The Handmaid’s Tale — Episodes 2, 3, and 4

I apologize for the delays between reviews. This show is hard for me to watch, but good. Again, trigger warning spoilers ahead. Thanks for joining me as I explore The Handmaid’s Tale.

Episode 2: Birth Day

In a Handmaid’s Tale, destruction is never far away. This is clear from the first shot of Episode 2: the handmaids lean against the wall with their shopping. In the distance, armed men are stringing up dissidents. The women don’t even flinch as the gather up their shopping to head home. This is the norm.

Offred and Ofglen have become confidants. Their walks have become a tiny ray of pleasure for Offred as they share tales of their old life. Their pleasure is rudely interrupted as a van comes screeching before them and picks up a man off the street, he is carried away to a presumably awful fate. “It’s okay to be relieved it wasn’t you,” Ofglen tells Offred. This is the cruel world they live in.

Bravery rules the episode. Ofglen calls upon Offred to be brave and join the resistance. She can contribute by informing on her commander. Ofglen explains that bravery isn’t always necessary…

“Darkness and secrets are everywhere. Now there has to be an us because there is a them.” — Ofglen

Janine is called on to be a different kind of brave in this episode. In a world with a fertility crisis, labor has become an event. All of the neighborhood handmaidens are called to Janine’s side to help her deliver the baby.

The birth suite is the women’s place. The handmaiden’s hold Janine through the labor in the bedroom. Meanwhile, the commanders’ wives perform a mock birth in the living room. When the moment finally arrives Janine and the commander’s wife push together and deliver a healthy girl. The wife assumes her place in the bed as the newborn baby is handed to her. Janine weeps and the handmaidens gather in a circle around her to comfort the new mom, who will not be allowed to raise her child.

Offred faces meeting the commander in his office, alone the same night. It is forbidden for Offred to be alone with him and she fears what may happen. It takes a different kind of bravery to travel downstairs from her attic room at night. It’s humorous and alarming when the commander just wants to play Scrabble. Afterwards, Offred returns to her room, overcome with tears of relief.

Stray Observations: Spaces in this world are highly gendered. The birth suite is a place for women only. Even though it is a patriarchal society, no men are present during the birth, no male doctors participate. Only the women oversee the delivery of the baby. By contrast, the flashbacks to Offred/June’s birth suite show her husband, holding her hand.

The only male space we’ve seen is the commander’s office. It’s dark and covered in books. He holds all the knowledge in the house in his hands. And all he can offer Offred is scrabble.

Episode 3: Late

The final moments of Episode 2 introduce a new Ofglen while “Don’t ou Forget About Me” blares. Offred is shocked to see her friend missing, but obligated not to show it. But the change wakes up Offred…

“Now I’m awake to the world, I was asleep before, but nothing changes instantaneously.”

Offred is awake when she returns for lunch. The Martha has prepped an extravagant spread and places a white rose in front of her that was picked by Mrs. Waterford. Offred wonders why she is being treated so kindly, the Martha points out that she hasn’t asked for her “napkins this month.” It’s a strange way to be informed that she’s pregnant, but inevitable, that is what she’s here for.

She is taken to see Janine and her baby. Janine gleefully informs her that she can do whatever she wants because she had a baby. Fertility is currency in this world and Janine uses it to purchase simple extravagances like ice cream.

Upon her return to the Waterford’s home, Offred finds an ominous black van. The chauffeur offers advice: just tell them what they want. She is questioned about Ofglen and asked if they were intimate. Offred chooses this moment to be brave, “Did I know she was a lesbian?” she asks. “Blessed are the meek,” Aunt Lydia reminds her. Offred expands upon the biblical quote…

“Blessed are those who suffer for the cause of righteousness for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

She is tased and beaten for her insolence. In this world, gays and lesbians are gender traitors and it’s a crime punishable by death. Ofglen has been tried and her partner hung for her crime. Ofglen is punished by female genital mutilation.

Offred is spared further torture when Mrs. Waterford rushes in. “She’s pregnant!” she yells. When fertility is scarce, it’s a great offense.

Stray Observations: If this story feels absurd or over the top to you, then you haven’t been paying attention. The horrors that are happening in this show are happening throughout the world right now. In many countries, being gay is punishable by death. Women are called whores all over the world like what June and Moira in the coffee shop. There are countries where women cannot hold properties, or jobs, or have money in their name. It is obviously convenient that the show premiered right now, at a time of major upheaval in the United States. If you think it can’t happen here, I hope you are right. As you watch these episodes, think about what would be the final straw for you. Would you wait until you were kicked out of your workplace and all your money was taken? Would you wait until the change had already happened or would you fight sooner? I encourage you to be brave. Stand up when you see injustice. Never think it can’t happen to you.

Episode 4: Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundum

If pregnant women can get away with anything in this world, it’s no surprise that Offred’s period spells trouble. Mrs. Waterford tells Offred she is her miracle. When she learns the truth, she sentences Offred to her room.

In the confines of her room, Offred slowly unravels. The tiny bit of solace she can find is an inscription on the inside of her closet. Since she is prevented from learning or reading, the letters make her weep.

Offred finds an escape from the room by going to the doctor. Even though it is a patriarchal society, I was surprised that the doctor was male. Fertility has been treated as women’s business in this show, it seems odd that men still are involved in gynecology. Offred is given a clean bill of health and a tiny bit of compassion from the doctor. Of course, his compassion comes with an offer to get her pregnant. But he’s right, Offred has a purpose and if she can’t get pregnant because Commander Waterford is sterile, she will be blamed.

When Offred attends her scrabble game with Waterford, we learn the true meaning of the phrase: “Don’t let the bastards get you down.” It was something the previous Offred learned from Waterford. But the old Offred killed herself and Waterford clearly feels some remorse about that. He tries to make Offred’s life better, but it seems perhaps crueler to occasionally treat her as human, but continue to work in a system that oppresses her.

Final Thoughts:

  • I really love Joseph Fiennes, so it’s a bummer to see him in this role! Maybe he will join the resistance!
  • Is it strange that I’m still a little angry at Alexis Bledel for the latest season of Gilmore Girls? You can read my thoughts on that here.
  • If I ever get stuck in a terrible, dystopian society, I want a Moira by my side. She’s a badass.
  • I want to see more of Mrs. Waterford’s motivations. The moment at the breakfast table where she tries to offer suggestions and gets shut down is great. I think she’s not totally into this new world.
  • Note - that breakfast table scene is also the first time we’ve seen a laptop. No one has devices. There’s no news, everyone is in the dark. That’s how you keep people down.
  • Sorry for shortchanging you all on these reviews, I’ve been pretty busy. But I promise to offer a full length review for Episode 5.
  • What did you think? Let me know in the comments! Thanks for reading!

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