*Spoiler warning for The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2, Episode 11.
This episode was a breath of fresh air after last week’s trauma. If you recall, last week June went into false labor, was raped by the Commander and Serena, was brought to see her daughter, and then was left stranded at this house in the woods after Nick got shot. This episode we see the strength of June’s endurance, and flashbacks to when she was giving birth to Hannah. As Handmaid’s episodes go, it’s a slow one. You can say that not a lot happens, but everything that does happen is symbolic, and so loaded.
Left in the house alone, June takes stock of her situation. It’s freezing and remote, so there’s no going anywhere on foot. There’s a locked garage, and wild dog watching her every movie. She searches the house and finds keys to the garage. There’s a car in the garage, and miracle of miracles, it starts right away. Not only that, but the radio is tuned to an American ex-pat station broadcasting from Canada. This has a few connotations. One, is simply the emotional release of hearing your own people reaching out to you in support. In this moment, we see June truly smile for the first time in a long time, one of relief and joy. The second connotation is rather large. If she’s close enough to tune into a Canadian radio station, she could actually drive there in this car. She could make it, and be free.
June gathers supplies from the house for her journey – canned and jarred food, a first aid kit, blankets. As she’s checking out clothing options, she hears a car drive up to the house. It’s the Commander and Serena. Serena blows into the house like a storm. While Serena is searching the bedroom June was just in, She find June’s red outer layer, and concludes that June was here, but has already left, run off with Nick. The Commander, for one, is perplexed. Why would Nick be disloyal? Why would June run off after he let her see her daughter? Wouldn’t she be grateful? “How could you be so stupid?” Serena retorts. “They hate you. She’s always hated you. She keeps running away from you.” In this episode we finally get to see the Commander and Serena lay it all bare. Their carefully controlled world is shattered, and the flood gates open. (Seriously if Yvonne Strahovski doesn’t get an Emmy nom for playing Serena, there is no justice in the world.)
Meanwhile, June is watching this whole exchange from an upstairs side hallway with windows down into the rest of the house. The Commander and Serena throw verbal daggers at each other for all the horrible things they’ve done to June. Each accusing the other of driving June away. “You sent her out here with the father of her baby to see her daughter, what did you think was going to happen?” Serena says. Confession time. Serena tells the Commander that she gave up everything for him and Gilead, and all she ever wanted in return was a baby. “You’ve left me with nothing,” she says, eyes full of tears.
While all this is happening, June makes an important discovery. She finds a shotgun in the bench by where she’s standing, as well as ammunition. She loads it, eyes full of loathing, and trains it on the Waterfords, standing in perfect range for her to shoot them both through the window. But as Serena is grieving her loss, June tenses up. Should she shoot them? Her hands shake as she aims at them, finger on the trigger, fighting with herself about what she should do. But then the Waterfords break apart and move out of range, and June has lost her shot.
The Waterfords leave and June is back where she started, trying to find a way out of there. So the car works, that’s great right? But the garage door won’t open for her to drive it out. It’s frozen shut. June gets in the car ready to run it down. She revs it up, the most determined look you’ve ever seen on her face, and rams the car into the door. It barely budges. She does this multiple times before realizing it’s not going to work. Unable to simply give up, June tries to lift the garage door herself from the outside. Of course it’s a no-go, but while she’s trying, she falls and starts to bleed.
After realizing that she’s going to go into labor in this house, June apologizes to her baby and takes the gun and struggles outside. She fires it at the sky multiple times to get someone to come to her. This is perhaps the saddest moment, because after everything this episode, no matter what she did, she couldn’t make it out. Everything was against her. By doing this, she’s sealing her fate of going back to Gilead.
This episode also shows a lot of flashbacks from June’s pregnancy and as a mother. We see her dropping Hannah off at school while Hannah cries for her mom not to leave her. We see a romantic moment between her and Luke while she’s pregnant. She goes to visit a birthing suite with her mother and Moira, and her mother tells her that even work is not more important to her than June. As June is giving birth in the present, we see her giving birth to Hannah in the past as well. In the past she is surrounded by doctors, nurses, Luke and Moira. In the present she is alone, but in both cases, it is something beautiful. After the birth of Hannah, June’s mother arrives and delights in meeting her new granddaughter. Reminiscing about introducing Hannah to her grandma, June decides to name her new daughter after her mother (yes it is a girl), Holly. She cuddles her new baby girl, and waits for the storm that will surely be coming for her as we hear a car pull up outside. Just in this moment, she is free, with her daughter, and full of joy.
The last implication of this episode is this. All through the series, June talks to the camera. One could assume that she’s talking to us, but she’s not. In this episode, it’s made very apparent that she’s talking to this new baby of hers, Holly. “I leave this story to you,” she says. In the books (spoiler alert for the book), June escapes Gilead and leaves her story recorded on cassette tapes. Here in the show, it’s clear that she will escape and record her story as well, but will leave them so that hopefully one day her daughter will find them. When do she and Holly get separated? And will they ever see each other again after June makes the tapes? We don’t know.