Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale is based on the dystopian novel of the same name by Margaret Atwood. While it's unclear how closely the series will adhere to the events of the book, based on the show's trailers and images, it seems like they will be pretty similar (with a few major departures, particularly the choice to tone down the white supremacy element of the book and change the races of Moira, Offred's husband, and Offred's daughter). A major question viewers are asking themselves is how The Handmaid's Tale ends in the book, in an attempt to get an idea of where the show might be headed in its first season.
Part of what makes the novel such a classic is how it hones in on Offred's perspective and stays there. The story is told firmly from her point of view, and everything the reader learns is filtered through her perspective. For that reason, there's an element of uncertainty and unreliability in the story — readers are never quite sure of the motives and intentions of other characters. Offred makes her own determinations, but it's never confirmed whether she's right. This narrative strategy has the effect of creating a fittingly isolated world, where Offred is largely on her own in the midst of the totalitarian, theocratic regime of Gilead. The sense of unreliability is compounded by how the book eventually ends. Warning: book spoilers ahead!
The book effectively has two endings — the end of Offred's story and the ending that comes right after (the "true" finish of the book). Offred's story, and her perspective, ends a chapter short of the actual book. At that point, Offred's friend/fellow May Day resistance member Ofglen (the Handmaid assigned to be her companion on their regular shopping trips) has disappeared (Offred is told by Ofglen's successor that she's killed herself rather than being taken alive be the oppressive regime).
Soon after, Offred is informed that the van is there to pick her up, with her own role in the resistance apparently having been uncovered. Nick, the Commander's chauffeur and Offred's lover, escorts her to the van, on the way informing her that he's a member of May Day and that the van is actually May Day's, here to smuggle her out to escape. Again, since everything is told from Offred's perspective up through this point, readers never find out whether or not Nick was telling the truth and what Offred's ultimate fate (whether she escaped or was captured) was.
The actual ending of the novel finds the action jumping ahead hundreds of years, to an America post-Gilead. A professor's lecture on Gileadian history informs the reader that the story they've read up to this point was transcribed from a series of recorded cassette tapes, from a time before the regime was overthrown. The true identity of the woman known to us as Offred is unknown to the professor and to history. Her ultimate fate, for that reason, isn't known either.
Since the tapes managed to be recorded and concealed, it seems likely (just from my own reading of the novel) that Offred escaped and lived (at least long enough to preserve her story). Audible's recent updated version of The Handmaid's Tale even included new material, in the form of questions asked by students after the professor finished his lecture on the Gileadian regime.
Given this open-ended conclusion of the book, it seems very likely that the show could extend well beyond just a single season, creating new stories in the same world once it runs out of source material. "I wanted to know more,” showrunner Bruce Miller recently said of his reaction to the book's ending in a Tribeca Film Festival panel for the show. “I wanted to know what happens next. The end of the book is quite a mystery, so I get to make it up.” Executive Warren Littlefield said something similar: "[W]e’ve only scratched the surface in the first 10 hours and our hope is that we leave you with, 'Oh, I have to have more.'"
To that, I say: More Handmaid's Tale? Yes, please!