The Handmaid’s Tale delivered its seventh episode, “The Other Side.“ It it, we once again focus on someone other than the titular handmaid.
We see June and Luke flying to the border, the same scene we’ve already seen. Only this time we follow Luke. He stays by the car and tries to shoot at the Guardians. They get him, shoot him, and then transport him in an ambulance. The car skids on the ice, though, and goes off the road and onto its roof. Luke is the only one to survive the crash, being strapped to his medical bed. He gets some clothes and meds from the ambulance and walks back to where they took him from.
He finds the place where June and their daughter were taken, and takes a moment to vent his frustration. Then he walks away to a small, empty town. There he breaks into an empty house, eats a little, and falls asleep.
He wakes up to some ladies kicking him and asking where the others are, because he’s wearing a guardian jacket. After he clears up that misunderstanding, they check his wound and put him in a minibus they’re driving to get across the border. He keeps trying to insist that he has to go back to find June and their daughter, but the refugees are having none of that. They’re a mixed group, a nun, a gay person, one “army brat” and two random people they found on the way. One of these was the only survivor of a raided handmaid training centre who is suffering from severe shock and trauma . They aren’t going to risk stopping the car for Luke to get out. Besides, he needs to lie still at least for a while for his wound to close somewhat and to get enough antibiotics.
The whole time, this plot is intercut with flashbacks of Luke and June’s escape. June’s mother’s friend helps them to get near the border by having them get in the trunk of their car and then driving. He settles them in a house in the wild and promises to go to Canada to get them passports.
They live in the house for some time, relatively happy. One day they go out to a lake – even though they were explicitly cautioned to stay in – and meet a man there. They get nervous and alarmed. They decide to leave, but just as they’re getting ready, the man comes to see them at the house. He warns them that the Guardians are looking for them, and that they need to take smaller roads. They would be spotted immediately on the highway. He also tells them their original guide is dead.
Back in the present-ish, Luke and his new friends arrive to the coast. Luke heads back inland while the others prepare to take a boat by night. The leader of the group, however, stops him and takes him to the local church. She tells him how the town tried to resist, and shows him they hanged all the people there in the church as they took the fertile women to become handmaids. She tells him that if he goes back, he will die and will be of no use to anyone.
Luke agrees and goes with her. There’s a problem with the boat owner, who insists Luke hasn’t been paid for, so Luke gives him his wedding ring. They board, but just then the border guard starts shooting at them. The boat speeds away.
We cut to three years later. Luke is in Canada with the traumatised woman from before, who is still not speaking. I wonder if they have therapy in Canada. Anyway, Luke gets called to a meeting with a representative of US exile government, and is given the note June wrote to him.
She wrote “I love you so much. Save Hannah.” We see her repeating those words to herself even as Luke holds her message and cries.
I’m not wholly certain what was the point of this episode.
As you can probably guess from the title of this article, I’m a little miffed that in a story explicitly titled The Handmaid’s Tale, this is now the second episode in a row that wasn’t focused on the handmaid in question. In the book, the only other story we get is Moira’s, and she was in training for a handmaid at least as well. I certainly didn’t mind the inclusion of Emily on the show, and I’d be thrilled to see something of Moira again, but the rest is more doubtful.
Don’t get me wrong, the previous episode was excellent. In fact, to my mind, it shows very well the contrast between focus on someone else done right, and done wrong. Last episode was framed by June’s experiences. This, on the other hand, was all about Luke. Of course, he is a good guy, contrary to Mrs. Waterford, so he kind of “deserves” it more. But on the other hand, he is a man. On principle, I have an issue with a whole episode of this show being focused on a man – unless it was a gay man, I guess.
There is the matter of Luke being such a good guy, too. In the book, he isn’t really all that. When women are forbidden to work and lose access to their money, he actually tells June “it’s just a job.” Book!June is forever wondering whether he actually likes the changes. So did the showrunners feel that the book didn’t have enough proper male heroes, or what?
Speaking of, is Luke going to be saving June? Because there are issues with that on several different levels. For one, while there is a “saving man” in the book, show!June is much more proactive. It would be a pity if they didn’t use that to make her more responsible for her own salvation, if there is to be salvation at all. Which is another matter: I have issues with dystopias ending in clear happy endings. I sort of feel it misses the point of them. I don’t think they have to be as bleak and dreary as possible, but if we end up with June, Luke and their daughter riding away into Canadian sunset, it’s going to be seriously irritating.
And speaking of Hannah, I’m not sure how comfortable I am with putting the focus so firmly on her in June’s note. In the book, “Offred” sees her daughter’s photo once, and muses about how she seems perfectly happy and how she probably already forgot her, because young children do. Even discarding book knowledge, Hannah would not be in trouble. She would be away from her parents, yes, but apart from that, she would have every comfort and affection. The biggest problem in her life would be that it is still happening in the monstrous Gilead regime, so the only future she could look forward to was as a Wife. But June’s situation is much more dire. I’m not sure I appreciate her “mother’s instincts” taking over in these circumstances. You know what they say: “put your own oxygen mask first and then assist your children.”
Returning to the pointlessness of “The Other Side”, I appreciated the final parts of Luke’s escape. The group of refugees was preciously diverse, adding depth to the world-building in showing us the different groups of people that were brought together. Plus it is genuinely good to see people being nice to each other in this monstrosity.
The rest of the story, though…why? What new information did it give us? Why have the elaborate plot with June and Luke first hiding in a house near the border? It’s not from the book, and it doesn’t seem very smart. Places by the border would be the ones most carefully checked, and in fact, I don’t think a totalitarian regime like Gilead would have left that empty house there. It didn’t add anything substantial to the story either. It felt like filler. The only good thing about it was the random man that met them and helped them. Again, it’s great to see people helping each other.
All in all, as I said, I would have much preferred to see someone else’s story. Moira’s, certainly – but that we will probably get next episode, given it’s called “Jezabels”. Emily’s, absolutely. I would give a lot to have Emily back and see something more constructive done with her. Her storyline just sort of petered out. Or any other of the handmaids, to be honest – like the new “Ofglen”. That could be interesting. Or replace the flashbacks with the backstory of the traumatized woman Luke meets. Any one of the countless women who story could be called “handmaid’s tale.”
It’s not that this episode was bad, exactly. But there was very little to recommend it, and more interesting things could have been explored instead.