Things took a very interesting turn in the first two episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale season two but the excruciating tension hasn’t let up (and won’t for a while, Hulu just renewed the show for season three). The latest episode now streaming on Hulu, “Baggage,” reminded us complications are around every corner.
June has been hiding out in the Boston Globe long enough that she’s made it a home. Two months to be exact, and her ever-growing altar to the dead may be continuing more out of boredom than anything else at this point. We’ve never seen Handmaids at more than a brisk walk so jogging throughout the building is also probably to keep herself from feeling trapped in her newfound “freedom.” As a counterpoint, Moira—even more “free” in Canada—is also jogging. She returns home to her new apartment where she and Luke have settled into a domestic life with Erin, the silent survivor Luke traveled with to Canada last season. It’s still shit, but it works.
The other way June has been keeping busy is by collecting news clippings and notes from journalists, attempting to make a crude timeline of events. Of how the status quo descended into darkness (curtailing of civil rights, for one). Nick is still visiting her, something she’s gotten used to, but their time is up. Mayday is ready to move her, only she’s not ready, particularly for giving up on Hannah. “Better never means better for everyone,” she says, when Nick insists it’s the right move for her to fully escape. She’s eventually picked up by the same old man who dropped her there two months ago and told to wait for a new stranger, another man, to save her.
It’s amusing for June, as she spends a lot of time this episode remembering her mother Holly (played by the tremendously talented Cherry Jones). Clearly a staunch feminist, we see the pair together when June is very young. Disguising it as a trip to “feed the ducks,” it turned out to be a rally where women were chanting and burning pieces of paper. The papers held the name of their rapists. June recalls, “There were so many pieces of paper.”
Skipping ahead to her adult years, June interrupts a meeting of her mom’s friends at home. Some have been hurt after acting as escorts at an abortion clinic, including Holly. June is just there to pick up an immersion blender so Luke can cook for Moira. As the conversation turns to work, June proudly announces she was recently promoted to assistant editor but her mom ignores the good news and mentions Moira is designing a website for a queer women’s collective. It’s clear to see how Holly’s beliefs have affected her relationship with her daughter and later, after everyone else has left, she makes it even clearer how disappointed she is in June.
“When you were little you wanted to be on the supreme court,” says Holly. “Well, I also wanted to marry Jordan Catalano,” replies June. What follows is the kind of tense argument usually reserved for mothers and daughters. Lots of phrases made to guilt, a lot said in anger. Eventually, Holly tells June she doesn’t think she should marry Luke, that she’s putting her energy and passion in the wrong place, “This country is going down the fucking tubes, get out in the streets and fight.” June eventually finds the blender she came there for and leaves it where it is.
Another jump to June and Moira’s early Handmaid schooling. They’re getting a boring slideshow from Aunt Lydia and Moira spots June’s mom in one of the photos. She’s an Unwoman, unloading cargo in the Colonies. June is frozen, stunned and emotional. She knows it’s a death sentence and she knows how her mother would react to being in a situation like that. Moira tries to console her by saying it will go fast to which June firmly retorts, “Not for her. She’ll fight like hell.”
It’s exactly the kind of memory June needed to be reminded of as she’s dropped off at a new hideout. While examining a collection of street signs removed when Gilead took control, a man interrupts her. She’s cautious but he gives her a map and explains they have a guy who owns a puddle jumper plane who carries black market items back and forth to Canada. That includes people. But just as they’re about to leave for another stop, he gets a message that the safehouse is no longer safe and attempts to leave her behind. She fights like hell. She refuses to be left behind, appealing to his conscience until he gives in. Except the next stop is even less safe.
They arrive at a Gilead community that is very different from where June used to live. It’s made up of husbands, wives, and children who have their own homes, but these aren’t like the Commanders and their wives—they’re the Econopeople. Econowives are just one step up from the Unwomen in the Colonies, wives of poor or low ranking men, who serve as Marthas in the Commanders’ households. Unlike in Margaret Atwood’s novel, where they wear striped dresses made up of different colors, here everyone dons a dull grey. And yes, they’re still monitored closely, which is why the wife of the man who brought June into their home is not happy. It seems this woman doesn’t truly understand what the Handmaids are going through. “I don’t know how you can give your baby up to someone else,” she says to her. “I’m trying not to,” June replies.
This couple also has a child, which even further complicates June’s feelings about leaving without Hannah. But the family has to go about their day like nothing is wrong. The man says they’re going to church and will be back by two and so June waits. Again. As the hours pass she starts to get nervous. Someone knocks on the door, calling for Omar and Heather, and she hides under the bed. There she finds their little piece of revolt—the Qur’an. June starts to think maybe waiting isn’t such a good idea this time and puts on the wife’s clothes and leaves, easily blending in with the other Econowives. Taking the map with her she tensely navigates to the train station and its last stop, sneaks off into the woods and runs for it. Shockingly she finds the airstrip, but it’s not time for the pickup just yet. Thinking of Holly once more she thinks, “Raise your daughter to be a feminist, she spends all her time waiting to be rescued by men.”
Back in Toronto, Moira is now helping at the intake center, seeing people just like her come in and try to adjust to having made it out of Gilead. “It gets easier,” she tells one refugee, and you can tell she doesn’t believe it. Even more so when we see her next at a club randomly hooking up with a woman in the bathroom. She refuses to let the woman satisfy her and says her name is Ruby, the name she used at Jezebel’s, the sex club she was forced to work in last season before she escaped. Back at the apartment, Luke is half-sleeping on the couch and Erin is quietly eating a bowl of cereal at their kitchen table. Moira lightheartedly disapproves—she was cooking earlier—and all of a sudden Erin speaks: “Blessed be the Fruit Loops.” It was exactly what this episode, and their living space, needed. “How long you been holding onto that one?” says Moira, “A while,” says Erin. It’s a nice moment.
When June’s plane finally lands the pilot suspiciously holds a gun up. She proves she’s the one he’s meant to carry but there’s another tense moment when a man, a Commander’s driver, also shows up for an escape. They both get stuffed into the cargo hold and June has one last thought for Hannah and her mother, recalling a time they had fun singing together in a car. She has to remind herself no mother is perfect so she can leave the US with slightly less guilt. Just as they start to take off, the plane, to their joint horror, is grounded by Gilead forces. The other stowaway is shot, the pilot is shot, and June holds on for dear life as they drag her from salvation. They’ve got her. Again.
- “Nazi assholes.”
- A familiar gut-punch from one of June’s voiceovers this week: “‘Women are so adaptable,’ my mother would say. It’s truly amazing what we can get used to.”
- Narratively of course, the most horrific thing the show could do was return her to captivity once she’d tasted freedom again, but I admit to being a bit disappointed June didn’t make it out. My personal hope for season two was that they’d wrap her plot in a similar place Atwood’s novel did (or progress her story to what comes after Gilead for June) and shift focus to another woman trapped in Gilead. Preferably someone who wasn’t white, to highlight the role one would presume race would still play in this society.
- Cherry Jones in more things, please.
- I’m constantly suspicious of everyone in this show, even the old man who had previously snuck June into the Boston Globe. You never know what’s around the corner.
- Editing other peoples’ words is a wonderful profession.