Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Season 2, Episode 3: “Baggage”
Directed by Kari Skogland
Written by Dorothy Fortenberry
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Unwomen” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Other Women” – click here
While listening to a bit of Santigold featuring Karen O (“GO!“), June (Elisabeth Moss) runs around the building, using her time for something she wants to do instead of being forced by the nation-state of Gilead to do what they wanted. It’s a great way to reclaim her bodily autonomy, aside from her previous sex with Nick (Max Minghella), by choosing to exercise and get her body back into solid fighting shape for whatever comes next.
Meanwhile, Moira (Samira Wiley) exercises her own autonomy, bodily and otherwise. She and Luke (O-T Fagbenle) try to live their lives as best they can on the free side in Canada. At the same time, June’s piecing together the fall of society in her time at that empty office building. She remembers a Take Back the Night-type event her mother Holly (Cherry Jones) took her to when she was young, the personal roots of her own understanding of gender imbalances and power dynamics.
Moira helps a new guy get used to things in Canada. Sad to see he was in the army, forced to hang “gender traitors,” including a guy he dated in college. These are the other casualties of the the terror, all the gay and lesbian (etc) people, of every colour, being considered as traitors and executed, deemed useless by the new society rising up in Gilead. It’s all so horrible.
Onto another leg of her journey, June is picked up by someone new in a truck, and she heads towards whatever the latest destination is on her path towards full freedom and escape from Gilead. Even then, the journey won’t be finished.
Flashback to before, when Holly and her radical feminist friends had just been knocked around by bottles at a protest. June showed up, and it was clear that her mother, though she was a feminist, seemed to have issues with her won daughter. She might’ve felt her daughter wasn’t doing all she as a parent wanted her to do, activism-wise, clearly inconsiderate of what June wanted to do with her own life. A brief observation on many parent-child relationships out there.
At a roadstop, June’s left again. She runs into a man named Omar, who asks her mother’s maiden name. She replies Maddox, and then he explains they have to go further. This is where they’ll be able to get her across to Canada. For now, she’ll stay at a “friendly house.” Omar tells her there are many “brave” and “stupid” people fighting to help in these times. However, all of a sudden, he explains the house is no longer safe after he gets a text. He says he has to go, about to leave her there. Nothing’s sure anymore. Definitely not safety. But June refuses to be left again, and forces him to take her. Must be brave or stupid, too.
He takes her to a building, where they sneak quietly up to an apartment. This doesn’t sit well at home, though. This is where the “Econopeople” live, the “Econowives” and their husbands who make up the middle class of the Gilead nation-state. They’re not considered as low on the hierarchy as Unwomen, but they’re close; they’re the wives of low-ranking men. Thus, more internalised misogyny separating woman from woman, all a rhetorical and social way to split the gender further apart amongst themselves. Anyway, it’s tough to see this one Econowife with June, as she underestimates the privilege from which she speaks to a Handmaid.
More of June and Holly, back before. Mom thinks her daughter isn’t aspiring to as high a position as she could be, reminding her that she once wanted to be “on the Supreme Court.” June doesn’t like how her mother seeks justification for her own life in her. Fair criticism. Moreover, mom believes marrying while the country’s going to shit, isn’t the right thing, clashing with June’s desires to have a family with Luke. Worse is later, a flashback to Gilead – June sees her own mother in pictures featuring penitent women forced into labour. Such a brutal moment.
An interesting little note is how we see the radical Right of Christianity soaring, the ones who’ve cracked down so harshly on women – just as it is today in America with the Republicans supporting Trump and the religious Right, further diving into misogyny – whereas Omar follows Islam, the one these Christians are always pointing to falsely as the greatest subjugators of women. An excellent bit of irony that exists even today without Gilead. All religions have historically subjugated women, and least of which is certainly NOT Christianity. They can’t throw any stones in their glass house. Fantastic to see The Handmaid’s Tale using this juxtaposition with Islam to prove such a powerful, important point.
June’s got a HUGE SET OF OVARIES! She puts on a cap and dresses up like an Econowife, and heads out on the town. She keeps her eyes peeled, a mischievous grin on her face. Then she goes to catch a train. Everywhere there are armed men, Guardians keeping a watchful eye over citizens for the ruling class of Gilead. Afterwards, she’s running through the woods. She desperately wants to reach the end of her journey, to get to Canada and away from Gilead.
Living a normal life again isn’t so easy, as Moira’s figuring out. Although she tries, despite knowing all that lies on the other side of the freedom she has currently. She’s pleased others so long – sadly, men to boot – she doesn’t know how to experience pleasure anymore for herself. She can’t even use her real name, still calling herself Ruby.
Waiting in a field, June soon sees a small plane come down on a nearby landing strip. The pilot exercises caution, approaching slow. She identifies herself as the Handmaid he’s looking for, and shows him the chunk of ear she removed as proof. There’s somebody else close, a former Commander’s driver escaping, as well. They’re one step closer to freedom. Above all, it’s interesting and equally poignant to see June, in such a dire situation, finally seeing what her mother was fighting for all those years, all the things younger women took for granted. Because all this, in some way, has happened before to women – in general, but certainly to women of colour.
Problem is, the plane is being shot at. June hasn’t gotten away. She’s being dragged back. Oh, god.
“Blessed be the Froot Loops”
The Handmaid’s Tale has been impressing me more this season. They’re taking off into new directions, apart from Atwood’s original novel. So that’s compelling to watch, particularly seeing as how they’re doing new, bigger, more exciting things.