*WARNING CONTAINS SPOILERS
Holy blessed be the Fruit Loops. I have to admit the latest instalment of The Handmaid’s Tale (Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on Bravo) really got under my skin, and is still sitting with me like a bad meal churning in my stomach. It took the events that had already happened in the two-hour premiere (June’s big escape and Emily’s hardships in The Colonies), and blew the story even wider with the introduction of the Econo People; Gilead’s middle class who were mentioned in Margaret Atwood’s book but never seen in the first season of the show.
Then, to tug at our emotions some more the story checked in on Moira and Luke in Little America, used nostalgic flashbacks to introduce a big character from the book, June’s mother, and then it gave us that ending. That heartbreaking, soul-sucking ending, in which we thought June was going to escape in that plane only to have her dreams of freedom shot down to the ground.
Let’s break this down, shall we?
The Econo People
There was so much material to sift through in the first season of the show that you can forgive the writers for not taking the time to introduce the Econo People. But with June’s escape out into the wild terrains of Gilead (is anything in Gilead actually wild?), now is a perfect time to see how the other half attempt to live a somewhat normal life under this fascist regime.
As it turns out some people can lead arguably normal existences “under his eye” if they abide by His word and live lives free of sin. It’s still a scary world where wives are threatened into becoming handmaids and the only acceptable religion is the one in which Gilead approves of, but it goes to show you how people can get used to living under any condition when they’re granted certain freedoms.
Our entry point to it all was the family that unwillingly took June in when the halfway house was somehow compromised. The entire time June was in their apartment I couldn’t help but be mad at her for even putting those folks in that position. While rebellion comes at a cost, it broke my heart to see the little boy and everything that could be lost if that family were to be found harboring a fugitive handmaid. The fact that these folks didn’t return from church has me particularly worried about their futures, but I’m going to hold out hope that June can’t be traced back to them, especially now that she’s been caught.
One of the bigger, continuous themes in this show is that complacency is the most dangerous state of all. This episode really drove that point home in the flashbacks when it compared June’s ambivalence towards her mother’s protests with her mom’s strong feminist values (she ain’t no hollaback girl). The scene where a young June went with her mom to a gathering where women were writing their rapists’ names down on pieces of paper and feeding them to the fire was poetic on so many levels. It spoke to the current institutionalized rape in Gilead for one, but it also proved again how relevant this show is in the current social climate; that could have very well been a present-day #MeToo gathering.
Sometimes it’s easier to let those who once had more to lose continue fighting the fight, while we sit back and enjoy the perks of what that fight has given us. June was content to let her mother continue fighting as she chose to ignore Gilead’s warning signs like so many others. Thanks to the power of flashbacks it seemed like June now regrets that ignorance, but in her present day she decided to stand strong and draw strength from her staunchly feminist mother in order to go on. It was a heartbreaking thing to watch, but at least we got to see Elisabeth Moss and Cherry Jones rock out to some Gwen Stefani.
Another theme of this season, according to showrunner Bruce Miller, is that “Gilead is within you.” That came through when we returned to Little America, where Moira has set up shop with Luke and the woman he escaped Gilead with. As Moira ran through the town we saw a monument set up for lost loved ones, a marker of reminder in a pretty lonely and bandaged-up place. Moira as a character really encompasses that Band-Aid solution too; despite her work at the centre helping other refugees she’s still very broken from her time in Gilead, which was obvious at the club when she picked up that woman for some quick, one-sided bathroom sex.
There’s a lot of healing that needs to go into escaping a situation like the one in Gilead, and again it has real-world parallels. I can’t even imagine what real refugees must feel like after fighting (sometimes for their whole lives), to flee their country when it rejects them, only to land in an unwelcoming and strange place where freedom is sometimes taken for granted.
Real talk: we knew June wasn’t going to escape, because if she escapes there’s no show. But that didn’t make her potential plane ride and subsequent shoot down any less harrowing or nail-biting. Just when she was ready to let it all (including her daughter) go, June was flung right back into the hell that her life had become. It was depressing.
It was a good three-episode run, but June is now back in the clutches of Gilead as a pregnant handmaid and there are so many things to consider. Will she return to the Waterfords? My guess is probably. But what will life be like for her there? Will Fred and Serena Joy be forced to change any of their ways in the wake of Offred’s escape and now her pregnancy? What has life been like for the other servants, like Nick and Rita in Offred’s absence?
These are all very real questions, but whatever June’s fate, it seems pretty clear from what we’ve seen so far this season that it’s going to be dark as hell.
Is anyone else nervous to return next week?
The Handmaid’s Tale airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on Bravo.