BURN IT DOWN (HANDMAID'S TALE RECAP)
Welcome back to America’s favorite rape and explosions show, The Handmaid’s Tale. Aside from the last five minutes, this episode was centered around relationships, so that’s how I’m going to talk about it.
Offred vs. Serena Joy
These two visit the OBGYN, where Offred is bisected by a glass screen as the doctor checks the fetus via ultrasound. Everything looks fine and dandy, and Serena is so happy that she softens towards Offred and lets her see the ultrasound. The doctor asks Offred a few questions about her previous pregnancy, and she answers. Back at home, Serena is being kind to Offred, allowing her to sleep downstairs in her sitting room and watching over her. The two share a moment when Offred invites her to touch her belly, and things seem like they are going well. Serena decides to throw Offred a Handmaid party, but hovers over the scene and commits the faux pas (understatement alert!) of trying to engage New Ofglen in conversation. It’s awkward, you see, because Ofglen recently had her tongue removed, which has interfered with her conversational skills. Offred steps in gracefully and gets everyone out of that sticky situation. Offred and Serena discover they used to share a brunch place, back when women were allowed to buy and eat brunch. So far we are in bff mode.
Things change, though, when Offred asks Serena if she can see Hannah. Serena immediately turns cold and goes back to punishing her. Serena thinks that Offred is manipulative, and maybe she’s not all the way wrong, as we will see. Serena decides to humilate Offred in front of Nick’s baby bride. She drops her knitting needle and makes Offred pick it up, then instructs Eden to do the same. Offred refuses to pick up Eden’s dropped needle, citing cramps. It’s so bad and gross! Serena is an asshole, and I’m curious about how attached she thinks Offred is to Nick. She did stud him out on Offred, but does she know they “love” each other? I’m not sure!
Offred and Nick
Speaking of Nick, he’s still the worst! His baby bride comes to Offred for...advice? I don’t know why she comes to her exactly, except maybe it’s like coming to your sluttiest friend and asking a weird sex question? I don’t know. (Also, I mean slut in the most positive sense of the word. Like Samantha in SitC.) Anyway, Eden wants to know why Nick won’t bone her, and she suggests that he might be a gender traitor. Offred has to gently give her relationship advice, trying to allay her fears (and keep her from reporting Nick as a deviant.) Then Nick comes to Offred, freaking out and being the worst. He doesn’t want to sleep with his baby bride! Offred takes the reins and tells him he better! Then he says “I love you” to her. She stiffens and tells him to go to his wife.
Offred and Commander Devil Fred
These two have a meeting in the kitchen, during Fred’s late night snack. He’s been working on the new Rachel and Leah Center, where they will be able to process so many more Handmaids, to Aunt Lydia’s delight. All the Commanders are coming to inspect the new center, so he’s on a deadline. Offred flirts, mildly, and expresses her wish to see Hannah. Later, Devil Fred comes into her room with a picture of Hannah in her pink clothes. He tells her he missed her, and then touches her belly, and then her boob, and it is so terrible. He starts kissing her and trying to mount her. Offred begs off, citing the baby’s safety (babies are basically an excuse to get out of anything) but tells him she wants him, too. Is this to get back at Serena? Maybe! Is it to gain some power? Probably. Devil Fred takes the baby excuse at face value, and says goodnight. The truth is, I feel like he would have probably asked for a blow job, because he is a terrible asshole, but he doesn’t. If I were writing it, he would have.
Nick and Eden
Ugh these two. So Nick asks her age, and she is fifteen. SHOW. Then, after his talking to by Offred, he decides to do his manly duty. Marital sex in Gilead requires a SHEET WITH A HOLE IN IT. SHOW, you are being so terrible right now. And of course they show it. (Both the sheet and the sex.) At least Eden is mollified and possibly pregnant for now. This is like a reverse rape, with Nick being forced into sex, but it’s also like a statutory rape, because Eden is an actual child. Just when you think we’ve hit peak rape, the show is like: NOPE.
Offred is playing an interesting game. She’s gone back to defiant Offred, willing to manipulate and take charge, basically ordering Nick to fuck his baby bride. She’s letting Fred take liberties, and pretending desire for him, with more skill than she did last season (I almost wrote semester.) She is willing to play along with Serena, and up until she makes the request, I honestly don’t know if she was just manipulating her, or if she was feeling some actual sisterhood with her.
We also get more of Serena’s backstory, in which she is an Ann Coulter type, attempting to speak at a college campus. She is not well received, and the crowd screams cunt at her quite a bit. She’s shouted down, but then goes outside to talk to the crowd. Through sheer willpower she quiets them, selling her agenda of the woman’s biological imperative to breed. Everyone is amazed by the flaxen haired, pant suited orator. As Fred and Serena go to leave, she is shot in the abdomen by an assailant. It might be straight through the ovary! She survives, and when Fred weeps over pushing her, she tells him to man up.
Man up he does, finding the assailant and his woman, taking them into the forest, and executing the woman in front of the shooter.
This ties into the last major thread. Of course, something huge happened this episode. It was so big that I could hardly believe it. Devil Fred and all the commanders gather for the opening of the new Rachel and Leah Center, which is in a gigantic office building. Nick stops Commander Pryce, who recruited him into the Sons of Jacob long ago, and asks to be reassigned, hinting at dark Fred related secrets and asking for the Handmaid to be protected. Pryce doesn’t like Fred all that much, and he seems intrigued. Anyway, all of the Commanders are seated in the room, which is ringed by Handmaids outside. Fred begins giving his speech, and Ofglen steps out of line and heads inside. She reveals a detonator, which sends the Handmaids running. As Fred barks at her that it is not time, she runs towards him and BLOWS UP THE WHOLE ROOM. This is a great big explosion. It’s so big that if anyone survives, we run the risk of entering Annie Wilkes territory (you know, from Misery? She makes a complaint about cliffhangers in old serials, basically saying it’s a cheat to make it look like the character is dead for sure, then revealing in the next episode how he survived. And I agree with her--that’s cockadoodie.) What I’m saying is, this fucker better be dead.
Let’s talk about resistance, shall we? Ofglen blows herself up, no doubt equipped by Mayday, which we were told has gone quiet since Offred’s capture, for her suicide bombing. I happened to read Vanity Fair’s interview with Bruce Miller, the showrunner, and he talked about how he wanted to engender sympathy for a suicide bomber. Then he reversed and talked about how he wanted to show that violence is bad, and that Handmaids were injured and killed in the explosion as well. This, my friends, is bullshit. Asymmetrical warfare is what we have here, and sometimes we enter an any means necessary situation. Ofglen has been systematically raped, and then had her tongue cut out after she refused to stone her friend. Why wouldn’t she take an opportunity to strike at the heart of the oppressors?
Gilead is so poisonous and corrupt that it is impossible, for me, to feel any remorse or worry for any of the commanders. Frankly, if Nick were in there and now blown up, I wouldn’t shed a tear. These men worked behind the scenes for years to bring their coup into reality, destroyed the government, and enslaved every woman. Every woman. EVERY WOMAN. Blow them up a thousand times, and then blow up the debris. Then set it on fire.
What are the Handmaids supposed to do? Use civil disobedience? We’ve seen the regime fire on protesters in the flashbacks. We’ve seen the regime torture the women for the smallest infraction, taking body parts from them. Sometimes violence is necessary. In the face of a powerful oppressor, the oppressed must resort to guerrilla warfare. And a little guerrilla warfare is just what Gilead deserves.
We saw a different type of resistance in the college campus scenes with Serena Joy. The angry crowd shouting her down is supposed to make me feel something like pity for her, and then her resurgence is supposed to make me feel in awe of her strength. THINK AGAIN, SHOW. Gilead did not come into being by democratic means--it was a coup that destroyed the democracy. Serena is one of the architects, and if anything, she’s the real gender traitor, willing to force them back into the kitchen under the guise of protecting the species. She deserved to be shouted down, but I couldn’t help but notice how the show put sexist, degrading slurs into the mouths of the protestors, as if to say “See, they’re not respecting her.” Bitch, cunt, bitch, cunt. Women are the only ones who say cunt, as is our right, but the men say bitch. There is not room for a civil debate, especially when we see the fruit Serena’s plan birthed. The only counter for bad speech is more speech. Serena had the right to speak, and the crowd had the right to shout her down. To even suggest mildly that was inappropriate is gross.
She shouldn’t have been shot. Obviously. The situation had not progressed to the point that would make that a valid choice, unlike Ofglen’s bombing. Ofglen’s bombing is an act of desperation, brought on by the oppression. The assassination attempt was pre-oppression and therefore not warranted. Am I the arbiter of justifiable violence? I suppose I am. Get with it.
PS DEVIL FRED BETTER BE DEAD