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[This story contains spoilers for season two, episode three of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, called “Baggage.”]
Freedom is a fleeting notion indeed.
The third hour of the second season of Hulu’s Emmy-winning Handmaid’s Tale, “Baggage,” brought the recently liberated June (Elisabeth Moss) back down to Earth — or back down to Gilead, more accurately. After successfully running away from the thick of the totalitarian regime in the season premiere and spending weeks in hiding at the offices of The Boston Globe, June was mere seconds away from finally leaving Gilead forever, thanks to a quick airplane ride that would have taken her to Canada.
Sadly, it was not meant to be. Moments before liftoff, armed soldiers surrounded the plane, executed the pilot in the pitch of night, and dragged June kicking and screaming from the vehicle. In a matter of seconds, the liberated June has become the imprisoned Offred once again.
“We were trying to be realistic,” executive producer and showrunner Bruce Millers tells The Hollywood Reporter of how the twist came about. “If you’re a handmaid in Gilead, we’ve made it very clear: They want to hold onto you. If she tried to escape, the chances are good that they will catch her. They have an entire security wing devoted to catching handmaids or anyone else who is trying to leave. Sometimes, June is the rule, and sometimes, June is the exception. In this case, we felt her chances of escaping were slim.”
“It’s only a surprise when you look at it as a television moment,” he continues. “With TV, we’re so used to seeing the exception. Here, we’re seeing the rule of Gilead. It’s disappointing, but you should only be surprised in that on TV, this isn’t what should happen. But they’re out there looking to catch her, and they caught her. That’s my glib answer: It seemed like this is what happened, so we started there as our story point.”
For Moss, playing out June’s capture was brutal on one level, but also a critical turning point in the season and series at large: “I loved that until the very last second, you think she’s getting out, and then boom: We hit you with the surprise. I think it’s important to know that escaping Gilead is not going to be that easy.”
Adds fellowe executive producer Warren Littlefield, “Even when June is in the safe house of The Boston Globe, she can never really get away from the atrocities of Gilead. But she is running. She has escaped. We tasted some freedom. And yet, it felt like it was inevitable that that freedom would end. It felt inevitable that she couldn’t escape the clutches of Gilead. She’s crushed and broken, and so are we, having tasted a little bit of that light and freedom, and now having it squashed.”
What’s next for June now that she’s been caught? A one-way ticket toward becoming Offred again, sadly enough, which means reuniting with the members of the Waterford household. According to the cast, the homecoming will prompt different reactions from different characters. Joseph Fiennes, for example, says Commander Fred Waterford and Offred will be walking right along the razor’s edge of a very dangerous line, as the woman who is pregnant with “his” child (Nick’s child, more accurately) comes home.
“This season, Fred is all about making sure the house is in order and that the baby arrives safely, both emotionally and within Gilead,” he says. “As a commander, having a picture-perfect postcard family means a lot to him. It also means the possibility of a greater promotion. Keeping the house in order is paramount. The failure of that has huge implications for him. She’s stepped very close to crossing a line she can’t come back from. This season is all about pushing that line in a way we haven’t seen before. Now, it’s about how Fred manages that line between Offred and Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) — and it comes about in brutal ways.”
Likewise, the devout taskmaster Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) will have a vested interest in Offred upon her return, with attention specifically focused on the looming arrival of Offred’s baby. In her mind, any and all drama associated with Offred’s disappearance will take a backseat to the success of the pregnancy, even if that means lying about the details surrounding the handmaid’s escape.
“We’ll call it a kidnapping if we have to,” Dowd says, describing Lydia’s mindset. “We’ll do whatever we need to do to bring her back, to put everything back to normal, to sweep everything under the rug. Let’s not dwell on the negative. Let’s dwell on the fact that this tremendous thing has happened: You’re pregnant. Lydia is very good at compartmentalizing the situation. The past is the past. Let’s focus on the now. Let’s do what we need to do here. What do I need to do in the Waterford house to make sure things are running smoothly?”
The exact specifics behind Offred’s return to the Waterford house remain under wraps, but as Miller explains, the dynamic between the titular handmaid and her holier-than-thou oppressors will once again become a central component of the season — and moreover, tensions will only heighten thanks to Offred’s all-too-brief escape.
“I was so interested in what Offred would be like after going through this period of freedom and all of her decision making, with her own life in her own hands,” he says. “I wanted to see how that character would react now that she’s back in the Waterford house. I strongly felt the Waterfords would not stop until they got their pregnant handmaid back. It was right at the last minute, but they succeeded.”
“The dynamic of her baby, and her being pregnant, is so important this season,” adds Moss. “The relationship between June, the baby and Serena and the Commander and Nick … it’s so dramatically important. We needed to get her back into that fold, so we can have that drama play out.”
What are your thoughts on the latest twist surrounding Offred? Sound off in the comments section below and keep checking THR.com/HandmaidsTale for more coverage.
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