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'Handmaid’s Tale' recap: 'The Other Side'

'Handmaid’s Tale' recap: 'The Other Side'
Luke (O-T Fagbenle) (George Kraychyk / Hulu)

This week felt lighter on plot and heavier on mood, as we journeyed back to the car chase that began the series and viewed the action from Luke's perspective. Throughout episodes 1-6, we as viewers have presumed him dead — gunshots and a total disappearance are not great indicators someone has survived an authoritarian crackdown — however, to quote Miracle Max, he was only "mostly dead."

Having survived a gunshot to the stomach, then a quadruple flip crash in the ambulance that was trying to revive him, AND THEN the discovery that his wife and child were captured, Luke has to push himself onward through a harsh and (nearly) friendless landscape. O-T Fagbenle must carry the episode almost entirely on his shoulders, or more accurately, through intense close-ups, and I wouldn't be surprised to see his name pop up on Best Featured Actor lists come award season. His simultaneous commitment to the agony in his stomach and the anguish in his mind is masterful, especially the tear-jerking final moment when he receives June's note.

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After the ambulance crash, Luke wanders through the bleak midwinter until he reaches an abandoned town spray-painted with all manner of horrible slurs. He searches for sustenance and finds juice, spitting it out after realizing it's not vegan, and eats a Snickers bar, at which point the entire nightmare world melts away, and you realize that this has all just been someone's extremely hangry workday at Office Max. Now that would be a twist.

Full of Snickers and shrapnel, Luke collapses on the floor and we flashback to the absolute beginning of the family's journey out of Boston. They did not just floor it and scream "TO CANADA!", as I would have, but instead sought the help of a friendly smuggler named Whitford. He smashes their phones (But how will our friends see our Snap Story Escape?), and insists that they all ride in the trunk to their mystery destination. Did I mention that June and Luke gave Hannah enough Benadryl to conk out a moose? Well they did, and her allergies have never been better!

Whitford drives them along the coastline toward Canada, and all Hannah and Luke can see is a sliver of light from underneath the hood, a light that ominously turns red before they are stopped and searched by police. The guard opens the trunk and does a meticulous search before declaring that the trunk is empty. Thankfully, Whitford had a favor to call in and the guard was under his payroll; however, I do marvel at the effect Harry Potter has had on our modern world because I momentarily assumed they were under an invisibility cloak.

Whitford brings them to a beautiful lake cabin not quite across the border into Canada and teaches Luke how to properly load a gun before running up north to secure them all fake passports. Luke insists they have proper visas and Whitford only laughs at him: "That doesn't mean s— anymore."

Luke is awoken in the abandoned Snickers factory by a group of resistance travelers: "an Army brat, two strays, a gay, and a nun" to be precise. After confirming that he is only wearing the jacket of an Eye to stay warm and look great for all winter occasions, they haul him onto a kind of Magic School Bus outfitted with everything from IV drips to fresh cans of soda. One of the strays does not receive a name, but she becomes critical in Luke's life. She's an escapee from one of the early training centers and still suffers from PTSD. Luke, acting as we all do under anesthesia at the dentist, keeps trying to get up and get off the bus, but the crew insists that it's too dangerous, and he's better served healing and traveling with them into Canada.

The flashbacks continue onto the idyllic Vermont cabin where Luke, Hannah, and June are trying to relax while waiting for Whitford to return with groceries and new identities. They are having some wholesome, rock-skipping fun when they are surprised by the appearance of a neighbor. Joe evokes that character from a horror movie, backwoods drawl, shotgun slung ominously over his shoulder, and the director invokes this air of suspicion only to scold your prejudices later by revealing Joe to be a genuinely concerned neighbor who helps them escape. Whitford was supposed to be on his way with their passports, but he was caught and hanged. If any Hulu producers are reading, please note that, one, I would 100 percent watch a prequel series centering on Whitford's contraband escapades, and two, I have a great idea for a pilot that involves John Stamos and a talking dog.

The night Joe shows up and warns them to flee is right before the series begins, and we've nearly come full circle. There is still the final leg of Luke's journey to cover, though. He continues to insist to the school bus gang that he needs to return to Boston in order to seek out June and Hannah, and Zoe, the Army brat, is prepared to let him go on one condition. She first takes him to a border church and shows what happened to the townspeople who hid their fertile women from Gilead: They were all hanged from the rafters and swing there to this day. Luke has enough sense to see she has a point. There's less he can do walking "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy than in a position of safety in Canada. He'll go with them and keep the School Bus Band together after all.

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The team is going to speedboat up the coastline of New Brunswick (Speedboatin' Up New Brunswick, A Canadian Beach Boys anthem), and Luke must exchange his wedding ring for passage. As he is counting out $100 in pennies, gunfire erupts. The Gilead forces have caught up with them, and only Luke and Lovely Actress with No Name are on the boat! Zoe and the others are gunned down, while the boat jets away into the night.

The time jumps ahead three years from that horrible night. Luke is in Canada, still hanging out with Could Be Carey Mulligan, who still does not speak but still shares a friendship with Luke without words. Luke is summoned to the local police station, and we learn he has become a resistance fighter, hiding hundreds of people in high schools and saving clips of hot leads. This time, however, the embassy director wants to deliver a note. It's the one from June, and we learn that it says three simple things: I love you. So much. Save Hannah.

All in all Episode 7 was a beautifully made hour of television. We will have to wait until next week to find out how the worlds of June and Luke collide.

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