WARNING: SPOILERS. All the spoilers.
We weren’t expecting a Hollywood ending, we weren’t everything to be wrapped up in a neat little bow. But we also weren’t expecting what actually happened at the end of The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 finale.
After an episode packed with triumphant moments (The punch. The stab. The “Go f**k yourself, Fred.”), it looked like our heroine June, played by Elisabeth Moss, had finally been given a ticket to freedom. In an elaborate scheme involving several Marthas, burning houses and the surprise humanity of Ofglen’s new commander, the pair and June’s baby, Holly (or Nicole to the Waterfords), were offered a seat on a truck that would smuggle them out, presumably to Canada.
Yet when the time came to leave, June handed the baby to Emily and remained behind. “Call her Nicole,” she said, in a nod to Serena Joy’s love for the baby. “Tell her I love her.”
It was a decision that left viewers asking/yelling:
Why didn’t June leave Gilead?
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After years of rape, imprisonment and abuse, after witnessing the horrors of Gilead’s brand of ‘justice, after her previous escape attempts, after all of it, June stays.
It’s frustrating as a viewer, for sure. But there’s a solid reason for it: her eldest daughter, Hannah.
As the series’ showrunner, Bruce Miller, explained to Vanity Fair, June could never really have left without her firstborn; it’s a choice, he said, that any parent would make.
“Since the beginning, that kid was ripped out of her arms,” Miller told the publication. “It’s like a piece of you has been torn off, and you want that piece back.”
Miller says it was being reunited with Hannah briefly in episode 10 and hearing the child ask why she hadn’t tried harder to find her that spurred June on.
“I really try to think about these things as not, ‘How would I make the decision sitting in a nice room in [California]?’, but standing there [in Gilead] going, ‘F**k, I told Hannah I would do everything I could to see her again … I’m about to leave her completely behind after I promised her I would do everything I could to see her again,’” Miller said. “I mean, my stomach hurts just saying it now.”
There's a clear moment in the season 2 finale where this solidifies for June.
As she hides by the side of the road in the final scene, waiting for the escape truck, she unfolds a photograph of Hannah and tucks it into her newborn's blanket. "Maybe you’ll meet her one day,” she says. "You’re going to meet her one day.”"
Some viewers argued via social media that June could do more for Hannah from the safety of Canada, rather than by risking her own life returning to the Waterford's home and the tumult of Gilead.
But it's clear from the finale that Gilead is teetering on brink of something new. Houses and cars are burning, the wives are demanding new rights (even if it's just being allowed to read the bible) from the Commanders, the Marthas are aiding escapees and Aunt Lydia appears close to death after being stabbed and bashed by Emily... Then the song playing over the closing credits: 'Burning Down the House'.
So yes, June didn't leave Gilead because of Hannah, but there's little doubt she has another role to play next season. As a revolutionary.
Speaking to Vanity Fair, writer/producer Yahlin Chang, confirmed this.
“She is diving back into Gilead because she thinks there’s things she can do,” Miller said. “If she could snap her fingers and get Hannah and leave, she would do it immediately. If that becomes more difficult — which, it seems to be somewhere between difficult and impossible in the real world — then I think hurting Gilead or weakening Gilead is the best way she can plow the ground for her daughter.
"That’s the thing she can do from the inside that she wouldn’t be able to do from Canada.”