The Handmaid’s Tale: “The Last Ceremony,” “Holly,” “Postpartum,” “The Word”

The Hand-Maid’s Tale concludes its second season, with one of its best episodes—and one of its most problematic and controversial developments.

Titles: “The Last Ceremony,” “Holly,” “Postpartum,” “The Word”

Cast and Crew

Directors: Jeremy Podeswa, Daina Reid, Mike Barker
Writers: Yahlin Chang, Bruce Miller, Kira Snyder, Eric Tuchman, inspired by the novel by Margaret Atwood

Elisabeth Moss as Offred / June Osborn
Max Minghella as Nick
Samira Wiley as Moira
Ann Dowd as Aunt Lydia
Yvonne Strahovski as Serena Joy Waterford
Joseph Fiennes as Commander Fred Waterford
Alexis Bledel as Emily
O-T Fagbenle as Luke
Sydney Sweenye as Eden
Amanda Brugel as Rita
Clea DuVall a Sylvia
Madeline Brewer as Janine
Bradley Whitford as Commander Lawrence
Julie Dretzin as Eleanor Lawrence
Tattiawna Jones as Ofglen Mark II
Robert Curtis Brown as Andrew Pryce
Greg Bryk as Commander Cushing
Stephen Kunken as Warren Putnam
Ever Carradine as Naomi Putnam
Sam Jaeger as Mark Tuello
Erin Way as Erin
Greg Bryk as Ray Cushing
Rebecca Rittenhouse as Odette
Nina Kiri as Alma
David Tompa as Spencer

Premise

June escapes—unintentionally—gives birth, and then has an opportunity to leave Gilead for good. Meanwhile, a revolution is brewing, as we see just how much ideology has warped these people.

High Points

“Holly,” a deceptively stripped-down episode, amounts to one of the best and most harrowing hours of television broadcast this year. Alone, June has to deal with the possibility of escape, the birth of her child, and a literal wolf at the gate. The Waterford’s increasingly complicated relationship gets stripped down.

The identity of Eden’s betrayer is shocking, plausible, and disturbingly, quietly handled.

And who wasn’t hoping to see a certain character get knifed? Despite her complexities, she ranks among the worst of them!

Low Point

Spoiler alert.

June’s decision in the final episode has caused more arguments and debates than anything else in the show’s two-year run. Let me be clear. I found it unbelievable that this traumatized woman, given the choice between escaping with one of her children or abandoning both with the obscure hope of recovering both, and the opportunity to return to Gilead as a Badass RevolutionaryTM, would choose the latter. In addition, her actions show a willful disrespect towards the network that helped save her.

The decision reflects less the character than the show’s increasing reliance on TV Tropes—and I include in that the cliffhanger regarding Aunt Lydia’s fate. The show had been better than that.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6 These episodes, at their best, take the series and characters in new directions. At their worst, they rely on some clichés of TV storytelling.

Effects: 5/6 I I suspect “Holly” contains more effects than we realize.

Acting: 6/6 The acting remains exceptional. Both Moss and Strahovski really rise to the challenge of developing and exploring their characters. Bradley Whitford as the newest addition to the cast, Commander Lawrence, makes his chaotic, gothic household work.

Story: 5/6 These episodes include some strong storytelling, and the building of revolutionary attitudes at various levels feels very convincing.

Emotional Response: 5/6

Production: 6/6 Apart from the usual exceptional production values, the series continues to find new, disturbing, and all too beautiful ways to use music.

Overall: 5/6

In total, the final episodes of the second season receive 35/42

Additional Comment

We briefly see a map of the fragmented North America.

6 replies on “The Handmaid’s Tale: “The Last Ceremony,” “Holly,” “Postpartum,” “The Word””

  1. Brian says:

    My wife had the best observation about the show (somewhere in the middle of Season 2):

    “The people that need to watch this show will never watch this show.”

    For instance, after the Emmy nominees were announced, a local radio personality here in Denver dismissed the show as “a chick thing.”

    It’s powerful, frightening stuff that deserves our attention and our discussion.

    • J_W_W says:

      Who needs to watch this show?

      I’m pro-life and, sorry, I don’t need to watch this show. Encouraging mothers of unplanned pregnancies to offer their babies for adoption, is NOT the same as forcing women to get pregnant and have children.

      My turning point on this (i used to be pro-choice) was when my niece was stillborn. Pro-choice advocates fight every action to determine life starting anywhere before birth. In my mind, that impetus makes them consider my niece a non-entity, having never been born. I cannot abide that.

      My personal sentiment is that abortion should be banned after 20 weeks gestation, because babies at that level of development can be delivered and can live. By then, they are not a clump of cells, they’re human beings.

      Conversely, I have no complaint with Plan B, because women who take that don’t really know if they’d ever become pregnant. But after 20 weeks, they know full well that its a baby being aborted.

      Might I watch this show and like it? Possibly, although as a Christian, I feel its insanely heavy handed in its disdain of my faith.

      But with the rah, rah, yay pro-choice clamoring this show receives, and with the cosplaying of this show at pro-choice protests, yeah, no, I’m not gonna watch.

      • JD DeLuzio says:

        Watch or don’t, of course, but I will say, the show is more complex than what you suggest. And some of the people breaking from Gilead actually speak from a Christian perspective, though one not held by Gilead.

      • Brian says:

        You might want to actually watch the show. It’s less about abortion and more about how we treat women and the dangers of encroaching theocracy. One of the main characters was a huge proponent of all the changes and has now found herself under the bus because the changes got out of control.

        I get the sense that Gilead isn’t Christian, per se. I haven’t heard one reference to Christ or seen any Christian iconography (crosses, crucifixes, etc). It’s monotheistic, but most of the references are from the Old Testament. It’s certainly not Jewish either, but some sort of bastardization of Abrahamic beliefs. A sort of “Worst of” playlist from Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

        Nothing in Atwood’s book (Season 1) is made up. She uses actual events from world history (and the present) to create Gilead. It’s meant to shine a light on the hypocrisy that abounds in these ultra conservative religions. A woman should be chaste and pure, but a man can screw anything that moves. A man can have any job he wants, read, drive, etc, but a women should be happy knitting and birthing. The men in this world (and our own) can be shallow, weak, and fragile. Nothing in this series has ever struck me as “unbelievable.”

        Seriously, try it out and then you can judge.

        • JD DeLuzio says:

          One thing the show has done well, in keeping with the source material, is not presenting anything that hasn’t happened somewhere in the world at some time. It keeps the satire and other elements grounded.

          • Brian says:

            That is, quite possibly, the most horrifying thing about this show. It shows us what we’ve done in the past and what we’re still capable of.

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