The Other Side

The Handmaid's Tale Season 1, Episode 7 Recap: Escape to Canada, the Magical Land of the North

This week’s episode of The Handmaid’s Tale takes us to exciting new places. Namely: Canada! To see what Luke’s been up to. Now that we know he’s alive.

In episode 7, appropriately called “The Other Side,” we finally see how Luke after being separated from June and their daughter Hannah in that first scene of the pilot. As it turns out, not only did Luke survive—he made it to Canada. This episode, which tells the story of how he got there, is fast-paced and action-packed, which means it more or less feels like an entirely different television show than the one we’re used to. Not in a bad way! It’s kind of a nice break from the bleak stillness of Offred’s world. And the contrast in tone and pacing is apparent from the first moment of the episode. This, after all, is Luke’s story: One of hardship and narrow misses, sure, but ultimately one of escape.

The episode starts much like the very first one: There’s a car chase through the woods as three people—Luke, June, and Hannah, we now know—attempt to flee to Canada. For the first six episodes of the show, we followed June’s side of the story, and we were privy exclusively to her perception of what happened to Luke: She thought he had been shot and killed while she and Hannah ran for their lives, and the viewers were led to believe that, too. Which I did, even though I read the book. (Look! I read it ages ago and memory is a leaky thing.)

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Now we find out what really happened after June and Hannah make a run for it: Luke takes out a gun and shoots at the Guardians (this is what the pseudo-paramilitary forces are called, apparently) as they approach the couple’s car. There’s an exchange of fire and Luke gets hit in the stomach, at which point the Guardians haul him off in an ambulance to some uncertain but obviously bad fate.

But then there’s another twist: The ambulance crashes, the Guardians die, and Luke escapes. He’s staggering through the woods, injured but very much alive, when he finds Hannah’s shoe, her doll, a picture she drew—evidence, in other words, that she’s been there, and maybe that she’s been wrenched unwillingly from her belongings. He howls, grief-stricken, and staggers on, ultimately finding an abandoned house in which to take shelter. Luke is in bad shape. He’s bleeding like crazy, he’s hungry, it’s snowy and freezing, and he appears to be drifting in and out of consciousness.

It’s as he’s fading in and out that we flash back to his and June’s attempted escape from Boston. June is worried they waited too long to run. And she’s right: The streets feel like that moment in Independence Day when everyone’s trying to escape the aliens all at once. Good luck, guys. Luke points out that they were waiting for their visas to arrive, a process over which they had no control.

“I’m just saying we should have left when [Moira] did,” June says. “I know,” Luke answers. But we know that Moira didn’t make it, either.

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Anyway, Luke and June have a guide, a friend of June’s mom who says he can lead them to safety. He instructs them to ditch on the scant possessions they brought with them and pile into the trunk of their car while he drives. It can’t look like they’re on the run, he says, and they reluctantly agree. The guide quickly proves his worth when a cop stops the car. The cop opens the trunk and looks right at June, Luke, and Hannah. "All good," he says. The cop’s sister, it turns out, went to prom with June’s mom’s friend. The guide drives on.

Soon, the little group arrives at what appears to be a safe house, and June’s mom’s friend tells them to sit tight while he goes to get their fake passports (the visas, obviously, are worthless now—they could have left without them). There are no neighbors nearby, he assures them; no one will see them. “I’ll be back and then we’ll get you all safe and sound to the magical land of the north,” he promises, before, of course, disappearing forever.

Back in the abandoned house where injured Luke is taking shelter, he’s roused by a couple of women who are savagely kicking him in the side. They discovered him in the house and mistakenly assumed he was one of the Guardians, since he stole the coat off one who died in the ambulance. Luke explains what happened, and the women agree to induct him into their little band of refugees—“an army brat, two strays, a gay, and a nun"—who are trying to make it to the border. They have a bus and a plan, and the army brat even knows how to clean a gunshot wound. She sets about fixing Luke up, and he flashes back to the past: It’s June and Hannah making chocolate chip pancakes, goofing around. I’m excited to see more of Hannah in the next few seasons, because she is really, really cute. The scene is sweet and happy and, in light of everything that’s happened since, totally heartbreaking.

Luke wakes up again on the bus. One of the women (one of the “strays”) is screaming, having nightmares. The girl hasn’t spoken since they picked her up, but the rest of the crew thinks she was at one of the “training centers” they heard about, where fertile women were rounded up and held captive. Luke looks disgusted. Little does he know, June is on her way to one at that moment.

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He closes his eyes. He’s back at the safe house, skipping rocks with June and Hannah on the lake, when a stranger approaches; he’s following his dog, who had run over to them, but it’s still suspicious. The guy introduces himself and looks friendly enough, but June and Luke are spooked. It’s time to go, they agree, and they start getting ready to run. But they’re not fast enough. They’re packing up that night when the man returns. He swears he’s a friend—and, he says, he was a friend of their guide. That guy is now dead, he says, strung up on a streetlamp. He tells Luke and June the safest escape route and wishes them well. Can they trust him? Not really, but they have no other choice. They get in the car and drive.

Back on the bus, Luke is insisting the crew sends him back to Boston—he can’t flee to Canada while his family is still here, with god knows what happening to them. Zoe, the army brat/makeshift medic, says sure, but she wants to show him something first. They go to the local church. The town fought back, she says. They tried to hide the fertile women in the church, but the Guardians found them and killed them. Luke and Zoe look up to see bodies hanging from the ceiling. “There’s one of these in every town,” she tells Luke. “The U.S. government has people in Canada—they can help you find them, maybe even get them out. If you go back, you’re gonna die. You’re gonna die and leave them all on your own, is that what you want?”

This does the trick. Luke agrees to join the group, and they head over to the boat that is supposed to take them to Canada. As Luke tries to board, the driver demands payment; after all, he’s an extra person. Luke starts fishing through his stuff, offering various items to barter, and finally gives up his wedding ring. But the crew has lost precious time—Luke and the silent, blonde girl are the only ones on board when the Guardians arrive and start shooting. The boat speeds away, bullets flying behind it, as the rest of the group is shot dead.

George Kraychyk/Hulu

We fast forward to three years later, in Canada. (Finally! We know how much time June/Offred has spent in captivity!) Luke and the blonde are in Toronto. We still don’t see her speak, but the two seem happy enough; they appear to be sharing an apartment in some ambiguous capacity. They’re hanging out, having a coffee, when Luke gets a phone call—someone from the Canadian government wants him to come in.

Photos of missing American people line the halls of whatever government agency this is. Luke thinks he’s here on some other business, so he’s talking nonsense when the lady interrupts him: Do you know June Osborne? Yes, of course, he says, that’s his wife. “This is for you,” she says, handing him the note. “I’m sorry it’s not more, I think they only had a few seconds.” The note was written three weeks before, and June, Luke discovers, is still alive. His tears of happiness suggest that he hasn’t ditched June for this blonde after all. He reads the note, and for the first and only time in the episode we see June as Offred, sitting placidly in her room, looking calm and possibly even a little bit happy. In a voiceover, we hear her read the note: “I love you so much. Save Hannah.”

There are three episodes left in the season and I have to assume that’s exactly what he’s going to try to do. I for one am excited to see what happens.

George Kraychyk/Hulu

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