“I’m sorry there’s so much pain in this story,” Jane narrates at one point in “Holly.” “But there’s nothing I can do to change it. I’ve tried to put some of the good things in as well.” It’s a well-timed sentiment, if nothing else: After last week’s truly brutal episode, it’s practically a relief to hear the show itself calling attention to its horror.
“Holly” isn’t a denouement, exactly, but it wraps up one of the season’s crucial arcs in quiet, tense fashion. It is a frequently wordless episode, a one-woman nature play heavy on symbolism — deliberately, the inverse of this season’s previous escape episode, a riveting action thriller propelled by close calls. This one works, largely on the strength of Elisabeth Moss’ performance — perhaps the best showcase she’s had this season.
The episode’s first image is a replica of the previous episode’s final image: June left alone, abandoned in the snow, with a baby soon on the way. Nick has been taken away, and there’s no sign of anyone coming back to find June. At first, in “Holly,” she runs — toward a locked outhouse, then toward a locked garage, then by a growling black wolf, who lets her speed along without any trouble. She winds up back in the mansion where she had been briefly reunited with her daughter, rifling through drawers and cupboards, seemingly without a goal. She encounters photographs of Hannah, then drawings, and is reminded particularly of a moment she had to leave her daughter for school, sobbing — the pain of separating when she didn’t want to be separated. It’s an acute feeling for June at this moment, given that she’d just relived it, yet again on a far more severe scale.
June finds a pair of car keys, and then, getting into the aforementioned garage, an actual car — with a working engine, a radio, and everything. She revs it up and sighs in near-catharsis at the feel of the rumble. She turns on the radio and hears a strong voice reading the news, smiling as the updates go by swiftly. “Now, a tune to remind everyone who’s listening, American patriot or Gilead traitor,” the voice says. “We are still here.” Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart” plays, loudly. It’s a powerful image, June sitting silently as she absorbs lyrics like “We fell in love I knew it had to end/We took what we had and we ripped it apart,” but there’s one thing no discerning viewer should be able to shake: The person voicing the radio newscaster. Yes, that really was Oprah. And yes, having her play a soothing, omniscient #Resistance figure makes insanely perfect sense.
It’s a smarter choice than a starry cameo ordinarily lets on— Oprah’s recognizable voice offers an extra bit of optimism to the scene, a calming effect reflective of her place in popular culture. June gets out of the car with newfound determination. She heads back into the house where she heads to the master bedroom, and goes through a set of hanging clothes. She finds a warm jacket, and puts it on, holding her stomach in the mirror. The shot is juxtaposed with another flashback, this one of June getting dressed for a party with Luke, while pregnant with Hannah. It’s a scene filled with love and hope.
Unfortunately, the memory gets cut short — someone else has arrived at the house. It’s none other than Serena and Fred, in as deep of a panic as we’ve ever seen them. They wander in as if nobody’s in the house, June disappearing into God-knows-where. Fred suggests they leave; Serena commands, I’m not going anywhere without my baby.” They keep screaming for “Offred” and Nick but to no avail. Serena decides to snoop around anyway, confident her handmaid is still on the premises. It’s an incredibly tense sequence, if only because we have no idea where June is; the camera only traces Serena’s movements. She reaches the bedroom, where June took the jacket, and then, in the mirror where June was inspecting herself, sees a handmaid robe in the bathroom. Serena screams for Fred; it’s all the evidence she needs that June has gone. We then cut back to June: She’s still there, hiding. (Recap continues on Page 2)