The Handmaid's Tale Season 2was hard to watch in ways audiences might not have ever expected. Interestingly, one of the most controversial aspects of a season that included child brides, executed journalists, and family separation was June's decision to stay in Gilead during The Handmaid's Tale Season 2 finale. Many fans were not impressed with the ending, worried that the series would repeat itself next season, having June attempt escape and fail ad nauseam. But if you think about it, the path to this seemingly upsetting ending has been there all along. And it might even have less to do with June's daughter Hannah than it initially appeared.
Earlier in the season, June was prepared to put herself first and get out of Gilead, leaving Hannah behind, which also bothered some viewers. What kind of mother does that, right? This time, she handed her infant to a trusted friend and likely went off to find her first daughter. (Or take down Gilead on her own terms, which would be something.)
It might have seemed rash, but June's been making calculated decisions all season, even if viewers didn't always agree with them. Remember — she didn't shoot the Waterfords when she had a clear shot. She didn't pack up and leave after delivering Holly and venturing out on her own. In fact, she actively made sure that she would be found in that empty house. In a bizarre way, her giving Holly to Emily and was one (admittedly) frustrating plot point all season that wasn't violent or oppressive. It was almost hopeful. And June has felt like she had a mission to accomplish all along.
Remember the scene in the Season 2 premiere, when June was forced to sit and eat while the other handmaids were tortured in front of her for an act of rebellion she initiated? Then later, when a Muslim man was executed for helping her, and Aunt Lydia wanted her to internalize that it was her fault? While it may not have been Lydia's intention and June shouldn't blame herself for anything that has happened to her, that was a powerful message about privilege.
June is already a cisgendered, heterosexual white woman and in Gilead — though she is at a lesser status as a handmaid — she enjoyed some privileges because she was able to become pregnant. June has not endured nearly as much as queer and non-white characters in her position, such as Moira and Emily. They should be the ones to get out of Gilead first, and they have.
Given the parallels to the history of slavery in the United States, even just in this episode, like Commander Lawrence's remark about negotiating salaries with slaves or Serena advocating for the women's right to literacy in Gilead, this could be the larger story the adaptation is telling. June staying behind to use her advantages and knowledge of Gilead to get others to safety (and not just her daughter) would just be a part of that.
Because it wasn't just seeing Hannah again that motivated June to stay, though knowing her daughter's exact location and hearing her ask why she didn't try harder to find and save her must have certainly been a factor. But I think her choice to stay was inspired by Eden's execution.
In fact, that act of violence against a teenage girl in love (or lust) seemed to shake most of the women in Gilead, regardless of their position. Rita organized the Marthas. Serena organized the Wives. Even those previously complicit in an oppressive society meant to solve a fertility crisis couldn't argue that hanging a child was counterintuitive to Gilead's values. There was a lot more than just saving her daughter behind her choice, although saving Hannah is obviously the goal here.
Yes, it's anti-climatic to see June once again miss her chance to kiss Gilead goodbye, but it is probably the right decision for the show and for the character. Change is not a straight line, and feminism is complicated. Revolutionary figures have flaws too, and June's decision to save her daughter on The Handmaid's Tale transcends motherhood and could finally lead to her becoming a hero who uses privilege to help others rather than comply or self-serve.