We’ve waited nearly a year—11 months and 29 days to be exact—for new episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale (Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on Crave) to finally unroll here in Canada. That’s left us with a lot of time to think about June (Elisabeth Moss) and her controversial decision to stay behind in Gilead and hand baby Nichole over to Emily (Alexis Bledel) so they could escape and find a better life in Canada.
Don’t get us wrong, we understand why June didn’t go. In fact, we were never duped into thinking she’d get into that van. Without her in Gilead this story ceases to exist—it is told from her point of view, after all. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t want some of her suffering to finally end. There were so many brutal, soul-sucking moments in season two that we really needed something good to come out of them all. Sometimes art imitates the horrors of life a little too accurately, you know?
Thankfully that’s where season three comes into play. Whether creator Bruce Miller and his team of writers listened to viewer feedback or they always had this plan up their all-knowing sleeves, June, Emily and a few other key players finally (finally!) reclaimed some of their power in the back-to-back premiere. And now it looks like they’re ready to burn Gilead to the ground.
June, Serena (Yvonne Strahovski), and even Eleanor Lawrence (Julie Dretzin) certainly helped set that tone with their quiet—and not-so-silent—moments of resistance. Things are changing, at least from June’s perspective, and as a result we finally feel like we’re making strides toward the end of Gilead. Yes, dourness will return as the season progresses, but this refreshing tone is why we love the show in the first place. It’s relevant, timely and eerily predictive, but it also repeatedly demonstrates why it’s so important to exercise your voice.
That said, the most harrowing yet hopeful scenes of the entire two-hour premiere weren’t the ones within Gilead, but the ones on its border involving Emily and her escape with Nichole. The show didn’t magically pick up with Emily across the border; instead, in true Handmaid’s fashion we traced her high-stakes path, including a near drowning scene when she and Nichole went under the water by the bridge.
The writers could have killed Nichole in that moment. It would have been a true Handmaid’s Tale thing to do. She was under the water for a really damned long time—almost to the point where you have to question whether her survival is plausible. (It is—babies up to six months old instinctively hold their breath when submerged and their heart rates slow down to conserve oxygen, which can actually keep them alive longer than adults in some cases.)
Instead, these scribes gave us hope when Nichole began crying again, leading guards right to the pair. In that oh-so-palpable moment, the show veered away from the doom and gloom we’ve grown accustomed to and gave us a beautiful closeup of Emily’s face as a man asked her whether she wanted to invoke her right to asylum in Canada.
In that moment all of the sadness and horror we’ve experienced was pushed aside (not forgotten) and it was like relief washed over us too. Somebody made it out of that damned world, and it was the person who has perhaps “earned it” most from a story point-of-view. Emily has been raped, mutilated, irradiated, and made to witness someone she loved hanged. The fact that she still fought back—killing that guard on her season one joyride and pushing Aunt Lydia down the stairs in last year’s finale—made her escape that much greater. And it didn’t stop there.
Much like we’ve followed Luke (O-T Fagbenle), Moira (Samira Wiley), and Erin (Erin Wray) in Little America, we got to see what actual asylum for Emily and Nichole looked like. Of course we’d be lying if we didn’t say it was weird AF. How else do you describe that walk down the hospital hall (which had so many striking similarities to the rape walk scene on Grey’s Anatomy this season), or the fact that of all Emily’s potential health concerns, high cholesterol is the thing she needs to watch out for?
Her return and the feelings it sparked within Luke and Moira were also so on point. As Luke watched Emily grapple over the decision to call her wife, Sylvia (Clea DuVall), all of the feelings he’s been having over June—not to mention what he has to assume is a baby of rape—bubbled to the surface. What does it look like when the thing you’ve been fighting for, freedom, is finally handed to you, and how does that translate? It’s such a fascinating thing to explore, and it’s a really nice change of pace from the fiery burnings in Gilead.
So when Emily does go ahead and make that call at the end of episode two, you just want to celebrate. Sylvia actually stops traffic to speak to the wife who was ripped away from her, and we were left with a beautiful aerial shot of everyday people just cussing over the traffic jam and going about their lives—unaware of the monumental phone call taking place in that instant.
Now if only all the stories on the show had such happy endings. Obviously that’s never meant to be, because… well, Gilead. But we’ll take what we can get, especially when it involves characters like Emily.
Blessed be indeed.
The Handmaid’s Tale continues Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on Crave, with two new episodes airing back-to-back next week.