WEDDINGS, GILEAD STYLE (HANDMAID'S TALE RECAP)
Cows don’t get married, Janine says, and she’s right. Gilead is built on the family, Commander Devil Fred says, and he is wrong. In a rare flashback free episode, we jump between the Colonies and the Waterfords, and we see the way marriage stands as a sacred and human bond and the way it can be perverted into something sickening.
In the Colonies, Janine and Emily are starring in their buddy comedy. The former professor and the one-eyed former waffle house waitress are bound by what they lost to Gilead: a clit and the aforementioned eye, as well as their freedom and soon, their lives. The women have very different views of things. Janine is still into Aunt Lydia’s religious bullshit, and Emily clearly has no time for that. Instead, she’s devoted herself to helping the other Unwomen. Every morning in the Colonies brings with it forced prayer and dead compatriots, and we learn that one of the Unwomen on the burial squad is a rabbi who prays over the bodies. Emily also loses a tooth (in a horrible scene, god help me, teeth stuff ruins me, I’ll probably have nightmares) and realizes that her time in the Colonies is beginning to catch up with her.
Two Unwomen, Fiona and Kit, (last seen leaving her fingernail for Marisa Tomei) are bonded with each other, and it’s heartbreaking as Kit begins to succumb to her sickness. Emily offers painkillers, but Kit refuses, insisting that she use them on someone who can benefit. Janine offers something different--a marriage ceremony that affirms the women’s love for each other and their humanity. With Kit on her deathbed, and the other Unwomen surrounding them, the rabbi marries them. They hold scraggly wildflowers, but the act clearly lifts the spirits of all of the Unwomen.
Except Emily. She drags Janine into the cellar and chews her out. What if the Aunts caught them? What is the point of it? They are merely cows, sent to the slaughter. She also tells Janine that her Aunt Lydia religious bullshit sucks. Janine looks at her and says: Cows don’t get married. The next time we see Emily, she is complementary of the wedding, and Janine helps carry Kit’s body to the makeshift graveyard, where hundreds of crosses mark the graves of the Unwomen who came before. The rabbi offers up her prayers, and it is very sad but beautiful, like sad art. While Emily wants to tend to the physical body, Janine reminds her that the soul must be watched over, too. It is interesting to think what would have happened if Janine had gotten to the Colonies before Marisa Tomei’s Wife character. Would Janine have been able to see the humanity in her, and convince Emily of it? We’ll never know, but it seems as if Janine might end up saving Emily in a role reversal. Poor one eyed Janine, despite all of her travails, stands out like the ragged wild flower bouquets.
I’m a sucker for the humanistic tradition of marriage--the way the words have been said for centuries, the way they create a connection with the past and all of those who’ve said them before. I’m not religious (SHOCK) but I do like a wedding. (So much so, I’ve had two.) Kit and Fiona’s wedding touched me deeply, and I never thought that I would be so proud of Janine.
Meanwhile, back in Gilead, Offred has given herself over to the system. She complies with every demand and command, and is weighed and measured by Aunt Lydia, much like livestock. Aunt Lydia is also there to scold Serena Joy and condescend to her about quitting smoking. She rubs her privileges (writing, bossy-ness) in Serena’s face, and of course Serena, being privileged herself, is irritated. Offred and Serena stroll to the park, where they meet up with Mrs. Putnam, stealer of Janine’s baby and overall mean girl champ, Gilead division. Mrs. Putnam bitches and snipes about the baby, and she is the worst, as always. Serena Joy wants to talk some shit, but Offred is a Handmaid robot, capable of only yes, Mrs. Waterford and no, Mrs. Waterford. Serena gets pissy and confrontational, and Offred blandly smiles her off. Part of the purpose of the walks are so the fetus can hear and get used to Serena’s voice, you see, and Serena wants to talk shit about everyone they know.
Serena and Commander Devil Fred both have their eyes on Nick. He’s not doing a super good job of covering up the fact that he has totally boned Offred and fathered that fetus, what with all the long looks at Offred and the mentioning of concerns to Serena. Devil Fred asks the head honcho if Nick can have a promotion. You know, away from him, but the head bitch in charge tells him to keep his valuable fellow close.
Offred gets up in the night and goes to the kitchen, where she starts burning the letters Mayday passed to her. OH MY GOD, THIS BITCH. Is there anything more privileged than silencing all of these women? What gives her the right? Just because she’s the protagonist and is going through some shit, she thinks she can erase these women? What--because it looks cool? Because fire is a symbolic thread the show is pulling through the season? All of these reasons are unacceptable. Nick pops up and stops her, and he takes the rest of the letters away. (PS the Waterfords need to check the batteries in their smoke detectors.)
The next morning, Offred discovers blood in her underwear. Instead of saying anything, she wads up some paper towels and goes about her business. That business includes drinking her yucky shake and going to the Prayvaganza with Serena. (Serena comes in hot with a secret Atwood diss: “Prayvaganza? Not the Commanders’ best work.” You see, Atwood loves a portmanteau better than anything. Shots fired!) Serena wants to be able to dish with Offred, which really is a lot to ask of your sex slave/broodmare. She gets so annoyed when Offred doesn’t play along. I think she’d have a hard time raising a teenage daughter, this one. Anyway, off they go to the Prayvaganza (did you know that google docs knows that’s a word?), and everyone sits in segregated sections, because of course they do. The head bitch in charge comes out and starts blah blahing about the bravest Guardians, and out trots a long line of dark haired, beetle-browed bros, including Nick. The bros are handed what looks like a box with a medal in it. Then, veiled, white clad women are led out to meet the bros. It’s arranged marriage time!
While Kit and Fiona’s nuptials in the Colonies, doomed as they were, filled me with sad joy, this mass wedding makes me sick. The way the regime uses sex (and women) to control the men is so clear. Women are the ultimate reward for a man in Gilead. High status men have multiple women to control: Wife, Martha, Handmaid. Lower status men are gifted with child brides. At least in the novel, a lot of men are without women entirely, having not yet earned them. Women are chattel, and that’s it. The depths of Gilead’s perversity never ceases to amaze me. (Although, really, this is the way that many societies have viewed the institution of marriage.)
Anyway, Offred is devastated that Nick is getting married, Serena and Fred are wickedly pleased, and Nick is like full angst about it. The brides are completely covered, so I’m sure he’s worried about what his looks like. I would be! Guess what: she looks super young. The head bitch in charge spouts all the parts of the bible that says women are bad and should be obedient. (My least favorite parts.) (Especially the obedient thing).
At some point, Offred takes a pout bath that is red with blood. She also bleeds clear through her underwear. When they get home, the Waterfords welcome Nick’s bride into the household, and then send Offred and Rita away. Rita is worried about Offred, but Offred has decided to bleed to death. Up the stairs she goes. Serena and Eden, Nick’s bride, have a little sex ed session and we learn a bit about the new girl. She’s from a tiny town upstate, her parents were clearly early adopters re: Gilead (a name like Eden screams religious nut family), and her mother prepared her for the painful part of sex. Serena confirms that, but then she mentions that sex can be nice, between married people. Eden is not having that, even when Serena quotes one of the sexier parts of the Bible at her. (Song of Solomon, of course.)
Serena leaves Eden to prepare, and Nick and Devil Fred share some of that beloved brown liquor and talk about guy stuff. Mostly about how Devil Fred really hooked him up. Nick goes out into the rain, full emo cigarette smoking, resigned to boning this virgin, when he spies something. Oh no! It’s Offred, sprawled in the rain, bleeding to death. He picks her up and screams for help.
My god. These two. Offred is the world’s worst teenager. And Nick is her bad boy boyfriend. She’s going to robotically obey and then bleed to death in the rain? Get the fuck out of here with that. These two act like they are in a My Chemical Romance music video circa 2005.
The next we see Offred, she’s in a hospital bed, surrounded by monitors and watched over by Serena. We learn that the baby is fine. Serena expresses her happiness that Offred is conscious, then runs off for a doctor. Offred takes a moment, and then speaks to the fetus, first saluting its toughness and then promising it that she will not let it be raised by these people, in this place. That she’ll get it out of here. That she’ll get them both out. This scene mirrors a scene in the first season between Luke and June, when they snuggled under the sheet and talked to Hannah in the womb.
We all knew that Offred would not stay broken, in the same way we knew she wouldn’t make it to Canada two episodes ago. There’s no show if either thing happens. So we have to ride this rollercoaster. In, out, broken, defiant, safe, in danger. Up and down. And here’s the problem with this—the expansion beyond the novel threatens to make Offred the least interesting character around. She certainly comes off that way in this episode.