Barely a week has passed since the polarising finale of hit series The Handmaid’s Tale, and the after-effects only seem to be escalating, with fans and TV critics increasingly at bitter odds over the controversial ending.
The final episode, which saw onetime Gilead sadist Serena turn into an apparent hero, and former captive Offred (real name, June) decline her first real chance to escape after two seasons of constantly trying, have left many former fans furious.
In the drama series’ corner was top TV critic and podcast star Clare Ridgen, who said while she was initially jolted by June’s decision not to leave, she felt strongly it was the correct one.
‘I was quite shocked when she handed the child over,’ said Clare of the character’s choice to give her baby to an escaping refugee, instead of leaving herself.
‘But I instantly thought, of course, without a doubt, I would do the same thing.’
But Binge List host Matthew Denby wasn’t on board, joining the increasingly loud chorus of fans who felt betrayed by the decision of show runner Bruce Miller to take season three in a new direction.
‘I’m one of those people who felt disappointed and even betrayed by the finale,’ he told Binge List listeners. ‘I didn’t buy her decision not to leave Gilead, we’ve had two seasons of her desperately trying to get out of that place, and now she’s finally given the chance to leave and she declines.
‘It felt really out of character with the whole show, she’s been trying to escape this place for so long.’
While acknowledging that June feels strongly about saving her older daughter Holly, Matthew pointed out this hadn’t stopped her from constantly trying to get to Canada, before a very abrupt about-face. A couple of failed escape bids have left fans weary and eager for resolution, he added.
Matthew says he feels ripped off by the way the show’s writing team are apparently manipulating audiences – with constantly stoked but never satisfied urges to escape, and sudden changes in characters and their motivations. He says these tactics are all about keeping the show on air, and not about great storytelling or care for audiences and their needs.
‘I am one of those people who thinks this only happened so the show can continue, I do feel like it’s a betrayal of the original concept,’ he said.
He feels June’s situation – trapped in Gilead because of an unsatisfied narrative surrounding her missing child – is primarily the result of bad writing, and viewers shouldn’t be guilted into not feeling annoyed by the twist at the end of season two.
‘I want to see her escape with her daughter, but in a well written arc, which this is not,’ he says.
‘Of course she’s going to care about her older daughter - that’s been established through the whole thing. But she’s in the equivalent of Nazi Germany, and she really needs to get out. After all she's been put through, we want her to get out.’
Although agreeing with Clare about the show’s ending, fellow Binge List critic Gavin Scott concedes Matthew’s point that June’s decision to allow Serena to name her baby Nicole was a step too far.
‘I don’t agree with June saying call her Nicole,’ Gavin told Binge List listeners. ‘I don’t feel that June would have completely forgiven Serena. A couple of episodes ago it was Serena’s idea to have another Ceremony [the name given to a rape ritual in Gilead], just to keep her in line.’
Serena’s very dramatic conversion from brutal totalitarian and repeated accessory to rape, to compassionate mother figure who selflessly helped June get away, really annoyed Matthew, who said the rapid character transformation was a clear artistic failure.
‘The change in Serena was something that bothered me even more than the ending,’ he told his co-hosts. ‘I thought the decision to change her from hard line ideologue to a sympathetic character who was questioning Gilead was cheap, lazy and dishonest.
‘She helped design Gilead, she is someone who has probably witnessed multiple people she knows personally hanged or mutilated and she’s backed it up every step of the way. And now we’re expected to believe at the very last minute she’s changed her mind.’
Feeling equally passionate about the show, Gavin argued that Serena had been given good reason to switch sides after recent events – despite her history of always supporting the brutal regime, through thick and thin.
‘I think Serena has always supported Gilead, until it wasn’t working for her,’ he said.
Conceding that Serena’s change of heart ‘definitely was a bit jarring,’ Clare maintains the writers did a good job with the character’s transition.
‘I was left feeling like a gender traitor, because I was left both loving and hating Serena, pitying her and despising her,' Clare said. ‘How have the writers got me feeling sorry for Serena?’