Every week, fans tune in to The Handmaid's Tale only to discover fresh horrors from Gilead. It seems like for every step forward a character gains, within the next installment, they've slid two steps back. Even when there are characters who do find a little happiness, like June and Nick, it's in stolen moments in a world that fights to keep them apart. How long can the unhappiness last? Will The Handmaid's Tale have a happy ending eventually? Warning: Spoilers for The Handmaid's Tale's Season 2 finale follow.
The ending to Season 2 of The Handmaid's Tale was a particularly brutal one. Coming off last week's death of Eden and Isaac, drowned by the state for their crime of Falling In Love While Teenagers, everything that happened this week felt worse than usual. Offred was physically brutalized by Commander Waterford for demanding to know what he would do to keep his daughter safe.
Meanwhile, Serena Joy was dragged away screaming by Gilead's secret police, only to return with nine fingers left. Her crime? Asking on behalf of the other Commanders' Wives for permission to teach their daughters to read. And over at Commander Lawrence's house, Emily stabbed Aunt Lydia. (OK, maybe I cheered when the last one happened. But still, it was brutal.)
In a world where no good deed ever goes unpunished, is there a chance for a happy ending for any of these characters? Showrunner Bruce Miller's answer is surprising.
I think there is a happy ending and I don't think everything's always gonna be terrible. Maybe that's just me, and being a Pollyanna. But I believe in June, and I believe that if Handmaid's Tale is the story we've decided to tell from this imaginary place of Gilead. If June's story is the story we tell, we've told it because it's a story of hope.
In fact, Miller believes every episode is one with a happy ending. Viewers should not forget how hard merely surviving day to day is in Gilead, and every day is a victory unto itself.
I do feel like every episode where it ends and Offred is alive, June is alive, is a huge victory and the story worth telling. To see how someone in this world doesn't just survive, but in their own way, find ways to live. Find ways to actually have a life, have intimacy, she sees her daughter, which she never thought would happen. So all of these things are huge victories for me.
All these victories, in his view, are leading to the ultimate one: The Fall of Gilead, and Offred's eventual escape.
But in terms of an ending, I think this is a story of a woman getting out of bondage. So I think in the end that’s the story in whether she is able to get out herself or whether she’s able to get one or more of her children out, or reunite with her husband. Those are all details, but I think the story is bending, I hope, because it exists, it's bending towards a happy ending.
In the end, Miller brings it back to the book. Atwood's story ends with an epilogue, one of the very few things from the novel the show has not dramatized yet. In it, a historian is giving a presentation on Gilead, having read Offred's account of her time there.
Because this account of what happened exists means that somehow some way, June got that account out. And that to me sets a story of kind of the triumph of the human spirit and hope that everything else kind of pales in comparison. The fact that this woman survived and told her story in this place is certainly encourages me to get off my ass and do something politically in these strange times we live.
Hopefully, Offred's escape will come sooner rather than later. The Handmaid's Tale Season 3 will arrive next year.