The Handmaid’s Tale season 2 episode 3 review: Baggage


After an intense opening, The Handmaid’s Tale slows the pace in episode 3 to focus on mothers, their mistakes and reconciliation.

The Handmaid’s Tale has always been stellar at weaving its themes and symbols together in a way that would make a college literary analysis class dizzy. But of all the episodes so far in season one or two, “Baggage: has been the most well-tied together. June begins to make her escape north to Canada, effectively leaving her daughter Hannah in the clutches of the sham government, and has time to reflect on both her own motherhood, and her relationships with her mother. It all starts with a huge time jump: June has been at the Boston Globe for two months.

Simultaneously, we see glimpses of Moira and Luke. Both are surviving in Canada with the other refugees, and there are whispers of war brewing as the UK and Canada prepare to fight the former US. We get little of Luke and a little more of Moira — just enough to see that June’s words from the previous episode ring true: Gilead is within you. Despite Moira’s comforting words to others, trauma like she experienced never disappears entirely. It was nice to get news from the north, but I’m still left wondering how Moira and Luke are going to ultimately fit into everything else. It’s unfair of me, but their understandable passivity is at odds with my desire to see the entirety of Gilead’s regime crash and burn.

June takes up most of the episode, which is spent slowly shuttling her between locations in an effort to get her to a plane taking her out of the country. As usual, things go wrong at various points, and alongside June’s introspection we get a glimpse into the lives of average people in Gilead: the econos. A man who was meant to be getting her to a safe house takes her in when that plan fails and she stays briefly with him, his wife and child.

I love (and hate, as one does) all the things going on in this part of the episode. By slowing the pace and action to a crawl of its usual intensity we, like June, are left with our thoughts. We’re shown by the presence of the Koran under the couple’s bed the kinds of sacrifices that occurred to build such a state, whether those sacrifices were by choice or not. It seems believable that very few people in Gilead are actually happy with how things are going, but the silent mistrust (shown even as June enters the house from the wife) of everyone means that no one can band together. It’s terrifying, even in such a peaceful setting and relatively calm moment.

The primary thread of “Baggage” shows June’s relationship with her own mother juxtaposed against June’s guilt over leaving Hannah in the clutches of the state. I don’t know how I feel at the hopeless suggestion that June’s mother rebelled, June did not, and both ended up in horrible situations in a horrible world intent on destroying them. There’s a simultaneous sense of the futility of that rebellion, but also an encouragement to continue as June pushes onward to the north, or even as the viewer reflects on June’s many, many rebellions since Gilead began.

As usual, it’s in Handmaid’s Tale‘s most normal human moments that the show hits emotional highs, such as when the two are singing “Hollaback Girl” in the car, or when she spreads a prayer rug on the floor of the bedroom, or even in the brief moment (before it turns politically-minded) when her mother says she shouldn’t marry Luke. Even in single lines of dialogue, Handmaid’s Tale finds ways to force us to relate to it. In both shouts and whispers, we see how things could fall out. Not how they will, but how they could. Fighting back is one way to stop it, but as we’re told here, it may not be enough.

I was fully along for the entire ride of “Baggage,” but when June made it to the airstrip she was headed toward and actually got on the plane, I knew too late it was all too easy. June’s capture at the end was possibly inevitable with the tone of the show, but I also walked away frustrated by that last scene because most of her growth was probably for naught. Surely, someone is going to recognize her and take her back where we’ll get some more awful torture scenes before she’s locked in a room or something like the handmaid from the first episode. I’m not sure how badly I want to see it all continue to play out hopelessly.

Next: The Handmaid’s Tale season 2 episode 2 review: Unwomen

Then again, Handmaid’s Tale loves to surprise me for good and for bad. So we’ll all just have to wait and see where it goes from here.