Let’s get the big news out of the way — like the Mexican government official promised, though it might have seemed too good to be true, Luke is alive. ALIVE! And even better, he now knows June is alive too.
So that means the gunshots we heard during their attempted escape in the first episode weren’t the worst-case scenario, and this entire episode unfolds just how Luke ended up getting over the border into Canada.
We start with what we’ve already seen — their car speeding off the road, Luke urging June to take Hannah and run. It was the last she saw him. After his wife and daughter go, he gets a gun out of the trunk and exchanges gunfire with a black van that’s hot on their heels. He gets shot, and comes to again in the back of an ambulance as medics attempt to treat him, but then that vehicle flips and lands near an embankment. So, not a good day for Luke, but being strapped to the gurney likely saved his life, because he’s the only thing in that truck who didn’t get tossed around. He grabs some supplies, one of the medic’s jackets, and his gun, and he gets the hell out of there. By the time he gets himself back to the road and into the woods, he’s too late — Hannah’s stuffed rabbit is out there, and one of June’s shoes, but they’re both gone.
He wanders into a snowy, abandoned town, where you can see “GENDER TRAITOR” and other anti-gay epithets spray painted on the empty storefronts — imagery horrifyingly reminiscent of real-life past events and ones much more recent. Still bleeding and in what I imagine must be excruciating pain from that gunshot wound, he takes shelter in an empty store, where he’s found by a group of scavengers who — after determining he’s not really a Gilead guard, though he’s wearing one’s jacket — decide to take him with them as they make their way up toward Canada. That’s the opposite direction from the one Luke wants to go in now, with Hannah and June missing, but he’s in no shape to put up a fight.
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This new group of pals — “an Army brat, two strays, a gay, and a nun” — patch up Luke’s wound and give him antibiotics. One of the so-called “strays,” a woman with short blond hair who doesn’t speak, begins having a panic attack. When Luke asks the nun what’s wrong with her, she says she was found in what sounds like an early attempt to round up fertile women, take away their children, and force them to be handmaids. She was rescued in a raid on the “training center” where she was held, but she was the only one to make it out alive. While the woman doesn’t speak, she later offers Luke a can of something to drink and seems to understand his heartbreak over going further and further away from where he last saw his wife and daughter.
In a flashback to the flashback, the escape plan unfolds. Luke and Hannah are out for a drive, with Hannah sedated in the back seat with the help of some Benadryl. “We’re just out for breakfast,” he reassures his nervous wife. “It’s not illegal.” “Not yet,” June replies. They should have left when Moira did, she tells him; when she lost her job because women were no longer allowed to work, that should have been the sign to get the heck outta dodge. But Luke argues that Moira went on foot alone, and they needed to wait for their visas to come through because they also have Hannah to worry about.
They pull into a parking garage roof lined with empty, rusted cars and meet a man named Mr. Whitford, who knew June’s mother and apparently owes her a favor — turns out she gave him a vasectomy a few years back, after those had been made illegal. Whitford destroys their cell phones since those can be tracked, tells them to lose the backpack they brought since it would look like they’re running away, and wants to drive while they all hide in the trunk. Shut up in there, hardly able to see anything but each other, everything seems ominous — the car hitting a bump, sirens going past. Still, Luke promises June everything will be okay. Oh, Luke, that’s a promise you can’t keep.
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They hear a siren again, the car stops, and a man checks the trunk and pretends to not see them before going on his way. Seems the guy knows Whitford, which is convenient — but hey, sometimes you catch a break while trying to escape a totalitarian nightmare? He lets them out at an idyllic little wood cabin with no neighbors for miles in all directions and assures them they’re safe. Whitford also gives Luke the gun we saw him with earlier, teaches him how to use it, and then says he’s going to run up to Canada to get them passports. What about those visas they waited to leave so they could get? “U.S. passport doesn’t mean s— anymore, bud, that’s over,” he says. So they just have to wait there until Whitford gets back, and then they can continue heading north.
While they wait, it’s almost like a sweet family vacation, complete with making pancakes and skipping stones by the lake. That tranquility is broken when a dog barks, and a man in hunting gear comes across them. They exchange pleasantries and it all seems nice enough, but being spotted definitely can’t be good, and they decide they need to move ASAP. As they’re getting ready to go, their “pal” from the lake, Joe, comes by their front door, and it turns out he’s really just a good man who wants to help. He knows who they are because he overheard talk on his scanner — he warns that guards are all over looking for them and know their car, so they should avoid the main roads. He even called a friend who can meet them at the border. As for Whitford, he was caught and hung from a street lamp in town. And, well, now we know what really happened once they went on their way.
When the bus holding Luke and his brigade comes to their designated stop point where their boat will leave later that night, the nun offers him a prayer as he plans to break off from the group and head back toward Boston, hoping that he’ll be led back to June and Hannah. “[God] has not forgotten any of you,” she tells him. Is that so? But before he heads out, Zoe says she want to show him something. They go into a church, and she tells him how this town fought back and tried to hide all their fertile women in the church — but when the guardians came, they hung all of them, and they’re still up there, bodies upon bodies in the rafters. This, she tells him, is what happens to people who try to fight back — there are people from the U.S. government in Canada who can try to find Hannah and June, but if he goes back he’ll die, and then he’ll really be leaving them alone. It’s enough to convince him to get on the boat with the rest of them – after bartering the drugs he stole from the ambulance and his wedding ring for the smuggler as payment for his passage — but Team Gilead catches up with them just as they’re about to leave, and Luke sees Zoe shot dead as the boat speeds out and away.
And then, it’s three years later — so, present day in June’s timeline — and Luke is alive and in Canada, a part of Canada where there are still American flags displayed. I wonder if it’s a refugee area of sorts or just Canadians’ way of making these displaced people feel more at home. He’s still hanging out with that blond woman, who still doesn’t seem to speak, but he gets called away when his cell phone (remember those?) rings. He goes to a building filled with waiting people and fliers of missing loved ones covering the walls, and a woman brings him into a conference room with American flags displayed alongside portraits of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Abraham Lincoln.
The woman asks if he knows a June Osbourne from Boston. Uh, yeah, he sure does. She hands over an envelope, and inside is a small piece of notepad paper, sent to them by one of their contacts in the Mexican government three weeks ago. “So, she’s alive?” Luke asks. Visibly emotional, he asks for a moment alone, and, in tight close-up, you see the gamut of things he’s feeling — relief, guilt, fear, sadness, all of it.
So, what did the note say? “I love you, so much. Save Hannah.”
And, perhaps more importantly, what happens now that they both know the other’s alive?