The Handmaid’s Diaries: Holly – Episode 2.11


Let’s chat The Handmaid’s Tale episode 2.11 – “Holly”.  Further proof that The Boss and Oprah are American treasures and tension is a dish best served cold…

Well, the show made good on it’s corner that we referenced last episode. For the most part.  I mean, any time that you can get the combination of Oprah consoling the American public (yes, that was indeed Oprah on the news that June is listening to) and soothing pure American sounds of Bruce Springsteen in the same episode, you’re doing pretty well for yourself.

But while we’re here with The Boss and one of my favorite songs of his, “Hungry Heart”, let’s take a quick look at the final lyrics:

Everybody needs a place to rest
Everybody wants to have a home
Don’t make no difference what nobody says
Ain’t nobody like to be alone
Everybody’s got a hungry heart
Everybody’s got a hungry heart
Lay down your money and you play your part
Everybody’s got a hungry heart
This  episode finds its roots in June trying to find a place for herself and her soon-to-be-born child.  Whether it was reeling from letting go Hannah Agnes (her former connection to pre -Gilead), trying to escape Gilead in an American muscle car to get to Canada, or even evading the Waterfords as they seem to hunt her down, June is doing everything she can to regain a sense of control. But, by the end, she is left alone in her daughters adoptive parents home giving birth to a brand new baby with no aide from anyone. She’s alone. No home. No stability. Just she and a newborn.


Things seem dire, and on a surface level, they actually ARE dire. How will June come home? How will the baby survive in the cold? Where in the actual F does June go from here?  And, oh, by the way, there just happens to be a wolf lurking around too.


But, on a symbolic level, June is giving birth to a new life, a new beginning, and, in all reality, a new home. Holly. Bruce is right, Ain’t nobody like to be alone. Luckily for June, she’s not anymore. I mean, it’s a lot more difficult, but hey that’s how them breaks go.


I see why some people may not like this episode – as it’s a bottleneck episode that appears spin it’s wheels more than the 1964 Buick Skylark that’s stuck-in-the-mud in My Cousin Vinny(You’re welcome for that reference by the way.)


But just because we’re spinning our wheels, that doesn’t mean that it’s not beautifully crafted, and that it isn’t written well. In fact, I’d probably argue that any episode where June gives birth to Holly should be set in a space that solely devoted to June giving birth. The mechanics of that birth can be called into question (again, a wolf? Really?) but I love the fact that it’s June by herself, birthing a baby.  June is not influenced by the Waterfords, Gilead, Canada, or anything else. This effect is only enhanced while viewing Holly’s birth through the lens of Hannah’s Agnes’ birth in America during the flashbacks. For now, it’s just June and us.

There’s even evidence that June is aware of us as viewers because she speaks to us, apologizing for keeping us involved in this bitter story she’s telling. This is an intruiging choice because it infers that there is an endgame to the story that allows for June to survive and relay the narrative to someone else. Will this go down the route of, let’s say, Mr. Robot? Where June is aware of the viewer and speaks to us in her thoughts as though we are part of the story too? I suppose that’s a possibility, but I seriously doubt the show will break the fourth wall in that respect.

No, this feels more like to me that June is telling this story actively to someone else.


Perhaps the recipient is Holly after Gilead falls and June is trying to catalog her life so Holly understands where she came from? I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this device of June apologizing for the nature of this story is introduced the very same episode that Holly is born. Nevertheless, the world opens up here in many big ways for the show because of this narration choice, but also because a baby is now introduced into the mix.

A baby is quite literally worth their weight in gold to Gilead, and probably even more so there is a lot at stake for June, Holly, and even the Waterfords. I would say that Nick has a lot to gain here too, but who the hell knows where those soldiers took him, or even if he will be alive to even lay his eyes on Holly at any point.  This unknowing, and uncertainty provides this episode with the tension a baby’s birth deserves and needs.

But, as The Handmaid’s Tale is wont to do, it takes that tension and ratchets it up 10 fold when it introduces the Waterfords back into the June mix. There are all different kinds of tension that any writer can employ – whether its loud crazy tension (as when Holly is being born) or quiet subtle tension (like when June is desperately looking for car keys and having the realization that she can’t get the car out of the garage).  But when Fred and Serena arrive at the house in rural Massachusetts, it feels like a great mix of both forms of tension.

June is faced with a choice to either allow life for Fred and Serena or to straight up murder them. But tension can only be measured against the choices that inform it, and the best form of tension is supplemented by an ironic choice that not only affects the character but also changes the plot in deep and impactful ways.  Thus we have a masterpiece of irony in our hands thanks to June’s choice to allow Fred and Serena the gift of life.

After all the Waterfords have done to June, whether it be random beatings, emotional abuse, or even the more recent rape, June chooses to not fill them with enough birdshot to fill a small pond. All she has to do is kill them with the shotgun she found, take their car, and head right off to Canada — especially after we heard Oprah talk about the new sanctions on Gilead and the refugee cap being raised in Canada.  It feels like that’s where the story wants to go. But, again, irony has to inform tension and June doesn’t do what we all expect. Is it because she knows that killing them will damage her morals? Eh. I doubt it. Does she allow them life because she’s not sure she’ll be able to actually hit them from the distance that she is perched? Or does she simply not have enough faith that she will be able to get to Canada with either a baby in tow, or because she’ll get caught before she arrives there?

The show never explicitly states what Junes motivations are for choosing to not kill the Waterfords and I am very surprised by that turn of events. The Handmaids Tale is many things, but, as I’ve said before, subtle it is not. Either way the show is not holding our hand when it comes to this decision and I think it’s the right choice. But this also leads me to believe there is more at play with Fred and Serena and it further convinces me that we are barreling toward an end for them by next season.

Just as I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the new narrative choice has come into play with the birth of Holly, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Fred and Serena are now at odds with each other (even calling each other out for the rape in the previous episode) but also because the show introduced the American agent from Hawaii who ever so subtly tempted Serena with a new life.  We’re going to have to close out this season soon and it will probably end in some fashion with June either getting to Canada, Nick rescuing her, or even more ironically, June going back to Gilead under the protection of the Waterfords so she can raise Holly safely. Of course, they’d have to cover up June arrival with some absurd story, but, say it with me now, irony informs tension.

Either way, this season will come to a close, and the third season will probably focus on the internal battle of the Waterfords. More specifically, however, this baby situation is coming to a head, and, eventually, Serena is going to have betray Fred to get a baby in one form or another — because everyone’s got a hungry heart and ain’t nobody like to be alone.


 Mary & Blake certified: B+


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