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.