Last week's episode saw June and Janine caught in the middle of a bombing run, Janine's fate left uncertain, and after years apart, June and Moira finally reunited with one another.
Of course, this being 'The Handmaid's Tale', the reunion is anything but straightforward or joyful. Despite this, 'Vows' is probably the easiest episode thus far this season to get through for a few reasons. For one, it doesn't focus too much on misery or torture, nor does it wear itself out by going on too long. It's a tight forty-minute episode, with plenty of tension and drama, and all of the emotional complexities we've come to expect.
The episode opens with June completely dazed from the blast, barely registering the fact that Moira - her friend from before Gilead, before the escape that separated them - is standing before her. The two then make it to an aid camp where Moira's girlfriend, Oona, is leading an evacuation because - surprise, surprise - the Gilead military are going to try and kill them all by bombing the place again. Oona lays it out in simple terms for Moira after she tells her that she's found June - if she takes her with them on the boat back to Canada, their charity will never be allowed operate inside of Gilead again. Of course, Moira knows she can't leave her friend behind again - even if June wants to stay behind. There's a brilliantly acted moment between them when June, in tears, begs Moira to let her go because she can't face the thought of going back to Luke without her daughter, Hannah. The two of them, Elisabeth Moss and Samira Wiley, are clearly relishing the scene because they're going at it with such ferocity.
Needless to say, June is smuggled aboard the boat, while flashbacks to their life before Gilead shows their friendship coming together and coming apart, first when they live together and have a lazy mid-morning brunch, and later when she's moving out to move in with Luke. It's touching stuff, and again, makes this episode so refreshing for its lack of pointless misery. The episode then comes right back to the drama, with June having a tense discussion with the crew just as they're about to be inspected by patrol boats from Gilead. The discussion centres on whether they should send her back to certain death but with the knowledge that their charity can continue to save lives in Gilead, or keep her aboard and run the risk that they'll never be able to go back in. June even offers to go back, before Moira quickly cuts her off and a later scene plays out between them where June and Moira argue over her willingness to effectively kill herself rather than live for others.
The self-contained nature of the episode - that it's all set on the boat back to Canada, without any diversions other than a couple of flashbacks - gives the episode a real tightness to it, something that's been missing from the show throughout all seasons. More than anything, it shows that 'The Handmaid's Tale' is keeping the story accelerated in a way it hasn't before, and leaves us wondering what's going to happen next.
- No way that Jeanine was left for dead in Gilead, they've invested way too much time in her just to let her go off-screen without any kind of closure
- Anyone clock how the Gilead military looks more and more like just regular military? Is that a case of bigger budgets or a conscious decision to show how close the US military is to Gilead military?
- That entire chase sequence at the port was fantastic, and really caught the desperation of it all perfectly
- Maybe they're saving it for next week and the remainder of the season, but the reunion between Luke and June was a little bit of an anti-climax? Like, they just hug? That's it? What about Nick?!