Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Handmaid's Tale, Season One, Episode Seven: The Other Side

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We know that Luke, Hannah, and June, were desperately trying to cross the border into Canada when they were seperated.  June and Hannah were taken and from June's perspective, Luke was probably dead at the side of the road.  This is absolutely true in Atwood's brilliant book.  Because Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale, is going to be a series, rather than a miniseries, it's necessary to enlarge Atwood's world and perhaps fill in gaps Atwood originally allowed the reader to do for themselves.  The first such attempt at this is The Other Side, when we see what happens to Luke. 

In the book as well as the show, Luke, while concerned for the well being of his wife and daughter, doesn't seem to quite get how dangerous life is rapidly becoming for them.  In the book, Luke stops June from going to protest. On the show, he valiantly promises to protect June and Hannah though he clearly doesn't have the skill set to do so.  This is a man who doesn't know how to load or fire a gun but is too proud to admit it, even when the lives of his wife and daughter depend upon it. Luke may be a good man but he's short sighted.

Rather than dying on the roadside, Luke is shot and placed in an ambulance, so that he can receive enough medical care to be well enough to be questioned. Fortunately for Luke, the ambulance that he is traveling in ends up slipping on ice and crashing, leaving him the only survivor. Luke then makes his way back to where is car went off the road and walks into the woods. There he finds the torn family album, he and June tried to preserve, along with Hannah's stuffed animal. Luke continues to travel and makes his way through an abandoned town. The store fronts are graffitied  with "gender traitor" and "fag". Luke makes his way into an abandoned business and collapses.

Fortunately for Luke, he's found by a group of people who are also fleeing the Gilead.  He's resistant to even going with them though he is warned repeatedly about patrols and the fact that he won't make it far on his own and is injured. Even now, Luke cannot grasp the reality of his situation.  His fellow travellers are “an Army brat, two strays, a gay, and a nun”. One woman is so traumatized after being repeatedly raped that she doesn't even speak.  Even in the face of this, Luke is determined to get out of the van to somehow get back to Boston and find June.  It's only when a gun is pulled on him that Luke is forced to settle the hell down.  

When the van finally stops and Luke is free to go, the Nun says a little prayer for his safety.  Luke doesn't fully grasp his situation until Zoe, the woman who saved him, drags him into a church to see the bodies hanging from the ceiling. Apparently, people tried to hide the fertile women and the Gilead responded by hanging them all in retribution.  Luke is informed that there are places like this in every small town because this is how the Gilead deals with resistance.  It's the sight of the dead bodies hanging from the ceiling which finally wakes Luke up.

Luke makes his way to Toronto, one of the few survivors of his little band thanks to being attacked before boarding a ship.  In Toronto, he lives in little America, where he works to try and help women escape the Gilead. Even now, when Luke has lost so much, he still sees the bright side of every situation.  When Luke is called into what appears to be a ramshackle American embassy, he is informed that June is still alive.  Luke is handed the note that June wrote last week, in which she declares her love and asks him to save Hannah.  Luke is absolutely overcome and asks for a moment alone. Luke struggles to fight the tears that roll down his face.

Luke is the story of a well meaning man blind to the threat directly in front of him. In flashback scenes, June says repeatedly that they should have left when they took her job away. Luke acknowledges this and it's clear that he is the reason that they are still struggling to get out of the Gilead.  June then suggests that they should have fled when Moira did but Luke argues that they have a child to think of and couldn't just flea on foot.  If you're thinking that he's always got an excuse, you're right. It's not as though the peril doesn't effect him, it's that it doesn't immediately effect him the way that it does June or Moira. It's why he can be content to sit back while the women head to the protest.  It's why he thinks that he can simply slip back into Boston and find his wife and child, even when everyone is telling him that he cannot.  Luke still thinks that his privilege means something, even when it does not because though he's a man, he's not the right kind of man.   

Throughout most of the episode, June is seen only in flashback form.  It's June who worries about not being able to give Hannah another dose of medicine to keep her asleep.  It's June who worries as they travel in the trunk of the car. It's June who makes pancakes with Hannah each morning despite the weight pressing down upon her.  Luke sees the domesticity of this moment, oddly like the domesticity that the Gilead is trying to enforce upon June, yet not at all reflecting upon the cost of even this enforced domesticity. This episode is Luke's story and it's a story about how much he doesn't see.

In fact, it's others who see for Luke.  It's Zoe who scrapped Luke off the ground and offered him first aid. Luke didn't even seem to recognise the risk that Zoe took in picking him up, or believing his story about being on the run.  It was Luke's inability to grasp his situation that caused Zoe to pull a gun on him.  It was Zoe who took Luke to the church which finally made him see.  In the end, it was Zoe who died so that Luke could escape on the boat she arranged.  All along the way, women warned Luke and he was too stubborn to see.  All along the way, women guided Luke and he didn't recognise it for the kindness that it was until it was too late.  Now what remains to be seen is if he will follow June's orders and save Hannah.