Spoilers for The Handmaid’s Tale below.
On this week’s Handmaid’s Tale finale, after a long and arduous escape from the oppressive regime of Gilead, Moira (Samira Wiley) sees something that makes her eyes light up: an Ontario license plate. Her expression reminds me of my own face every time I cross the Canadian border and smell the sweet aroma of Tim Hortons and centrist governance wafting through the air: Praise Gretzky, I’m home.
As a Canadian living in Trump’s America, there are plenty of reasons to take pride in my home country: universal health care, an official policy of multiculturalism, and an avowedly feminist prime minister who could be kayaking up to your lakefront home at this very minute. But, save Drake dangling his feet off the CN Tower and rapping about the Toronto subway on Views, few pop-culture artifacts have activated my Canadian patriotism quite like The Handmaid’s Tale.
Over the course of The Handmaid’s Tale’s first season, we learn that while America has been taken over by fundamentalist extremists, Canada remains free and democratic, a bastion of safety for refugees fleeing from the south. Not since E.T. chomping on Reese’s Pieces has there been a more emotionally resonant piece of product placement. This might partly be because I’m an expat starved for Canadian content, but every time the show name-checks some bastion of Canadian liberal democracy (the Toronto Star, still going strong!) I can’t help but feel proud of my home country for being the kind of place that seems like it would resist the sweep of fictional totalitarianism. I can picture how it would all go down: Sure, maybe one or two hard-line MPs thought the Gileadians had some good economic ideas, and maybe there’s some weird sect in BC that keeps trying to make Handmaids a thing, but ultimately, after some polite debate in the House of Commons, I assume everyone collectively agreed that right-wing totalitarianism just wasn’t Canada’s bag.
By the end of the season, Luke and Moira both eventually manage to escape to the “magical land of the north,” as one of Luke’s fellow travelers puts it, where they are immediately smothered in Canadian niceness and well-meaning bureaucracy. “Sooorry, sooorry,” says the greeter who welcomes Moira into the refugee-processing center (which resembles a homey-looking diner with an extensive buffet) before delivering what might as well be the new provincial slogan: “Welcome to Ontario. I wish it was under different circumstances, but we’re happy to have you here.” After informing Moira that it’s mac-and-cheese night, this Canadian angel hands her new clothes, a cellphone paid up for 12 months, $200 for cabs, $470 in cash, a medical-insurance card and a prescription-drug card, all sealed up in a bag with a cute Canadian flag. Exiting past an “I SUPPORT REFUGEES” poster (a bit on the nose, but fine), she sees Luke, who has been alerted to her arrival by the country’s highly efficient nationwide refugee alert system. If there’s a clearer allegory for Canadian versus U.S. immigration policies in the age of Donald Trump — or a more impressive piece of pro-Canada propaganda — I have yet to see it. (The show was in the middle of shooting when Trump was elected, making many of the show’s ideas feel even more potent). While Canada’s refugee policy is not without valid criticisms, many of the escape scenes are particularly chilling given the number of refugees who have risked their lives to flee across the Canadian border since Trump’s election.
Politics aside, it’s also just nice to hear Canada get a shout-out now and again. Outside of our booming business exporting catchy pop singers (you’re welcome, Beliebers and Jepfriends) and beloved authors (like Margaret Atwood!), Canadians tend to get short shrift in American pop culture. If Canada is mentioned on an American TV show (Handmaids Tale is an American production, despite being shot in Ontario and based on a book by a Canadian icon), it’s usually with some dismissive joke about various Canadian pastimes or a dig at how peaceful and boring the country is. Well, peaceful and boring don’t look so bad now, eh? If the options are becoming a government-mandated concubine or mastering the metric system, I think the choice is pretty clear.
Maybe next season we can get a break from all the reproductive slavery stuff and Luke and Moira can take in a film at the Toronto Film Festival or an exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario, or perhaps head to a concert at OVO fest after enjoying a delicious meal from one of Toronto’s many acclaimed eateries. I know Americans are always threatening to move to Canada to escape the some current political situation — and thankfully, we’re not quite in Gilead times yet. But in the meantime, remember that there are plenty of other great reasons to visit the magical land of the north, even if you don’t have a totalitarian regime nipping at your back.