The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 Finale: Did June Betray Rita and the Marthas by Staying in Gilead?

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In the season 2 finale of The Handmaid’s Tale, June chooses to stay in Gilead rather than escape with her baby daughter, despite several Marthas and others having risked their lives to help her and Nichole. This has become a controversial choice with the audience. I’ve seen many commenters who feel that June was selfish to stay behind, because the Marthas had taken serious risks to get her and the baby out. Some people think that the Marthas will feel angry and betrayed when they find out that June didn’t leave. Since even major outlets were shocked and disgusted by June’s choice and agree with the judgement that it makes her selfish, I’ve decided to address it in a separate post from my already extra long recap/analysis.

This is a complex issue. First, calling June selfish for sending one child to safety but giving up her own chance at freedom so that she can try to save her other child and work with the Resistance to save more people, is blatantly ridiculous and misogynistic. What would be selfish is saving herself without a thought for the other people it would affect, which is what the Marthas expected her to do.

Second, June didn’t ask the Marthas to get her out. She owes them now that her baby is hopefully free, but she wasn’t required to take them up on their offer, since she didn’t request it in the first place. Even if she requested it, she would have been allowed to change her mind. Her life and her children’s lives are the lives most at stake in an escape attempt. If she wasn’t comfortable with what was happening, she had the right to change her mind. After all of the uproar about the rapes in this show, are people now saying that June doesn’t have the right of consent to the escape plan that others devised for her and her children? That’s insane. Hannah and Nichole are the most innocent victims, and as their parent, June’s first responsibility is always to them. She has the right to consent to the plan or not, and to withdraw her consent if needed when conditions change. Which they did, when she saw that she could send Nichole to Canada with Emily.

In the episode Baggage, the resistance exercised their option to withdraw their side of the plan when Omar tried to leave her behind after conditions at the safehouse changed. The pilot also was ready to leave her behind. The right of consent and the right to change one’s mind goes both ways.

Third, the Marthas planned to free a handmaid and an infant. A handmaid and an infant have escaped. The Marthas don’t actually care about freeing the handmaids. Nichole was the focus of the plan. We were told and shown all season that the Resistance has abandoned the handmaids. They left June at the Boston Globe for months. They turned Lillie into a suicide bomber instead of freeing her. They never came for the packet of letters. The Resistance/Marthas only stepped in this time because Rita felt so guilty about Eden’s death. She wanted to atone for her treatment of Eden, and she truly cares about Nichole and wants to save her.

It’s also a good time, strategically, to get a handmaid out of Gilead and have her tell her story. The letters that Luke and Moira released have opened up a well of international sympathy. Having a newly escaped handmaid tell her story about current conditions in Gilead will be very powerful. In that sense, Emily’s story is much, much more compelling than June’s. June is one of the most favored handmaids, even though of course she’s still a torture, abuse and rape victim. But Emily had forced mutilation, was sent to the Colonies, was forced to watch her lover hang, and was forcibly separated from her wife and child at the airport years ago, with no word from them since. Emily has Nichole now, so she’ll be able to tell the story of June’s rapes, pregnancy, and the forced adoption too. With Emily and Nichole as the refugees, the Resistance gets the most impact when their story is told. Especially since Fred and Gilead will be fighting to get Nichole back.

So I don’t think that the Marthas will necessarily care all that much that June didn’t leave, since their plan was successful in getting Nichole and Emily out. If they do get angry because of the enormous risks they took for her, then June has an important response to that. They will only get in trouble if someone turns them in. As far as we know, the only person who would turn them in is Fred. The only person who has something Fred wants, and could bargain with him to stop him from handing the Marthas over to the Guardians, is June. I know, some of you think this is crazy, but hear me out.

Fred doesn’t actually care about Nichole, since she’s a girl, other than as a means to an end. He never held her or even looked at her, other than when he took her to the Red Center to show to June. Even then, his focus was on June. He doesn’t care about baby girls. We saw it with his disregard for Angela’s life. We saw it when he told June he wanted to try again for a boy. It probably explains why he allowed his child to be named after Nick.

Nichole is nothing but property to him, a status symbol. Having a child gets him a promotion and more respect. Having a son would probably get him even more. He’ll want her back, but he won’t be all that devastated that she’s gone. It’ll be mostly his ego that’s hurt.

He’s obsessed with June, and sees her as the key to giving him a son. If she’s dead, he has to waste valuable time finding another cooperative handmaid who’s both fertile and compatible with Nick. We’ve seen very few of the handmaids get pregnant, so their fertility is always in question. (It doesn’t matter that we know it’s the commanders’ who are infertile. They don’t believe it.)

Fred doesn’t actually know anything for certain about the escape. He suspects Nick, Rita and June. People are assuming they’d break under torture and name the other Marthas, which is a reasonable assumption. But in order to turn Rita, Nick, and/or June in, Fred has to admit that he’s lost control of his entire household staff, and he has to accept that Serena will be implicated as well.

Fred knows that there’s no way that he won’t go down with them. That’s been thoroughly set up. Ofglen’s entire household went down when she bombed the Red Center, Omar’s entire family went down when he helped June, etc. That’s one of the reasons why Eden’s father turned her in immediately. He was saving the rest of his family from Gilead’s retribution. Serena and Fred already told us during their big argument in Holly that they’ll go down if June is involved with another disappearance, because there’s no way they won’t be seen as part of the Resistance.

So there’s no way Fred is going to want to turn in his whole household when he has another option. By returning, June can save everyone else- Nick, Rita and the rest of the Marthas. She can offer Fred the chance to try for a boy in exchange for his silence. She doesn’t have to actually go through with the Ceremony, because they all know that it’s a sham. She and Nick can pretend to be trying to get pregnant, but fake it. Someone in Gilead has to have some birth control. Now that she’ll be plugged in, maybe she’ll have access. In a worst case scenario, she may have to continue to play concubine for Fred for a while. It would be repugnant, but female spies throughout history have frequently had to hold their noses and do the same. At least now it would be more of a choice, with a goal and end game in mind.

Or, June might be able to simply blackmail Fred into telling the Guardians that someone else stole the baby, leaving the rest of the household out of it. Emily is the perfect scapegoat, since she was already on a bit of a crime spree. If Janine could steal Angela, then Emily could steal Nichole, and leave the message on June’s wall for Fred, one of the hated commanders. June might not need to make any concessions to Fred at all.

So, given all of this, there’s no reason that the Marthas should be angry at June or that they should get caught. The writers may still decide to round them up by having some witness tip off the Guardians. That still wouldn’t be June’s fault. The Marthas and the rest of the Resistance all knew what they were getting into when they signed up. They created the plan that led them to take the chances they took. That’s on them, not on June. June doesn’t have to abandon to her second daughter to the horrors of Gilead to prove she appreciates what the Marthas did for her, and I doubt the Marthas would want that. I’m sure June will pay the Marthas back by doing everything she can do to help them.

I can’t help but think that the idea that June is selfish comes from Aunt Lydia. When she took June to the wall and showed June Omar’s body, she made June think that Omar’s death and his wife and son’s fate were all her fault. She called June a selfish girl, and that’s when she temporarily broke June’s spirit, because June believed her.

OMAR’S DEATH WASN’T JUNE’S FAULT. LYDIA WAS BEING MANIPULATIVE. WHATEVER HAPPENS TO THE MARTHAS WON’T BE JUNE’S FAULT EITHER.

Please don’t buy into Gilead’s lies. Omar died because the safehouse was compromised. The Resistance members caught there were tortured and named him. They probably named the pilot, too, but the Guardians could have been following the escaped driver and found the plane that way. Omar and his family never came home from church because they’d already been taken. Nothing June did affected their safety. Aunt Lydia lied, but June had been through too much to figure it out then.

I can’t predict how the Waterford household or the Martha network will react to June’s return because I don’t write for the show. We don’t even know yet if the Waterfords will ever find out that she didn’t escape, or if she’ll keep her presence in Gilead a secret from now on. What I do know is that June had the right to make her own decision about where she went.

She’s spent years as a slave, being raped on a regular basis. She had to endure having both of her children be stolen from her. She lost her husband, and can’t acknowledge the father of her baby. June unequivocally has the right to bodily autonomy, and that includes the right to decide where she lives and whether she rescues Hannah before she leaves Gilead.

It’s not for the Marthas to make those decisions for June as a person or a parent. Giving June the opportunity to save Nichole and herself was an amazing thing for them to do. Feeling betrayed because she didn’t want to leave her second child to the fate they were saving Nicole from would be hypocrisy and suggest that the Marthas were only saving June and Nichole to make themselves feel better. For them to feel a little frustration and anger at first would be normal. After that, they ought to be understanding or stay out of it. If they’re truly a part of the Resistance and trying to save girls from Gilead’s tortures, they’ll help her save Hannah while June helps bring down Gilead, rather than making June feel guilty for not following their orders.

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2 thoughts on “The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 Finale: Did June Betray Rita and the Marthas by Staying in Gilead?

  1. One flaw I see in your theory is the fact that the Commander doesn’t actually know that Nick is the baby’s father. I think he has a clue, but he doesn’t outright mention it. I thought it was really powerful to watch this chain of women care for this baby and how strong the strength of women was at liberation when the chain of men, (including Nick) could not. I think this was a homage to the feminist movement

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    1. I could be wrong about everything that might happen in season 3, but I’m not wrong about Fred knowing that Nick is the father of the baby. In episode 11, Holly, at ~20:40, during their big argument, Serena says to Fred: “You sent her out here with the father of her baby to see her daughter? What did you think was going to happen?” I took the quote directly from the closed captions. The onscreen visual is of June reaching for the box of bullets on top of the gun cabinet, so I think a lot of people missed what Serena said. Fred doesn’t show any surprise, so he’d probably already guessed it or she’d already told him. The sperm donor options were limited after all, basically to Nick and the doctor, and the odds that Serena would trust the doctor over Nick were slim. He’s definitely known that Holly is Nick’s baby since the day she was born.

      I loved watching the grandmas and mamas, almost all of them rendered invisible by Gilead, outsmart the official Gilead forces, especially since we know so many of the Marthas were accomplished women in their real lives. It was powerful to see them all come together to save a child.

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