Previously on The Handmaid’s Tale: Fred was furious that Serena betrayed him; Luke and Moira confronted the Waterfords; June got away with killing High Commander Winslow, and Eleanor sacrificed herself to protect June’s Great Plan. Here’s my recap for episode 12 if you missed it!
This week: Hold on to your butts, because it’s Great Plan Day! And these things never go smoothly, right? It wouldn’t be a finale without a few more snags, some unbearable tension and some FEELINGS. Spoilers are ahead for episode 13, ‘Mayday’! Come on, June, are you going to use that bloody gun, or what?
Mayday, mayday. From the French: m’aidez. Help me. An emergency call. The name of the original resistance in Gilead, before they turned their focus from helping people escape to blowing up buildings. When you call for help, who answers? When things fall apart, who helps you to get back on track? Who will come to save you? ‘Mayday’ gives us some answers to that.
Canada (Part 1)
Let’s get the Waterfords out of the way first. Early in the episode, Serena is riding high in Canada; she has a lot of meetings and debriefings to attend, but she’s co-operating and so she’s getting some rewards. She gets to taste fresh air. She gets to see Nichole — still supervised by Savage Social Worker, of course. And soon, she will be able to leave the facility. Part of her deal with the Americans was immunity from prosecution for acts committed under duress in Gilead.
Fred is also going to a lot of meetings and debriefings, but he’s having less fun. He’s interrogated by a woman, which he hates, and he’s also caught between his ego and his desire for self-preservation. He wants to show off about how important he was but that comes with culpability; he could try to weasel out of some of the charges by protesting his unimportance but he doesn’t want to do that either. So he blusters about instead. And just when you think he’s done as much harm as he can, he saves one last petty (but accurate) blow: he tells American Agent Dude some more stories about Serena. He doesn’t do it to clear his conscience or because he is striking a deal for a less severe charge; he just does it because he wants to get back at Serena and because he’s still angry that Nick fathered Nichole. He’s not innocent of the crime that he charges her with — he’s a damn hypocrite — but there was something satisfying about the way he ensured Serena didn’t get away scot-free…
Serena’s immunity deal is very specific. It protects her from being blamed for anything that Gilead forced her to do. But what she made Nick and June do wasn’t within that framework. When American Agent Dude arrests her, she protests, and reverts back to calling June ‘Offred’ when she thinks that saying “Nick and Offred had a relationship” is a defence. It’s not. And she’s telling on herself.
“It’s still rape, Mrs Waterford.”
No more cozy flirting with ‘Serena’. “Mark, please,” she says. M’aidez. Nice try. You’re going DOWN, Serena. And like that, Serena isn’t so smug. See, sometimes the show gives us just what we want! Bad things happen to bad people! Wahoo! I will say the ‘Waterfords in Canada’ segments ruined my personal ‘Cry in all Canada scenes’ tradition, but that tradition came back with a vengeance later on in the finale… More on that story later!
Auf wiedersehen, Waterfords. May there be lots of Fred vs Serena sparring next year, preferably leading to plenty of public comeuppance.
The main thread of the finale followed a similar pattern to the finales of Seasons 1 and 2, in that there is a focus on women working together to rebel against the system, juxtaposing intense dread with hope, wrapping up the season with something that you could feel mostly positive about. There were fewer surprises in the rebellion part of the Season 3 finale than there were in the last episodes of Seasons 1 and 2, but instead there was pay off for stories that June had been more directly involved in.
Episode 13 opened with a really horrible flashback to a time between June’s capture in the woods and her arrival at the Red Center. It shows us how the captive women were ruthlessly ‘sorted’ into categories. These scenes were extremely hard-going, reminiscent as they were of Auschwitz, and explicitly reminding us of the dehumanizing ruthlessness of the regime, and who they view as valuable within this. (There’s also a callback to pre-Red Center Janine, who was the most rebellious of the lot, and we haven’t seen that side of her since the very first episode.)
These are the opponents then, and so June steels herself for the task at hand. It is Exodus Day and the final details are falling into place, even under the nose of June’s Guardian, who supervises her outings as she does not have a new walking partner since Natalie / Ofmatthew died. There’s a new grocery code, this time soap rather than baked goods, which June uses to grease the garden gate and to smear over the windows of the house. (That would be less successful with muffins, granted.) Beth and Sienna are packing up parcels of food and water for the children. Joseph has called a meeting to draw much of the security out of the way. M’aidez. No problem, there’s a full team.
Almost immediately, things start to go wrong, and we see June needing to improvise to keep the plan together. The children are not meant to arrive until it’s dark, but Maggie — a Martha — brings 10-year-old Kiki early. Maggie drugged her mistress in order to sneak away with the child, but now they have to hope that her mistress doesn’t wake up and sound the alarm before the children have escaped. Then Maggie panics and wants to go back. June grabs the gun and vows to shoot her if she tries to run. Maggie runs anyway, and June doesn’t shoot. She does scare the crap out of Kiki though, and starts to wonder how ruthless she is becoming in pursuing this plan.
Maggie’s departure makes Joseph panic. The second the Guardians realise a child is missing, there will be roadblocks. He wants to send Kiki back. He thinks it’s up to him. “I’ve made my decision,” he says, holding his hand out for the gun. Wrong call, dude. The power struggle we’ve seen developing over the last few episodes is finally addressed out in the open, and just as Waterford bristles at being ordered around by a woman, Joseph tries to throw his weight around when he’s ordered back to his office by June. He tries to “young lady” her, which doesn’t work at all. She doesn’t need the gun to overrule him. “You really think this is still your house?” She smiles. Moments later she has stashed the gun in her boot. (They are really making us wait for this gun to be used, right?)
For June, this escape is happening no matter what. It is the only thing that is keeping her going. It’s the only way that she can feels she can make things better for the children, for her fellow handmaids, and for those who have fallen along the way — women like Eleanor, Natalie and Frances. Does the universe have a balance sheet? I hope so. Maybe it’s enough that we act like it should… She consults with Sienna and Beth for an alternate route to the airfield, one that will avoid any road blocks. M’aidez. They settle on a route through the woods, and as night falls, and the children start arriving, they go out to mark the route with scraps of fabric tied to trees. It’s at this point that you really start to realise how much this plan is going to cost them. It’s the Rogue One moment of ‘oh no, they are all going to die, aren’t they?’ The more kids they get out of the country, the more people were involved, and the greater the repercussions will be. And there are a lot of kids. Way more than 52. When they get back to the house, there’s a little horror fake-out when you worry that something terrible has happened, but Joseph — against all odds — is reading them all a story. As much as he doesn’t like children, he’s pretty good with them here.
Then it’s confirmed, by Janine: Maggie has been arrested, and there are search teams going from house to house looking for Kiki. It’s time to go. Joseph elects to stay behind, but the rest of them take a tense trip through the woods, pausing at times to avoid the searchlights of the world’s worst searchers. Somehow they are still only looking for one child, so there are a lot of drugged / murdered / soundly-sleeping Commanders and Wives who haven’t yet noticed that children, handmaids and Marthas are missing from their houses.
A further snag arises when they arrive at the airfield, and a Guardian appears. The gate is locked. But they are too close to give up now. And so we reach the sacrifice portion of the episode. June will not let this plan fail, even if that means sacrificing herself. She puts Rita in charge of the group and sets off to create a diversion. Just as she prepares herself to take on an armed man — using only a brick, rather than the gun that’s still in her boot (when are we going to get to the fireworks factory?) — she is suddenly surrounded. Solidarity, sisters. The Marthas won’t let her do this alone. Neither will Janine. They have given up any hope of escaping on that plane in order to help her, and to save those children. M’aidez. It’s a beautiful moment, and a last stand for some of those Marthas, until June draws him off into the woods, away from the other women, away from the airfield. And suddenly, we’re back right where we started in Season 1, episode 1: June running through the woods, chased by a man with a gun. This time, one of the bullets finds its target. But she’s still got that gun in her boot… And this time, she uses it. All clear. Her work is done. As she falls to the ground, she sees the plane ascending into the sky. It wasn’t for nothing.
In one more act of solidarity, June is found, hours later, by her fellow handmaids, who carry her away, presumably to the Lawrence house. M’aidez. She lives to fight another day. Because Season 4!
Canada (Part 2): The Land of Milk, Honey and Ruined Mascara
Were you all weeping, or was it just me? Moira’s team of Adorables doesn’t entirely know what to expect on that plane, but my goodness, they are ready to welcome whoever appears with open arms. And even though it is out of sequence, I wanted to add the little exchange between Kiki and June here:
June: You’ll be free. You can wear whatever you want. No-one’s going to hurt you for reading, or tell you what to think or who to love or what to believe in. And you know, you don’t have to be a Wife or a mother if you don’t want to.
Kiki: Then what would I be?
Kiki: Will God still love me then?
Kiki’s first glimpse of “out” is Moira. And she looks up at her with awe and wonder in her eyes, which let’s be honest, is the appropriate way to look at Moira. You’re safe now, little one. And to add even more feels, there is a beautiful reunion between Kiki — real name Rebecca — and her father, who is one of the volunteers in the hangar.
There’s no such reunion for Luke and Hannah. (Because Season 4!) But Rita offers some comfort. He knows that June did this. Although we haven’t seen enough of Emily this season, it seems like she is healing, and she is now able to offer comfort to others escaping Gilead. HUGS FOR EVERYONE!
And just like that, we have perhaps the most positive and uplifting moment from the show so far, and a reward for enduring all the horrors. There has been movement and development in Season 3 — and although we were howling at June at the end of Season 2 for staying in Gilead, we know that the show isn’t bound to the same places and dynamics as before. It can go places. It isn’t just unrelenting misery. I mean, there is plenty of that, too. But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
Questions and threads left for Season 4:
What will happen to June now? As Aunt Lydia told her, “your next commander will not tolerate any of your subversive nonsense.” Will she manage to hide the gunshot wound somehow and just be reassigned? There are monthly medical appointments for handmaids, so it seems unlikely that she would get away with that. Will the New Mayday be able to come up with a plausible explanation for her injuries? And does Aunt Lydia already have someone in mind for her? Is there someone worse?!
Those questions assume that June’s not caught up in Big Bad Consequences following the escape of all those children. Gilead is going to be pretty mad about that, and the standard method for dealing with rebellion seems to be Massive Purge. All of those Marthas and handmaids involved in this plan are at serious risk. Did anyone take down those markers in the woods? Because that leaves a pretty obvious trail from the airfield back to the Lawrence house. Were the dead / injured Marthas left by the airfield, or were they carried away too?
Joseph wants to “clean up” his mess; perhaps he will take the fall for the Great Plan and try to protect everyone else involved? Or (and bear with me here) perhaps he will try to wrangle a promotion for June from handmaid to Wife and marry her to keep her safe? No? Removes tin-foil hat. Fine.
The baby that Rita carried was Janine’s daughter, Angela/Charlotte right? If so, the Martha who brought her killed Naomi and Warren Putnam in order to rescue the child. Bye bye Putnams! I wondered if the baby was Natalie’s for a moment, but the last we heard of her son, he was in hospital and was born so premature that he would surely be much smaller than that and too vulnerable to travel. Unless it was another baby that we haven’t really seen much of yet?
Have we seen the last of Nick? Or will he return in Season 4 to mildly disappoint us once again?
Until next time, if you can’t wait for more Handmaidsy content, ‘The Testaments’ — Margaret Atwood’s long-awaited follow-up to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ — is out on September 10th. So yay!
Header Image Source: Hulu