In the first season of The Handmaid’s Tale, the stifling repression of Gilead has been so perfectly crafted that when Offred/June (Elisabeth Moss) unleashes her rage upon Serena Joy, the wife of her commander, in Wednesday’s finale, it’s jarring and satisfying all at once. In an exceptionally cruel power move for a series packed with exceptionally cruel power moves, Serena surprises Offred (who is newly revealed to be pregnant) by taking her to see her daughter Hannah for the first time in ages. This is “see” in a very literal sense, for Offred is left locked in the car only to view, from afar, as Serena brings Hannah (clothed in a pink cloak and dress not unlike Serena’s green ensemble) out to the front steps of a building. We don’t hear what Serena is saying to her, but we watch as Offred, anguished and heartbroken, pleads to be let out of the car to be with her daughter, banging helplessly on the window. After about a minute, Hannah goes back inside, and Serena coolly returns to the front seat of the car next to the driver, and they roll away. “As long as my baby is safe,” she tells Offred, referring to the child she’s now carrying for Serena and the commander, “so is yours.”
Suddenly—finally—Offred can no longer contain her contempt or hatred. “Deranged,” “fucking evil,” “a goddamn motherfucking monster,” and “sadistic” are just a few of the florid adjectives she spews at Serena from behind the partition. In this scene, Moss is gut-wrenching and perfect. It’s the release the show has been carefully building toward all season, and it’s the release we, as viewers, needed too.
One of the surprisingly fun elements in a show mostly devoid of levity or joy has been Offred’s voice-over narration. It’s rich, cheeky, disdainful, profane, wistful—the internal monologue of a woman who has had her physical autonomy and family forcefully ripped away but who is still clinging to her humanity. (And who can remember, via flashbacks, a time when things weren’t this way.) Offred’s commentary feels natural because the Republic of Gilead is a world in which her life depends upon her being outwardly silent and compliant. And the inner monologue punctuates the tension acidly, making The Handmaid’s Tale into much more than a depressing slog—which it easily could’ve been.
But to have some of that inner monologue finally explode into the external world of the story is refreshingly liberating, and Offred is not the only one who finds her voice in the Season 1 closer. Serena, in her own “sadistic” way, becomes aware of the sexual relationship between Fred and Offred that is meant for pleasure—his, to be clear—and not solely for the purposes of procreation. Enraged and jealous, she reveals that the baby Offred is carrying is not his and calls him out on his impotence (and, thus, in the world of Gilead, directly challenges his manhood): “You’re weak … you can’t father a child because you’re not worthy.”
On the more sympathetic end of the spectrum, the handmaids are gathered to perform a stoning upon Ofdaniel, who has been convicted for “endangering a child,” as seen in the previous episode. It’s Ofglen No. 2, who had once been fine with her life as a handmaid, as it was a vast improvement over her old one, who is the first to stand up to Aunt Lydia and refuse to participate. For this, she is assaulted with a guard’s machine gun and taken away. But this empowers Offred to follow her lead and inspire the show’s Spartacus moment—a sort of hackneyed moment that nonetheless feels empowering as it unfolds—and witnessing Ann Dowd’s Nurse Ratched–esque character fumble in her temporary loss of control against the women is a grim treat.
Yet perhaps the most satisfying storyline in the finale is Moira’s. As disappointing as it’s been to see the show’s creators virtually ignore dealing with the racial hierarchies and conflicts that would inevitably emerge in this new state, having Moira, the most prominent woman of color, be the defiant one who tries to take back her freedom is a welcome development in the series. The fact that her fate in the finale is a happy one—for now, at least, until perhaps Season 2—is invigorating, too (not only because people of color, and queer ones in particular, tend to see their stories on film and TV end in tragedy but also, seeing another Wiley character killed off for a second year in a row would be devastating).
The package Moira retrieves for Offred from the Mayday resistance turns out to be hundreds of letters from women who have been crushed by the Gilead regime—their stories of rape, loss, and abuse. And by the end of the episode, Offred has secretly passed them along to the commander’s martha, Rita, who, we can only hope, will feel similarly inspired by their words to take action. “I have given myself over into the hands of strangers. I have no choice, I can’t be helped. And so I step up, into the darkness within, or else the light”—so Offred’s narration closes out those final moments. As the unspoken becomes spoken, The Handmaid’s Tale makes the case for why we should welcome a Season 2. These characters are only just getting started.