The Handmaid’s Tale season 2 finale was about as nerve-wracking as an episode of TV can be. Elizabeth Moss as June has a way of dramatically pausing during very tense scenes, generally during an escape of one kind or another, and she paused plenty in “The Word.”
“The Word” brought Emily and Commander Lawrence’s story to a startling conclusion. Emily’s escape wasn’t as shocking, though, as the way she carried it off. Having stolen a knife she intended to use on Cmdr. Lawrence to avoid the “ceremony,” Emily appears to have made short work of one of The Handmaid’s Tale’s most popular characters.
Aunt Lydia may be mean, but she’s also one of the most intriguing characters on the show. Ann Dowd’s portrayal of this complicated character has been excellent, so I hope that Aunt Lydia recovers from her assault. That said, she definitely had it coming.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 Finale: “The Word” – Thou Shalt Not Read
Having a discussion about how they both should’ve treated Eden better, Rita and June look through Eden’s belongings. Rita eventually leaves, and June is left alone to look through a final bundle of clothing. Amidst the plain grey clothes, though, June finds a bible. This seems like a curiosity at first, after all women are prohibited from reading and writing in Gilead.
Evidence that Eden wasn’t only reading but also writing presents itself when June opens the bible and finds the pages inside covered with Eden’s writing. Not only was the young woman reading and writing, she was studying the bible.
On a bit of a rebellious tear since Serena allowed June to nurse Holly/Nicole, June pushes the boundaries of her reawakened familiarity with Serena. Finding Serena in the potting shed, June shows Serena Eden’s bible and asks her how Nicole will be able to learn God’s word without being able to read it.
Serena ends the conversation by yelling at June to get out, but June just nails Serena with that disapproving mom look she does so well. June leaves quietly, but judgmentally, and Serena is left holding the dead girl’s bible.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 Finale: “The Word” – “I always liked Mom better.”
Back inside the house, we see Eden’s father apologizing to Nick for Eden’s transgressions. And, showing just how inhumane people have become under Gilead’s current regime, June learns that Eden’s father was the person who turned Eden and Isaac in. June gives Eden’s father a questioning look but manages to keep her cool until the father-of-the-year nominee leaves. Man! She has that disapproving mom look down pat! After Eden’s dear old dad leaves, June asks Fred what he’s going to do when they come for his daughter.
After ensuring the door is closed, Fred returns and tells June to mind her tongue, giving her a strong slap across the face to highlight his point. June’s had enough though. After recovering from the slap, she returns the favour, giving Fred a whack across the face he won’t soon forget. Fred grabs the disobedient handmaid by the face and pushes her into a sofa while taking a bit of poetic license with Proverbs 22:14, “The mouth of a woman is a deep pit. He that falls therein will suffer.”
The original passage refers only to “strange” or “adulterous” women, and says that he whom God despises will fall into said pit, but Fred lumps all women in together. Maybe he’s quoting the New Gilead Translation. Either way, Fred’s little bible lesson doesn’t seem to have had the desired effect. A typically defiant June glares back at Fred, teeth bared.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 Finale: “The Word” – “Quick! Meet your daughter before her fake mother comes back!”
A rare tender moment shows June introducing Nick to their daughter. Nick and June cuddle their daughter and tell each other they love each other. Happily ever after, right? …right?
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 Finale: “The Word” – “At least she got to jump off the high diving board one more time!”
Taking a walk down by the river, June, Janine, Emily, and Alma visit the hanging corpses of Eden and Isaac. Janine is being typically romantic and positive, and June is being typically pragmatic. They disagree on the current state of affairs, but they do agree that Eden was brave. Emily mentions that tonight she and Cmdr. Lawrence will perform the “ceremony” for the first time. The handmaids commiserate, and eventually Emily mentions having dreams about her son, his seventh birthday is approaching. Emily, being typically melodramatic, says she’s glad she got to come back from the colonies and see June.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 Finale: “The Word” – “So…literacy’s cool, huh?”
At a meeting of the neighbourhood wives, Serena and Mrs. Putnam talk about Isaac and Eden’s tragic deaths, and Serena manages to steer the conversation toward a discussion about the future of female literacy in Gilead. Although neither woman is able to say it out loud, their subtext says it all: they’re both concerned about their daughters’ futures under the Gilead regime. Serena and Mrs. Putnam mention a few neighbourhood wives sympathetic to their cause, both agreeing that they would like to hear the other wives’ opinions.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 Finale: “The Word” – The Stab-emony
Preparing for the ceremony, Emily makes her way from her room to the living room. On her way, though, she plucks a dirty steak knife out of the sink and conceals it in her sleeve. She takes up her place by the fire and waits. Luckily for Cmdr. Lawrence, though, he wants nothing to do with Emily. He tells her he’s not going to do that with her and sends Emily to her room.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 Finale: “The Word” – “They’ve all left, haven’t they?”
Standing with her fellow wives in the commanders’ council chambers, Serena requests that the commanders make an amendment to the law that would allow girls and women to read and write. Serena has quite a bit of support from the other wives until she makes a bold move: she reads from Eden’s bible, specifically John 1:1 which makes mention of the word of God. One by one, the wives leave Serena standing at her pulpit until she’s all alone.
After Serena’s bold move, the wives hang around outside of the men’s council chamber. Mrs. Putnam tells Serena she shouldn’t have read in public. Serena quotes a Canadian minister to her friend, though, “Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.”
A typically paternal Fred meets the wives outside the chambers. He thanks them all for coming and taking interest in their work. The other wives leave but Serena stays with Fred. She tells her husband that she did what she did to set an example for their daughter. Fred responds that she has: two goons haul Serena away while she screams and pleads with her husband to stop them. He grabs the bible out of her hands and does nothing.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 Finale: “The Word” – “I prefer my Aunt Lydias well done.”
Push anybody far enough and they’ll retaliate. “The Word” featured a lot of women laying it all on the line. June demands that Serena do what she can to improve her daughter’s lot in life, Serena openly defies the law, June slaps Fred, Emily decides to kill Cmdr. Lawrence, and this next scene.
Pleased as punch that Cmdr. Lawrence gave Emily’s performance of the ceremony a “splendid” review, Aunt Lydia tries to give Emily a nice pat on the back for a job well done. Aunt Lydia’s love, though, is pretty tough: her pat on the back starts off with an implication that Emily has been living a blessed life of rare opportunity as a handmaid and finishes up by implying that Emily is a perverted degenerate.
Aunt Lydia, frustrated by Emily’s silence, says, in her own moment of having taken enough, “It’s like I cut out your tongue.” I’d say it was right about then, when Aunt Lydia passive-aggressively referred to Emily’s mutilation, that Emily decided to stab her.
Whatever the reason for it, Emily stabs Aunt Lydia in the neck, pushes her down the stairs, and kicks her in the ribs a good six or seven times. “Uh…it was an accident?” Cmdr. Lawrence’s Martha finds Emily standing over the bloodied Aunt Lydia and calls for an ambulance. I hope that abusive monster is OK.
Alexis Bledel’s performance, alone in her room after assaulting Aunt Lydia, showed off Bledel’s great emotional control. Her subtle changes in expression run the emotional gamut from elation to dread.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 Finale: “The Word” – “There’s something different about you, Serena, but I can’t put my finger on it…”
A shaken Serena returns home with Fred. June asks after Serena but, when she doesn’t reply, Fred says they had a “difficult day” but ensures June that everything will be well from now on. Oh! Good! He places Serena’s wedding band on the bedside table and goes to get her some tea. What a nice guy!
June asks Serena what happened, and Serena removes the bandage from her left hand, revealing a missing pinky finger. Serena assures June that she tried, and the two share another rare tender moment sitting on the bed holding hands.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 Finale: “The Word” – “Think about it.”
Fred and June share a less tender moment in the kitchen as Fred prepares tea for Serena. He offers June the chance to stay at the house and get more visits with her daughter Hannah if only she’s obedient. June replies with a curt “go f*ck yourself,” but Fred tells her to think about it.
Back at Cmdr. Lawrence’s house Emily waits in her room. The commander comes in and grabs her by the arm, hauling Emily off to his car. Crazy Mrs. Lawrence sends Emily off with a less-than-reassuring “It was nice knowing you!”
As Cmdr. Lawrence’s futuristic car takes them to wherever they’re going, he asks Emily if she likes music. When she doesn’t respond, he puts on Annie Lennox and starts chair dancing. After about a verse, Emily asks Lawrence to turn the music off. He does, saying she must not like music.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 Finale: “The Word” – “Only you can prevent handmaid fires.”
June looks out the nursery window and sees a house fire across the street. Rita runs in and tells June that June has to take Holly/Nicole, get her shoes, and leave now. A number of Marthas have formed a plan to smuggle June and her baby out of Gilead, but she has to leave immediately. So begins the sequence of dramatic pauses.
June returns to her room, grabs her red sweater, pauses, and picks her baby up from Rita. June thanks Rita who tells her to meet a Martha at the fence in the back. June leaves the nursery and pauses again, looking meaningfully through a window at Nick. The two beleaguered new parents share a silent goodbye through the glass, and June heads for the back door. She keeps out of sight of the armed guards and even manages to avoid Serena’s gaze while stealthily creeping by the potting shed.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 Finale: “The Word” – Nolite le Bastardes Carborundorum
From his office, Fred notices the sirens across the street. He calls for Nick but gets no reply. When questioned, Rita provides Fred no help at all, choosing instead to stand there staring at him. Fred checks the nursery to find the baby gone, and searching June’s room he finds nothing but the words “Nolite le bastardes carborundorum” carved into the wall. Callback!!
An enraged Fred orders Nick to organize a search team, but Nick tells Fred to stay inside. When Fred protests, Nick grabs Fred by the shoulder and shows Fred his hand is on his gun, ready to draw. Fred takes the hint when Nick tells him that it’s too dangerous outside.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 Finale: “The Word” – Like A Baby Thief in The Night
June spots the Martha that will help her and her baby escape, but gets stopped by Serena. Serena begs June to give her baby back, but June’s greater wisdom prevails. June tells Serena that she can get the baby girl out of Gilead, and that she knows how much Serena loves Nicole. June says that Serena knows that the baby can’t be allowed to grow up in Gilead and face the same hardships they’re currently facing. Serena asks to hold Nicole one more time to say goodbye, and June lets her. SO MANY PAUSES!!
Serena finally hands the baby off to June who offers Serena her blessings, and June starts a relay from Martha to Martha across neighbouring lawns. She runs past tennis courts, swimming pools, and through fields, eventually arriving at an intersection near an overpass. The final Martha in the relay instructs June to wait there.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 Finale: “The Word” – Hannah
Kneeling in the long grass by the side of the road, June has a flashback of herself lying on a bed with a 3-year-old Hannah as June sings “I’ll Be Your Mirror” by the Velvet Underground and Nico to her daughter. The flashback ends, and June shows the photo she has of Hannah to her baby, introducing her to the baby as her sister Hannah. June says, “Maybe you’ll meet her one day,” and then changes her mind, “You’re going to meet her one day.” She kisses her baby on the forehead a number of times, and then folds the photo in among the baby’s blankets.
Shortly after this exchange, a car pulls up and flashes its high-beams. June climbs out of the weeds and sees Cmdr. Lawrence and Emily climbing out of the car. June calls out to Emily, the two embrace, and Emily asks what’s happening. Cmdr. Lawrence replies that he’s getting himself in “deep shit,” and June provides a less obscure answer, “You’re getting out of Gilead.”
As an armoured van pulls up, Emily clambers into the back, and Cmdr. Lawrence instructs them to have a good life and not get caught. June takes the mother of all dramatic pauses and eventually hands her baby to Emily. June tells Emily to call the baby “Nicole” and tell her that June loves her. June slams the door, gives the van two loud raps on the back, and it speeds away leaving June standing in the road alone.
June watches the van drive off, sheds a few tears, and puts up her hood. “Burning Down the House” by Talking Heads plays as June stares on defiantly, then turns and walks away.
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 Finale: “The Word” – Final Thoughts
As I said before, this was a nerve-wracking episode. More than once, I found myself yelling “Just go!” at the TV, especially during the episode’s final moments. Although some viewers might feel that June’s decision to stay in Gilead was a bit of a shark jump, I think that, having seen what June has of Gilead’s brutal treatment of women and girls, she didn’t feel that she could leave Hannah to fend for herself.
In terms of next season, I wonder if June will return to the Waterfords or just ramble around hiding from the authorities, eventually attempting to rescue and escape with Hannah. Either way, I’ll definitely be watching.
There were some amazing performances in this episode. As already mentioned, Alexis Bledel as Emily did a great job, but so did Elizabeth Moss as June, Yvonne Strahovski as Serena, and Joseph Fiennes as Fred. I also thought Ever Carradine did a great job as Mrs. Putnam in this episode, as the know-it-all supportive friend who backs down as soon as things get difficult.
This was a great episode that capped off a great season. Many fans of Atwood’s novel, myself included, were skeptical about how this season would play out, but with a strong beginning, amazing performances throughout, and a heart-breaker finale, I’d say that the good people at Hulu nailed it.