Last week ended on a pretty major cliffhanger: Could Luke actually have been alive all this time? This week, we learn that the answer to that question is a resounding yes. In fact, "The Other Side" is almost entirely devoted to finding out what happened to Luke after the ominous gunshot which seemed to signal his death, back in the show's premiere episode.
This episode opens much in the same way as the first one in the series: With Luke and June's car running off the road, halting their escape. Only this time, the action is seen from Luke's perspective. As June and Hannah disappear into the woods, Luke fumbles with a revolver and bullets, presumably to hold off the Guardians.
There was indeed a shot, but it wasn't fatal. The bullet went into Luke's gut, staining his fuzzy knit cardigan blood red. (Of course Luke is a cardigan guy.) He wakes up in an ambulance, but it's icy and the vehicle crashes. Luke ends up hanging upside down, still strapped to his gurney, and manages to escape with a bag loaded with pain meds. Determined to get back to where he left his wife and child, he goes on his own personal version of The Revenant, braving the elements, and gritting his teeth through his injury. While he does manage to find the car, there's no sign of June, or Hannah. Further along in the woods, Luke finds Hannah's backpack, the contents strewn about, and assumes the worst. (He has no idea.)
After some more walking, Luke wanders into a seemingly abandoned town. This isn't the first time we've seen the immediate aftermath of the Gilead takeover, but it's definitely the creepiest. "Gender traitor," is scrawled on a wall in red graffiti, which brings to mind old pictures of Nazi Germany with "Jude" painted in yellow on Jewish-owned shop windows. Shit has gone down here.
After finding refuge in a deserted shop a la Walking Dead, he settles in to rest, and we flash back to what I'm guessing is a couple of weeks earlier.
Luke and June are driving through Boston, with Hannah sedated in the backseat. Under the guise of a casual breakfast outing, they are attempting to escape. This is early days, yet. The streets are lined with Guardians holding machine guns, but people still seem to be doing their thing, walking around in civilian clothing. There are no pairs of Handmaids, no tell-tale white wings in sight. Through their conversation, we learn Moira has already left, to cross the Canadian border on foot. (Since she ends up in the Red Center with June, my guess is she got caught in much the same way as June), while they chose to wait until proper visas came through. (Big mistake. Huge!) All this time, I assumed that June and Luke's mad dash from the Guardians happened on the same day they decided to escape. But I was wrong: The two meet with a man (a friend of June's mother? This is the first mention of her we've had in the show, even though she has a big impact on Offred in Atwood's book), who is tasked with taking them to some sort of safe house, where they'll wait to cross into Canada. There's a catch: In order to get out of the city, the whole family has to squeeze into the trunk. In a typical man move, Luke pigheadedly refuses to give up his photo album, but forgets the extra Benadryl in case Hannah wakes up.
After a very tense checkpoint moment (a bribed guard ultimately lets them pass — good to know corruption is alive and well), our merry band of travelers arrive at a quaint little cabin. The neighbors are miles away in every direction, so they should be safe here, free to warm up by their fireplace and wait for rescue. But just in case, their savior shows Luke how to fire a revolver. (I don't care how adorable he is, I would not trust him in an emergency, and his later gun fumble proves me right.) As it turns out, waiting for the visas was useless, because a "U.S. passport doesn't mean shit anymore, bud. That's over."
Back in the present, Luke is discovered by a band of fellow refugees fleeing the Gilead regime. They mistake him for a Guardian because of his stolen coat, but after he convinces them that he's on their side, they take him with them to treat his wound. The eclectic group — which includes "an Army brat, two strays, a gay, and a nun" — is heading to Canada, something Luke is not pleased to hear. He wants to go back and find June. Real talk, Luke: Your guts are literally spilling out of your belly, your glasses are broken, and there are patrols everywhere. Stay in the damn bus.
One of the women is clearly still traumatized from her experience — she hasn't said a word since they picked her up. Later, we learn that she was found in what sounds like a version of the Red Center, which suggests she was a handmaid in training. Rumors are starting to circulate about fertile women getting rounded up, but nobody quite knows why yet.
In a series of flashbacks, we get more insight into how June and Luke came to be rushing towards the border. The family was enjoying some fun times skipping rocks on the frozen lake near their cabin when a man discovered them while walking his dog. It's amazing how naive they still are, frolicking around like that — of course they got caught.
In another flashback, Luke shows June how to fire the revolver, just in case. (I feel like this will become significant at some point. Will Offred get her hands on a gun? Maybe through Nick?) The guy with the dog shows up, to tell them that the Guardians are already looking for them. The man who helped them earlier is dead; they have to leave. When they thank him, he shrugs: "No worries. This is pretty fucked up." Thank you, Captain Obvious.
In the present, Luke and the gang arrive at the coast. Luke decides to try to head back towards Boston, but Zoe, the woman who used to be in the Army, accosts him. "Let me show you something," she says, taking him inside a nearby church. When the two enter, they recoil. Something smells.
"The town fought back," Zoe explains. "They tried to hide the fertile women here. The Guardians took them and strung every one of them up."
The ceiling is full of strung up dead bodies. It's funny how even though we've seen so many of these on the show, getting a fresh look through Luke's eyes is like seeing it all for the first time.
"There's one of these in every town," Zoe says. "This is what they do to people who fight back."
Rather than head back to a certain death, Luke can go to Canada. The U.S. government, or what's left of it, has a presence there. They can help.
But the great escape doesn't exactly go as planned. The captain of the dinky boat supposed to ferry them down the coast demands payment for Luke to come aboard. In a heartbreaking move, he hands over his wedding ring. The delay causes the group to be ambushed by a Guardian patrol, and Zoe is shot dead. The visuals of this are striking: As the United States moves to tighten its own borders, seeing a group of American refugees risking everything to board an unknown boat to cross into a safe haven is particularly disturbing. While watching the news earlier last week, I saw a report about a town in Manitoba struggling to cope with the influx of refugees walking across the border from the United States, in an attempt to flee the Trump administration's immigration policies. And having seen this episode, all I can say is I've never been more grateful for my dual citizenship. Good job, mom and dad.
Three years later, we catch up with Luke in "Little America," the center of American refugee life in Toronto. Unnamed Almost Handmaid is with him. She's still pretty silent, and we still don't know her name. What we do know is that they appear to be living together. Other things we find out about our friendly neighbor to the North: There's rationing; refugees from Gilead live in public housing; and the power goes in and out. Luke still has his broken glasses, so it doesn't seem like he's got cash to spare.
And then, he gets a call to report to the U.S. consulate. Guys. What a scene. The missing persons posters coating the hallways of this building give you a hint that Luke is not alone in searching for his family. It's so eerie because it's a scene that's at once very familiar, and strangely foreign — something The Handmaid's Tale excels at. Familiar, because I imagine that thousands of refugees are experiencing something similar as I type this. Foreign, because the concept of an American refugee doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.
Luke thinks he's been brought here because of the research he's been doing on facilities that could be used to round up fertile women. His information is about 3 years too late. But then, the official speaks: "Do you know a woman named June Osborne?" Yes. Yes, he does.
She hands him June's handwritten note, which was written three weeks ago. We never see what's written, but in the last scene, in which June is sitting at her windowsill smiling, we hear the words: "I love you so much. Save Hannah."
The first series of The Handmaid's Tale is shown on Channel 4 on Sundays at 9pm.