When last week’s episode ended with Offred getting the news that Luke was still alive, it felt different than the rest of the show; it felt like a show about two lovers finding each other after all this time instead of a show about the bleakness and cruelty of the world, of this patriarchal society. It was a toss up as to which path this episode would follow. Would it continue to follow Offred, but only now give her a glimmer of hope for her husband, or would it exclusively focus on finding Luke. It cannot be emphasized enough how much “The Other Side” falls into the latter category. Not just does it focus on finding Luke, but this episode of THE HANDMAID’S TALE is entirely from his perspective, detailing both their escape from Boston, and what happens after he is shot.
There is always something interesting and exciting about perspective shift episodes. They take the story we’ve seen for weeks now, and give us a new angle, the gift of being inside someone else’s mind. There were parts of “The Other Side” that felt like this, especially from a story perspective, as we got to see how the resistance operates, and learn more about the perils of being on the run. However, within the context of The Handmaid’s Tale, “The Other Side,” felt wildly out of place, largely because it was from a male perspective.
Praise of The Handmaid’s Tale, from myself and others, has focused on the fact that the world of Gilead finally gendered a dystopia, in a way that hadn’t been done before. What makes the story of Offred and the other handmaids so compelling is their utter subjugation and how any small move of agency can be seen as rebellion. It’s a story of women in a world that despises them and uses them. Suddenly, seven episodes in, telling a male story is very jarring. It is nothing against the character of Luke, who’s story is very compelling, but it makes the episode fall back into the territory we’ve seen in other dystopias. It’s well told, but not as innovative or compelling as the six episodes that came before it.
Starting right where the first episode started, “The Other Side,” shows Luke, June, and Hannah being pursued by the authorities. While June and Hannah escape, Luke is shot, but unlike how it appeared in the beginning, the wound is not fatal. In a mostly nonverbal sequence, shot with the appropriate amount of stress and panic, Luke gets taken away in an ambulance, survives and ambulance crash, and then keeps on running despite his massive bleeding. This is when the interesting part happens. Luke gets swooped up and rescued by a group of ragtag individuals, all fleeing the country and this regime.
This group of people that Luke finds himself in is the first look at an actual resistance we’ve seen all season. From a nun to a gay man, they all have reason that they need to leave, but the most heartbreaking story is a young woman who can’t sit still, and just screams and screams. They tell Luke that this woman was captured in a “training center” where they are teaching them unthinkable things. It’s immediately clear that this is the same kind of training center June and Moira found themselves in. Watching this woman cry and fight against this trauma is a stab in the gut, as we as viewers know there are only more training centers to come. Even though watching this woman be in pain was difficult, it solidified that her story was more dire and more true to The Handmaid’s Tale than what we were getting with Luke.
A man trying to find his wife, and being caught up in a rebellion against an oppressive regime is something we’ve seen a thousand times. It helps that we know where his wife is and the terrible things she has to do, but it still colors the episode in an unfortunate light. It’s good to know that there are good men like Luke fighting against this system that takes down and enslaves women, but we don’t need another story of a good man fighting oppression. The women that are more directly impacted by Gilead are the ones we should follow. A check in with how Luke is doing, and how he got from being shot to being part of the resistance is good to know, but it does not need to take up the whole episode.
As has become tradition in The Handmaid’s Tale, the ending of the episode is by far the best part. It’s the part we had been waiting for in this whole episode, for Luke to get the note from June, and discover she is alive. When he gets it, the pure emotion on his face is masterful on the part of O-T Fagbenle, as his face displays everything: the unadulterated joy on knowing that his wife is alive, then the realization that she is trapped as a handmaid, and then the uncertainty of the fate of both June and Hannah. The close up of him cycling through these emotions is a stand-out moment in the show and the episode, but the weight of that moment is not worth an entire episode of story that had been seen before.
Season 1, Episode 7 (S01E07)
The Handmaid’s Tale airs Wednesday at on Hulu
Raina spends most of her time watching television and trying to find the perfect bagel and lox, because she likes being emotionally distraught.
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Raina Deerwater | Contributor