Handmaid's Tale season two, episode three: the stupid, brave decision that changed everything

By The Newsroom
Sunday, 03 June, 2018, 22:15

*Spoilers for The Handmaid's Tale season two, episode three*

She came so close.

Let's face it: the chances of June making it to Canada were always slim. And The Handmaid's Tale can't really continue in its current form if its main protagonist escapes the regime.

But even so, the sheer desperation as our heroine is pulled from the belly of the plane - having been within seconds of flying to safety - caps off a nail-biting instalment in grim, panicked fashion.

This can all be traced back to one key decision as well. "Brave or stupid?" is a question that crops up many times this episode. Van driver Omar notes that most of the people standing up to Gilead share these attributes in tandem.

In the end, completely understandably, June and Omar are both brave and foolish too.

Into the lion's den

At the outset of 'Baggage', we learn that June has been hiding in the Boston Globe offices for several months, where she has settled into some strange pocket of normality; her own oasis of calm secretly snuggled within the oppressive regime.

She goes for a morning jog. Maintains her shrine.

When Nick comes round to visit, against the backdrop of an elevated window, it seems they could for all the world be inhabiting their own blissful penthouse suite in a pre-Gilead age (buzzing search helicopters notwithstanding). But it doesn't last.

Eventually, June is smuggled off to limbo in an industrial warehouse of some kind. From there, she is supposed to be transported to a safe house, then onto an airfield - before jetting off in secret to Canada. But when Omar turns up to provide her ride, a last-minute message waves a great big red flag.

A conscience-stricken Omar agrees to help June. But it plunges them all into terrible danger (Photo: Channel 4/MGM)

Told to stay at a leaking, dark, drab storage building in the middle of nowhere, with no supplies or support, we sympathise with June's refusal to comply. Who knows when someone will come for her? Who knows when her next opportunity to get out will come? She's tired of playing the passive waiting game.

And yet, by standing in front of the van, playing on Omar's conscience, and forcing him to take her back to his home, June puts herself at greater risk of being captured. She goes from being on the outer reaches of Gilead's power-base, to being right slap bang in the middle of it.

In the process, she also endangers a kindly man (who we later learn is secretly a Muslim), as well as his reluctant, terrified wife, and enthusiastic, playful young son. In a world where every move is scrutinised, the notion of them harbouring her without consequence seems laughable.

Given how things turn out, you certainly fear for the people who give June shelter.

Mother knows best?

In order to flee Gilead, and save her baby, June finally decides she is prepared to leave Hannah - a terrible burden for any parent.

Tying in with this, we also get to see June's relationship with her own mother for the first time: played with charismatic fierceness and energy by Cherry Jones.

June's mother is a strong, determined woman - but her disappointment in her daughter's life choices borders on cruel (Photo: Channel 4/MGM)

Theirs is most certainly a complex relationship. Mum Holly is a committed feminist and activist. In a telling, powerful moment, we see her burning the name of her rapist at a protest rally ("there were so many pieces of paper it was like snow"). Once again, the parallels to our own time and place are pointed.

June has noted before that Gilead rose to power because people "were asleep". Her mother, however, was completely wide awake, telling June to "get out on the streets and fight". As it turned out, she was absolutely right.

But where Holly was wrong was in her fervent, single-minded approach to her daughter's life. An attitude that saw her belittle June's career in publishing ("when you were little, you wanted to be on the Supreme Court") and tell her she was making a mistake by marrying the man she loved.

The moment where June has a private emotional tremble in response is a great bit of subtle, silent acting from Elisabeth Moss.

Ultimately, June's memory of her mother inspires the courage she needs to strike out on her own and make it to that airstrip; drawing on every ounce of initiative, intelligence and gumption to do so. And yet, her refusal to wait around to be "rescued by men" - a lesson also derived from mum - may ironically be the very thing that gets her caught in the end.

So near, yet so far (Photo: Channel 4/MGM)

The fact the safe house is compromised suggests Gilead's agents are onto the whole operation. Had June waited where she was, and not got in the van with Omar, she may have been OK.

God only knows what will happen to her next.

Further talking points:

Kudos to whoever came up with the episode title; 'Baggage' referring to both June's past issues with her mother, and her eventual place in the hold of the plane.In another flashback, June sees her mother as a prisoner in The Colonies, via a rather coincidental slideshow by Aunt Lydia. The knowledge she is there is all the worse for June, given that she knows she will fight, not give in, and therefore suffer and linger. Is she still alive? And if so, will June see her again?Spare a thought for the former driver wounded and dragged away along with June. You imagine a bloody fate awaits him. As Moira learns when she assists an ex-Guardian in Canada, many who have served Gilead as foot soldiers are rightly haunted by their actions.We get another glimpse into the wider oppressive world of Gilead, this time at how its 'normal' people live. Against the backdrop of ordered concrete flats, courtyards and gardens, with armed guards looking on, ordinary citizens don their robes and hats to attend church. The whole society feels like a self-surveillance nightmare; every last thing scrutinised by neighbours and watching Guardians.June disguising herself as a civilian, walking the city streets, riding the train, stealing glances at a map, and then ultimately fleeing into the woods, proves painfully tense. The relief when she makes it to the airstrip is matched only by the inevitable horror when gunshots start hammering the plane.

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[Main image: Channel 4/MGM]