Alex Casey dissects episode three of The Handmaid’s Tale, including cereal gags, serious twists and a Gwen Stefani cameo, of all things.
First of all: I’m sorry. I tricked you with a delicious sugary cereal snack and a pun headline, just like episode three of The Handmaid’s Tale tricked me into relaxing a bit before jolting me with a cattle prod. The first rule of The Handmaid’s Tale club is never get comfortable. The second rule of The Handmaid’s Tale club is to stop reading right now if you are yet to watch ‘Baggage’, the third episode of season two. It’s very hard to talk about this show – where everything happens so much – without revealing spoilers, so click here to get caught up and I’ll see you in 59 minutes.
Perhaps the biggest thing to happen in this episode was the introduction of a brand spanking new character – and an extremely crucial one at that. June’s mother, played by Cherry Jones, comes to us in flashbacks that slowly flesh out a very complicated mother-daughter relationship, and allude to the tensions between different generations of feminism and activism. As June gears up for wedding, her staunch mother barks from the couch that she is “playing house” and “wasting her energy” as the country slowly going down the gurgler.
And you know what? Mums are almost always right. “I waited before,” June tells herself in the present. “I thought things might be okay. I swore I’d never do that again.” After two months of jogging around newspaper-printers-turned-slaughter-house (intense metaphor), she hauls ass out of there by way of “strangers van” – every Handmaid’s premium transport choice. “My mother used to say that women are so adaptable,” her inner monologue recalls, “it’s amazing what we can get used to.” Holed up in a small apartment, the discovery of a hidden Koran – in a world where multi-faith society is history – serves as an emblem of hope.
Basically, anything in Handmaid‘s with writing on it is an emblem of hope. Maybe they’ll say the same thing about TV recaps online one day, who knows?
So begins the next leg of June’s amazing race, as she dons the grey couture of the area and hits the street in a quiet, desperate escape to Boston. What’s wild to me is how completely drab everything looks outside of The Gilead, how the “free” men and women still walk in similar military formation, head to toe in shades of stone. Perhaps the Gilead is everywhere? At least you don’t need to buy a train ticket, as June promptly jumps on and minces past multiple men touting very large guns. Props to her, I’m too nervous to even answer the phone on the train.
Elsewhere in Canada, Moira finds herself exploring the fruits of freedom, hooking up with a woman in a bathroom stall in what becomes a strangely robotic encounter. Although they may be back in “normal” society, it’s not hard to see how Aunt Lydia’s cattle prod still hovers over any moment of pleasure that the ex-Handmaid’s might indulge in. June talks about seeing slivers of opportunity like “a little window at the wrong end of a telescope,” a feeling which continues to stifle all the present-day scenes outside of The Gilead.
Because, as we’ve learned, a woman’s freedom is never guaranteed. It is revealed that June’s mother – a proud activist for women’s reproductive rights – was promptly sent out to The Colonies to die when the new regime took hold. “She knew,” whispers June, “she always knew.” In the final sequence, where June tears through Boston’s finest corn plantation to an air strip, it genuinely feels as if she might finally catch a break. They can’t drag us through hell in every episode, right? That would just be cruel, right? Right??!?
As the last five minutes pummelled my nerves to a fine powder, it became abundantly clear that season two did not come here to douse us with cereal puns and happy endings. Instead, it’s going to give us every part of June that The Gilead denied us, further plunge into the gentle erosions of power that lead to dystopia, and continue to rattle the audience when they least expect it. Any concerns you may have had about The Handmaid’s Tale losing its way without the source material can now be well and truly quashed, you absolute fruit loop.
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