One could easily argue that The Handmaid’s Tale doesn’t need six seasons to tell its story. That the show has been repetitive in its story beats. That the quality has only decreased since that brilliant first season which adapted Margaret Atwood’s novel. Sometimes I think this but often I’m glad the series has continued in the way that it has. The past couple of seasons haven’t been the strongest but I love that the series has committed to something. There was no triumphant end to June escaping Gilead. Now we’re in the aftermath era of the show, presenting the consequences and lasting trauma of the first three seasons. But it does beg the question, now that the series has continued past what many considered would be its end point, what does a satisfying conclusion to The Handmaid’s Tale look like? Besides the many close-ups of Elizabeth Moss’s face with right eyelid twitches, and the endless sunlight pouring through every window, of course.
The penultimate season ended with the promise, or threat, depending on the character, of Hawaii. While Gilead acts as an unforgiving magnet for most of the show’s characters, I hope the series commits to this new location for the first few episodes. Mainly because it ensures a new status quo after the previous one grew stale. June is in paradise but it’s the people in her life that matters more than the location. Hawaii, a remaining US territory, is the temptation that has to be rejected for what is truly important. Serena too can decide against it, helping June on her quest for Hannah as penance for her actions after her swift redemption arc. I would love to see Luke in a new situation too, perhaps forced into Gilead by the Canadian government and having to work with Nick, June’s other love, to rescue Hannah. A season of their dynamic could work well. I want Nick to have a greater purpose too; for the past few seasons his actions have been minimal and I’m curious if they’ll ever reveal exactly what his hinted-at role during the coup really was.
One of my favourite elements of the early seasons was June’s voiceover narration, which was often taken word-for-word from the book. It injected a natural sense of humour and resilience into the depressing story, acting as June’s small act of rebellion, keeping her sane, often with modern language and turn of phrase which contrasted nicely with the old-fashioned and twisted ways of Gilead. It kept the show grounded and relatable and would always undercut the drama when it got too close to being arch melodrama. The show could really use this voiceover again. The only problem is that, within the narrative of the show, June has little reason to maintain her mental journal now that she is out of Gilead and her thoughts can be presented as actual conversation with other characters. Yet, perhaps now she is separated from Luke, and a final journey to Gilead may be underway, the voiceover could make a reappearance to link the final season with the first. Her inner monologue, her thoughts, are, after all, just as much the titular tale as the events of the show. It’s June’s story to tell in her own voice.
There are a couple of supporting characters who deserve a conclusive ending going into the final episodes. Characters who were underserved in recent seasons. Firstly, Moira. June’s friend has been nothing but June’s friend for two seasons now. In fact, she acts more like June’s personal Martha, which is not a good look. And as of the season 5 finale, we have no idea where she is. We don’t need much of Moira now that she has seemingly become an ancillary character but just one episode to conclude her story would go a long way.
The same is true for Emily who sat season 5 out after being a huge part of the previous four. The last we hear of her she had taken off on a revenge mission to Gilead to hunt down Aunt Lydia, which I don’t like at all. She’s now not her own character but merely a consequence of June’s story, taking offscreen inspiration from Fred’s death. I hope she does find Lydia and sees that Lydia has changed, and that the two part ways at an understanding. The show seems to be setting Lydia up as a rebel, a member of Mayday, so the writers can adapt the sequel novel, The Testaments, and I can believe that, especially with what is happening with Janine. Although, to be fair, Ann Dowd is such a brilliant actress she could have me believe any direction they take the character in.
Joseph Lawrence is one of the more fascinating characters on the show but for the final season to be effective, his role needs to change somewhat. He’s currently the main face of Gilead yet he is also the funniest character in the show and is actively attempting to dismantle the government in his only slow, methodical way. He’s a baddy, he’s a goody, he’s a complicated grey character. But for season 6, the show needs an honest threat. A villain. Someone who represents the true, evil Gilead as Fred once did. Someone to be vanquished. Putnam’s death at the midpoint of the penultimate season was the first time in a long time that Gilead felt like a threatening, dangerous place and yet it was still Nick and Lawrence pulling the trigger. I think that Mackenzie, played by Ozark’s Jason Butler Harner, could fill this role. He seems to be an important man in Gilead – although the governmental structure is vague to say the least – making him the representative face of the terrible society but he’s also a personal villain for Luke and June: the adoptive father of their daughter Hannah. I hope his role is expanded in the final season and he fills the Fred-shaped hole in the show.
I also hope we get a view of the issues in the wider world in the final season. I understand that the writers want everything to be seen from June’s point-of-view, and that makes sense, it is her story, but as it stands, the world of The Handmaid’s Tale makes little sense. In one episode, Canada is launching a military assault on Gilead to rescue Hannah, which is sure to have huge political ramifications. In the next, Canada is seeming becoming the new Gilead and forces all American refugees to leave its borders. A look at the bigger picture, the stresses and issues faced by the governments of the world not adopting Gilead’s barbaric practices would be fascinating and I’d say necessary going forward. This is a world on the brink, with the birth rate dropping, and yet Canada just seems like Canada when seen from June’s POV. Lawrence says capitalism and commercialism were the USA’s problem, why he helped create Gilead, and treats the birth rate as a mere footnote. If the show is ending, there has to be some explanation and exploration for how the world is coping and seeks to fix the problems that incited Gilead in the first place.
So, we return to the original question: how will the series end? How can the writers bring the show to a satisfying conclusion even though they have stated that the series will set up a sequel series based on Atwood’s novel The Testaments, in which Gilead is still going strong? Canada’s offenses and Lawrence’s internal democratising surely can’t work, at least not entirely. But if June and company can’t stop Gilead at least they can stop it from spreading. They can save Canada from a similar fate and expose Gilead for the horror it truly is, ostracising the nation so it can suffer a slow death. Rescuing Hannah may just be the key to doing so. Her tale may be just as impactful, if not more so, than that of a Handmaid’s, but, again, will that be saved for The Testaments? The show may not offer a grand ending for the tapestry of this world but it can offer a personal one for June and those in her life who survive the final ten episodes.
How do you think/hope The Handmaid’s Tale will conclude? Let me know in the comments and be sure to geek out with me about TV, movies, and video-games on Twitter @kylebrrtt.