'Handmaid's Tale' Episode 10: That Traumatic Separation Scene, Explained

It's not as fictional as viewers might expect.

by Catie Keck

The second season of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale feels at times brutish in its assault on its characters, particularly Offred (née June Osbourne, played by Elisabeth Moss). And with the arrival of Episode 10, “The Last Ceremony,” we see Offred facing one of her most challenging torments yet: a reunion with her daughter Hannah. According to the episode’s writer Yahlin Chang, research of real child separations helped inform the show’s most visceral episode yet.

Spoilers for Episode 10 of The Handmaid’s Tale fallow below.

“The Last Ceremony” was disturbing for several reasons, not the least of which included a violent rape scene that saw Fred and Serena Waterford attempting to forcibly induce June following a fit of Braxton Hicks contractions. But June’s reunion with her first child — who was sent to live with another family as June herself was groomed for her role as a Handmaid — was particularly poignant amid real world news of migrant children being separated from their families at the US-Mexico border.

June carries Hannah in an attempted escape prior to her becoming a Handmaid.


Chang revealed to Vox’s Todd VanDerWerff in an interview published Wednesday that research of similar trauma greatly informed the scene:

All the experts I talked to said it never goes the way you want it to go. You want it to be all hugs and kisses and everything is great, but it’s really difficult. It’s really difficult to watch. … Hannah in the scene, you look at her and she’s sort of out of it. You wonder what’s happened to her? How has she been traumatized? This poor girl, how has her development been arrested? In a way, I’m glad it’s hard to watch and I’m glad that it will hit home in terms of showing how wrong it is to rip kids away from their parents.

What Change tells Vox about trauma is especially noteworthy when considering the climate in which Hannah is being raised. While we’re informed by the household’s Martha — who appears to care for Hannah — that Hannah has only been hit “twice” by her new parents (“Only when I’m bad,” Hannah says), it’s safe to assume she’s suffered emotional and psychological trauma as the result of her separation from June, her loving and doting mother.

To what end she’s able to process this event, however, remains unclear. Women are allowed neither to read nor write in Gilead, and any discussion of Hannah’s life before the Republic is likely strictly forbidden.

After such a punishing series of events, it is wise of the show to have ended with a sliver of hope — albeit one certainly riddled with new challenges. As Hannah is swept away from June, and Nick (the apparent father of June’s unborn baby) is dragged away inexplicably by Gilead officials, Offred finds herself abandoned in the middle of nowhere and weeks or even days away from delivery and nothing but the clothes on her back.

There are plenty of questions left hanging at end of “The Last Ceremony,” but with word of her husband and closest friend alive and safe in Canada, one can’t help but wonder: Will she finally, maybe escape?