'The Handmaid's Tale' Season 3, Episode 13 Review: 'Mayday' Is A Tense, Frustrating Finale

Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale ends with a bang in its season 3 finale, but it's a mixed bang at best.

Credit: Hulu

The season 3 finale of The Handmaid's Tale sees June succeed at her plan to rescue a whole bunch of children from Gilead, shipping them via freight plane to Canada where they're welcomed with open arms (despite the Canadians being very worried about just one child, Nichole, throughout much of the season).

June herself, of course, doesn't make it out. She ends up in a gunfight with a Guardian and, through some deceit, gets the better of him—but only after being shot. Why didn't she just pretend to be shot earlier and then shoot him with her concealed pistol? I suppose it's so they could have that scene with the Handmaids carrying her on their makeshift stretcher, and put her in yet a more dire pickle than before, now that she's wounded on top of everything else.

This conclusion—the emancipation of the children along with Rita—should be more satisfying than it is. But there's something about it that feels . . . too forced or too contrived for my liking. The girl who, along with her Martha, shows up early and almost ruins everything, becomes a sort of plot catalyst throughout the episode. First, she's the girl who shows up too early and almost ruins June's plans; than she's the girl who June almost shoots (or at least points a gun at) revealing just how dark June has become; then she's the girl who miraculously finds her father within moments of getting off the plane—a symbol of hope, but also a very obvious contrast to Luke, who says "Come on, Hannah" to no avail.

No Hannah, but only because June was so reckless most of the season. If she'd just come up with this plan sooner, before she chased her daughter's "family" away (odd that a Commander and his family are forced to relocate while June faces literally no punishments) then she could have easily had Hannah on this plane. Unfortunately, she pulled that stunt at the school and got Hannah's Martha strung up on the wall.

So here's my question: Why didn't all those Marthas leave with the kids? And couldn't the plane have waited a minute or two longer to scoop up the Handmaids also? I only ask because it seems incredibly likely—so long as the writers don't pull a fast one on us—that everyone involved in this conspiracy to steal Gilead's most prized possessions will be executed for their crimes.

Surely all those Marthas just traded their lives for the kids' freedom, and is that really something we should be celebrating? A one-to-one trade? It's one thing for June to go down saving all these kids, but dozens of Marthas now face all but certain death.

I'm not comfortable with that.

In many ways, these children were in far less danger than the Handmaids or Marthas. Gilead is a monstrous state and I'm not saying that these kids are better off there, but at least they had lives of relative privilege to look forward to compared to the women who saved them.

It's just a weird plan all around. June stuck around to find Hannah, and because they turned June into a reckless idiot this season, she didn't find or rescue her. Now she has to stay, but hey at least she saved all these other kids . . . while condemning dozens of Marthas to death in the process.

Elsewhere in the episode, we see the arrest of Serena Joy just after she started to flex her freedoms in Canada. So much for being there for "your daughter" Serena. The charges stem from her ordering June and Nick to have sex which, if you recall, began as a forced relationship before turning into something mutual and loving.

That's rape, and it's not something she was forced to do by the state—she wasn't, as she has claimed so far, just a victim of all this mandated religious-based rape. She was an active participant, a rapist herself.

We've known this all along, of course, but apparently she tried to trick the Canadians and Americans. I feel nothing but satisfaction at her arrest. She's just as deserving of it as her husband, and it's kind of great to see the two of them take one another down. No honor among thieves.

At the Lawrence household, June flexes her muscles with Commander Lawrence. It's really just incredibly annoying to watch. He wants to pull the plug on the whole operation after the ridiculous Martha arrives early and a manhunt commences.

He's probably right to call it quits (though they pull off the escape somehow anyways) but June gets all tough and tells him that she's the boss now and he's just her puppy to kick around. The change in power dynamic between the two is supposed to make us think that June is one tough lady, but I just find the whole thing garishly unrealistic.

It's also another example of June being reckless with everyone else's lives.

Clearly, such an early arrival of a kidnapped child will raise alarms and put their plan at risk. How are dozens of Marthas and their wards supposed to get to the Lawrence house without being spotted by all the Guardians out searching (with dogs!) for the missing girl? It's a miracle any of them made it. It's a miracle that dozens were gathered in the Lawrence household and somehow nobody thought to stop by there and check, despite Lawrence and June both considered the usual suspects these days.

Surely if I was a Gileadean official and heard a child went missing I'd say to myself "Maybe we should stop over there to check on that troublemaker Oflawrence and see if she has anything to do with this." Surely the Martha, who runs away since June hasn't got the stones to shoot her, would have been quickly discovered, questioned, tortured, etc.

Why didn't they subdue the Martha? Three against one, they could have tied her up and gagged her and released her later.

The more I think about all the little things that make this episode preposterous, the more it annoys me. I enjoyed how tense much of it was. The escape in the dark. Arriving at the plane only to have a Guardian show up. It was exciting, and the final bit with Rita and Luke was a really emotionally powerful moment. I got all teared up as she hugged him.

But I have questions. For instance, June has a gun so why does she throw rocks at the Guardian. Why not just distract him then sneak up from behind and shoot him in the back of the head? I get the whole "resistance" thing, with all the Handmaids and Marthas throwing rocks at the guy with the machine gun, taking us back to the early days of protests when the Guardians started shooting protesters in the streets. But now you have a gun, June. Why not use it?

She was willing to threaten Lawrence with it; she was willing to point it right in the face of a little girl. But when it came down to using it in a time of need, it's like she forgot it was even there.

Of course, we didn't forget. We know the rule: “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired."

So while this wasn't a terrible episode, I feel mostly letdown by the finale and by the season itself. Season 3 was plodding and slow and incoherent. June was the least relatable or likable she's ever been.

Many of the episodes didn't make sense, or seemed more like filler than plot, or more like shock value than narrative. June kept getting away with too much, and the realism that made the first two seasons so powerful all but dried up.

While it had a few very strong, emotionally resonant moments, and some very disturbing bits, mostly I'm left feeling like we're right back where we started at the end of Season 2. June doesn't escape. Gilead doesn't fall. A few powerful people are taken down, some children are saved, but there's no evidence that anything has really, fundamentally changed.

June is still a captive—a rebel, too, but now more vulnerable than ever before. How there's any chance of her surviving this time around, well, let's hope her plot armor is very thick, indeed.

What It Means For Hulu

Hulu is in a tricky place with The Handmaid's Tale going forward. In many ways, I still think this should have been a one-off miniseries or an anthology series. Season 1 followed the book to its conclusion and that's where it probably should have ended. Perhaps Season 2 could have been the story of some other victim of Gilead, or told a story about the ongoing wars, or focused on the death camps. Season 3 could look at it from 20 years into the future, and so on and so forth.

But Elisabeth Moss is such a big part of the story now, it's hard to imagine it without her as June, even though it seems like there's very little reason to keep telling that particular story. June's story is too narrow for the larger narrative arcs we need to keep The Handmaid's Tale interesting. And as one of Hulu's biggest, most important and critically acclaimed originals, it's very important that this show remains interesting. It's taken many blows from audiences and critics alike this season, which makes Season 4 more important than ever.

I think perhaps my own take on the finale is more critical than many of my colleagues', but even the positive reviews I've glanced over are sprinkled with quibbles and frustrations.

What did you think of the finale and the season? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook and thanks for watching along with me this season.

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The season 3 finale of The Handmaid's Tale sees June succeed at her plan to rescue a whole bunch of children from Gilead, shipping them via freight plane to Canada where they're welcomed with open arms (despite the Canadians being very worried about just one child, Nichole, throughout much of the season).

June herself, of course, doesn't make it out. She ends up in a gunfight with a Guardian and, through some deceit, gets the better of him—but only after being shot. Why didn't she just pretend to be shot earlier and then shoot him with her concealed pistol? I suppose it's so they could have that scene with the Handmaids carrying her on their makeshift stretcher, and put her in yet a more dire pickle than before, now that she's wounded on top of everything else.

This conclusion—the emancipation of the children along with Rita—should be more satisfying than it is. But there's something about it that feels . . . too forced or too contrived for my liking. The girl who, along with her Martha, shows up early and almost ruins everything, becomes a sort of plot catalyst throughout the episode. First, she's the girl who shows up too early and almost ruins June's plans; than she's the girl who June almost shoots (or at least points a gun at) revealing just how dark June has become; then she's the girl who miraculously finds her father within moments of getting off the plane—a symbol of hope, but also a very obvious contrast to Luke, who says "Come on, Hannah" to no avail.

No Hannah, but only because June was so reckless most of the season. If she'd just come up with this plan sooner, before she chased her daughter's "family" away (odd that a Commander and his family are forced to relocate while June faces literally no punishments) then she could have easily had Hannah on this plane. Unfortunately, she pulled that stunt at the school and got Hannah's Martha strung up on the wall.

So here's my question: Why didn't all those Marthas leave with the kids? And couldn't the plane have waited a minute or two longer to scoop up the Handmaids also? I only ask because it seems incredibly likely—so long as the writers don't pull a fast one on us—that everyone involved in this conspiracy to steal Gilead's most prized possessions will be executed for their crimes.

Surely all those Marthas just traded their lives for the kids' freedom, and is that really something we should be celebrating? A one-to-one trade? It's one thing for June to go down saving all these kids, but dozens of Marthas now face all but certain death.

I'm not comfortable with that.

In many ways, these children were in far less danger than the Handmaids or Marthas. Gilead is a monstrous state and I'm not saying that these kids are better off there, but at least they had lives of relative privilege to look forward to compared to the women who saved them.

It's just a weird plan all around. June stuck around to find Hannah, and because they turned June into a reckless idiot this season, she didn't find or rescue her. Now she has to stay, but hey at least she saved all these other kids . . . while condemning dozens of Marthas to death in the process.

Elsewhere in the episode, we see the arrest of Serena Joy just after she started to flex her freedoms in Canada. So much for being there for "your daughter" Serena. The charges stem from her ordering June and Nick to have sex which, if you recall, began as a forced relationship before turning into something mutual and loving.

That's rape, and it's not something she was forced to do by the state—she wasn't, as she has claimed so far, just a victim of all this mandated religious-based rape. She was an active participant, a rapist herself.

We've known this all along, of course, but apparently she tried to trick the Canadians and Americans. I feel nothing but satisfaction at her arrest. She's just as deserving of it as her husband, and it's kind of great to see the two of them take one another down. No honor among thieves.

At the Lawrence household, June flexes her muscles with Commander Lawrence. It's really just incredibly annoying to watch. He wants to pull the plug on the whole operation after the ridiculous Martha arrives early and a manhunt commences.

He's probably right to call it quits (though they pull off the escape somehow anyways) but June gets all tough and tells him that she's the boss now and he's just her puppy to kick around. The change in power dynamic between the two is supposed to make us think that June is one tough lady, but I just find the whole thing garishly unrealistic.

It's also another example of June being reckless with everyone else's lives.

Clearly, such an early arrival of a kidnapped child will raise alarms and put their plan at risk. How are dozens of Marthas and their wards supposed to get to the Lawrence house without being spotted by all the Guardians out searching (with dogs!) for the missing girl? It's a miracle any of them made it. It's a miracle that dozens were gathered in the Lawrence household and somehow nobody thought to stop by there and check, despite Lawrence and June both considered the usual suspects these days.

Surely if I was a Gileadean official and heard a child went missing I'd say to myself "Maybe we should stop over there to check on that troublemaker Oflawrence and see if she has anything to do with this." Surely the Martha, who runs away since June hasn't got the stones to shoot her, would have been quickly discovered, questioned, tortured, etc.

Why didn't they subdue the Martha? Three against one, they could have tied her up and gagged her and released her later.

The more I think about all the little things that make this episode preposterous, the more it annoys me. I enjoyed how tense much of it was. The escape in the dark. Arriving at the plane only to have a Guardian show up. It was exciting, and the final bit with Rita and Luke was a really emotionally powerful moment. I got all teared up as she hugged him.

But I have questions. For instance, June has a gun so why does she throw rocks at the Guardian. Why not just distract him then sneak up from behind and shoot him in the back of the head? I get the whole "resistance" thing, with all the Handmaids and Marthas throwing rocks at the guy with the machine gun, taking us back to the early days of protests when the Guardians started shooting protesters in the streets. But now you have a gun, June. Why not use it?

She was willing to threaten Lawrence with it; she was willing to point it right in the face of a little girl. But when it came down to using it in a time of need, it's like she forgot it was even there.

Of course, we didn't forget. We know the rule: “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired."

So while this wasn't a terrible episode, I feel mostly letdown by the finale and by the season itself. Season 3 was plodding and slow and incoherent. June was the least relatable or likable she's ever been.

Many of the episodes didn't make sense, or seemed more like filler than plot, or more like shock value than narrative. June kept getting away with too much, and the realism that made the first two seasons so powerful all but dried up.

While it had a few very strong, emotionally resonant moments, and some very disturbing bits, mostly I'm left feeling like we're right back where we started at the end of Season 2. June doesn't escape. Gilead doesn't fall. A few powerful people are taken down, some children are saved, but there's no evidence that anything has really, fundamentally changed.

June is still a captive—a rebel, too, but now more vulnerable than ever before. How there's any chance of her surviving this time around, well, let's hope her plot armor is very thick, indeed.

What It Means For Hulu

Hulu is in a tricky place with The Handmaid's Tale going forward. In many ways, I still think this should have been a one-off miniseries or an anthology series. Season 1 followed the book to its conclusion and that's where it probably should have ended. Perhaps Season 2 could have been the story of some other victim of Gilead, or told a story about the ongoing wars, or focused on the death camps. Season 3 could look at it from 20 years into the future, and so on and so forth.

But Elisabeth Moss is such a big part of the story now, it's hard to imagine it without her as June, even though it seems like there's very little reason to keep telling that particular story. June's story is too narrow for the larger narrative arcs we need to keep The Handmaid's Tale interesting. And as one of Hulu's biggest, most important and critically acclaimed originals, it's very important that this show remains interesting. It's taken many blows from audiences and critics alike this season, which makes Season 4 more important than ever.

I think perhaps my own take on the finale is more critical than many of my colleagues', but even the positive reviews I've glanced over are sprinkled with quibbles and frustrations.

What did you think of the finale and the season? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook and thanks for watching along with me this season.

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I write about video games, TV and movies.