The Handmaid's Tale: Baggage

Even though it felt like freedom was only moments away, I spent this entire episode tense and worried that June was going to get caught again.

And sure enough, she was. Now what? Is she going to be chained in a basement until she gives birth, like Ofwyatt? Is that why we saw Ofwyatt's circumstances in the first place? It doesn't seem possible that she'll just wind up back in her stark attic room at the Waterford house, does it?

When the episode began, I thought we were getting a reprieve from horror. June spent two months hiding at the newspaper office, jogging through the halls, working on her now extensive memorial wall, reading back issues of the paper and putting together clippings of clues to how the Republic of Gilead crept up and took over. Nick had been visiting whenever he could; I particularly liked that shot of the two of them embracing in front of the office window, very much in keeping with the visual theme of darkness surrounding a patch of light. That exchange about stealing coffee from Rita explained something I was wondering – if Nick was still with the Waterfords, which he is.

And then June's enforced idyll was suddenly over as the driver came to pick her up and she was hiding in a truck again, like a crate of apples. And then she was hiding in a garage full of highway signs, the ones that Gilead takes down so that people won't know where they are. Logan Airport. Entering Salem, with the witch in the center. (I have family in Salem; I recognized that one.) And then there was Omar, her new contact, who got some bad news about their safe house and wanted to leave June behind, which she wouldn't allow.

Econopeople. I was wondering. I know in the book there are people who aren't rich and don't have handmaids, men who can only afford an econowife who gets to fulfill all of Gilead's traditional female roles combined. When June forced Omar to take her with him, she saw a little bit of a world that could have existed for her. A quasi-normal life, where she still wouldn't have been permitted to work but she could have lived with her husband and child, just as long as they pretended to be pious and went to church a lot. Heather and Omar were even a mixed race couple like June and Luke, and their son Adam was close to Hannah's age. There was such quiet joy on June's face as she played with Adam. Although what stood out for me was the way Heather judged June, saying indignantly that she would die before she gave up her own baby. As if June deserved enslavement as a handmaid, or had a choice about keeping Hannah. Or even a real choice about leaving Hannah behind.

Of course, even though it wasn't as terrible as what June, Emily and Moira have had to endure, this Econo-life isn't what anyone should have to live, either. When a neighbor came and pounded on the door, June hid under Omar and Heather's bed and found a Quran wrapped up in a prayer rug. It explained why Omar would risk his life to help people like June.

As June was moving from place to place in this episode, she kept experiencing guilt because she was being forced to leave Hannah behind in Gilead. Which in turn reminded her of her mother, Holly – who was about as far from a cookie-baking homemaker as a mom could be.

Holly Maddox, beautifully played by Cherry Jones, was a feminist and activist, a gynecologist who performed abortions, a mom who took young June to Take Back the Night where women were writing down the names of their rapists on a piece of paper and burning them. "So many pieces of paper," June remembered. "It was like snow." Sadly, Holly felt strongly that the adult June had sold out, with an undemanding job as an assistant editor and a husband at the center of her life, instead of a more important job like, say, on the Supreme Court. Holly saw the Republic of Gilead coming and thought June should have fought harder.

(Maybe she should have. But I tend to think that feminism is about the freedom to choose how you live your life and what you do with your body. June made her choices and they were as valid as Holly's were. Weren't they?)

Just as I was wondering what happened to Holly, we flashed back to June and Moira at the Red Center being force-fed a lecture on how evil humans polluted the earth, and a slide popped up of Holly suffering in the Colonies. Did the Red Center do that deliberately? Did they know who Holly was to June? It would be an amazing coincidence if they hadn't, although I suppose it's possible. Remembering Holly's drive and courage made June decide not to wait for a man to rescue her this time. When Omar, Heather and Adam didn't return from church for hours, June decided to take her fate into her own hands. She stole Heather's clothes and a map, and took off by herself to find the pick-up point, an airstrip west of Worcester.

There was something fascinatingly Stepford and totally creepy about all of those women in the streets and on the train, in the same Econowife clothes, on what was likely the same sort of errands. June couldn't stop herself from glancing at the guardians, half expecting them to recognize her as a fugitive in disguise. And then she was running through the woods, through the rows of corn, and hiding under an parked plane, the same way she hid under Omar's bed.


When the refugee plane finally arrived and the pilot took her on board, she had to hide in the cargo hold with a fleeing chauffeur who looked an awful lot like Nick. As they started down the airstrip, June remembered a joyful drive with her mother Holly. June wished that she'd had the opportunity to forgive her mother for not being perfect, and to ask Hannah to forgive June herself.

And then, just as I thought June was going to make it out, gunfire, capture. The pilot, shot in the head. The chauffeur who looked like Nick, dead. And June was dragged by guardians through that little square of light in the cargo hold. Damn.

The B plot was also emotionally strong, although not quite as upsetting. I love Moira, Luke and Erin sharing a home like an accidental family. I also liked that Moira had chosen to work with arriving refugees, like the poor guy who was in the military and involuntarily became a guardian, until he saw a man he'd dated in college hanging on the wall. Not that Moira is undamaged. It was disturbing to see her pick up a woman in a bar and give her pleasure in the nearest bathroom while not choosing to climax herself. Even worse, Moira gave the woman her Jezebels name, Ruby. Two months isn't long enough to recover from emotional scars that severe.

Maybe Moira would find it easier to recover if June and Hannah were there, too. Or even better, if Gilead were no more. Luke said something about an invasion force in upstate New York. Is what is left of the U.S. about to attack Gilead? What did I miss?

Bits:

— Erin, the refugee living with Luke, is played by an actress named Erin Way. Interestingly, I just noticed her playing a hateful religious fundamentalist on Colony, her current character's exact opposite.

— When Adam was playing with his toy – was it a church? he said that the bell was ringing so that someone would come and help.

— Did June know her father? He wasn't mentioned, and Holly was 37 when she had June.

— The title of this episode is "Baggage." That's all the emotional sort of baggage, because June carried nothing with her throughout except the clothes on her back, including the stolen ones.

— This week's most obvious symbolism was the gash June had on her forehead when she first began hiding at the Boston Globe. June's mother Holly had a gash on her forehead too after she was injured during a protest. When June was waiting for the plane, she brushed her hand across her forehead and left a streak of dirt across her forehead.

The Handmaid’s Tale was just renewed for a third season. Apparently, the ratings are even better this season than the first.

Quotes:

Luke: "It’s 1775 all over again."

Nick: "Don't make yourself crazy with all this stuff."
June: "It's too late."

June: "Better never means better for everyone."

Moira: "It's a lot, I know. I was a zombie when I got here, and it was just like, welcome to Canada! Here's your maple syrup. (pause) They don't really give you maple syrup."

Omar: "Are you a good witch or a bad witch?"
June: "Depends on who you ask, I guess."

June: "Who's they?"
Omar: "No idea. Someone brave or stupid or both. There's a lot of both."

June: "So this is where the econopeople live. It's where I'd live if I weren't an adultress. If I'd gone to the right kind of church. If I'd played my cards right. If I'd known I was supposed to be playing cards."

June: "Under his eye."
Heather: "No."
In my opinion, the only good thing Heather said in this episode.

June: "She's too young. It's too late. We come apart. My arms are held and the edges go dark and nothing is left but a little window. A very little window. Like the wrong end of a telescope. She left me once. Now I have to leave her."

June: "Raise your daughter to be a feminist, she spends all her time waiting to be rescued by men."

Moira: (joking) "You go fuck yourself."
Erin: "Blessed be the Froot Loops."
Moira: "How long you been holding on to that one?"
Erin: "Awhile."

Pilot: "Welcome to platinum executive diamond plus." Sigh.

Would this be another four Froot Loops out of four?

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

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