The Handmaid’s Tale episode The Other Side has everything we’re supposed to want in a show about an all too plausible dystopia. There’s a slow build from a period of relative calm to a whole lot of action, tragedy, and unexpected twists. But if the rest of the show mostly consists of standing around, with flashbacks to more active times, the ones doing the loitering have become so much more interesting that they are each more watchable than time spent on the run from evil government forces looking to crush any rebellion.
In the previous episode A Woman’s Place, Offred was very much present even as Serena Joy became the focus. Here, the present-day Offred is almost completely absent, as we follow the husband she thought was dead. However, Luke is not only alive, but managed to reach the safe harbor they were both fleeing towards. In The Other Side, we discover just how he got there.
This is Gilead we’re talking about, so the journey is bound to be paved with blood and tears. Just as A Woman’s Place made us tourists, allowing us to view a dystopia from a safe distance with its powerful visitors, The Other Side makes us refugees on the run after Luke takes up with a group of ragtag travelers who are also heading towards Canada. Much as we tend to comprehend war only after it’s over, Luke still doesn’t completely realize what he’s dealing with even after he is shot down and his wife and child are stolen. It’s when he comes across the bodies of those who tried to fight back that it truly hits home, and he continues north rather than turning back for his family.
It shouldn’t mean more to see our own culture on the run, but it inevitably does. Just as the rest of The Handmaid’s Tale was heartbreaking for making tyranny so familiar, this installment brings the refugee crisis closer to home. What if it was us fleeing a brutal force that sprang up in our own backyard? The answer is partially in the Little America section of town in Toronto, with brutal evidence of the lingering trauma among its residents and the absence of so many loved ones. It shouldn’t mean more. But it does.
However, The Other Side doesn’t answer the question of just why a member of the elite would know about Luke among so many. Did he become prominent in exile, a kind of spokesperson for those he was forced to leave behind? Otherwise, there’s no reason for Offred to receive a kind of closure she never got in the book. What exactly was the purpose of showing Luke’s journey? We certainly don’t need any more evidence of Gilead’s cruelty, which has already been writ large, most memorably on the mind, body, and soul of Alexis Bledel’s Ofglen. Now that The Handmaid’s Tale is showing us a bigger picture, hopefully it keeps its focus on such individuals who comprise it.