The Handmaid’s Tale 2×03 “Baggage” sprints forward after the stretching episodes, “June” and “Unwomen.” The plot quickens, as do the stakes for June’s decisions, as does June’s belly. Unsurprisingly, the visual imagery, acting, and cinematography are as strong and impeccable as ever.
Baby I Was Born to Run
“Baggage” opens by juxtaposing the jogging habits that Moira and June have been able to use to “get used to” their new settings. The mundane ritual is a picture of normalcy and routine, and it drives home the point that although things can appear “just fine” on the surface, it’s a mask. In reality, both June and Moira are cocked guns, full of tension and ready to burst forth into action.
The opening sequence sets a theme of sorts for the episode. It’s about running, but not running away from something. It’s more about steps forward, action in lieu of waiting than it is about escaping. Although the episode is high tension, I mean it is an absolute nail-biter, it isn’t a thriller.
Running is about health. It is about self-care. It is about building strength and endurance. And that is the type of running we see at the top of the episode. It is measured and with the appropriate footwear. There is a route and a pace.
Likewise, the running we see June do in the episode is an effort at moving forward toward the possibility of health. It is a gesture of finding a balance and a plan in an utterly chaotic world.
The jogging at the beginning of the episode tells us that June’s survival is at once deeply risky and scary, and profoundly natural.
“Baggage” informs us of historical details that the book and Season 1 of The Handmaid’s Tale left a mystery. We learn that June was not allowed to stay with her family because of the infidelity that brought her and Luke together.
That revelation, coupled with the details from “June,” where we see the hospital interrogating mothers and more or less threatening to take away Hannah from June if she continues to work outside the home, is a stark explanation of how Gilead ordered itself.
The episode also delivers tender details of June as a daughter. The flashbacks hint strongly that June was the product of a rape. Although she was very wanted by her mother, it seems that June was birthed out of sexual violence.
This whispered detail is deeply powerful. With this insinuation, June is pushed into a primary position to be representative of the society’s oppression. Not only is she a handmaid, she began her life as a handmaid of sorts. Her very existence hinges upon the violent desires of a man who was willing to dehumanize another person in order to be gratified.
But the narrative The Handmaid’s Tale weaves is everything but simple. There is no after-school special here.
June and her mom singing along to Gwen Stefani in a convertible, at once awkward and adorable, upends the picture we might have of an oppressed-from-birth daughter and her victimized mother.
Other information we gather from the episode includes that people in the military were simply assigned Gilead positions, such as being a guard, after the transition of power.
I hope Season 2 will continue fleshing out the details of how Gilead ordered people into different positions and the small steps that led to the new reality.
I also hope, and this is my main and really only criticism of the series, that The Handmaid’s Tale talks about race and ethnicity soon. Sexual orientation, religion, and gender seem to be the sorting factors in Gilead. However, if this is to occur in a timeline that is still referencing Gwen Stefani, there is still racism.
I would like to see this aspect of oppression covered.
Never Better For Everyone
Nick and June, who I wholeheartedly ship (sorry, Luke), have a sweet and calm interaction where it becomes clear that their mutual care for each other has no limits. June flirts with him, both bursting and breaking my heart, saying:
“If I wake you then you leave, how’s that a win for me?”
But, they are are not really free, even if June has recovered a freedom from wearing red. They still determine that the best option is for her to escape to Canada. Even though Hannah and Nick will be left behind, Nick asserts that this is better for everyone.
June responds with a line straight out of the mouth of Season 1 Mr. Waterford:
“‘Better is never better for everyone.”
The call back to her previous owner and the mixing together of hope and helplessness makes the picture of life under these circumstances even murkier.
In a brilliant move, “Baggage” makes very clear that June and handmaids are not the only people bucking against the system. We meet a gay guard, who was forced to hang a guy he dated in college. We meet a Muslim family, who may or may not have been executed because of June’s presence in their home.
And finally, we meet a driver who has defected.
All of these minor characters bring a reality to the screen: there are hidden losers and defectors within the ranks of the ruling class. You are not alone.
But also, you don’t know who to trust, so you must blindly run forward, even if it’s to your doom.
The messaging on “Baggage,” like always on The Handmaid’s Tale, is a complete whirlwind that requires repeated watching.
Even on a first watch, though, it is obvious that the creators want us to realize there are allies everywhere. No one is safe from the oppression, and no one is immune to desiring liberty either.
Fight Like Hell
June is not just like her mom, but she is a fighter too. This is a really wonderful development from the episode. June didn’t fit into the “feminist” mold her mother had for her.
But, she still is this renegade and wonderfully resilient woman.
She doesn’t back down and she is doing everything she can to survive.
Yes, partly for her daughter. But, also for herself.
To live, not only as a sacrifice for others, is perhaps one of the most feminist things she can do.
What do you think about The Handmaid’s Tale 2×03 “Baggage”? Join the conversation in the comments below!
The Handmaid’s Tale is now streaming on Hulu, with new episodes every Wednesday.