Warning: This review contains spoilers!
The Handmaid’s Tale continues its excellent run so far this season with Vows. The brilliant episode concludes a major arc of June’s quest for freedom exploring the guilt, heartache, strength and vulnerability that she has exhibited along the way.
With Chicago in ruin, we find June who much like her surroundings is shell-shocked. In a daze and fumbling to find Janine, Moira’s voice helps to bring things into focus. Moira discovering June is like seeing someone again for the first time. Concussed and in shock it’s only during the ride to the CERA’s humanitarian aid depot that June recognizes her long lost friend.
Janine’s whereabouts remain a mystery in the confusion and things don’t get any clearer once Moira and June reach the holding area run by CERA. Although June is in Moira’s care it doesn’t mean she’s in the clear. She’s still considered Gilead’s property and getting her to safety would illegally bypass any of the required protocols that have to be followed before she can be extradited.
Realizing that Gilead would never let June leave and that she wouldn’t survive going through the regular channels, Moira takes matters into her own hands and smuggles June out of Chicago. June’s survival instincts kick in and she pushes back. Unwilling to leave Hannah and Janine behind June argues against leaving. A desperate Moira hammers home the uncomfortable truth of what staying behind would be like. Certain death awaits June, and her only option to try and save Hannah is in Canada.
Vows oscillates between the past and the present and the non-linear story telling gives viewers a break from the harrowing events going on now. For every siren, scream and plea for help the silence and calm of Moira and June’s pre-Gilead time together is a sad reminder of just how much chaos is in store for them. The nature of long friendships is their tendency to elasticize several times over the years. Moira and June, moving apart as roommates due to Luke’s proposal is part of the natural evolution, and is the foundation for the lengths Moira goes to save her friend.
Moira, against Oona’s wishes, smuggles June onto the CERA boat and her actions come at a cost. June’s presence endangers everyone, including the potential future of the group’s ability to provide humanitarian aid. Realizing the difficult situation everyone is in, June continues her streak of self-sacrifice and volunteers to turn herself over to the authorities before crossing the border. Moira’s appeal to Oona and June’s reputation gives her a second chance, one that only through Moira’s intervention, allows her to make it past the border patrol.
We all change over time, and June due to her extraordinary experiences has changed more than most. In fact, the June in Season 1 is not the woman we’re watching now. Nor is she any of the Junes we have seen in flashbacks over the years. Despite that her closest allies continue to love her unconditionally. Nick, Moira and particularly Luke can’t be quite sure which June they are in love with. However, for all of them it doesn’t really matter.
Vows is the culmination of a four-year journey, not just for June but the audience as well. The stress of carrying the Handmaid rebellion on her back has finally erupted to the surface leaving June broken in its wake. Vows is outstanding as is Elisabeth Moss who delivers so much with a restrained almost detached performance. When June and Luke meet, his eyes already wet, there is so much said in their silence. Her admission of failure breaks the damn holding back all her emotions and when she finally sets foot on Canadian soil, the breath she takes isn’t just one of relief but of a life born again.