Which is what made what happened next so incomprehensible, so infuriating. June … passed her baby to Emily, instructed her to name the infant Nicole (Serena’s choice), and stayed in Gilead.
As a conclusion, it defied logic. Nothing June had done up till that point had suggested she might turn down a chance to leave. She had, in fact, made multiple attempts to escape of her own volition, even after she was reunited with Hannah. In the episodes leading up to the finale, June had learned that her husband and her best friend were alive and living in Canada, that the letters Nick was able to smuggle out had damaged Gilead’s diplomatic relations with other countries, and that the one woman she considered a co-conspirator, Serena (Yvonne Strahovski), was willing only to hold June down during a vicious sexual assault. There was no plausible reason for June to stay. Not even Elisabeth Moss could sell June’s dizzying about-face, or justify the show’s insistence that her actions were badass, not baffling. (Cue: a slow raise of her red hood, a grimace directly to camera, and a Talking Heads song as the credits rolled.)
How does The Handmaid’s Tale think June will burn down the metaphorical house of Gilead, exactly? (Putting her hood up can’t miraculously turn her blood-red handmaid outfit into an invisibility cloak, and the chain of Marthas who risked their lives to escort her to the meeting point might be less than friendly, given that she’s spurned their selfless efforts.) The whole point of The Handmaid’s Tale is that June has no power of her own. In Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, June has accepted this and internalized it, which is what ironically makes her story all the more crucial. Through recounting what happened to her, and documenting the tiny details of her confined existence, June is able to retain a modicum of authority—more so in the novel’s flash-forward, when it’s revealed that June’s story has outlasted Gilead itself.
For most of Season 2, The Handmaid’s Tale seemed to comprehend this powerlessness. June’s various rebellions had no impact outside of the Waterford household. But her story might have done. In Episode 9, the show explored the consequences of letters from various Gilead handmaids being leaked to the foreign press. It’s impossible not to think that the testimony of a handmaid who managed to get out wouldn’t have had an even greater impact. In other words, June’s refusal to leave was selfish in more ways than one.
More than that, though, the final plot twist was transparently manufactured, so much so that you can sense how the writers’-room conversations must have gone. The biggest problem throughout the two seasons of The Handmaid’s Tale has been that the show can’t quite find a way to unite its world-building ambitions with the constrained environment of Atwood’s book. In the novel, Offred sees only a sliver of Gilead on her daily walks to buy groceries; without television or news broadcasts or the internet, she has no conception of what might actually be happening in the world around her. Maybe the colonies are a myth. Maybe Gilead is just a tiny, well-armed republic within a freer continent.