If I could only use one word to summarize my review of The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4‘s finale, the choice would be easy.
I was a little later watching Episode 10 this week, due to time constraints and other commitments. So by the time I got to see the finale on Thursday night, the Internet was already full of people talking about it non-stop. And I don’t blame them. The finale was disturbing, satisfying, and phenomenal.
This is a review of The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 Episode 10, so there will be SPOILERS below.
The Ending Was Unexpectedly Satisfying
As I often want to do when writing my reviews, let’s jump right to the end. And let me just say once again… WOW.
Going into the episode, I had no idea what to expect. I kind of assumed June would try to kill Fred and fail, and we’d be left with Fred and Serena rebuilding their theocracy in another country. But the episode went in a completely different direction. And while I was concerned that I would feel upset about the shorter season when the episode ended, I was wrong. The season ended at just the perfect point, and I couldn’t have asked for more. (Except for a scene with Janine, Esther, and Aunt Lydia.)
I knew there would be some kind of confrontation between June and Fred, but I had NO IDEA it was going to be THIS. Not only did June get her revenge, but she allowed others (like Emily) to participate too. The terror in Fred’s eyes when he realized what was happening was truly satisfying after how he tortured June for so many previous seasons. The smirk on Emily’s face as she joined the mob was one of those detail-focused touches that really sets The Handmaid’s Tale apart.
But even while watching Fred get his due, one couldn’t help but also feel a bit disjointed. These women were driven to this rage because of years of abuse and torture. They have been fundamentally changed. Destroying a monster like Gilead requires, in some ways, becoming a type of “monster” yourself. You have to be merciless, in some ways, to defeat a merciless enemy. And realizing this is a bit disconcerting.
But the show masterfully worked in a bit of humor, even during the dark long-awaited revenge scene. There was the moment Fred saw Nick and June kissing, realized the depth of their relationship, and ironically called them “sick.” There was the moment Fred tried to tell Lawrence that he did all of this to protect his family, while Lawrence was likely remembering how his own wife died because of Fred’s abuse. And of course, Lawrence’s quips around Fred just before sending him off with Nick were just perfect.
And of course, the knowledge that the Handmaids were enacting a punishment that Gilead taught them to carry out… It’s called a “particicution” in Gilead. In fact, it’s often a judgment set upon a man convicted of raping a Handmaid, and Handmaids must carry out the execution with their bare hands. Here’s a scene from a previous season showing the execution style being forced upon the Handmaids.
As one Redditor put it, this was satisfying in a “chickens came home to roost” type of way. The spotlight on the Handmaids as they beat Fred was reminiscent of the beatings in Gilead. And the audio we heard over the end credits was the perfect summary of the ending. We could hear the sound of Fred’s rope swaying in the wind every now and then, juxtaposed above the sounds of nature. (As an interesting note, the epilogue of the novel apparently tells us that this type of execution was invented by Commander Waterford.)
Fred Was Manipulated by June, But Is Serena Being Manipulated by Tuello?
Of course, there was much more to this episode than Fred’s beating and death. Her scene with Fred earlier in the episode where they drank together was dark and tense. She played his weak-minded self like a fiddle, making him drop his guard because he thought she was still in love with him. I was convinced she was poisoning him in that scene, and I think that was what we were all supposed to suspect. The viewers’ guard was also placed on the wrong target, so we wouldn’t realize what was to come.
In the same way that June played Fred, I believe Tuello has been playing Serena all this time. Once Fred gained a small bit of power, we saw Serena fall right back into her old habits of control and demand. Then we saw a moment that almost looked like Tuello was showing vulnerability to Serena. But I believe this was Tuello’s way of manipulating her and allowing her to believe she’s a weak man like Fred. He’s not, but in doing so, he’s gained the upper hand.
June & Luke’s Disconnect Is Heartbreaking
The disconnect between June and Luke was probably the most heartbreaking part of the episode. Luke has been incredibly supportive all these years, standing by June and waiting for her. He’s raising Nichole as if the baby is his own. He’s done research on his own to try to find Hannah. But the disconnect will always be there. It was clearly illustrated when he talked about Fenway so innocently, but June’s last memory of that location was a mass almost-hanging. He wanted to help June by taking her somewhere special or having delicious food – an activity they might have enjoyed together pre-Gilead. But June’s interests were very different, and those types of activities weren’t going to leave her feeling any better.
At the of the episode when she told Luke “five more minutes,” it was the signal to the viewers that their relationship is over. Luke is grieving the June who will never return. She’s a different person now, and understandably so. June could not step away from the darkness, and she knows that she cannot be the mother right now that Nichole needs. (In some ways, her need for activism is similar to her mother’s, although their situations are vastly different.) I don’t think June is going to be on the run or tried for murder. I simply believe that June won’t stop fighting. She must keep fighting for Gilead’s destruction, but she can’t do that while also living at home with Luke. The two have very different roles to play moving forward. However, I doubt this means the path is clear for June and Nick to reunite either. He’s married, and she doesn’t know that. She may be drawn to Nick over Luke, but I don’t think she will end up with either man in the end.
In summary, the only thing truly missing from the finale was Janine. She played a huge role in the season, and it feels remiss to just leave her out of the finale entirely. But with that said, the episode was incredibly compelling. I never got bored and I was glued to the screen the entire time. The ending was satisfying (if not also disturbing) and left me wishing for a new episode as soon as possible. But unfortunately, we’re going to have to wait awhile before the show returns for Season 5.