Synopsis of 1×07: Remembering her family’s treacherous escape attempt, a shocking revelation from life before Gilead provides a new perspective on Offred’s life.
I enjoy when television shows take risks. It used to be that stand alone episodes were often used as a delivery method for a backdoor pilot, but more and more often now we’re seeing shows take risks when it comes to television series. While “The Other Side” certainly isn’t completely devoid of connection to the main plot — on the contrary, it plays a vital role in moving forward the story and dynamically changing the source material — it still stands as a detour from our journey with Offred and Gilead.
After the aid to the Mexican ambassador dropped the bomb on us that Luke, Offred’s husband, is alive and not actually dead — a major change from the novel and a shock to every viewer, undoubtedly — we are granted a look into Luke’s life after being separated from June and Hannah. The episode is disjointed, chaotic, jumping from point to point in Luke’s timeline. It only serves as a reflection of how chaotic the world is outside of Gilead, and that while Gilead’s order and strict morality is its own brand of evil, the outside world isn’t fairing much better.
We know just how desperate people are after Offred’s outburst to the Mexican ambassador did little to soften her heart against the use of handmaids. In “The Other Side,” we watch as Luke is shot and left for dead while the guardians chase after June and Hannah instead. He manages to survive an ambulance flipping over and make his way to safety before he is found by a group of rebels who are making their way to Canada as well.
The messy timeline creates a sense of disorientation for the audience, which does a fair job at mimicking the shock that Luke is experiencing in losing his wife, his child, and his entire world in the span of 24 hours. While we witness Luke’s rescue and escape, we are also shown his journey with June towards the Canadian border, from Boston. Much like “A Woman’s Place,” these looks at revolutionary Gilead serve as milestones in the historic timeline of the series, but also as a foil to the rigid, totalitarian regime the people must live in now.
June and Luke make their way north by meeting a man named Whitford, a local outcast and a family friend of June’s. He smuggles the family of three into his trunk, pays off the guardians, and hides them away in a deserted cabin not far from the border. It reminded me of Berlin during the Cold War, when people would hide in boxes, canoes, luggage, anything that could fit anyone to escape from East Berlin to West Berlin. When they arrive at the cabin, Whitford hands Luke a gun and teaches him how to load and shoot it, though Luke seems wildly unprepared for the prospect.
Maybe I missed why, but Luke and June don’t immediately leave for the border. Assumedly they’re waiting for Whitford, and during the time they have some happy moments together as a family. However, while skipping stones out at the lake, they are spotted by a hunter named Joe and his dog. Despite his friendliness, Luke and June are aware that they’re secret hideout is no longer secret. However, Joe turns out to be an ally. He informs them that Whitford was killed and hung in the town square, and that there are people after them. It’s enough to light a fire under their asses and have them running for the border.
This timeline coincides with Luke’s eventual escape with a group of rebels, who insist that he first make it to Canada before attempting any rescue. The rebel group itself consists of a nun, a lesbian couple, some strays like Luke, and a woman who was the sole survivor of a gruesome “training group” in South Carolina where they started to round up the fertile women. The rebels make their way to Canada, facing a final barrage of guardians with drones that shoot some of them down as they escape.
We jump forward three years to the current timeline in “Little America,” a neighborhood in Toronto that is assumedly a safe haven for the Americans who have escaped the Gilead revolution. Luke goes to meet with an official named Rachel Tapping (who might be some sort of ambassador/representative to the American immigrants in Canada), he seems to be helping rescue those who are hiding from the Gilead regime. Rachel informs him that June is alive, and gives him the message that Offred wrote: I love you so much. Save Hannah.
There are points in the episode where it’s paced so unevenly that it borders on tiresome, but Luke’s story is an intriguing look at the rebels and the life outside of dystopia of Gilead. It’s comforting in its familiarity, and gives a sense of melancholy hope for those who managed to escape Gilead.