Everyone who wondered how The Handmaid’s Tale (Sundays, 9 p.m. ET, Bravo) was going to top itself in the second season please raise their hands. And now everyone who is still waiting to see, please keep those hands raised. What, no one? Yeah, so let’s just all agree that after the latest episode, “Holly,” it’s now a matter of how this show is going to top itself in season three.
If your jaw isn’t on the floor after watching that episode, then we don’t know what it will take, because that was one of the most gut-wrenching, heart-palpitating installments of the series so far. And considering we’ve had so many horrible moments to sit through in two seasons, that’s saying something.
“Holly” picked up exactly where last week left off, with Nick being dragged off by the guards and June left all alone in the boarded up summerhouse. Right away it was pretty clear the episode was going to result in two things: 1) the birth of June’s baby, and 2) a huge opportunity for Elisabeth Moss to shine.
Sure, Moss is pretty amazing in this role in general. But because it’s been a while since we’ve had such a phenomenal showcase from her (and in a nearly stand-alone episode), let’s just break down all of the big moments when we wanted to just hand her another Emmy, shall we?
The garage scene
Desperate. How else do you describe a woman who, at nine months pregnant, was willing to ram a flashy car into a garage door in hopes of busting through and driving off to… well who knows where, exactly? The car itself is a forbidden muscle car, we have no idea how much gas is in it, and it’s unclear how far it would actually go in the deep snow surrounding the house. Still, you couldn’t help but hold your breath watching the entire ordeal, because at that point you’re totally invested in June getting the hell away from this world and saving at least one of her babies. There were so many close-ups of Moss during that scene in particular and so few words that you really, truly believed you’re right there in hell with her.
Insert a heavy sigh. At least we had the Oprah cameo on the radio when June turned on the car. Hope is out there somewhere, people.
June versus the wolf
It seems like a small moment, but June facing off against that wolf — more than once — in a good old-fashioned stare-down, was another one of those brilliant dual Handmaid’s Tale moments that lets you come to your own conclusions about symbolism while still perceiving an immediate threat. You weren’t sure when or if that wolf was going to attack, and Moss played June’s quiet fear in an understated and thought provoking manner that only upped the tension.
How badly did you want to see June take that shot on the Waterfords when they entered the house? With any luck she would have taken out two of Gilead’s elite with one single shot. But of course she couldn’t bring herself to do it, for any number of reasons. Maybe her morals got the better of her, or perhaps she realized there’s no helping her children if she winds up on the wall. Or maybe just hearing Fred and Serena yelling at each other about all of the things they’ve lost and pointing fingers at whose fault the rape was that brought a whole new level of messed up reality into the equation. Whatever June’s ultimate deciding factor not to shoot was, you could see tons of different things play out on Moss’s face during those tense moments, and it was some damned fine acting.
Bonus observation: if June was indeed listening to the Waterfords’ words, she now has another advantage on how to play them off each other, and she also now knows her daughter’s full Gilead name: Agnes Mackenzie.
Everything in the office
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the tense scenes in which June was searching and rummaging for supplies and the keys, but one scene in particular stuck with us: the one where she was rummaging through the office. There was the picture of Hannah and her Gilead mom after they’d caught a fish, and then the drawing Hannah made of her “parents” after a trip somewhere — it looked like the new capitol, maybe. Oh and did we mention the dollhouse? All of these little momentos were just snippets of the things that June had missed over the past four years of her daughter’s life, and Moss’s face quietly showed the sorrow and loss that would probably go along with that kind of discovery.
As harrowing as it was (and as fantastic as Moss played off the intensely physical scenes), there was such beauty in June giving birth to Holly. The montage of June pulling all of her memories together was perfect. We saw her giving birth to Hannah, memories of her own time with her mom (also named Holly), the training at the Red Centre, and of course Janine’s birth… all big and small moments that came together to help her prepare for this epic moment. In the end it showed June’s strength and determination as a mother, which will inevitably come into effect in the final two episodes of the season. As we saw earlier on, June had fired those shots off so that help would come, so her capture is inevitable. But at least she got those first (and maybe only) few moments with her daughter.
Because, by the way, of course she had a daughter. Given all the shoddy things that happen in Gilead, being a woman seems to always mean the worst, so now we’ll have a window into what it might be like for a girl to grow up in this world too. But that’s just getting ahead of ourselves. Until next week, we’ll just hold onto the scene of June after giving birth and holding onto Holly by the fire. Because heck — we need to have some sort of hope when watching this twisted tale.