OTHER WOMEN (HANDMAID'S TALE RECAP)
Let’s talk about shame, shall we? Shame and guilt are two different feelings, and according to my therapist, guilt (I did something wrong) is acceptable but shame (I am a bad person because I did something wrong) is not okay to hold on to. June is captured and dragged back into Gilead, and she has to confront what has happened to others who tried to help her, and in doing so, feel her shame and guilt. It’s no surprise Gilead runs on shame--think back to Janine’s shaming at the Red Center all those episodes again. Shame is a powerful tool to use against women in particular.
June is chained to the bar in front of the bed in the Red Center, surrounded by Aunts and forced to count the roses on the comforter for stimulation. Aunt Lydia enters with a handmaid’s dress, and the two square off. When Lydia calls her Offred, June sneers that Lydia knows her name. Aunt Lydia breaks it down for her: June will be chained in this room until she gives birth, and then executed. Offred has some different choices: she can return to the Waterfords, be allowed to stay, and have options when she gives birth to the baby. She can put on the dress and prove her worth, or she can end up dead. The next we see our girl, she’s back in that hated handmaid’s dress. Lydia corrects her posture, tilting her head down to the proper subservient angle.
Offred returns to the Waterfords, where she is greeted by Commander Devil Fred, who welcomes her back after her harrowing kidnapping. Serena Joy enters next, and she holds her husband’s hand and looks pissed off. The cover story for her disappearance is that she was kidnapped by the dastardly terrorists of Mayday, which makes sense and is a nice way for the Waterfords to save face, avoiding the shame of allowing a handmaid to run off. We have some hat on the hat voiceover as Offred muses about this while she heads to her room. (Watch that voiceover! Show, not tell!)
Serena Joy comes in and grabs Offred by the throat. “92 days,” she snarls. Offred stares defiantly back. (This is totally unrelated, but google docs seems to think that when I type defiantly I mean definitely. DON’T BOSS ME, GOOGLE.) Anyway, Serena lets go of Offred, who coughs and chokes and then says that as long as her baby is safe, Serena’s is safe as well with a smile. Serena is clearly mad about Offred, and E. Moss is doing a great job as playing her as the bitchiest teenager in the house. Aunt Lydia has moved in to keep her eye on Offred, and she bursts in during Offred’s teenage sulk bath to instruct her to wash. Down there. You know. (vagina). Offred makes more defiant teenage eye contact as she washes. Down there. She’s almost coming on to Lydia. That’s cool, I guess.
The next morning, Rita comes in to help Offred get ready and brings her the letters from the last episode of last season. Offred says that Mayday was supposed to get ahold of her, but Rita is like, they didn’t and also get these away from me. Downstairs, Offred is subjected to Lydia’s terrible baby nutrition shake, which she pukes up. She gets to see Nick and she’s as happy as a teenage girl after seeing her crush at the mall.
Then it is time for a Gileadean baby shower, and if you think that regular baby showers are just the worst, hold on to your butt, because this shit sucks times a million. Thrill to the sight of a woman gulping champagne while unwrapping baby gifts, all as the woman whose baby is going to be stolen looks on! The only good thing about it is that the Marthas steal sips of champagne. Gileadean baby shower games are just as terrible as you would expect. The Wives and the Handmaids hold braided cords, and Offred kneels before Serena while Lydia ties their hands together, like a crazy handfasting baby stealing ritual.
Meanwhile, the dudes are having their man shower, in which they shoot skeet (skeet skeet skeet lol) (also another joke: the only time they don’t shoot blanks, these assholes.) Commander Putnam (Janine’s baby daddy/seducer) is there, sans one hand. So that was his punishment. We recently watched Marisa Tomei get sent to the colonies for adultery but Putnam just got chopped. Good for him, I guess. They talk about Canada easing sanctions and diss Commander Devil Fred for not having his house in order.
Serena is outside, smoking moodily, and Lydia comes out to give her a bit of a pep talk. Aunt Lydia is the mistress of shame, and so she lightly shames Serena, reminding her that everything must be done for the good of the baby. With that, she takes away Serena’s cigarette, because she is a true monster. (My notes say: THIS BITCH!!!)
Offred sits on the stairs as the other Handmaids file out, and she talks to one of her sisters. Alma tells her that the Gileadeans were shitting themselves with her disappearance, and that they cut out poor Ofglen #2’s tongue after she defied the orders to stone poor crazy Janine. Offred eyes Alma’s burn, and Alma tells her it isn’t her fault: she didn’t make them stand up to the Aunts. Offred asks about Mayday, and Alma tells her it’s gone silent: they won’t be helping Handmaids anymore. Offred voiceovers about being shameless, without shame, and how she wishes she could be.
We get our flashback to pre-Gilead as June leaves yoga class to be confronted by Annie, Luke’s first wife. Things go about as terrible as you would expect, with Annie asking June to back off, let her work out her problems with Luke, and then calling her a whore. When June gets home, Luke is shouting into the phone and accuses his soon to be ex-wife (don’t forget, June and Luke started their relationship before he separated from Annie) of trying to wreck their lives. He tells her not to feel guilty, and that he can’t wait to get married. I’m like: HOLD UP. Why the rush to get married? Luke is in love with getting married, apparently. He should marry getting married, basically.
After the shower, Serena and Rita are looking at the gifts. Offred comes up and says that after her shower, they had to give half the presents away. Serena looks her square in the eye and then slaps Rita right to the ground. It was startling! I jumped! If Serena can’t abuse Offred, she’ll abuse others in front of her. Man, what a bitch! Serena is so cruel and terrible. She doesn’t even deserve cigarettes!
Serena stomps into Devil Fred’s mancave while he is enjoying his jazz records and demands that Offred go back to the Red Center. Fred talks her down, telling her that they don’t want to miss the joy of the pregnancy. Which, okay, Fred. You try having a testy teenager in your face all day.
Aunt Lydia takes Offred on a walk after the Rita slapping, and leads her down to the Wall. Hanging there is Omar, the man who helped her in her escape attempt. Lydia tells Offred that Heather, Omar’s wife, is now a Handmaid, and that Child has been placed with another family. Offred crumbles to the ground and says that it is her fault. Lydia picks her up and corrects her: it is June’s fault, not Offred’s. Offred is free from blame--June is the guilty party who deserves the shame. Offred will allow her to escape, to do her service.
The next time we see Offred, she is on her knees in the family room, begging the Waterfords to stay in front of the the staff. Serena looks unconvinced but Fred is clearly pleased to be capable of bestowing such beneficence.
We have one last flashback, this time to a crowded cafe with Luke, June, and baby Hannah. Annie walks in, sees June and the baby, and walks right out.
Serena smokes a cigarette in the baby’s room, to which I was like: What? And was forced to clutch my pearls. She sneaks up the stairs to Offred’s room and gets into bed with her, her hand on Offred’s belly. She’s decided to embrace the pregnancy. “Momma loves you,” she whispers creepily. After she leaves, Offred goes into the closet, where she finds that her Nolite Bastardes Carborundorum has been covered up. My fault, she thinks, over and over again. My fault.
The next morning, she goes downstairs, the camera hiding her face. (For a second I thought that maybe she’d plucked out her own eye or something in penance. But no.) In the yard, Nick tries to have conversation with her, but she blandly talks about the weather. It seems that the weight of the shame has gotten to our girl for now.
Shame is powerful. It’s like carrying around a bucket of rocks in your stomach. The power structures in Gilead are set up to exploit shame as a mechanism for control, and Aunt Lydia is one of the most adept at wielding it. I do think that Offred has some guilt to deal with: the Handmaids were tortured because of her, and Omar was killed, and his family destroyed. Lots of people put themselves on the line for her. Lydia has done a good job at turning that guilt into shame--telling Offred that her pregnancy protects her as the other Handmaids are punished, taking her to see Omar’s body. She reminds her that she was a fallen woman, a whore, until Gilead gave her the opportunity to redeem herself. And through the flashbacks, we can see how that works on Offred’s guilt and shame about her relationship with Luke.
That’s the thing about guilt. While it is an honest emotion, it can warp so easily into shame. At the end of this episode, it seems that Offred has bought into Lydia’s bullshit and is going to tow the line. (But let’s be honest, probably not for long.)