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The Handmaid's Tale - Vows - Review

  The Handmaid’s Tale “Vows” was written by Dorothy Fortenberry and was directed by Richard Shepard, whose other credits include Girls, Criminal Minds, and The Twilight Zone. This episode ends with the unthinkable – June (Elisabeth Moss) makes it out of Gilead. It’s not hard to realize that her ability to do anything from within Gilead is really over, so it was time for this new chapter. I am a bit surprised that we didn’t get at least a short stint of her with the Nighthawks, however. The episode also features more flashbacks of June and Luke’s (O-T Fagbenle) early relationship, emphasizing how important Hannah was to them both.


The episode picks up right where we left off with June frantically looking for Janine (Madeline Brewer), and I think we are going to have to accept that Janine was killed and buried in the bombing – a really sad way to lose her. June is clearly concussed and disoriented. Moira (Samira Wiley) can’t believe that it’s June.

The first flashback shows June and Moira sharing a snow day on the couch in the apartment that they share. June gets a call – and it’s clearly from Luke, but she choses Moira and doesn’t answer. Moira says thank you – the two smile and go back to their mimosas and newspapers. It’s a nice nod to the strength of their friendship.

Back in Chicago, Moira can’t get June’s attention as she’s focused on trying to find Janine. Moira finally gets June’s attention and compliance by saying that Janine is likely in the hospital tent. I love how much Moira has clearly learned about dealing with traumatized people. She doesn’t get upset in any way or touch June, she simply guides her calmly.

Once in the back of the truck to the medical tent, Moira cradles June in her arms. She asks the medic to look at June. He’s been tending to a guy with half his leg blown off. He tells Moira that June may have a mile or severe concussion, but he can’t tell until they get back. Moira tells June she’s going to be ok, and June finally recognizes Moira. And then June panics that Moira is in Gilead. Moira tells June that she came back for her, and June tells her that she shouldn’t be there, but she’s still happy to be held. 

They barely get back to the compound and Oona (Zawe Ashton) is telling everyone to drop what they are doing and evacuate. June is barely awake. Oona tells another relief worker that they can’t let the people in because they’ll kill each other for the supplies. Moira wants to know why they are leaving already, and Oona tells her they’re about to start bombing again. Moira tells Oona that she’s found June. Oona says that’s amazing, but the rules are that they can’t take anyone out. Which makes me wonder about what’s going to happen with the severely wounded – like the guy missing the leg? Surely, he’ll die if they just leave him. It’s ridiculous for aide! 

Oona points out the central theme of the episode. She tells Moira that if they take June it will mean no more humanitarian efforts. No more food and medicine for all of Chicago – perhaps all the fronts. Is June more important than all of them? It’s an easier decision for Oona who doesn’t know June. It’s simply a theoretical, impartial decision. It’s so much harder for Moira who not only knows June – and what Gilead was like – but June is also her best friend. Perhaps the one person in the world who Moira has been closest to longest. She was also instrumental in getting Moira out. 

Moira grabs June just as she’s about to wander out with the other refugees being helped and helped out. Oona is confronted by real, desperate people – perhaps for the first time. They are begging for their children’s lives. They still turn away. 

Meanwhile, Moira is having a hard time convincing June to leave. She doesn’t want to run for the boat – she needs to find Janine. Moira finally has enough and tells June that Janine is probably dead and June will die too if she doesn’t go. Moira begs her not to make her leave her again, showing how much that has haunted her. Janine is just a substitute for Hannah, however. June tells Moira that she can’t leave without Hannah. Moira wants to know how she plans to find her. June tells her that they took Hannah and that she’s scared. Moira uses more tough love and tells June that Hannah is better off without her then. Moira tells June that they will hunt her down and kill her – in front of Hannah! She tells June to come and fight from Canada. The Canadian and American governments will help. Luke and Rita and everyone who loves her is there. 

And finally, Moira points out that Nicole – her OTHER daughter is also there. And that finally gets June to comply just as we hear the plans overhead again. The two rush onto the boat. Moira hides June in a cabin, and the refugees break down the fences and surge after the boat as it leaves. 

In the next flashback, June is moving out of the apartment with Moira to move in with Luke. June is packing up her things, and the apartment is already starting to look empty. She tells Moira that technically the couch is hers, but she’s leaving it for Moira. It turns out is was actually someone else’s, and June is really leaving it because Luke hates it. It’s a nice metaphor for how we come in and out of each other’s lives, leaving some things and taking others, but there’s always a consequence. June assures Moira that things won’t really change – but this it the ultimate taking of the phone call. 

June tells Moira she’s promised her mother that she won’t change her last name – when they get married is left unspoken. Moira gets up off the couch and surveys the half-filled boxes and asks if June thinks it’s really a good idea. June asks what part – and Moira says all of it. June is stunned that Moira thinks the marriage is a bad idea. Moira tells her it would be easier to end an engagement than a marriage. June is angry and lashes out – asking if Moira knows this because of all the marriages she’s ended – clearly thinking this is just jealousy. June presses – why does Moira think it’s a bad idea to marry a kind, smart, loving man with a good job and nice shoulders. Moira points out that he cheats on his wives and leaves them when they can’t reproduce. June says one prior wife and she’s not Annie. Moira says not yet…

June points out that their marriage won’t be like that. Annie and Luke fought all the time about all kinds of things – and they don’t fight – which isn’t necessarily a good thing. June starts packing a pitcher, and Moira tells her that its hers. June says fine – take it. I don’t want it…

In the present, Oona comes upon Moira on deck and asks how she is – seeing it all up close. Moira points out that she’s seen stuff before. It’s pretty clear that Oona doesn’t really understand what goes on in Gilead. She tells Moira that the hardest thing is when you’re the one with the power. She tells Moira that she’s so sorry that they couldn’t bring June. She says it like leaving June wasn’t condemning her to death! And Moira knows it’s just “thoughts and prayers.” This is clearly Moira’s first time because she is blind-sided when Oona tells her that before they leave Gilead waters, they will come on board and search the boat! Moira has to tell her…

June is sitting in the kitchen with the rest of the crew. Oona tells them that she has the utmost respect for June – she pioneered Angel’s Flight. It’s clear that Oona really doesn’t understand what that took – it wasn’t holding fundraisers or sitting through boring meetings with government officials. It also seems like she is jealous of June – what she’s done and her relationship with Moira. Oona tells them that what happens next is her responsibility, but she wants their input. Their NGO and all future missions are at risk and they are in a bad position. Moira takes responsibility, and Oona doesn’t spare her, telling her in front of everyone that it is Moira’s fault and that they all have people they love in Gilead. Wiley is great in this episode, and you can see Moira starting to see Oona in a whole new light. She loves the power she has, being in charge.

One crew member wants to turn June in to save future missions. Elena (Eileen Li) wants to keep her because if they turn her in, June will be killed. Moira sees that the majority are leaning toward turning June in. Moira tries to look for an alternative – they can’t turn someone in to certain death. She points out that it’s supposed to be a humanitarian mission, and Oona tells her that humanitarian missions are about people – not one person. It’s the age old question – do you sacrifice the one for the many?

Moira wants to try to hide her. Another member says they’ll find her when searching. Moira asks if he’s ever escaped Gilead before and tells him to “shut the fuck up.” Another says children will be hurt and then they are all shouting. June has been sitting expressionlessly. Finally, she says “just turn me in.” Oona looks at June. June tells them, “My life isn’t worth more than anyone’s.” Yet, isn’t it? Yes, she’s gotten people killed, but she’s also saved people. She’s a rallying point. In many ways, she’s done more on her own than Oona could ever hope to do. They are interrupted by the sirens of the Gilead boats. June tells them that she’ll says she got on the boat herself and no one helped her. She knows what has to be done. Oona thanks her. Moira tries to convince her that she can’t do it – after everything, she can’t just give up!

They all wait on deck. Moira asks Oona again, and she finally relents, telling Elena to make her an ID and to get her cleaned up and a vest. It’s night by the time the Gilead soldiers are on board, searching and checking off the crew members – checking their ID and asking questions. Moira looks him straight in the eye and tells him she was born and bred in Toronto. June is asked for her name and hesitates before saying Bridgette Smith. The soldier notices the bruises on her face and wants to know if something happened to her. June just smiles – a LOT has happened to her! June opens her mouth to respond, and Moira interrupts to say that she got knocked down in all the chaos – and keeps babbling, ending with if he has family in Chicago, she hopes that they’re ok. The soldier calls next, and they are soon all on their way. It’s clear that Moira’s relationship with Oona is over. Moira tells June they made it. They’re going to Canada.

In the next flashback, Luke and June are moving her stuff in. She tells him that she’s never moving again. He laughs and says that they’ll put it in the vows. She then asks if he and Annie wrote their own vows. He tells her it wasn’t that kind of wedding. June is surprised it was a church wedding. Luke wants to know what’s going on – he’s not stupid as June pointed out. He tells her that that marriage isn’t going to be their marriage. He sees what’s troubling her. Luke puts down a box, and she tells him to be careful with it. He asks what it is – and she tells him it’s a cocktail pitcher – she’s stolen Moira’s! It’s also a pretty obvious metaphor for June’s heart. 

The two laugh, and Luke teases what is your problem? And then June does confide her problem – what if she can’t get pregnant. She clearly thinks that this is the only reason Luke left Annie. Luke tells her that she’s not Annie and he’s a very different person than he was back then. And of course, they are both very different people now. June is worried, in the flashback, that she’ll end up disappointing Luke – and isn’t that the always the woman’s fear – what about if HE disappoints HER?! Luke, however, assures her that they’re going to be ok – whether they have kids or not. He knows she’s not going to disappoint him. June says, you don’t know that. Everyone has a line – something that is unforgivable. June worries that she’s not who he thinks she is. Luke assures her that he’ll just love whoever she turns out to be – and wow. She has turned out to be something SO different! 

June overhears Moira and Oona arguing over helping her. Oona tells Moira that she’s been forced to leave people behind and make hard choices that keep her up at night on every mission. She clearly does not understand the bond between June and Moira. Moira says she doesn’t want it to be about them – but Oona is done with her entirely. Moira asks if they can talk at the office, but Oona says there won’t be an office after this – the NGO will be gone.

Moira goes looking for June and finds her trying to take a lifeboat. June asks her to help her. June tells Moira that she has to go back to get her. Moira tells her that she won’t help – she’ll die on the water or when she gets back to Gilead. Moira says fine, she’ll help, but she’s going with her. June is furious, accusing Moira of manipulating her – she told her she had to stay for Hannah. Moira tells her she’s sorry. June is convinced that if she doesn’t go back, Hannah will be gone forever.

Moira tells her she won’t force her to stay, but she wants to know what happened. June tells Moira that they let her see Hannah but there was nothing she could do to help her. And there isn’t anything more she can do from WITHIN Gilead to help her daughter. She tells Moira that Hannah didn’t recognize her and was scared of her. June is convinced that everything that’s happened to Hannah is because of her. Moira tells her its not true. June doesn’t know how she can go back without Hannah. Moira tells her that no one expects it. They are expecting a person – not a superhero. 

Moira tells her she’s the one who got all those kids out. And June replies – but not Hannah – and that was exactly what Luke wondered too. June tells Moira that she tried to get Hannah. June tells her that she was supposed to save Hannah because she’s her mother and it’s her job to protect her. She is terrified to face Luke, thinking he’ll never forgive her. Moira tells her to have a little faith – Luke has waited for her all these years and believed in her and never given up on her. June is adamant that she knows what he can take – she is sure that this is his “line.” Moira tells her to find out. June agrees and the two hug. This is perhaps Moss’ finest scene this season.

The final flashback is June telling Luke that she’s pregnant. She’s waiting for him on the street. She’d clearly planned a big reveal inside but couldn’t wait. Luke is as thrilled as you’d expect. And then we get a montage of memories with Hannah. 


The boat has docked, and everyone is getting off. Moira comes to June in the kitchen. Oona walks through without saying a word. Moira tells June that she can stay as long as she wants. June tells her that she’s ok. She just needs a minute. June is nervous, looking at herself in a mirror, smoothing her hair. 


You can hear Luke’s voice, asking where she is, and then he’s rushing into the cabin. The two just look at each other. He looks at her – she looks at him, smiles and takes a step forward. The smile fades and tears fill her eyes. I loved this scene too – it’s a master class in acting from both Fagbenle and Moss. So much is said with no dialogue! He’s drinking her in, clearly still not believing she’s there – and then he sees something is wrong. She thinks he’s judging her. She tells him, “I’m sorry I don’t have her. I’m sorry. I’m sorry it’s just me.” He takes her into his arms. He tells her that it’s ok. 

He goes ahead of her and helps her down all of the stairs. She pauses at the very end of the gangway. The camera pans from an overhead shot down, until there is a close up on her face. She takes a deep breath and steps off the gangway and onto Canadian soil. We get the signature close up of June’s face as she starts another chapter in the story.

This was definitely a transitional episode. Moss, Wiley, and Fagbenle all get major kudos for the acting in this episode. I really liked how the entire episode reminds us of the bits and pieces of these characters’ lives that we’ve seen, grounding us in the past even while we know that they are all very different people now. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next for June, but I’m also betting that her transition back into this society is going to be anything but easy. I’m also hoping that we get some definitive answer about poor Janine. What did you think of the episode? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!




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