CMA Awards 2018
'The Handmaid's Tale': Season 2, Episode 3 Recap – 9 Heavy Moments From 'Baggage'
Warning: Spoilers, of course.
Just in time for Mother’s Day, The Handmaid’s Tale gifts its viewers with an introduction to June’s mother, Holly. She's played by Cherry Jones and has been referred to in past episodes: we know that she was a doctor who performed an illegal vasectomy on the smuggler who drove June and Luke out of Boston, but we haven’t seen her, and we don’t know when or how she disappeared. Gilead is a land of absences: absent parents, absent children, absent rights. The list of things we don’t see increases episode by episode: a woman wearing glasses, a franchise store, dollars changing hands. With these empty spots in the background, here are some standout moments from “Baggage”.
Meanwhile, in Canada Joy! Moira is jogging in the morning again! She's sharing an apartment with Luke and the silent blonde ex-handmaid! Moira seems to be settling in nicely; she has a job helping fellow refugees, while Luke has some kind of gig with a late shift. Luke and Moira banter as she cooks scrambled eggs, and are getting along better than they did back in Boston. Moira’s even able to maintain composure when a glassy-eyed, newly-arrived refugee tells her a shocking tale of forced collaboration. She steers him to a trauma counselor even as something behind her face hints that she’d like to lash out. The cut from June jogging in the haunted Boston Globe offices to Moira running past a refugee’s memorial in Toronto is a tight reminder of her connection to June that both are shown jogging at the start of the episode; hopefully they’ll get to run together again someday.
You Were There All Along The unseen plural “you” in this case are the Sons of Jacob, the subject of June’s intensive study during her hideout in the Boston Globe offices. It makes sense that June, despite being part of the disintegrating society, may not have been aware of events even as she lived through them. It’s common for individual to become wrapped up in their own lives, or to take “mental health breaks” following the news when events become too depressing. She has plenty of time on her hands, which she uses to piece recent history together through clippings from old Globe issues. Nick tells her “Don’t make yourself too crazy over this stuff.” But it also makes sense that he wouldn’t want her to start questioning his role as a Guardian and an Eye.
A Woman’s Voice June’s mother was aware, but unheeded. In the book, June recalls being embarrassed by her mother’s brand of strident, second wave feminism, and took that generation’s advances for granted. That holds true here, too: Holly is seen at protests, and continues to perform abortions despite ever more aggressive protestors. She’s one of the “shrill” ones, who keeps yelling to hold back the past when everyone around them wants calm. But June's mother wanted her daughter fighting in the streets with her. She’s unsupportive of her publishing job, and says of the impending marriage to Luke, “I think it’s a mistake.” That’s a devastating thing to hear a parent say about the person you’re in love with. Who could blame June for wanting a comfortable life with her husband and their child instead of living a constant state of outrage?
On the Road Again June stopped when she saw Nick on the loading dock in the last episode. She echoes him standing in front of the bread truck, but remember that Nick was safely away from her on the loading dock. Omar, the bread truck driver who was supposed to deliver her to the compromised safe house, would have to mow her down to abandon her.
Econopeople “Baggage” satisfied long-standing curiosity to see how the econopeople live. Econowives have been in the background the whole time, barely noticeable in their lumpy pale gray dresses. The commanders and their wives and handmaids represent an elite sliver of society. Even in her suffering as a handmaid, June has been in a bubble. Most Gileadeans who’ve avoided the Colonies or the wall probably live more like Omar and Heather, surviving and keeping up appearances. The econowives that June later encounters on the train are more representative of their society as a whole.
Ruby Moira wasn’t going to escape the trauma of sex work without deep scars, as shown in her club bathroom hookup with Caitlin, a pretty Canadian girl she picks up in a bar. Things seem normal enough at first, and we’re cheering to see her reclaim her sexual identity. But later, in the graffiti-coated ladies room (the existence of graffiti must have initially felt miraculous after living in a world without written signage) Moira refuses Caitlin’s offer of sex despite having brought Caitlin to orgasm, and gives her name as “Ruby”— the name she went by at Jezebel’s. Is Moira now unable to experience sexual pleasure? Moira isn’t healed, despite her job and pulled-together appearance. She’s a former forced sex worker. It isn’t shocking that she’s wounded. It’s deeply sad.
Blessed Be the Froot Loops We don’t know what Erin endured that silenced her for so long, and there were debates online that her tongue had been cut out. She might have plenty to say as the season progresses.
Motherhood Musing As her plane is about to take off, June offers perhaps one of TV drama’s most trenchant observations on mother-daughter relationships: “No mother is ever completely a child’s idea of what a mother should be. And I suppose it works the other way around as well.” Parents make mistakes, and children, differing from those parents, may not do or be everything those parents planned. It's real, not rosy.
That Was Over Quickly June couldn’t just escape at the beginning of Season 2. Offred will continue to suffer so long as The Handmaid’s Tale is popular.
Aside from the horrible things that happened to the Americans, where did the multinational corporations go? Froot Loops and its parent company Kellogg's must be around in some form north of the border, but if Gilead kissed off the economic forces behind America’s corporations in the name of purity, the impact behind wiping out thousands of brands would have been severe. Nearly all the logos would have had to change: you can’t have McDonald’s without the golden “M” arch. Is Gilead a right-wing socialist theocratic patriarchy? How is their economy even functioning with half the workforce permanently laid off? Perhaps Bradley Whitford’s economic mastermind Commander Lawrence will explain in a future episode. Until then, we'll have to ponder.
The details of the show are so fascinating that it’s easy to lose sight of both forest and trees. Both are so goddamn interesting. For example, if the women’s health clinics destroyed the records, how did Gilead know which women to imprison and turn into handmaids? Insurance companies and communication service providers could have also been complicit. It would be useful to get an explanation for how they would have known that Moira was fertile. She had been out since at least college, and was in a committed relationship with the unseen Odette. One throwaway line of dialogue could fill the plot hole.
However, too much topical information could land us in a world of “oh, it’s 2015 and there are no flying cars,” undermining The Handmaid’s Tale’s believability. We know from references that Friends and My So-Called Life were broadcast in this world, that "Hollaback Girl" was a hit, and that Mark Bittman published a cookbook within the past decade, and hear mention of Yelp, Tinder, Facebook and Uber, but we don’t know the specifics. The scriptwriters, wisely, are vague about dates and avoid naming presidents or public figures. It might break the gloomy magic.