Once the blinders were torn away, the brutality in the final episodes escalates quickly. Offred is raped by her owners in an attempt to force her to go into labor — as well as put her in her place. Eden, the unhappy teen bride of Nick, is forcibly drowned by the state with her sweetheart for the crime of falling in love. Emily attempts to murder Aunt Lydia and is forced to try to make a run for Canada. Serena Joy is arrested, tortured and mutilated for asking that girls be allowed to be taught to read.
Ready for season three yet?
Even as the series reminds us that none of this is normal, nor should it be accepted as such, our main characters find themselves unable to leave Gilead for another year. At the end of season one, Offred gets in a van, not knowing if it was taking her to freedom in Canada or to her death. Season two ends with a van once again offering her escape — but the show can’t let Offred leave yet, not really. So instead, Stockholm syndrome kicked in and Offred returns home, somehow confident that she can overthrow the system from the inside.
Maybe one day there really will be a glorious revolution and Gilead will be overthrown. But the real reason people become trapped by authoritarianism is that their day-to-day survival becomes the sole focus.
Speaking to showrunner Bruce Miller recently, I asked if his main characters will ever be allowed a happy ending, or if they will be forever trapped by a regime that undermines their freedom at every turn. “I feel like every episode where it ends and Offred/June is alive is a huge victory,” he said. It’s a reminder that in a world like this, the expectations have to be different.
Maybe one day there really will be a glorious revolution and Gilead will be overthrown. But the real reason people become trapped by authoritarianism is that their day-to-day survival becomes the sole focus. For Offred, just making it another day without being dragged away is itself a small act of rebellion.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” is one of the few prestige shows that increased from ten episodes to 13 between seasons. (Miller suggested season three will be 13 episodes as well.) In many cases, especially on Netflix, 13 one-hour installments can seem like overkill, adhering to an outdated broadcast model for a streaming service. But in this case, allowing the show to drag on week after week works in the service of the message. In a media landscape where shows can run as long or as short as they need to, having one that finally shapes its narrative to meet the underlying moral is as timely as the cautionary tale it’s telling.
Ani Bundel has been blogging professionally since 2010. Regular bylines can be found at Elite Daily, WETA's TellyVisions, and Ani-Izzy.com.