It’s June (Elisabeth Moss) versus the wilderness in “Holly,” the eleventh episode of the second season of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” There’s nothing like a change of scenery to refresh “The Handmaid’s Tale” for loyal audiences who may be bored of Gilead’s constancy, something the writers know as they continue teasing us with trips to Canada or treks into forests. But this cycle of visiting the outside world only to return to Gilead’s borders is getting tiresome. At this point, June just needs to get the hell out already.
And she’s definitely trying to. “Holly” starts with June all alone in the snow. It’s less of a winter wonderland and more of a freezing nightmare. This episode of “The Handmaid’s Tale” makes a welcome venture out of its genre, feeling like a Jack London novel as June faces off against a wolf, a rather clumsy metaphor for the inherent wildness in human nature. Or, a psychological thriller when the Waterfords search for June throughout the house. June tiptoes around the mansion with a shotgun in hand, trying to evade her captors in an exceptionally intense scene.
After these initial obstacles, June now has to go up against mother nature in two ways. First, the snow is blocking her shiny getaway car’s exit. Second, she’s enormously pregnant. Eventually, mother nature wins as the snow refuses to melt and June starts going into labor. She gives up, fires the shotgun into the air as a rescue call, and goes inside the house to give birth.
This is where the narrative fails. Again and again, we’ve been baited with the potential for change in this handmaid’s story. And again and again, the story ends up back where it started. June gets chained to a bed after failing to complete a perilous journey into Canada. Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) continues his reign of terror over his household after Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) gives herself and June a little bit of literary independence. It’s entirely frustrating, making these glimpses of change non-cathartic and weightless.
That being said, there are pieces of the story—the released handmaid letters, Canada’s new, non-diplomatic stance with Gilead, Serena Joy’s newfound defiance—that could change the game. But they have yet to have any impact on the show’s plot progression. Perhaps the writers behind “The Handmaid’s Tale” are saving them for an explosive penultimate episode and finale? But even if they are, it’s questionable whether or not the last two episodes will have enough bandwidth to resolve all of the anticipation this season has been building.
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