***Spoilers ahead. Do not read on unless you have seen episode 10 of The Handmaid’s Tale ***
The final episode of The Handmaid’s Tale contained one of the most powerful scenes I’ve seen on television in a while. The story of Offred’s plight reached a whole new emotional low when we saw her desperately, repeatedly smashing her fists against the car window, screaming for her daughter Hannah who stood just out of reach.
It was an episode that hurtled Offred back and forth, between the very pits of despair to the heights of defiance and triumph.
Nevertheless, the series left us with a very ambiguous ending indeed, with Offred taken away in a foreboding black van. But in her own words, is she heading for darkness or light in series two?
Here, we go over the series finale from start to finish which, much like the whole series, was heart-wrenching and harrowing – but ultimately hopeful…
Serena finds out
Having brewed over several episodes, Serena Joy’s suspicions about Offred and the Commander’s illicit affair are finally confirmed in the finale. (Makeup on the collar of her cloak. That old chestnut.) Serena is furious, because everything is being taken away from her – her independence, her sensuality, her husband – under a regime that she herself helped put into place. She slams Offred’s face into the wall and forces her to take a pregnancy test.
The test shows that Offred is finally pregnant. “He’s answered our prayers,” whispers Serena. Offred stares at her incredulously and asks, “You think I prayed for this? You think I prayed to bring a baby into this house?”
Who’s the father?
All the evidence would suggest that Nick is the father, given that repeated attempts by the Commander to impregnate Offred have failed. Offred breaks the news to Nick, and they share a tender moment which, unbeknownst to them, is witnessed by Serena. She sees intimacy, love, affection – all things that Serena believes Offred has but she doesn’t. And so, a woman scorned, she seeks revenge.
What follows is the most distressing scene of the series – and it doesn’t contain a hint of violence.
Serena takes Offred for a drive. She then gets out and enters a house while Offred waits in the car. Moments later she steps out of the home holding Hannah’s hand. The initial joy that Offred feels at seeing her daughter quickly dissolves when she begins to scrabble at the handle, and realises she’s locked in. No matter how loud she howls, how many times she launches her fists at the window, Hannah has no idea she’s there.
When Serena returns to the car, she spells out exactly how she is threatening Offred. “As long as my baby is safe,” she says. “So is yours.” What follows is an avalanche of pure rage and expletives from Offred while Serena, as always, remains disturbingly serene.
Elisabeth Moss (who plays Offred) said that this scene was the most “physically and emotionally challenging” to film of the whole series. “I did one take of it and I couldn’t move,” she told RadioTimes.com. “I had to sit for a while to catch my breath, I couldn’t move my arms because I was so exhausted from what I was doing.
“And I was like, ‘F***, that was the first take and we have so many more to do.’”
This scene is extraordinary in that it can be so, so harrowing just as it is. No sexual violence, institutional torture or mass shootings necessary – just a mother trying to get her daughter back.
Like with many moments in The Handmaid’s Tale, after this act of cruelty it feels like nothing could possibly pick Offred back up. But there is the package. Offred opens it to find hundreds of letters from women in Gilead, begging for help and looking for friends and family. In this moment she realises she is not alone. Despite the white-winged “blinders” designed to isolate handmaids, the solitary confinement and the inability to trust anyone for fear they’re an eye – a divide and rule tactic used by the regime – Offred is not alone.
Just when we think Offred may have found some small respite from her eternal misery, she is catapulted back down again when the Handmaids are summoned to a Salvaging. Their victim? Janine, who survived her attempted suicide and was convicted of endangering a child, for which the punishment is death by stoning.
The Handmaids are horrified at the task before them. When Aunt Lydia blows the whistle, Offred takes a step forward and drops her stone to the ground. Defiantly, the others follow suit. Like the letters, it’s another powerful example of the solidarity of women under the regime.
Moira and Luke reunite
Meanwhile, in a land far, far away from Gilead, Moira has escaped to Canada. She winds up at a refugee centre, mute and bewildered as a caseworker talks information at her and provides her with a phone, money, and all the things that were unthinkable before.
Luke arrives, having put Moira on his list of family to be notified about should they escape Gilead.
At this point, we were weeping uncontrollably, and so was OT Fagbenle (Luke), it seems. “It’s so emotional. So emotional,” he told RadioTimes.com. “I mean, when we shot that scene and Samira [Wiley] was kind of in her zone, I was almost a sobbing mess just seeing her coming out all grubby and holding that package.”
The very ambiguous black van
Back in good old Gilead, Offred is feeling triumphant about the non-stoning, however she is fully expecting to be punished. The inevitable black van comes to take her away, but first Nick strides into her room and whispers, “Just go with it. Trust me.”
Offred goes willingly into the van, telling a tearful Rita where to find the letters on her way out. And her final words are…
“Whether this is my end or a new beginning I have no way of knowing. I have given myself over into the hands of strangers, because it can’t be helped
“And so I step up, into the darkness within, or else the light.”
What does this mean for series two?
Okay, first thing’s first: there definitely is going to be a second series, Praise Be. The Handmaid’s Tale was renewed very soon after its US premiere in April following critical acclaim.
But what’s in store for Offred? Could she be heading to her death? Or the dreaded colonies? Or is the black van an escape route organised by the resistance?
Here’s everything we do know about the second series:
- It’ll be longer than the first, extending from 10 to 13 episodes
- Alexis Bledel will reprise her role as Ofglen/Emily
- Things are going to get even more grim. “Wait till you see what’s coming,” Moss told us. “It’s going to get worse, girl. Season two is going to be bad too, really dark.
- We might see more of Aunt Lydia’s backstory, as teased by showrunner Bruce Miller in a New York Times interview.
- Offred might fall for Nick, even though she already loves Luke. “I’m really excited about a season two,” Moss told Elle. “She [Offred] is in this position where she might be in love with two people.”
- The series isn’t too far away: Moss told The Hollywood Reporter that it will begin shooting in September. This means new episodes could arrive in 2018.
- Drake might get a cameo. “Wouldn’t it be fun for him to have a cameo in season two?” asked author Margaret Atwood in an interview with the Boston Review. “Maybe Drake could help smuggle someone?”