SPOILER ALERT: Do not read until you’ve watched “Baggage,” the third episode of season two of “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
After three episodes of being on the run, June/Offred (Elisabeth Moss) has been captured — and will be sent back to her commander’s house in Gilead.
“This is a police state that really wants to hold onto these handmaids. The chances are that they would catch her — the chances are that she wouldn’t even get away,” showrunner Bruce Miller tells Variety. “We felt like she got away for a long time — she was much more successful than they ever would have wanted her to be in a totalitarian state. So our decision [to have her captured now] was just based on what the reality would be.”
The third episode, entitled “Baggage,” spent time with June as she waited for transportation much the way any “object or package would be smuggled across a border,” Miller says.
“It wasn’t like they planned to get her out, it kind of happened on the fly. …It doesn’t seem like there’s a train leaving for Canada every afternoon at four. It takes a while for them to string it together and I think that feeling of being in limbo was so interesting to me. Is this what freedom looks like? Freedom looks a lot like bondage in this particular case.”
As June waited, the show flashed back to show her life with her single activist mother (played by Cherry Jones), a character Miller notes was memorable in Margaret Atwood’s novel, as well as generally being a “fascinating look into a time and generation of feminism.”
Although he attempted to work the character into the first season, he admits it “didn’t work out,” and he saw an opening to bring her in as a way to show some of June’s strongest influences and inform why June’s resiliency is so strong.
Another one of June’s influences, Miller notes, is Moira (Samira Wiley). “Baggage” revealed Moira to be living in Canada with June’s husband Luke (O-T Fagbenle), working at a refugee center.
“Yes, this is better [because] I’m not getting raped every day and I have health insurance, I have money, I have all of these things — but the question arises of if just me, I, singular, escape, is that enough?” Wiley says. “Harriet Tubman escaped and then she created the Underground Railroad — so that is what’s on the forefront of Moira’s mind.”
But just because Moira has escaped Gilead physically does not mean she has left its horrors behind. When she picks up a woman in a bar, she tells her her name is Ruby — the name she went by when working at Jezebel’s in Gilead.
“One person’s damage is another person’s survival strategy,” explains Miller. And in the case of Moira, she’s “managing her pain” but has been “hollowed out a lot by Gilead.”
“It’s almost like she can never feel normal because nothing is normal,” Wiley adds. “In Gilead, even though it was horrible, it’s the devil you know. I think she has a real struggle in Canada of the question of identity — who am I? — and why am I here? What am I living for? Everything she cares about, really, is back in Gilead.”
As June struggled to escape, “Baggage” explored another part of the society in the econo-people — those who are just trying to live their lives, and perhaps remarkably, are somewhat allowed to. The man June enlisted to help her escape had a wife and son, and while they were expected to attend church on Sundays and not make much noise, they were still able to live as a family.
“A lot of it was to see what is the Gilead ideal of what a family should be — how do they support a middle class — and also just how those people live and what kind of small rebellions and small acts of faith keep them going,” Miller says.
Because the show is “June’s memoir” and told from her point of view, Miller says he doesn’t plan to reveal exactly how officials knew where to find her, nor what was going on in the Waterfords’ house when she was on the run.
“I thought her limited point of view was one of the things that made me the most scared. She doesn’t know everything that’s going on,” Miller says. “Also I found when she gets back, having not seen them, it’s much more terrifying because you have no idea where they are emotionally. She doesn’t know, so if we don’t know — we’re in the same position as she is.”
So the show stayed with her through her time in the Boston Globe’s offices, the econo-family’s apartment — and when she was the last person left alive in the little plane about to take off for the north.
“She is trying to maintain her sanity so she doesn’t end up being a husk of a person,” Miller says. “This stuff wears very hard on her — having to charm people, having to use her sexuality to manipulate people — all of that stuff is horrible because of the situation, and she does that strategically. But how much of that do you do before you start losing yourself?”
New episodes of “The Handmaid’s Tale” stream Wednesdays on Hulu.
Amber Dowling contributed to this story.