Who would have thought that an abandoned newspaper building during the collapse of modern civilisation would be such a picture of serenity? And yet it is. For the past two months, while the rest of Gilead spins, June (Elisabeth Moss) has been cultivating her (metaphorical) garden. Using clips from old Globe papers, June has compiled proof of signs of the coming uprising, organised by theme: Curtailing of Civil Rights, Militarisation, Power Structure. These headlines reveal the signs she missed. Signs everyone missed. Except one woman: June’s mom, Holly, played by a perfect Cherry Jones.
At last, light is shed on the great mystery that is June’s past. Who helped form that highly expressive face? Holly Jones, that’s who. June’s mom was the kind of woman who told her daughter they were walking out to feed ducks, but brought her to a feminist rally instead. At the rally — which June remembers as being one of her formative moments — the women burned pieces of paper that had the names of their rapists. Now, June lives in a society that sanctions and encourages rape.
How to describe June’s mum? Holly was a hardcore feminist, full of rightful anger but hope that activism could lead to change. Her house was a rotating party where people in her activist set came and went and made waves. She had bottles thrown at her while escorting women for their abortions. If she were your friend’s mum, you’d think she was the awesomest.
Her relationship with June, however, was strained, because Holly didn’t think June was living up to her potential. She thinks June “settled” in her career as an editor, and in her apparent inclination toward domesticity. Right before she’s set to marry Luke, Holly expresses her disapproval. “June, you are so young. You really want to take all that energy and passion and give it to a man?” (Sidenote: Has Holly not met Luke? He is not “a man.” He is the man). June looks like she's going to melt. She trembles as she defends her decision to “play house,” as her mother calls it.
If mothers could choose daughters, Holly probably would’ve chosen Moira (Samira Wiley) — she’s sure to mention Moira’s accomplishments to June. Years later, in Gilead, Moira and June sit in Handmaid’s Training Camp. Onscreen is footage of the colonies, highly polluted regions that are being slowly restored for agricultural purposes (so that’s what the colonies are for). And in the colonies is Holly, toiling away. It’s jarring, clearly – to have such a stark knowledge of what happened to your loved ones in Gilead.
June, in the present, is eons away from handmaid’s training camp and from her mother. After spending a night an abandoned sign store, a man in a van appears. Omar (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), the driver, informs her that he’ll bring her to the safe house, and those Mayday members (“someone brave or stupid,” as he says) will take her to an airfield. Instead of transporting her to the safe house, though, he receives the sudden message that the safe house has been compromised. Omar has to go.
June’s come too far to be abandoned to the New England rain. She bangs on the black van until he lets her in. Against his better judgment, Omar takes her to his dingy apartment.
Omar lives in the apartment with his wife, Heather (Joanna Douglas), and young son. Here, we’re introduced to another sliver of Gilead. This is where Econowives live — what June would have been, had she not started dating Luke when he was married. Heather, wearing the Econowife uniform of grey shapeless drab, is pissed at what the cat dragged in. For one, her family is now in immediate danger. She’s also super judgmental of handmaids; even though Gilead is only five years old, the messaging of handmaids being low and unworthy of respect has been passed down. Heather says she’d rather “die” than give away her kid.
The family dresses up in colonial garb to go to church, leaving June in the house. Adam (Isaiah Rockcliffe), their young child, warns June to be quiet her because everyone listens. But when the family gets outside, Adam turns around and stares at the window, possibly alerting the authorities to a guest's presence. Soon after they leave, someone knocks on the door, and June hides under the bed. There, she finds what this family’s secret is, because we know all families got 'em. Attached to the bed is a Quran and a prayer rug. June unspools the rug, as if paying homage to the religious and individual diversity wiped from the world.
The family was supposed to be home by two, but they’re not around, and it’s five. June knows she can’t dawdle in limbo forever, so she raids the Econowife’s closet, dons her clothing, and walks along the Guardian-lined paths to the train. (Observation: All of doors have stained glass eyes. Someone’s always watching. Big Brother in Gilead is God!)
June reaches the subway and navigates to the end of the line. Her journey makes me wonder: Who uses the Boston T in Gilead? Where are they going? What kind of mobility do Econowives have? Is there a world of commerce still intact?
With her handy dandy map in hand, June navigates through the forests and into an airfield (TBH, no way could I have done that without a phone). Being in the woods reminds her of the last time she was with her daughter Hannah (Jordana Blake). She experiences a trauma flash, but forges ahead until reaching the airfield. A plane casually appears —her pilot in shining armour. Since she’s arrived without an escort, the pilot (Trevor Hayes) isn’t convinced June is actually the handmaid he's meant to transport until she shows him her wounded ear. It’s the one visible scar of her handmaid-dom. Just before takeoff, an Eye (Alex Harrouch) arrives who also wants to escape. He makes it aboard, too.
The plane takes off. At this moment of triumph, June thinks back to her happiest memory with her mom: Singing Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” joyously. This is the happiest she’s ever been! And it’s the happiest I’ve ever been, too, because Cherry Jones singing in a sunlit car is too good.
And then, because nothing gold can stay: Gunshots come, blowing the airplane out of the sky. We can assume that the guards got Omar, and he ratted June out. The pilot is killed, and the Eye and June are pulled out of the plane.
Meanwhile, back in Canada, Luke, Moira, and their Mute Roommate are starring in a dystopian version of Friends, complete with lines like: “Blessed be the Fruit Loops.” With its American flags and memorials, Canada seems to be the dumping ground for American lost dreams. It’s like a setting of a Bruce Springsteen song.
Luke spends his days as a lowkey conspiracy theorist. He’s sure Canada is planning an invasion of America through Northern New York State. Or at least, he's hoping. Clearly, Luke is channeling his powerlessness into building elaborate theories.
Moira, on the other hand, has her feet on the ground. She’s works to help American refugees become accustomed to Canadian life. Her most recent case is a former Guardian traumatised by what he was forced to do. As he explains, all army members were automatically converted into Guardians. He saw a gender traitor being hanged— and that gender traitor was his ex-boyfriend. Like this former Guardian, Moira is definitely Not Okay: She has a tryst with a woman in the bathroom of a club, and seems extremely detached. When the woman tries to reciprocate, Moira pushes her away. There is no pleasure for her anymore. Gilead’s claws are deep.
And now, June is headed right back into the beast.