The season finale of “The Handmaid’s Tale” reminds its viewers who the real villains of Gilead are.
The last few episodes have been busy with the work of creating a full world within “The Handmaid’s Tale.” We spent time with our protagonist in a fancy, unsanctioned brothel. We discovered Offred’s husband Luke was still alive. We got to know Nick — swooningly played by Max Minghella — and imagine a future between him and Offred. (That is, whatever a future in a dystopian world looks like.)
But in the final episode of the first season, aptly called “The Night,” we’re brought back to where this series thrives — to the perspective of its women. For a glorious 60 minutes and 17 seconds, the only stories that matter are Offred’s and Serena Joy’s — and for a moment, Moira’s too. As suspected, their stories are the most powerful. Even when, by law, they are stripped of said power.
The episode certainly shows us a more desperate side of these characters. Tensions are building, and the people of Gilead are getting increasingly restless. And more villainous. So we decided to rank the main characters of the last episode, from the ones who are doing what they gotta do to get by, to those who are pure, unfiltered evil. Maybe we’ll surprise you.
Offred is as close to “blameless” as we can get in this series. She spends this final episode balancing a dizzying amount of emotional highs and lows — she opens the secret package and discovers letters from women just like her, reminding her that she’s not alone; she finds out she’s pregnant moments after being abused at the hands of Serena Joy; she has a meltdown after Serena Joy dangles her daughter, Hannah, just out of her reach. More on that later. Offred is doing the best she can, and It’s a wonder that she hasn’t turned completely evil — at least not yet.
It’s kind of expected, at this point, that when it comes to escaping Gilead, you’re on your own. Moira already left Offred/June once — this time, she escapes again, but successfully. And you can’t really fault a woman for taking matters into her own hands and escaping an oppressive regime by the skin of her own teeth. Even if that means killing (or maiming — we don't know) a driver and stealing his clothes to make your getaway. Moira is doing what she has to do to get by. And now that she’s reunited with Luke? Well, we surely can expect some teamwork in the future.
Nick’s face is undeniably beautiful but his motives are extremely murky. In the penultimate episode, he unceremoniously dumps Offred. In the finale, he finds out she’s pregnant with his child and nuzzles his face against her arm. And when Offred is escorted from the Waterford’s home, he assures Offred that she should trust him. But he’s an Eye. There’s a chance that he could be a double agent, entrenched in the resistance, but again: his intentions are very murky. It’s unclear what he could be planning — or who he could be planning it with.
Aunt Lydia is evil, for sure. Her main job in this regime is to keep the handmaids brainwashed. But after Offred and friends refused to stone Janine to death, well — it's safe to say Aunt Lydia is losing her touch.
The Commander has always been evil in the way that dudes that are leading a patriarchy are wont to be. But more than anything, he’s comfortable with the life that the new regime has afforded him. He’ll blame whoever he wants — like Serena Joy, for bringing lust into his home — just to get his way. His evil is almost mindless, though. He’s just coasting on having the easiest gig in Gilead: being a man of power.
Somehow, the past few episodes of “The Handmaid’s Tale” offered a sense that Serena Joy should be pitied. That despite her complacency in building the cornerstones Gilead, she too was a victim. But in the finale, Serena Joy reminds the audience that although she may be suffering at the hands of Gilead’s laws, she’s still very much a part of that world.
And she’ll do anything to keep the facade of family and whatever else. She’ll give Offred a glimpse of her daughter Hannah — healthy and happy — but she won’t be able to touch her or talk to her. She’ll threaten Hannah’s life over the life of Nick and Offred’s baby. And then she asks that Offred be grateful. She’s intelligent — far more intelligent than her husband, Commander Waterford. And she’s a true zealot. She is very possibly the most dangerous person in Gilead. And by far the most evil.
Follow Rachael Vaughan Clemmons on Twitter — @rachaelclemz