Warning: Giant Spoiler Ahead
WTF, June? No, seriously: WTF, June? In the closing minutes of “The Word”, the Season 2 finale of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, protagonist June/Offred makes a baffling decision when she hands her infant daughter Holly over to fellow handmaid Emily before closing the door to the escape van and walking away, with remorse and sorrow on her face, then defiance. After a season of fighting to remain with her baby, June sends her off to the unknown. What will the consequences be? Season 1 ended with the slamming of a van door and June’s face. Season 2 ends the same way, but June is on the outside of the van this time.
Instead of taking care of the infant who needs her attention and breast milk (the importance of breast feeding has been stressed heavily in prior episodes), June grasps at the dream of rescuing her first daughter, Hannah, from Gilead. It is difficult to believe that June would let Holly go so easily. She could have at least stayed with Holly and reunited with Luke, assuming that the van makes it to Canada. June cannot have Nick and Luke and Hannah and Holly and freedom all at once. Are they all supposed to live happily ever after in polyamory? A messy fit with three out of five (how would Luke react to June showing up with another man’s baby?) was within her grasp, but June put Holly in the van instead.
Nick, Serena, Rita and numerous Marthas all put themselves at risk so that June could save baby Nicole/Holly from growing up in Gilead. June throws their efforts away. Season 2 was full of themes related to a baby’s need to be near its biological mother. June’s decision to pass the baby to Emily feels like a betrayal. The child is being sent on a five-hour-plus van trip (check Google Maps for the drive time from Boston to the Canadian border) to a place where nobody has any biological or adoptive tie to it, on the impulsive trust that Emily will take responsibility for her. Emily, however traumatized, is unlikely to throw the baby out the window. But Emily has enough to deal with.
Any of the players in June’s life would be justifiably infuriated with her, and likely to punish her in some way. Fred will be mad that his status symbol is gone. Serena Joy will be mad that she gave up “her” baby, who will now have nobody to look after her. Nick could be mad that June abandoned their child, and Rita should be mad that the Marthas went to so much effort on June’s behalf, only for her to turn around and stay.
The show is focused on Gilead. We want the characters that we care about to escape, but letting too many escape too early in the series arc would leave the viewer with too few major character POVs based in Gilead, plus Elisabeth Moss signed a long-term contract. At this point, the suspense in The Handmaid’s Tale is no longer when or how Offred will escape Gilead. It’s what contrivances will be found to keep her there.