Summary: In flashbacks, June's mother judges her for not doing more with her life. Later, June discovers her mother was taken into the colonies. In Little America, Luke, Erin and Moira live together but Moira is having troubles overcoming her past. June is taken by a man named Omar to save her. Omar and his family don't return from church so June leaves on her own. She gets on a plane to escape but the plane is shot down and June is captured.
The Good: It was nice to see what Moira and Luke are up to. Though their scenes were brief, they were pretty solid and painted a good picture. Moira should be content but she is unable to escape her traumas in Gilead which is a development I really love.
Moira's story was really short though and was never the focal point of the episode. The bulk of the episode focused on June's attempted escape from Gilead and it was fun for the most part. We are introduced to Omar who is the man assigned to help out June and it is fascinating to learn more about him. His family introduces that not all fertile women are handmaids and that the lower-class women are downgraded to econowives, which is a very welcome bit of world-building. I am really enjoying the increased world-building this season now that we aren't enclosed in the Waterford residence. It's still not as fleshed out as I would like, but it's getting there with every new piece of information.
But let's focus more on Omar's family itself for a moment and what it meant for June. Omar's son was the first child June has interacted with in a very, very long time so the moment was much more powerful than it ad any right to be, with Elisabeth Moss once again delivering. The rest of June's time in the apartment was just as good too. I like that June was curious and looked around the apartment a little bit. After all she has been living in a single building for a long time so any new location would be exciting for her. Furthermore, I thought the discovery of the Quran was a lovely moment. This show hasn't touched on its more religious side very much, so this was a refreshing new theme to explore. The idea of having to be a closet Muslim in a Christian society is pretty scary and because of that I hope that we see this family again to get more exploration on the topic.
The ending of the episode was quite powerful too as June is ultimately caught after coming so close to escape. The show did a great job of making me believe that June may actually get away and that the show would take a different approach this season because it had spent so much time on June's escape. But it was all a red herring as the show once more doubled down on its misery as June was captured at the very end.
Another new development is the introduction of June's mother. I thought this was a nice addition for the show as it gives more depth to June and allows us to understand her more by hinting at how her childhood was. I appreciate that the show didn't use flashbacks to blatantly show us June's childhood and instead let June's interactions with her mother as an adult tell us the story of their relationship. I like that it tied into the present storyline as well with June feeling some guilt over not listening to her mother and doing more as a woman to prevent the world from going to hell. I presume that this plot thread will continue through the season which will hopefully pay off with some powerful moments. I also hope that June's mother does appear in the colonies at some point as Cherry Jones is too good of an actress to only have for a single episode.
The Bad: This episode was too dependent on coincidences. One of the more frustrating ones was the way that June's mother was revealed to be in the colonies. For one, how unlikely is it for her to still be alive? After all, this is the same government that murders all rebels as evidenced in "The Other Side", so why would they keep her alive? Worse though is the sheer coincidence that she would be shown on that presentation. Of the presumably hundreds or even thousands of women in the colonies, it just happened to be June's mother who was in the picture? That's too coincidental.
But that wouldn't be a problem if there were only one or two coincidences. The problem is that this episode is literally built on coincidences. Literally everyone June needs to help her are conveniently caught exactly when she tries to escape. This happened last season too during the flashbacks of Luke and June's attempted escape. But this episode has the coincidence of Omar getting a text exactly when he was talking to June, the coincidence of Omar's family conveniently getting caught for something the day that June is there and also the coincidence of the pilot getting busted the time that June is escaping. All of this is way too much and doesn't make for satisfying storytelling, instead feeling cheap and manipulative.
There were some other issues with this episode too. For one, June is pretty annoying as she listens to nobody and seems to just ride on the fact that she is a handmaid as an excuse for not listening which is frustrating. She shows no regard for Omar's family and doesn't come off as the least bit grateful. Omar tells her not to speak and she immediately talks to his wife and then later goes to talk with his child. Seriously? Furthermore, she is told to touch nothing and immediately touches everything. And then after that when the family goes to church, June pokes around with everything, moving things around and getting fingerprints everywhere. And then to cap it all off, she leaves her clothes in their apartment which would further incriminate them for anything if they were actually caught. All of this is ridiculously selfish and really made me annoyed with June which is the complete opposite of what the show is trying to make me feel.
Another issue is how rushed the stories in Little America are. Apparently Erin talks now but all of that development happened off screen. I still don't care at all about her so this does absolutely nothing for me. Additionally, Moira's unhappiness in Little America felt glossed over. Sure we got one great scene, but we had no information given to us about anything. Is this Moira's job still? Why? Did she choose to do this or was she forced to do it for some reason? I have no clue why any of this is happening and because of that the scene falls flat for me. With a little more information given, the scene could have hit me with the intended effects. But instead it felt forced and rushed.
Speaking of rushed, there's also June' decision to leave Hannah. This would have been powerful if June had actually thought about Hannah more than twice this season. Honestly the moment felt like a "oh crap I forgot about Hannah, oh well I'll just leave her" moment instead of something genuine and heartfelt.
The Unknown: What text this Omar receive and why did it make him want to leave June? Did it have something to do with what happened to him and his family? Speaking of which, what actually did happen to his family? And who was that man who came to the door?
So what determines if you become an econowife or a handmaid? What is the class standing for that? I have a hard time believing that June was a high-class citizen who was selected as a handmaid considering what her job was. Perhaps I'm just missing something.
Best Moment: The twist ending with the plane being stopped was the most powerful moment for me and it was also one of the very few scenes which wasn't hampered by dumb writing.
Character of the Episode: June.
Conclusion: This episode had some good developments but it was poorly written. The over-reliance on coincidence as well as the unlikable portrayal of June hurt this a lot and made this a notable downgrade from the first 2 episodes.
Summary: In flashbacks, Emily works at a university and is married to Sylvia with a child. Gays are starting to be frowned upon in society and Emily's boss is executed. Emily tries to escape with her family but she isn't allowed to leave. In the present, Emily is working at the colonies. A commander's wife arrives and Emily secretly kills her. Janine arrives. June is taken to the Boston Globe where she awaits her rescue. Nick visits and June tries to escape but decides not to.
The Good: The colonies were really well established in this episode. I have been mostly disappointed with Gilead's world building so far, but season 2 seems to be applying more attention to the setting in these first 2 episodes. The colonies were immediately established as brutal wastelands which were terrible to live in. The way they were portrayed seemed akin to a war bunker from a war film which did a tremendous job of setting the tone of how run down this location was. The hardest part about the colonies was to establish that they are worse than living in actual Gilead. I was worried that the show may not have been able to convey the horrors appropriately enough, but thankfully there was outstanding work done here to make the colonies feel like a terrifying place to be.
Emily's storyline in the colonies is very strong. The arrival of a commander's wife was a great way to examine the state of mind of these women, or unwomen as they are called. By introducing the commander's wife who is unable to get any respect from the unwomen, the show immediately draws comparisons to a prison where the commander's wife plays the role of a soft and innocent person who is sure to be raped and victimized by the much more seasoned veterans. Only this time we aren't rooting for the innocent. The innocent in this case completely deserves what she has coming to her and it's very satisfying to see Emily get a small revenge against the wives for the small role they have played in letting the handmaids exist. The storytelling is outstanding and it's a great way to reintroduce us to Emily who will presumably play a much bigger role in this season.
Speaking of Emily, I was glad to see her get some flashbacks to deepen our understanding of her. The flashbacks in the show have mostly been disappointing, forgettable and meaningless so far, so it meant a lot to get a proper story in a flashback which had some emotional heft to it. It was great to see who Emily was prior to the rise of Gilead and seeing her struggle with being a homosexual was fantastic. I especially liked her boss who also offered some great insight on how difficult it would be to be homosexual in this world and I thought the boss made a great impression before he was brutally murdered. Furthermore, the flashbacks went to the next level by having Emily be forced to leave her family in a heartbreaking scene which was made surprisingly powerful due to a great performance by Alexis Bledel (see: Best Moment).
Speaking of great performances, Elisabeth Moss was outstanding in this episode. Her storyline saw June get taken to the Boston Globe where she explored and discovered that the place was a site of an execution. The story is solid but it achieved a new level of excellence due to smart filmmaking and Moss' stellar performance. We are never actually shown anything in the building, but Moss' facial expressions let us understand exactly what June is seeing and why it has unsettled her so much. The sequence was beautifully constructed and was able to hit hard because of that.
Also June was watching Friends in this episode. Great choice of sitcom. I approve.
The Bad: June and Nick are still a very problematic relationship. Nick is so bland and does practically nothing for me as a character, and he has very limited chemistry with June as well. I have no reason to care about him as a character and his motives still aren't entirely clear to me. I understand he wants to protect his child, but does he love June? Does he want to be with her or does he only want to help his child? I know nothing about this and that isn't good. Furthermore, I don't know June's feelings for Nick either. Does she care at all about him? He seems like just a means for her to have sex to let out her emotions, but I get the sense that the show wants us to buy more into their relationship that that. If it does, it has failed miserably in making me care.
The Unknown: What exactly happened at the Boston Globe? Who died and why did they die? What does the rest of the world look like? Are all the other major buildings just ruined like this one?
Will June get discovered before Nick gets her out or is she actually going to escape?
What are Luke and Moira up to?
Best Moment: Emily leaving her family was powerful and painful. This show has been masterful with when it chooses to have no dialogue and it has used silence to its best effect to evoke an emotional reaction. I think that this creative choice is the main reason that scenes like this one work so well.
Character of the Episode: Emily.
Conclusion: This was a great episode which got us reacquainted to Emily and we learned a lot about her. There was a lot of power to this episode and I think it did a lot of things right. The 2 main storylines had powerful moments and aside from the June/Nick relationship, I was satisfied with everything this offered. This is easily one of the show's better episodes.
Summary: In the past June has to deal with a nurse who is judgemental of her ability to take care of Hannah while working. Offred and the other handmaids are threatened with execution. Offred can't be punished due to her pregnancy but the other handmaids are tortured. Nick collects Offred from the medical centre and sneaks her away with intents to free her.
The Good: The execution (no pun intended) of the opening scene was mostly excellent. The cinematography, acting and sounds were practically perfect and the horrors of the fake execution were shown impressively which overcame the fact that they obviously wouldn't be killed.
The rest of the episode is also filled with uncomfortable scenes which are used to evoke a proper reaction. After the previous episode's events there had to be some consequences and we see them all here. Offred's pregnancy getting announced was fittingly horrific in a classic Handmaid's Tale way with all of the handmaids trying to be thankful whilst undergoing torture. Furthermore, the brutality of the burning was also pretty difficult to watch and allowed us to empathize with Offred's guilt over what happened.
Aunt Lydia was central to this episode and she remains a strong point for the show. Her scenes with Offred were outstanding and Ann Dowd beautifully conveyed Lydia's anger towards Offred's behaviour coupled with gratitude for her being with child. Their scenes together were really compelling and the reveal of Ofwyatt was really well done. I like that the people of Gilead do have an apparent answer to the handmaids acting up by practically jailing them if they misbehave.
The ending was really good. The final scene with Offred finally escaping her life as a handmaid and embracing herself as June was powerful and felt earned after the rough events towards the end of season 1. More than that though, it promises that the show is going to change and evolve this season which is a promising sign of a possible quality increase which would be more than welcome.
I enjoyed the flashbacks a fair amount. While I still think that these flashbacks aren't as interesting and satisfying as they should be, I did enjoy this episode's look at how people's beliefs slowly began to change which is what brought on Gilead's existence. June's discussion with that judgemental nurse was awkward and did a good job of hinting at the world change which would be coming soon.
The Bad: The opening scene had some faults though. The hanging scene didn't have any tension to it at all since it was blatantly obvious that the handmaids wouldn't be killed since they are needed for population to reproduce, making them invaluable. I understand that it was used to instill fear in the handmaids, but couldn't at least one handmaid try using the fact that they are invaluable as leverage? Furthermore, the scene was ruined towards the end by an awful song which felt forced onto the scene. Silence would have made it much more affecting and the music only served to make it more heavy-handed. This show has done a lot of things right, but music is not one of those things as almost every song used so far has felt out of place.
This show is also at risk for becoming too much of a torture porn. This episode had so many unpleasant moments and sometimes they felt like they existed just for the sake of it. Show me misery only if it serves a purpose or you will rive me away. I don't want to watch people in pain for no apparent reason without accomplishing anything, and the writers of the show need to account for that in the audience.
The Unknown: I loved the use of a baseball stadium in this episode. It was a fascinating touch of world-building which makes me wonder what has happened to many of the locations in Gilead and how it is compared to the current world. Hopefully we get some actual answers about Gilead this season.
Apparently Janine has gone to the colonies. Where are the colonies and will we see them this season? I presume Janine will be coming back to the show.
Where has Nick taken Offred and how does he plan to get her out of Gilead eventually? Will the attempt work?
Best Moment: Aunt Lydia and Offred's scenes alone were terrifying and were outstanding for both characters. Lydia was superb as she practically shut down every rebellious instinct in Offred by showing her the fate of another handmaid who acted out and refused to listen. The scene is important to the show as it reveals that there are stills takes here for Offred and that just because she is pregnant doesn't mean that she is untouchable or that her life will be any easier.
Character of the Episode: Offred.
Conclusion: This was a really solid season premiere. While it did have some flaws, it left a positive impression overall and got me excited to see more of the new season.
Just a university student who loves to watch TV. And criticize it like hell.