*Spoiler alert for The Handmaid’s Tale season 2, episode 3.
Episode three of The Handmaid’s tale circles back around to grab a couple of plots from the book and season one. June’s mother is a major part of the flashbacks in the book, but we didn’t see her at all in season one. We finally get to see her this episode, in all of her glory and flaws. The other major plot-line is Moira, who has been living in Little America, Canada all this time. This episode is less brutal than the first two episodes that this season premiered with, but one thing it is not lacking in is nuance.
The episode opens with June doing a daily exercise of jogging around the Boston Globe offices where she’s been holed up, we learn, for two months. The message is clear, June is ready to get out there and finally have some agency. In a parallel, the show cuts to Moira, also on a morning jog, through Little America. The two are so far apart and haven’t seen each other since that night at Jezebel’s in season one, but suddenly, the distance seems short and like the two are just a stone’s throw away.
This episode, June finally starts moving. She gets shuttled to a place where a man is supposed to pick her up and take her to a safe house, but at the last minute the man gets a text saying the safe house isn’t secure. June’s not going to let him get away with just leaving her in the middle of nowhere though. She stands in front of his truck in the rain, forcing him to acknowledge her presence and need. Despite himself, he can’t look her in the eye and abandon her, so he let’s her in and takes her home to his family. His wife isn’t happy to see her, she’s afraid for her family, and she judges June for “allowing” them to take her child. “Women are so adaptable,” June says, earlier in the episode, that her mother used to say. “It’s amazing what we can get used to.”
As June travels from one place to another, she reminisces about her mother. The first memory we see is of a rally her mother took her to when she was a little girl. As the women chant around a fire, they throw in bits of white paper to burn. June says that her mother told her that they were writing down the names of their rapists. “I remember thinking, there were so many pieces of paper,” says June. “So many; it was like snow.” June’s mother is full of life in this scene. She punches her fist in the air, and there is a great joyous smile on her face as she chants with the other women, and encourages her daughter to do the same. She’s in her element.
The next memory is not as flattering. While sitting around with her feminist friends, she digs into June for being an editor at a small publishing house, instead of doing something more to help the cause. Moira is doing something that’s essential to the cause. Why isn’t she more like Moira? In a later flashback, June’s mom criticizes her for planning to marry Luke (at that point they’re only engaged). I’m thinking she’s going to bring up the fact that Luke cheated on his wife with June; it’s what I would tell my daughter if I had one. But that’s not what she says. Instead she tells June that she’s wasting her life and energy by tying herself to a man. Another flashback shows June catching a glimpse of her mom, working as an unwoman in the colonies, while she’s being shown in a video in the Red Center. Many of these lines and details are ripped straight from the book – and just when we thought we had run out of book material.
Meanwhile Moira makes a life for herself in Little America. She lives with Luke and the woman who doesn’t speak from season one. She works at the welcome center that takes in new refugees. As she gives a man, who looks like he’s still in shock, the orientation, he reveals to her that he was one of the Guardians, forced to hang people on the wall, even a man he used to date in college. Happy and bubbly a moment ago, Moira is clearly shaken by his testimony. She’s not over her own trauma by a long shot. This is exemplified later on when she pleasures a woman in the bathroom of a club, but can’t seem to bear to let the woman touch her. What they did to her at Jezebel’s still haunts her, even in this new life. You have to give it up for the small wins though. The woman who doesn’t speak finally opens her mouth to crack a joke. “Blessed be the Fruit-Loops,” she says as she eats the cereal. Moira and Luke look at her with astonished faces. “How long have you been holding that one in?” Moira asks with a big smile on her face.
Speaking of wins, June manages a rather big one when the family doesn’t come back from church and she has to make her way to the airfield on her own, following the map the man had, and pretending like she belongs. As she sits in the plane, which gets ready to take off, she thinks about her mother, flashing back to singing at the top of their lungs to a pop song in the car with the top down. Wild, happy, free, and together. June tells us that she finally realizes that while her relationship with her mother wasn’t perfect, no mother-daughter relationship is perfect, and they both did the best they could, and that’s more than enough. She wishes her mother was there so she could tell her that. It seems like the episode is over, but The Handmaid’s Tale doesn’t do calm endings like that. Right before they take off, a bunch of government vans arrive and shoot at the plane. They hit the other passenger and shoot the pilot execution-style. Both June and the bleeding passenger are dragged from the plane’s interior, and we are left to wonder what horror awaits June in the episode to come.