Earlier this year, Oprah Winfrey seemed like a beacon of hope for the more than half of the country who did not vote for Donald Trump. Like the current commander-in-chief, the media mogul and book club queen is a celebrity. However, she is but far more beloved, and progressive, than anyone whose catchphrase is “You’re fired.” Where the former Apprentice host takes things, like jobs on reality TV and political calm, away from the people, Winfrey gives. The ultra-powerful Black woman gave love, and one of Barack Obama’s first major endorsements, and, of course, cars to you and you and you. If a twice-divorced multi-timed bankrupt real estate developer could ascend to the highest office in the land, why couldn’t Oprah Freaking Winfrey?
While Winfrey’s White House ambitions are obscure at best, it seems the fictional world has seemingly also realised she is the ultimate touchstone for a sunnier, more hopeful future. The Handmaid’s Tale proved that much with Wednesday’s “Holly,” where the mere voice of Winfrey was enough to bolster June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss) through her latest bloody, dystopian nightmare. Yes, Oprah Winfrey’s vocal cords are that powerful.
The latest instalment of the Hulu drama picks up exactly where last week's “The Last Ceremony” ends. A very, very pregnant June is trapped in an unknown house, in an unknown district, seemingly far away from civilisation. Although that is a terrifying reality for a lone woman on the verge of going into labor at any second, it’s also an electrifying possibility. With absolutely no one around for miles and a gassed-up hot rod waiting in the garage, this moment stands as June’s last chance to escape Gilead’s oppressive, violent, sexually assaulting thumb before bringing her child into the world.
After finding the keys for the the muscle car, she slides into the driver’s seat — something June hasn’t done in years — and flicks on the radio. Then, Winfrey’s voice wafts into June’s life, serving as a reminder that her possible predicament isn’t a predicament at all; it’s a light at the end of the Gilead tunnel.
Thanks to Winfrey, who is safely ensconced in Canada, we find out America is far more powerful than we even expected. Yes, we learned earlier this season during “Smart Power” that the U.S. Of A has a stronghold in Hawaii. But, it’s more than that. The government is also based in Anchorage and has recently received promises of economic support from both India and China. Plus, the U.K. is increasing sanctions on Gilead, which is a real-life way powerful nations punish deplorable countries, and raising its cap on American refugees who flee to Canada. It’s impossible not to assume the bombshell letters of “Smart Power” didn’t lead to these necessary political machinations against Gilead.
“Now, a tune to remind everyone who’s listening, American patriot or Gilead traitor,” Winfrey says before playing “Hungry Heart,” by American poster child Bruce Springsteen. “We are still here. Stars and stripes forever, baby”
June’s visible joy and relief over hearing Winfrey speak is one of the happiest and lightest moments in Handmaid’s Tale history. It’s difficult to imagine a single voice being a greater salve for June’s own hungry, terrified heart than that of Winfrey. It is a symbol of the warmth and greatness American once was, along with a reminder that greatness still exists, even if it’s covered up by the totalitarian, authoritarian violence of a bunch of dangerous misogynists and homophobes obsessed with the bible. At a time when the Attorney General of the United States is using biblical verses to defend putting children in cages, and the Supreme Court is upholding anti-Muslim travel bans, very few reminders are more powerful or necessary. What gives Winfrey’s message an even greater impact is the fact that it proves America can live up to its full promise once again, even after the horror of Gilead. That is why June looks so hopeful.
Yet, in keeping with The Handmaid’s Tale’s most upsetting habit, June isn’t allowed take that hot rod and break out of America with her unborn child forever. Instead, she goes into labor, gives up on escape, and goes back in the main house to give birth. There, she begins profusely bleeding out and, to save her own life and her baby’s, fires a few warning shots outside, effectively calling Gilead to her. In the final scene of “Holly,” the name of June’s mother (Cherry Jones) and June’s new baby, we see the lights of a car reflect onto the room June is waiting in. Gilead has arrived and, we see confirmed in the trailer for next week’s “Postpartum,” they’re there to take June and Holly back to the Waterford Manor From Hell.
Obviously this is a terrible turn of events. But it’s impossible to shake the optimism of Winfrey’s message, especially when you see how strong June is as Gilead approaches. She doesn’t cry or scream, despite hearing the car outside. No, she tells little Holly of her big sister Hannah (Jordana Blake) and promises, “One day, you’re gonna meet her.” America — the America of “You get a car! You get a car! You get a car!” and Oprah's Book Club — is still there, and it’s getting stronger every day.
Stars and stripes indeed, baby.