The Handmaid’s Tale season 2 finale review: The Word


Rebellion comes at a price in the season finale of The Handmaid’s Tale, but the form that that price takes changes depending on who’s carrying it out.

Survivor’s guilt permeates the first scenes of the season 2 finale of The Handmaid’s Tale. But so does the idea of taking meaning from death — and turning those emotions into the kind of rebellions that might not make the Eden we knew proud, but certainly echo her final legacy of refusing to conform. It’s that rebellion (or dare we say resistance?) that actually serves as the theme of this finale episode.

It all starts with a Bible — an actual Bible — that Eden leaves behind, covered in her words. In bringing it to Serena Joy, June sparks something in the both of them, and it seems to catch when Eden’s father comes to collect her things. For all that they don’t agree on anything, not even the baby’s name, they both want that child to have a better life than they do. It just takes different forms for the two of them.

In Serena’s case, that involves her openly disobeying the law in front of Commanders by reading from Eden’s Bible with other wives present and then handing Nicole over to June in order for her to flee. One comes at the cost of her finger; the other comes at the cost of possibly never seeing the baby again. Whether or not you like Serena, the series seems to be setting her up as a more reliable ally of sorts to June — in the sense that she’s seemingly more willing to actually go against her husband more openly. Season 3 could (and probably should) keep giving Yvonne Strahovski more opportunities to have this dual nature.

As for June, she makes a similar sacrifice by handing Emily the baby and saying that the baby should be called Nicole, not Holly, then choosing to stay in Gilead. On one hand, removing June from Gilead would have written the show into something of a corner for season 3. On the other, what exactly is she going to do? Hide in Mayday? Get reassigned? Make an exception and stay with Serena for more of the enemy-of-the-enemy-is-my-friend relationship that helped make this season shine? It does neatly flip the ending of season 1 on its head, however, and for that, it deserves some praise.

However, these two main women aren’t the only ones who rebel. The Marthas have a network of their own — and June might just join them, too. The tension of the fleeing scene is particularly strong, and since it dominates the final part of the episode, it really should. But it’s Emily who gets the most truly physical when she stabs Aunt Lydia.

Lydia probably isn’t dead, to be fair; she’s still clearly breathing by the time Emily gets to the bottom of the stairs. The slow shot of Emily descending the stairs just to kick her more might be the most well-shot of the entire episode, and it juxtaposes so nicely with the aftermath shots of Emily alone in her room as she processes what she’s done.

Ultimately, the decisions in this episode when it comes to writing mostly ring true, aside from one: Why does Joseph decide to help? In two episodes, the show has established that he’s particularly unconventional for a commander, yes. However, this is a show where everyone has ulterior motives. It doesn’t seem likely that a commander is the one and only exception. He runs Gilead’s economy, even though he can’t do as he usually likes.

The Handmaid’s Tale is asking us to accept a lot here, and for some of it, at least, the groundwork hasn’t been laid enough. This is still a good episode, yes — but parts of it feel rushed or otherwise tacked on moreso than usual.

Next: How The Handmaid's Tale's childbirth episode is refreshing

Don’t let the side thoughts grind you down:

  • The passage Serena reads is the opening to the Gospel of John. “The Word,” in this case, is understood to refer to Jesus. She skips verse 3.
  • Fred’s cold “So you have” in response to Serena’s wanting to “set an example” for Nicole is completely bonkers. His setting her wedding ring down and not allowing her to wear it is also particularly symbolic.
  • June’s expletive-laden response to Fred’s offer is the best line of the episode and possibly the season.