forces her to take a pregnancy test.
Offred is pregnant.
Serena is elated. So is the maid, Rita. In a private moment, Offred tells Nick. He gently places his hand across her stomach and looks at her lovingly.
Serena Joy takes Offred on a trip, where she reveals a gated home… and Offred’s daughter Hannah. But Offred has been locked in the limo and can’t get out. Serena speaks with Hannah on the steps, as Offred watches, growing increasingly hysterical. Serena reveals the purpose of this trip, which came as no surprise: Hannah was happy and healthy. And will remain that way, as long as Offred does nothing to harm her current pregnancy.
Serena confronts Fred about his dalliance with Offred. In the very definition of the word “chuzpah,” Fred blames Serena for his affair, because she was the one who brought Offred into their home. But Serena is not without her weapons. She tells Fred that he’s not the father.
Speaking of adultery, Warren stands trial for his affair with Ofwarren/Ofdaniel. He apologizes to God and to the men in the room (not his wife, I noticed). Fred, who is guilty of the same crime, suggests leniency. But as Warren’s wife has asked for the harshest punishment possible, it’s carried out.
Oh gods. The operating room again. But instead of the first Ofglenn’s punishment of genital mutilation, Warren surgically loses his hand. It was a nausea-inducing scene.
Offred opens the package that she had taken for Mayday but not yet delivered. Inside are letters, dozens of them, detailing the suffering and despair that women just like her are experiencing. As she reads them, she laughs and cries. She sleeps curled up around the letters, as if she was comforted, knowing she’s not alone.
Three bells ring, and Offred knows what that means: The other handmaids, including the obstreperous current Ofglenn, gather to administer punishment. They grab rocks to stone an unknown sentenced person, who Aunt Lydia describes as someone who would harm a child.
It’s Ofwarren. Poor, deranged Janine, who had threatened in "The Bridge" to kill herself and take her baby with her.
The handmaids are horrified. But strangely, it’s Ofglenn who speaks up. She gets the butt of a rifle across her jaw, then dragged away by soldiers.
None of the handmaids are willing to stone Ofwarren. Offred, rock in hand, approaches Aunt Lydia and drops it. “I’m sorry, Aunt Lydia.” Boom, callback.
The others echo her in solidarity, so Aunt Lydia dismisses them—but not before whispering in Offred’s ear, “There will be consequences, believe me.” Oh gods. I believe her.
Switching to Moira, it seems that June’s BFF, who escaped in the last episode, found herself wandering, cold and desperate. When she stumbles upon a barn, she wipes a license plate clean to reveal… Ontario. She made it to Canada.
When we see her again, she’s in a refugee debriefing center. Her case worker gives her a residency card, a cell phone, clothes, cash, and ooh, a health insurance card. He is kind. She is utterly bewildered. As she leaves the refugee center, she is met by Luke, June’s husband. He tells Moira that she was on his list of family members. She falls into his arms and cries, and suddenly, there’s something in my eye.
But now for the finale, the scene that we’ll be thinking about until Season 2: Offred knows Aunt Lydia’s consequences are coming for her. She’s not surprised when a black van pulls up. Suddenly, Nick comes into the room and whispers to her, "Just go with them. Trust me."
Armed, black-clad men appear, and as she’s being led away, she hugs Rita. Offred obviously whispered something into her ear, because Rita runs to the bathroom and finds Offred’s cache of papers.
Fred and Serena try to stop the men from taking Offred. The guards insist their papers are in order and take her without showing them.
Offred is placed in the back of a van and sits in the dark, contemplating an unknown future. “I step up into the darkness within. Or else the light.”
The first three episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale were nail-bitingly tense and full of power as Offred and the other handmaids went from frying pan, to fire, to furnace. But as the season progressed, the writers dished out the pain with a little less vigor, making me think that the show could have used one episode less this season. The finale, though, was a return to strength. Every action from the previous episodes revealed their terrible consequences.
The mild optimism of the unknown future that the season ended on makes me think that it was filmed before the producers knew the show would get a second season. There’s a finality here that doesn’t seem quite right. A true cliffhanger would have Offred head toward the unknown… but with traps set along the way.
Regardless, The Handmaid’s Tale is one of the most compelling yet brutal shows I’ve seen in a while, even if watching Offred’s despair is akin to self-harm. The acting is flawless, and a shout-out to the cinematographer and set designer, who make even the harshest scenes lovely to look at.
Here’s hoping for an equally impressive Season 2.
WHAT WE LOVE
The Handmaid’s Tale is filmed with muted colors, despite the brilliance of the handmaid’s red uniforms. Bright white lights are reserved for the hospital, where the mutilation takes place. Now brightly lit rooms are giving me a Pavlovian fear response.
WHAT WE DIDN’T LOVE
It didn’t make sense that Ofglen would try to defend Ofwarren/Ofdaniel. As we saw in a previous episode, Ofglen is clearly comfortable with her handmaid status.
Offred: “It’s their own fault. They should never have given us uniforms if they didn’t want us to be an army.”