The Handmaid’s Tale: (S01E07) “The Other Side”

This episode, which could have been called ‘The Husband’s Tale,’ is a complete departure from what we’ve been seeing so far.

The episode is almost entirely set in the past. Picking up from the attempted escape to Canada, the story alternates between the events that led up to the car chase that opened the series and the events that followed it, all from the point of view of Luke who is indeed alive. I was slightly suspicious of the ambassador’s aide, I freely admit, call me a cynic if you will, but it seems he was legit. Luke thinks June and Hannah are dead, just as June thinks Luke is. He gets shot in the stomach and caught by the Guardians, who immobilize him on a stretcher and load him into an ambulance. In a great ironic twist, the ambulance skids on the ice just as the car did, flipping over multiple times killing everyone in the ambulance except Luke, because he’d been strapped down on the stretcher. He steals one of the dead Guardian’s coats, takes some meds and supplies, and heads out, bleeding copiously from the gunshot wound. All this is happening in the first ten minutes or so of the episode with almost no dialogue. Language and words are very important in this story, and they are not to be wasted unnecessarily.

I found the episode to do an amazing job of creating dramatic tension and suspense, which is a tricky prospect when the story is a flashback and you already sort of know how it turns out, even if you don’t know all the details. Part of escaping Boston and heading north toward Canada requires them to hide in the trunk of their own car while a friend who is helping them drives. The car is pulled over and my stomach was one big knot of stress. I might as well have been in the trunk too, I was so nervous, even though I knew that this wasn’t where they got caught. I was almost as suspicious of the hunter who comes across them, and they realize they have to get out. He turns out to be okay, warning them that their contact has been caught and hanged and giving them directions to head north by back roads.

Luke makes it to a small town that looks like it has been looted and abandoned. He eventually makes his way into a store, where he is discovered by some members of the resistance who patch him up and take him with them. Among the group is a young blonde woman with one of those red tags in her ears and who is so traumatized that she doesn’t speak. The others members of the group don’t even know her name. It turns out she was rescued from a ‘training center’ in South Carolina, a high school where they were keeping young fertile women. He is suitably horrified, but he still plans to go back to Boston, not to Canada. Zoe, who seems to be the group leader, shows him a church with bodies hanging from the rafters. Suddenly, Canada’s not looking so bad…

Three years later, Luke is living in the ‘Little America’ section of Toronto. He seems to be living with the blonde woman who seems to still not be talking. It isn’t clear if they are just roommates or something more, but personally I didn’t get a romantic vibe. He gets a call and goes to some place that seems to help refugees locate family members. He is told that June is alive and is given the note she wrote for him. The message was simple. I wonder, when was the last time Offred wrote something?

“I love you. So much. Save Hannah.”

I found this episode very interesting, though I wouldn’t want to see such a strongly feminist story being told from the man’s point of view too much. I liked Luke, but only in a vague, he-seems-like-a-nice-guy kind of way. I didn’t find his character particularly compelling and while scenes like the one of the family making chocolate chip pancakes while James Taylor played in the background was sweet, I’m still not sure what Luke and June have in common or what made them fall madly in love with each other.
Other things:
– So, it sounds like June’s mother was a doctor, and performed vasectomies after they had been banned. What are the odds she was executed?
– Does anyone else wonder why their car is so old? That style Volvo hasn’t been made for probably more than twenty years.
– Did anyone else google Scarlett Woods Assisted Living, the name on the back of the mini-bus they Luke and his rescuers were traveling in? Anyone? Bueller? Apparently not. I did; nothing came up.
“I took his sister to the prom back in the day. Believe you me, he owes me a f*****g favor.”

“At some point, you’re going to have to stop collecting strays.”

“I think God has bigger things on his plate these days.”