Let’s chat The Handmaid’s Tale episode 2.03 – “Baggage.” An episode dedicated to the notion of identity – whether it’s self discovery, having it ripped from you, or changing it to fit a mold.
Well, that was quick wasn’t it?
There was absolutely no chance June was going to escape Gilead – simply because of one reason; what the hell is The Handmaid’s Tale if most of it’s main characters are outside the walls of Gilead? As such, this is one of those episodes and story arcs that make sense to include in this kind of show, but it’s also frustrating because the main character must be static in her placement in order for the show to continue.
Just because June has to stay static in her placement, however, doesn’t mean that she has to stay affixed in one emotional place and that is where The Handmaid’s Tale “Baggage” succeeds.
As much as this episode has to succumb to the mechanics of The Handmaid’s Tale macro arc, the emotional journey for characters like June and Moira are certainly front and center. That journey is rooted in trying to uncover the true identity of our main characters. Is June Offred anymore? Is Moira still Ruby? Or, are they something completely new? Both struggle with where they have come from, their trauma, and the people they have become because of Gilead.
The Boston Globe serves as home to June, who, by the way, is still pregnant. I couldn’t help but think, man this is a time bomb just waiting to happen as June runs around the empty spaces of The Globe. It’s only a matter of time before she has to face this ticking fate, and it’ll be interesting to see how Bruce Miller and co. handle it in the near future.
Nonetheless, the running, making her alter to the executed, and growing interest in how Gilead secretly formed provides a sense of comfort and transformation for June. She’s evolving into something else – not quite June, certainly not Offred. But it’s this self discovery that is a running theme (pardon the pun) throughout the story of this episode that refuses to go below the water line. America slowly transformed into Gilead and June pinpoints it’s every evolution via the Globe newspaper clippings.
June’s mother (played by the incomparable American treasure that is Cherry Jones) sees it coming from the beginning during June’s flashbacks – but more importantly, she is also questioning June’s identity. Does June need a man? Why is she getting married? Why is she settling for being a an editor who just “corrects typos”? This is all boiling for June as she runs the halls of an empty building that once housed a symbol of American identity – freedom of thought.
All the while, Moira is struggling in Canada – trying to reconcile her life now that she is finally free to do whatever she pleases. Naturally, it’s a struggle to find her place in Canada as it’s a testament to her ideals of much needed liberation and independence, but it’s still not quite home either. So when she tries to feel something OTHER than the guilt of getting out of Gilead, and the awkwardness of trying to move on in her existence, she meets a woman at a bar and they become intimate. But, nothing is more heartbreaking than watching Moira wilt at her partner’s advances and say her name is, “Ruby.” At this point, Moira, like June, hovers in her being – kinda sorta Moira, and somewhat “Ruby” all at once. But, neither one on the whole.
Where do they go from here? How can they live knowing they were free, only to be comprehensively altered by Gilead, and freed once again? This reconciliation of identity appears to be where the show will be heading at the very least for the near future, if not the entire second season. And I gotta admit, this is pretty fertile ground. While I do feel like it was disingenuous of the show to tease June’s freedom so early in the season, only to have it ripped away at the literal last possible second of the run time (there’s that pun again), it is effective for the overall narrative.
Let’s set aside the fact that June is on the cusp of freeing herself for good and she gets taken away by Gilead forces in a convenient and coincidental fashion, I do love the imagery of her being ripped out of the bowels of the plane. Like I’ve said before, The Handmaid’s Tale is many things, but subtle it is not. June is pulled from the belly of the plane, out of a hatch, and is quite literally reborn. What is she reborn into? Well, that’s difficult to tell. I imagine that because she made peace with letting go of her daughter, Hannah, we will probably see June do something to set her free or at least reclaim her custody.
Any such action, though, will be extremely complicated because now she will inevitably be brought back into the clutches of the Waterfords, and June is certainly not going to patiently wait for her next window to open. She’s changed. She’s tasted freedom again and it’s now part of her. She’s not June because that was before all that was Gilead. But she definitely cannot go back to being Offred either.
I suspect we’ll find out who she’ll be very soon because June waited before, and she thought things might be okay. But as we discover in this episode, this new June swears that she’ll “never do that again.” So, if we know anything about good television, it’s that drama is derived from change. The more change there is, the more compelling the narrative. Given how “Baggage” ends, these characters can literally go in ANY direction, and I can’t see a better foundation for an already exceptional second season.
Mary & Blake certified: B+
Apropos of nothing:
- June seeing the signs in the barn is a sobering moment. Yes because I’m from the area so I know the names and that is EXACTLY how they look, but it’s also another physical representation of America’s discarded identity.
- Watching June pray with the Koran in hand was phenomenal. I love the idea that her rescuer, Omar, hid this little bit of life away beneath his bed and kept a form of his own identity.
- Another exercise in identity? Omar’s wife Heather looking down her nose at June. “I don’t know how you could give your kid up to somebody else. I would die first,” she tells June, who responds, “Yeah, I used to think that, too.”
- “This is where I’d live if I hadn’t been an adultress, if I’d gone to church. If I’d played my cards right. If I’d known I was supposed to be playing cards.” This is another favorite part of this episode. Omar and Heather serve as a great mirror to June and Luke – and how she can neither fulfill her mothers activist vision for her, nor can she be exactly what she wants to be with Luke due to Gilead’s bananaland (superficial) moral convictions.
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