‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 3 Finale Recap: 52 Children

*Warning: Spoilers ahead*

In the penultimate episode of The Handmaid’s Tale season three, Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) revealed that she betrayed Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) to get a chance to see her daughter and June (Elisabeth Moss) prepared to smuggle 52 children out of Gilead at any cost. 

In the season finale, we find out if she’ll be victorious or captured.

june and beth handmaids tale
Jasper Savage/Hulu

We open on June, in the past, standing somewhere dark where women are being corralled and assaulted by Guardians. It’s the beginning of the Gilead days and everything is terrifying. Amidst the chaos, June tells a guard they’ve taken her daughter and he gently tells her to be quiet. She and the women are taken into a truck and transported to their district. “Ruthless, I remember thinking,” she says.

Back in present day, June is escorted through town by a Guardian. Various Handmaids drop gifts into her bag in preparation of her escape mission that evening. Aunt Lydia (Anne Dowd) sees Janine (Madeline Brewer) place something into her bag and asks what that was all about. June responds that it’s just Janine being Janine, but Aunt Lydia senses that something is up. She reminds June that her next commander won’t allow her “subversive nonsense” and she better cut it out. 

Back at home, June readies herself and the household for the enormous task at hand. Beth (Kristen Gutoskie) is throwing up because she’s so nervous, but June is as cool as a cucumber.

commander lawrence handmaids tale
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Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) says he called a meeting so that most of the security will be out of the district when the time comes. Beth, June and Sienna (Sugenja Sri) pack baskets of food and supplies for the journey. June even puts lard on the gate to make sure it doesn’t squeak. As she applies the lard, she sees a child who has arrived early. She brings the girl, Kiki, and her Martha, Maggie, inside. She dresses the girl’s blisters after her long walk and gives her a meal. Kiki asks what it’s like outside of Gilead and June tells her she’ll be free and can wear whatever she wants. 

Just then,  Maggie runs in and says she’s changed her mind and that they’re going home. Calmly, June goes upstairs and retrieves her revolver. She tells Maggie that if she runs and takes the girl, she’ll shoot her. Maggie leaves Kiki and runs into the forest. When Kiki runs after her, June points the gun on her, but Beth steps in and takes the girl to safety.

june staring at a gun handmaids tale
Jasper Savage/Hulu

Afterward, June contemplates the fact that she nearly shot a child. Commander Lawrence comes into the dining area and tells June that the girl and her Martha were spotted and he’s calling the entire operation off. It’s too risky. But she refuses to accept this and continues to tell him no. He sticks to his guns, so she takes hers in her hand and tells him, “It’s not your decision.” She tells him to run off and get her a map so she can figure out what to do next. The June we once knew is completely gone. In her place, is a hard woman with little cares left in the world.

That evening, June, Beth and Sienna bring children into the home under the cloak of darkness. Then, they begin to walk to the airport, marking their way with white scraps of fabric all the while. When they return back to the Lawrence’s household, they see way more than 52 children listening to Commander Lawrence read them a story.

janine handmaids tale1
Jasper Savage/Hulu

Janine arrives and says Maggie was arrested two miles from the Lawrence household and that Gaurdians are looking for Kiki from house to house. June thinks fast and says that they all have to leave now. The children and Marthas quietly shuffle out. Before June leaves, Commander Lawrence jokes, “You said you weren’t going to be any trouble.” She says she lied. June encourages him to leave, too, but he says he’s not a fan of flying or children. They say goodbye and then June is off.

june and commander lawrence handmaids tale
Jasper Savage/Hulu

The group of children and Marthas rush through the forest in silence, avoiding spotlights and Guardians along the way. They finally arrive at the airport, but a truck pulls up just as they’re about to exit the forest and a Guardian gets out. June tells the Marthas to follow the gate until they find a safe place to get the kids across. June plans to sacrifice herself for the good of the children.

rita with children in a forest handmaids tale
Jasper Savage/Hulu

But before she can, the Marthas and Janine come to her side. They all throw rocks at the Guardians. The Guardians shoot back. Some Marthas are shot, but the children safely cross into the airport. As the women hide, June walks forward toward the Guardians and into their light. One chases her, shooting, through the forest. Eventually, he shoots her in the back and she drops to the forest floor. When the Guardian rolls her over to see her face, she fires at him. He doesn’t die, so she tells him to say “All clear” over the radio. He obeys and then she kills him anyway. 

As June drops to the floor, gushing blood, she sees the plane carrying all of those children take off.

june and rita handmaids tale
Jasper Savage/Hulu

In Canada, Serena and Mr. Tuello (Sam Jaegar) discuss the upcoming testimonies she has to give about Gilead. He tells her that soon she’ll get out and will need to decide where she wants to live. She’s anxious about being “out in the world without an escort,” but he says she’ll find her way.

serena handmaids tale
Jasper Savage/Hulu

Meanwhile, Commander Waterford is being questioned about Gilead’s governmental structure. Mr. Tuello walks in and the session ends. He asks the Commander how everything is going, and he responds that he needs to report some crimes committed by his wife. Mr. Tuello points out that Serena has a plea agreement that gives her immunity. And here, dear readers, is where Commander Waterford seriously betrays his wife (for the umpteenth time). 

commander waterford and mr tuello handmaids tale
Jasper Savage/Hulu

As it turns out, she doesn’t have total immunity because shortly after speaking with the Commander, Mr. Tuello places Serena under arrest for crimes against humanity and sexual slavery. He tells her that the fact that she orchestrated June and Nick (Max Minghella) sleeping together to conceive Nicole is technically considered rape. They take baby Nicole from her and walk Serena back to a holding cell.

serena and baby nicole handmaids tale
Jasper Savage/Hulu

Later, the plane carrying the children lands in Canada. Moira (Samira Wiley), Emily (Alexis Bledel) and Luke (O.T. Fagbenle) are all there with doctors and supplies to help the kids in any way they might need. Moira walks into the plane and tells them she’s here to help. Kiki asks her, “Miss, this is the place where I can wear what I want?” Slowly, the children begin exiting the plane. Moira wraps a blanket around Kiki and a man notices her and starts yelling, “Rebecca?” It’s her father and she runs into his arms. Luke sees this and begins looking for Hannah. Rita walks off the plane in a daze and begins to cry in gratitude for her escape. Emily sees her and they hug. Then, Emily calls for Luke, and Rita hugs him, telling him that June orchestrated all of this.

The next morning, in Gilead, Handmaids search the forest for June. She’s still alive, but badly injured. She thinks of the days before Gilead when she, Luke and Hannah were a family. And then, the screen fades to black.

June was successful in her endeavor to free the children of Gilead, which makes for a nice ending for season three. The only issue? Gilead is a punishing place and we can only assume there will be hell to pay when Gilead notices all of those children are missing.

Praise be there’s a season four.


Cat mom, yogi, brunch enthusiast

Lex is an LA native who's deeply obsessed with picnics, Slim Aarons, rosé, Hollywood history and Joan Didion. She joined PureWow in early 2017.