June Gets Bloody Vengeance In The Season 4 Finale of The Handmaid’s Tale
The season 4 finale of The Handmaid’s Tale aired last week on Hulu, and I’ve spent several days trying to wrap my head around it to write this review. It is always difficult to watch this show, particularly as a woman. And the season 4 finale brought up a lot of mixed feelings. We have watched June Osbourne go from victim, to savior, to hero, and now possibly a villain. It’s a lot to process.
The Handmaid’s Tale has been on quite a journey over the past four seasons. When the first season aired in 2017 it was amidst a charged socio-political landscape. Fear of a conservative government restricting women’s rights was at an all-time high. And The Handmaid’s Tale reflected these fears, and explored them within the confines of the source material. But as the show progressed past the book, so too did the mirror that the series holds up to reality. If the first couple of seasons reflected the fears of a post 2016 America, then the last couple of seasons have vividly mirrored our anger and search for justice.
Season 4 of The Handmaid’s Tale mirrored the PTSD many of us are feeling after the neverending hellscape of a year that was 2020. And it capped it all off with a bloody episode of fury and vengeance against one of the main perpetrators of trauma in the show. Let’s dive into the season 4 finale of The Handmaid’s Tale and see how the story of June Osbourne and her fellow Handmaids played out.
Spoilers Below For Season 4 of The Handmaid’s Tale, including the season finale.
Wreaking Bloody Vengeance on the Men of Gilead
Image via Hulu
In my review of the first three episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale season 4 I addressed how the show was already veering into bloody vengeance territory. The very first episode of this season saw the fugitive Handmaids – led by June – beating a man to death. This execution is carried out the way they learned in Gilead, with a “particicution.” This is a form of punishment that sees the Handmaids killing someone by tearing them apart with their bare hands.
The season 4 finale came full circle with another grisly particicution, but this time it was no anonymous rapist. It was the execution of the man who raped and tortured June, the Commander who made everyone’s life a living hell, and the man who came up with the concept of particicution in the first place. That’s right, the season 4 finale of The Handmaid’s Tale saw the death of Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) who been a major character in the show since day one.
Season 4 of The Handmaid’s Tale Takes June on a Long Journey to Freedom
Image via Hulu
But how did we get here? It was a long road for June, who was recaptured at the beginning of the season by sinister Aunt Lydia. Desperate to reclaim the runaway Handmaids, the government of Gilead tortured June for information. But it wasn’t until they brought in her long-lost daughter Hannah, that June finally gave up the location. So the show briefly reset to the status quo, and attempted to send the Handmaids off together to a ‘breeding colony.’
But before they could get there, June and her friends made a daring escape. And in the end all of them die, except for June and Janine. Together, the last two runaway Handmaids made it to the front of the war in Chicago. There they learn that men are still disgusting misogynists outside of Gilead too. June and Janine are not in Chicago for very long before Gilead bombs the city, and the two are separated.
Image via Hulu
Enter Moira, June’s oldest friend and a former Jezebel who escaped to Canada way back in season 2. On a humanitarian relief mission across the border, Moira finds June wandering the wreckage of Chicago searching for Janine. Moira insists that June come with her to Canada, sneaking her aboard a ship and disguising her as a member of the crew. And so halfway through season 4 of The Handmaid’s Tale, June finally obtains her freedom and seeks asylum in Canada. Here she is reunited with her husband Luke, and her infant daughter that she smuggled out of Gilead. But peace is not as easy to find as freedom.
While in Canada, June hijacks Moira’s support group for refugees from Gilead and stokes their pain and anger into a righteous fury. She testifies against the Waterfords – still languishing in a Canadian prison – only to learn that Canada plans to pardon her former Commander in exchange for intel. This is obviously unacceptable to June, who starts to formulate a plan that will see the end of Fred for good.
The Fury of Women in Season 4 of The Handmaid’s Tale
Image via Hulu
The season 4 finale of The Handmaid’s Tale is a slow burn, with all of the previous episodes acting as kindling for the fire that erupts at the end. But it also sees June at her most devious. She utilizes every trick she learned from Gilead to manipulate the men around her, and speak in code with the other former Handmaids. June’s most valuable ally in this endeavor is Emily (Alexis Bledel) whose blood has also started to run cold. Earlier in the season Emily confronted an Aunt who was responsible for her imprisonment and mutilation due to her being a “gender traitor” (i.e. a lesbian). Emily refused to forgive the former Aunt, and then felt nothing but relief when she eventually hung herself out of guilt and shame.
June also conscripts her former lover Nick (now a Commander himself) and Commander Lawrence in her scheme. She arranges for Fred to be returned to Gilead and face justice from his own government. In exchange for 22 women freedom fighters. There is a lot of subtext to this arrangement. The insulting idea that one man is of equal worth to over 20 women. But when Waterford crosses the border into Gilead he finds himself in the deadly “No Man’s Land” (another title laden with metaphor) where June and the former Handmaids await him.
June gives Waterford a choice. She can either shoot him to death. Or he can try to run for his life. Fred chooses the latter and we see the former Handmaids chase him down and engage in a gruesome particicution. They tear the Commander apart with their bare hands. His body is left hanging on a wall with the show’s motto written out for all to see. “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.”
Where Will The Handmaid’s Tale Go From Here?
Image via Hulu
In the end, June returns home to Luke and cradles baby Nichole with blood still on her face and hands. With one look, it is clear that Luke knows what she has done. It is also clear that this is the end for them. June cannot stay and live a happy domestic life with her husband and daughter. She has been too changed by her time in Gilead. And it is clear that she does not know how to give up the fight.
With this ending, it might feel like The Handmaid’s Tale has finally run its course. However, there is at least one more season left in the show. It does feel like this finale is setting up the pieces for The Testaments – the sequel that Margaret Atwood put out several years ago that has already been optioned by Hulu. It remains to be seen if Hulu will incorporate The Testaments into the final season of The Handmaid’s Tale. Or if it will get its own show entirely after the end of The Handmaid’s Tale. Either way, there will be a considerable time jump in the future of the story.
In The Testaments both Hannah and Nichole are teenagers. The sequel text says that baby Nichole is raised by foster parents, and she is unaware of her origins. Meanwhile Hannah is raised in Gilead, also unaware of her origins. The two of them come together and act as the major protagonists in The Testaments, along with the surprising turncoat figure of Aunt Lydia.
Setting Up the Pieces For a Sequel in The Testaments
The Testaments | Image via Penguin Random House
Of course the show has thrown a few wrenches into the plot that might affect the adaptation of The Testaments. We cannot forget that Serena Joy is pregnant with her own child. And now she is a single mother, ostracised from Gilead, who doesn’t really belong in Canada either. What will become of Serena and Fred’s child next season? And how will that affect that story of The Testaments as it plays out in the future?
The fifth season of The Handmaid’s Tale should answer some of these questions. And it will do so with the specter of Commander Fred Waterford hanging over everyone’s heads. But at least the former Handmaids finally got some bloody vengeance at the end of season 4.
Overall, season 4 of The Handmaid’s Tale was reasonably satisfying for long-time viewers who have endured the grueling misery of the series over the past three seasons. That is not to say there haven’t been moments of levity, joy, and catharsis. The show remains exquisitely crafted, with every actor bringing their best performances in season 4.
It was certainly difficult to watch the former Handmaids rip apart another person with their bare hands. It was reflective of the type of righteous anger that so many women have felt over the past five years. At long last, a man responsible for so much pain, suffering, rape, and death finally got his karmic justice. Waterford was taken down by the very punishment he invented. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum indeed.
All seasons of The Handmaid’s Tale are currently on Hulu.
What did you think of the season 4 finale of The Handmaid’s Tale, and where do you think the series will go from here? Join the conversation with Comic Years today on Facebook and Twitter to share your thoughts.
Emily O'Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her genre teeth on the Wizard of Oz books at the tender age of 6 years old, and was reading epic adult fantasy novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction like there is no tomorrow. She is delighted to be living through the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She is unashamed of the amount of fanfiction that still lingers online under her name.