The Handmaid's Tale recap: Moira risks everything for June's freedom
Halfway through this season of The Handmaid's Tale, there have arguably been more game-changing moments than ever before. Handmaids were devastatingly lost, and June's actions have genuinely upended Gilead and made strange allies of Nick, Commander Joseph Lawrence, and Aunt Lydia as each fight for a role in Gilead and June's future.
Last week's episode took things even further, as worlds collided in Chicago. Nick and Commander Lawrence had a hand in bombing the city, where June and Janine wound up, and Moira, working with a Canadian NGO on a diplomatic post-bombing aid mission, found June among the rubble.
Tonight's episode picks up in that moment. Overcome by emotion upon being reunited with June, Moira can think of nothing but getting her out of Gilead. This is problematic for several reasons, though, and the impossible situation it creates for June, Moira, and the NGO team drives the episode, titled "Vows."
Let's set sail on the S.S. Chicago/Canada clusterf---.
Days of pre-Gilead past
As Moira makes a complicated decision about June in the present, we see flashbacks to June and Moira's life pre-Gilead. The episode opens with the friends drinking mimosas in their shared apartment on a rainy day. This helps establish — or remind viewers — how close the women were even before Gilead.
But in the next flashback, change is afoot. June is moving out to live with her fiancé Luke. Moira harshly implies that Luke is a bad guy because he cheated on his last wife with June and left his ex partly because she couldn't reproduce. This reveal helps explain the iciness between Luke and Moira when she first got to Canada. June says her marriage with Luke will be better than his first. A cold atmosphere descends between them in the wake of Moira's criticism. Despite insisting otherwise, June is clearly unsettled by Moira's concerns.
In a later flashback, while she's moving into her new place with Luke, June prods him about his first wedding. Discerning the real issue, Luke tries to reassure her their marriage won't turn out like his first. June becomes more abrasive but soon softly admits she's worried about disappointing him — potentially by not being able to have children, or by somehow being a different person than he thinks she is. Luke insists he'll love her no matter what.
The flashbacks cast clouds over Luke and June's relationship before Gilead, so it will be interesting to see how the Gilead years impact their marriage. Here's to (maybe) finding out soon.
An impossible situation
In the present, Moira approaches June among the rubble, but June, dazed and confused, is busy worrying about Janine. Noting she's badly hurt, Moira insists June let her take her to the Canadian NGO's medical tent. She says they might find Janine there, so June lets Moira guide her. En Route to the NGO base, a doctor diagnoses June with a concussion. June finally registers her injury and Moira's presence and nestles into her friend, as Moira breaks into tears.
At the base, Moira's girlfriend Oona appears to be in command, ordering Gilead/American refugees to leave the area and find cover — the ceasefire is ending, so the NGO is leaving and another bombing may occur. Moira tells Oona she found June. Because the ceasefire agreement dictates the NGO can't take refugees out, though, Oona says they must leave June and work on getting her out from Canada. If they rescue June and Gilead finds out, Gilead will ban all international aid to American/Gilead citizens (but would it be that hard to keep June's rescue a secret?). She says June isn't worth more than multiple lives.
Moira refuses to listen, but June doesn't even want to leave. Initially, she makes it about Janine, and Moira says Janine is probably dead. Moira cry-yells at June to not make her leave her behind again, but then June says she won't leave without Hannah… despite the fact that her focus lately has seemed to be simply physically fighting Gilead, not rescuing Hannah — not to mention, June clearly can't get to Hannah from the inside. June also neglects to tell Moira that Hannah is currently more scared of her mother than Gilead.
Indeed, Moira questions how June would get to Hannah, especially if she doesn't know where she is. She insists the best thing June can do for Hannah is fight for her from Canada. Then Moira reminds June of everyone waiting for her there — Emily, Rita, her daughter Nicole (she oddly leaves out Luke). June relents. They board the NGO boat, and as refugees try in vain to catch up, June looks on in guilty horror from a hiding place.
Up on deck, Oona asks how Moira is coping, noting it's harder to see suffering when you're the one with the power to help. Oona then expresses sympathy for Moira not being able to take June back. Moira plays along until Oona says Gilead is inspecting the boat before they leave Gilead's borders. At that, Moira confesses to smuggling June out.
Oona gathers a few NGO staff to decide what to do about June. She acknowledges June's heroism but says her "rescue" threatens all future NGO missions. One woman wants to protect June since Gilead will kill her if they turn her over. But the others want to surrender her for the sake of diplomacy and future missions. Then, to Moira's agony, June agrees they should surrender her because her life isn't worth more than anyone else's. This is heroic but feels too little too late — she's been reckless with others' lives thus far. But as Gilead vessels approach, Oona appears to waiver in her decision to give up June. Sure enough, after Moira pleads again, Oona changes her mind. She decides they'll disguise June as an NGO staffer.
When a Gilead officer inspects the staff, he asks Moira where she's from and she lies, saying she was born in Canada. Then it's June's turn. She nearly (infuriatingly) ruins everything by hesitating to give her fake name and explain her bruises. Maybe it was her injury, but it feels like June just really wants to be a martyr. Anyway, Moira steps in with successful smooth-talking, and June is cleared. It seems Gilead doesn't use photos for its Most Wanted list…
Soon after clearing Gilead, Oona breaks up with Moira for making her have to choose between killing June or saving her with so much at stake. Oona thinks saving June will get the whole Gilead humanitarian effort shut down. That remains to be seen, but it's clear Moira's choice did cost her her relationship. It's sad, but… on the bright side, maybe this opens the door to a Moira-Emily or Moira-Rita romance.
After the break-up, Moira finds June trying to flee in a life raft. Moira is furious June keeps risking her life. June fires back that Moira tricked her into leaving Hannah behind, leading Moira to realize something must have happened between the two. June breaks down and says Gilead showed her Hannah and she couldn't help her; worse, her daughter didn't recognize her and even feared her. June feels guilty about causing suffering for Hannah and feels ashamed she couldn't save her. She's worried Luke won't forgive her for leaving Hannah behind. Moira insists Luke will understand — no one expects June to be a superhero. With that, June finally embraces her rescue. There's a coinciding flashback to June telling Luke she's pregnant with Hannah and a subsequent montage of Hannah's childhood.
June's "rescue" wasn't an easy decision for anyone. Moira betrayed Oona, Oona betrayed her mission, and June betrayed her desire to save Hannah from within Gilead. Time will tell whether those decisions were for the best, but for now, things are generally looking more hopeful.
When they arrive in Canada, Luke is there waiting. He runs onto the boat and finds June. They stare at one another, in shock and then joy, then June tearfully apologizes for not rescuing Hannah. Luke lovingly hugs her tight. Then, as June steps onto Canadian land, she takes a deep breath. This is the start of a new era — and hopefully marks one step closer to the end of Gilead.