Airing on Channel 4, Sunday at 9pm
Writer: Lynn Renee Maxcy
Director: Floria Sigismondi
Essential Plots Points:
- We’re back in the car that the series opened in. Luke spins out, grounds the car in the dirt and they’re on foot. He sends them on their way, struggles to load his revolver and waits as the sirens approach. The fight is short, brutal and one sided. Luke is shot and begins to bleed out
- He comes to in an ambulance being treated for his wounds. The ambulance spins out on the icy roads and…Luke’s free. And alive. And right back in serious trouble. He gets loose, grabs his stuff and some medical supplies and makes a run for it.
- But not before grabbing a gun.
- Busted up, in shock and with no idea where he is, he sets off walking.
- He makes it to the car, begins looking for his family and…finds them…to a point. Hannah’s scattered scrapbook pages, her pet bunny. And no bodies.
- He pushes on and makes it to a deserted town. The streets are littered with graffiti like GENDER TRAITOR and there’s no one around. The town obviously ended messily, there are bullet holes everywhere but Luke has no choice. He holes up, tries to find some food thats still edible and rests.
- He flashes back to the start of their run. He and June are both frightened, bickering, convinced they’ve left it too late.
- They meet an old family friend who will help them get across the border. He tells them to dump their phones and bags and tells them all to get in the trunk. Luke is far from okay with this but they have absolutely no choice.
- In the trunk, Luke and June keep each calm and chat. Then they’re pulled over.
- The trunk is opened, a soldier looks right at them. Then says ‘All good. Nothing here.’ Turns out their guide took his sister to the prom and he’s calling in the favor…
- They’re dropped off at a cabin in the country. Luke is walked through how to use a gun and their guide heads to Canada to get them passports.
- Luke wakes up being kicked and held at gunpoint by a pair of women. He tries to tell them the truth and they buy it. They help him to their bus and drive off.
- Their leader, Zoe, patches Luke up. He chats to them as he drifts in and out of consciousness; a gay man, a nun, an army brat…thrown together by shared terror.
- Luke passes out and dreams about June and Hannah making pancakes at the cabin. He wakes up to find the one group member who doesn’t speak having nightmares. She was rescued from a fortified school where she was being kept with other women. We know it was a Red Centre. Luke doesn’t.
- In the past, Luke, June and Hannah are skinning stones on the lake by the cabin when they’re interrupted by a hunter. They chat pleasantly, and once he goes they pack up. They have to leave.
- Back in the present, a delirious Luke tries to get off the bus to rescue his family. Zoe stands him down. Dejected and terrfiied and hurt, Luke murmurs ‘thank you’.
- In the past, they’re prepping to run. June spots the gun, Luke shows her how to use it and…the Hunter appears.
- He explains that he’s a friend, and he knows the Guardians are looking for them. He tells them their guide is dead and has been hung in the street. He also tells them he’s set up a possible secondary route for them. With no other option, they agree.
- In the present, Luke is dropped off at another abandoned town. She explains that the town fought back and shows him the local church.
- Everyone who tried to hide fertile women is strung up there. She tells him if he goes back he’s dead.
- Luke agrees to go with Zoe’s people. But the boatman balks at the extra passenger and Luke is forced to hand over his painkillers and his wedding ring.
- They set off and are immediately ambushed. No one but Luke and the silent girl make it onto the boat alive.
- Three years later, Luke drops some tea off for her. They live in Little America, the American settlement in Canada. She still doesn’t talk. But he talks for both of them.
- Luke gets a call. It takes him to a building full of people and littered with missing persons posters along every corridor. He waits a long time and finally gets an appointment.
- He’s asked if he knows June. And when he says yes, he’s handed an envelope.
- In it is the note from Offred. Luke, crying and laughing at the same time, asks for a moment. He wipes his eyes and reads the note again. We see Offred, in her room. She reads the note:
I LOVE YOU SO MUCH.
The Handmaid’s Tale has never, in any format, backed down from being daring. This episode, especially when viewed in conjunction with Episode 6 and Episode 8, prove this TV adaptation may be the bravest version of the show yet.
This is the story of what happened to Luke after he packed June and Hannah off shot in the opening seconds of episode 1. Shot, injured and delirious, he’s picked up by a group of refugees scavenging the Canadian/US border.
And he gets out. He gets his happy ending.
Or at least the start of one.
The genius of this episode is threefold. The idea of expanding the story in this way works perfectly and OT Fagbenle’s performance is every bit as brave and complex as the others we’ve seen so far. Luke is a resolutely normal guy; he’s not that tough, he has no action movie skills, he just wants to survive and find his family and Fagbenle shows us that very human tenacity in every frame. As a performance it’s comparable in both tone and position within the show to Tahmoh Penikett’s early work on Battlestar Galactica as Helo. Both are playing men going through hell and acutely aware their partners are in a much worse spot. Both are tenacious. Both have no manner of luck at all for the longest time.
When Luke’s luck changes, the episode’s second masterstroke is revealed. Zoe and her ragtag group are the protagonists of their own story, and in a kinder world they’d be regulars on the show. This isn’t a kind world and only Luke and the nameless young woman escape. She’s equally impressive, clearly a refugee from a Red Centre. We know that, Luke does not and that ignorance only increases the horror.
Finally, there’s the episode’s cruelest element and this is all carried by Fagbenle. The tantalizing glimpse we get of Little America is haunting not just because of how happy Luke is but how alive the community around him is. The missing persons posters all speak to one thing; hope. No one has given up, even in the face of three years of Gilead’s barbarism.
Luke doesn’t have hope. He has certainty. And that certainty hits him with a combination of joy and horror as he realizes what he has to do. Fagbenle shows us all of it and it’s the most complex emotional performance on this show that isn’t the work of Elizabeth Moss.
This episode was a massive risk. It’s paid off absolutely. The world is expanded, the stakes raised and we can’t wait for the next visit to Little America. But, like Luke, we suspect it’ll just be a visit. The show, and he, are heading somewhere far darker.
- It’s another great episode’s work from Floria Sigsmondi. The closing fight/escape and the Little America sequences especially are amazing.
- The pacing slows this week, although the episode warrants it.
And The Random:
- Lynn Renee Maxcy has previously worked on the beloved Eureka, Covert Affairs, Alphas and Hawthorne.
- OT Fagbenle is one of those actors it’s always worthw atching. He was great in The Five and Looking in particular and will be known to genre fans as Other Dave in ‘Forest of the Dead’ and ‘Silence in the Library’, two David Tennant-era episodes of Doctor Who.
Review by Alasdair Stuart