The Handmaid’s Tale season 2 episode 10 review: The Last Ceremony


As the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale moves into its endgame, “The Last Ceremony” doesn’t hold back in any respect and provides some strong payoffs.

Warning: There are a lot of sensitive subjects dealt with in this episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, including rape.

If there’s a lesson to “The Last Ceremony,” or an idea in mind, it’s this, to paraphrase Stephen King a bit: there is always more, and it is always worse. (Granted, that’s The Handmaid’s Tale, too.) As June, in voiceover, explains what the experience of the Ceremony is like for a Handmaid, we see Emily go through it, only to have her commander have a heart attack. It’s a wonder that we haven’t seen or heard about things like this before, honestly. Alexis Bledel doesn’t get many lines in this opening scene — or the second —  but the anguish is on her face.

Elisabeth Moss has her own gamut of emotions to run through, though, because June’s labor seems to begin. This isn’t the first time we have seen a birthing ceremony, but it is the first time we have seen the preparations for it for everyone.

The Commanders meet with Fred; the Wives soothe Serena through the mock birthing ceremony as a harp plays; and June gets to have all the Handmaids present. The thing is, though, that it’s just false labor. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Waterford,” June says, and she does not sound sorry at all.

But now Serena is raring to go — even considering inducing labor — and it shows in every syllable Yvonne Strahovski spits out. That hasn’t changed her desire to move June completely away from the Waterfords; it does change June’s approach. She seems as though she has accepted the move, but she asks Fred himself to go to where her daughter is being kept.

Thanks to his angry response, June drops a bomb that Fred will “never” know what it’s like to have a baby of his own. If there’s ever a time to drop it, it would be now. We don’t really get to see his reaction because she immediately walks out of the room, but that’s the kind of move that a character does not walk back from. It’s fitting that it comes this late into the season, when it might not have the most time to make an impact but certainly is timed to hurt the most.

The thing is, the Waterfords can hurt June, too. Since the baby won’t come out, the Waterfords decide that the “natural way” is best. It turns out that the “Last Ceremony” of the title is not the one we see at the beginning. It’s the one that the Waterfords force on June, with her pleading all the way.

This show has never been cheerful. But the dead look on June’s face as her voiceover says “I’m not here,” after she begs for them to stop…The Handmaid’s Tale has, of course, done the work to lead to this moment. It is a well-constructed show. But that does not lessen the impact of it, and how difficult it will be for a lot of people to watch.

It is difficult to even talk about this beyond describing the visceral reaction and the follow-up, which has to do with Eden and Nick. The young guard kisses her; Nick sees; she goes to ask forgiveness, and he absolutely doesn’t care. The entire season has also been building to this moment, where Eden simply cries her heart out as Nick dully says, “Please don’t cry.”

But we’re back to June in moments as she gets a surprise from Fred.

It’s 10 minutes — 10 minutes — with Hannah. “Her name is Agnes now,” the Martha says. And then the question from Hannah drops: “Why didn’t you try harder” to find her? That means that Eden sobbing was meant to be the interlude between the two huge emotional blows to June and the audience by extension.

“I need you to keep yourself safe,” June tells Hannah. They have a few last embraces, and then they drive off with Hannah. Throughout the episode, the soundtrack has introduced a few discordant notes. This is another of those times. There’s a sound of cars in the distance, and Nick puts her back in the abandoned house and tells her to hide.

As she’s very pregnant, this doesn’t go well. She sees two more guards throw Nick in the car, leaving her alone with no car and no way out.

A cliffhanger like this, much like June’s reveal to Fred earlier, means more now than it has in the past. It never occurred to this reviewer that Fred might die in the bombing, for example; it was simply too early.

There are still a few episodes left. On one hand, there’s still quite a bit that will likely be addressed, and the part of this reviewer that loves stories wants to see where this goes. On the other, my emotions aren’t sure if they’re prepared.

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Don’t let the side thoughts grind you down:

  • Commander Horace becomes the first black Commander we’ve seen.