Previously, on The Handmaid’s Tale: June was a bit too
hardcore violent reckless for her Chicago group, so she wandered off in search of some new pals, but found an old friend instead. (And there was much rejoicing.) The rest of Chicago is in a bad way though, thanks to some devious plotting from Commander Lawrence and some long-awaited but ultimately ill-advised action from Nick. Here’s my recap for episode 5 if you missed it!
This week: Moira’s girlfriend, Oona (Zawe Ashton) picks a terrible time to play the trolley problem, because she’s a Very Good Person but an absolute numpty. There are tough choices to be made, vows to be tested, and tense moments aplenty as our characters figure out there are no easy right answers, just different shades of problematic ones. (But also, Moira is right.) There are spoilers ahead for episode 6; without further ado, let’s hop on the good ship lollipop and get the hell out of here!
I’ve been tough on June for a while now, but she has been through A LOT, and it all weighs heavily on her. At the start of the episode, she has lost her last remaining sister in red — no sign of poor Janine this week — plus she’s concussed, so where I would normally rail against any Convenient Plot Amnesia, this is more Frustrating Plot Disorientation, so I’ll let it pass. Everybody breaks. All this does in dramatic terms is delay a very important hug. But not for too long. It’s OK. Once Moira’s got her wrapped up in a blanket and on the way to see a medic, June sees her properly for the first time, and for a brief moment, joy radiates from both of them.
But alas, there may be trouble ahead. June wants to see if Janine is with the other injured survivors, but there’s no time: it’s not safe for Oona’s team to stay (DAMNIT NICK!) and the whole operation is pulling out of Chicago. Oona’s taking all the supplies back, because she sees how desperate it is and reasons that the survivors will kill each other over them. (They will die without them, but OK.) Moira wants to smuggle June out with them, but Oona expressly forbids it, because it is Against The Rules.
Oona is in the infuriating position of not being really wrong, but also not being right. When she says “I get that it’s hard,” she means that it is hypothetically hard for her. If they take June, they won’t be allowed back to help anyone else. For Oona, it’s a numbers game.
“You think June is more important than every one of them?”
Oona’s thinking of a theoretical future scenario where her organisation will be allowed back, but this is where her argument leans further towards wrong than Moira’s. For Oona, this situation is a trolley problem she can solve with cool logic: sacrifice one to save more. She’s forgotten two important things: one, it’s not really sacrifice one to save more, because sacrificing June won’t save the rest of Chicago at all. It’s save one, or save none. Lawrence is going to reduce Chicago to a pile of rubble any minute now — that’s why she’s leaving so fast. “Every one of them” will probably be dead very soon, either immediately from the next round of bombs or from starvation or injury. They are more likely to die soon than survive long enough to be saved in the hypothetical future. (You want them to survive longer Oona? Leave the damn supplies.) When she says they can try to save June once they get back to Canada, she knows that’s never going to happen. Gileadean survivors get to Canada themselves; they aren’t plucked from hostile territory by helpful hands. She’s ordering Moira to leave her best friend to die when there is a ship RIGHT THERE. June is “public enemy number 1 in Gilead”; in the unlikely event she survives Chicago on her own, she’d be caught by Gilead and would face horrific punishment. (Who’s going to save her then? Nick? LOL.) And so, the second very important thing Oona has forgotten is who she is talking to.
YES, MOIRA. Oona’s solution is not going to work for her, because she loves the sacrificial lamb, and SHE IS NOT HAVING IT. She is raising June’s child, and BFFs with her husband! As if ANYONE could leave their best friend behind under those circumstances. Oona issues her command and then just walks off, assuming that her logic has won the day. NUMPTY.
You might be, Oona. But you’re not right.
Poor Moira. First Oona is all ‘ooh, moral dilemma’, then June starts dragging her feet as well. She can’t leave Janine. She can’t leave Hannah. Moira is trying to SAVE YOU, DAMNIT!
“June. Boat. Now.”
I have really missed Moira’s tough love. EVERYBODY LISTEN TO MOIRA. Canada’s awesome, June! All the best people are there! GET ON THE DAMN BOAT!
Huzzah, she’s on the boat. Let’s relax and enjoy the cruise… NO WAIT. We’re only 15 minutes in. Hmmmm. I feel an uh oh coming on.
Yeah, there it is. Gilead inspects all ships leaving their waters to make sure there isn’t any funny business going on, and Moira has to ‘fess up to Oona, who is both angry and disappointed, and still a numpty, but now wishing she had given Moira more of an explanation than ‘because I said so’ and ‘because THE RULES’. June finds herself in the middle of a ship meeting about whether she has the right to continue existing or not. FUN. Are there no piña coladas on this cruise? No? Just awkward conversations and guilt? Damn. Now it’s a ship-wide game of the trolley problem, and Moira wants to bang their heads together. She definitely wants to give June a smack for volunteering to be turned in as a stowaway, because that’s literal suicide, and for the love of Canada, why won’t everyone just listen to Moira?
As Gilead’s ships creep closer, suddenly it’s not so hypothetical for Oona; she changes her mind and orders a fake ID for June, to pass her off as one of the crew. Was it June’s bravery, Moira’s bereft face, or just the painful realisation that she would directly have a hand in June’s fate that changed her mind? If she thinks Moira is right, she’ll never admit it. That relationship seems done for, but her conscience will probably be less troubled by the choice she eventually made. Rules and principles are all very well, but conscience is a more reliable metric sometimes.
The flashbacks through the episode so far focus on Moira’s initial reservations about Luke, and June worrying about disappointing Luke, and this is where we start to see some clarity regarding June’s lack of enthusiasm for escaping. The episode’s title, ‘Vows’, lets us know how significant one of these flashbacks is, as Luke makes her a promise. It doesn’t matter to him if she changes, because “I’ll just love whoever you turn out to be.”
June’s terrified of facing him again, after all that has happened, but she’s underestimated how much of a poppet he is. Any guilt she has about leaving Hannah? He has that too, plus more for leaving her. He knows she has been with Nick; he is raising little Nicole for her, without a grumble. He’s worried that June doesn’t want him any more, but he shed a sad little tear and carried on anyway. He has looked after other traumatised handmaids. Even though he and Moira weren’t besties before Gilead, he listed her as family and came running to meet her in the season 1 finale all those years ago. Luke is a good’un.
June doesn’t know about any of this though, and she makes another attempt to leave the ship, at which point Moira loses that tiny last remnant of patience. Moira is the only person who can break through June’s wall of stubbornness and rage and get to her pain; June finally lets out everything she has been holding in about Hannah, and her fears about Luke. Now, Moira is the one telling June to trust Luke, to give him a chance. (You think Luke’s less reliable than Nick, June? Harsh.) But finally, here it is: THE HUG YOU’VE BEEN WAITING FOR.
The final test: how does Luke react to June’s arrival in Canada? Well, he comes running again, because of course he does, and OH THAT FACE!
“I’m sorry I don’t have her. I’m sorry it’s just me.”
THERE’S THE OTHER HUG YOU’VE BEEN WAITING FOR!
With that, Team Canada gets a new recruit, and June slips further from Gilead’s grasp. She is finally with the people who know and love her the best, who can help her process her trauma in a non-burny way, with kittens and bunnies and rainbows and OH MAN THE SEASON IS NOT OVER YET! Yeah, let’s not get too comfy. Enjoy the hugs and the happy. For now.
Next time: June has some major culture shock and reunites with some old friends…and foes.