Warning: Spoilers ahead for The Handmaid’s Tale season 3 finale “Mayday.”
There is one reason to leave The Handmaid’s Tale season 3 at least a little bit optimistic: June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss) really does help well over 50 children escape the fascist regime of Gilead. But, there’s a catch (there’s always a catch). June is shot in the process and is last seen bleeding out in the middle of the woods. In June’s final few seconds of 2019 finale “Mayday,” we watch her stare blanking at the screen before her eyes drift closed, possibly forever.
It’s a scene that leaves viewers terrified June is dead. However, the season-ender drops multiple breadcrumbs suggesting June will still be alive when The Handmaid’s Tale returns for its already-confirmed fourth season.
It would have been easy for “Mayday” to end with June dying alone in the forest, staring at the sky while dreaming about her happy life before Gilead. The one where she played with Hannah (Raven Riley Duporte in this flashback) and got to take in the sight of her husband Luke (O-T Fagbenle) looking cute in perfect glasses. That memory could easily serve as June’s version of heaven as she slips away, cold and totally forsaken, in the Massachusetts woods.
But, The Handmaid’s Tale goes out of its way to ensure June isn’t forsaken in the last minute of the finale. Instead, her handmaid friends — including Janine (Madeline Brewer), Alma (Nina Kiri), and Brianna (Bahia Watson) — forgo their chance to escape Gilead on the Canada-bound, child-carrying cargo plane just to save June. Rather than leave June to die, we see them carrying her body to safety, using her gigantic regulation handmaid dress as a makeshift stretcher. “Mayday” wouldn’t put June in such a hopeful position if the series didn’t want us to believe there is a way for her to survive her gunshot wound.
June’s monologue to close the season is similarly encouraging. “The Lord said, 'I have seen my people in bondage, and I have heard their cry,'” she says in voiceover as the handmaids carry her through the woods. “I know their sorrows, and I have come to deliver them from the hand of evil men and lead my people out of that sorrowful place, to a land flowing with milk and honey.”
Those symbolism-heavy sentences are an inexact quote from the Bible, a book packed with fire, brimstone, and tragic martyrdom. In fact, the star of the Bible died in an attempt to save the souls of his people and create hope for the world. There are many New Testament lines June could have used to suggest that she, like Jesus Christ before her, has died for the good of mankind. Instead, her parting season 3 words come from the Book of Exodus, which follows Moses’ flight from Egypt with the Israelites. The Israelites, like the handmaids, were slaves until someone saved them from their abusive plight.
The Handmaid’s Tale might be leaning harder than ever on its June As Saviour theme, but it’s also simply suggesting she’ll live to see her flock reach the gates of salvation. Since the show is starting to directly compare its heroine to Moses, it’s important to remember the biblical figure didn’t die until all of his people came to the promised land. Yes, a few dozen children safely escaping Gilead is a huge accomplishment. Yet that is far from the end of June’s Gilead-dismantling work. At this point, she hasn’t even saved the person she cares for most — her oldest daughter, Hannah.
After everything June has gone through — giving birth in an abandoned home, nearly escaping Gilead multiple times, and starting a legitimate revolution — it’s impossible to believe she could even allow herself to die before smuggling Hannah out of Gilead. As Handmaid’s Tale has proven time and time again, June Osborne is so much stronger than any odd stacked against her.
That’s why we can instead expect to see June clinging to life when Handmaid’s Tale returns for season 4 on Hulu in the US and Channel 4 here in the UK. From what we can tell in “Mayday’s” ending moments, it appears June was shot somewhere around her abdomen or hip. It’s possible the bullet even grazed her reproductive system, forever ending her utility as a handmaid. Such a medical twist would certainly act as a heavy handed metaphor for June’s evolution past her indentured status as a walking baby incubator.
But, no matter what happens, we can all believe June hasn't waged her last battle against Gilead.