TOO DAMN REAL (HANDMAID'S TALE RECAP)
Here’s the fucking thing. Tonight I read about tender age shelters and I watched Rachel Maddow break down on television and I am sick to death of this world. This one right here. The one we are living in.
What kind of country does this? How can less than half of the population sit back, or worse; defend this madness? This destruction? It makes me want to howl. But it’s my unpaid job to talk about this fiction. And here’s what this fiction and the real world are both saying: we are as bad as all of this.
Did you forget this show is about rape? Maybe you did for a second, what with all the consensual sex and drafting of memos earlier in the season. The show is here to remind you that it is about rape. Call Roy Rogers, because I’ve found Trigger. We open on Emily’s rape and Offred’s voiceover, talking about how one must disassociate from it all. Then, Emily’s commander ejactulates himself straight into a fatal heart attack. The Wife rushes off, and Emily kicks the dead fucker in the side and then the balls. That’s the one good thing that happens. Pretty bad when your high point is abusing a rapist’s corpse!
At the market, the Handmaids talk amongst themselves and Offred notices that Emily is withdrawn. And why wouldn’t she be? She’s going to be reassigned. They have a conversation about staying strong for her child, and Emily says she’s not his mother anymore. Offred doesn’t care for that sort of talk, but she also starts to feel labor pains. Eden is there, too. Off she goes in the Birthmobile, back to the Waterfords.
Nick lovingly helps her out of the van, with Eden trailing behind, looking wise to the fact that there’s something happening here. Inside, Handmaids and Wives gather, while Rita and other Marthas bustle around and Commanders smoke cigars and act like terrible assholes. A Commander inquires about Offred, noting that she’s not unattractive, and Devil Fred bristles. Away from the mancave, the Handmaids and the Wives start to act out their respective batshit birthing rituals. Serena is dressed in her white nightgown, her hair down, beaming with pride and anticipation as the Wives surround her. In trots Aunt Lydia, to inform her that it was false labor. Everyone leaves, and Serena (now a confirmed Scorpio in my head cannon) seethes with rage, as if Offred faked her labor on purpose. The doctor...who just now got there…(wtf) confirms that Offred is zero point zero no baby coming effaced and all of that. Serena wants to induce, but the doctor contradictorily states that they shouldn’t induce, but notes Offred’s petite frame and 9 lb fetus.
Okay, so in the book, Gilead was very anti-reproductive care. There was no screening of pregnant women, and if the baby had birth defects (which seemed more prevalent in the book due to the environmental factors that contributed to the fertility crisis in the first place) it was a “Shredder.” Basically, Gilead was all about the straight up infanticide if the baby did not meet requirements. In the show, though, we’ve seen a lot of natal care, including ultrasounds, and we’ve seen the inside of a hospital room. Why in the fucking hell would they mess around with home birth at all? It’s so illogical it makes me mad.
Anyway, Serena is super pissed, violently potting succulents and plotting dark deeds. She and Fred talk about the “natural way” of inducing labor. Offred goes to Devil Fred and asks him to move her to Hannah’s district when she’s reassigned. He screams at her, and then she gets in his face and tells him the baby is not his. Now, Serena already broke that news, but Offred confirming it no doubt brings about some of what follows. Do I think Fred is that upset that the baby is not his? No. We’ve seen that babies are mostly status symbols. But I do think he’s angry at being defied.
That evening, Serena calls Offred into the bedroom, where she holds her down and Fred rapes her. Offred screams and cries. Fred mumbles some of the Bible bullshit they use during the Ceremony. It’s awful. It crosses all sorts of lines, and places Serena in the land of completely unredeemable. There is no coming back from this—certainly for the character and perhaps for the show.
Meanwhile, Nick catches Eden kissing the douchebag Guardian. He’s like no big deal, and Eden freaks out. She says that he’s in love with the Handmaid, and he gaslights the fuck out of her denying it. Nick is a bastard. He shows Eden no kindness. He doesn’t treat her like a person. She doesn’t rate even a decent excuse. There are many things he could say: that she’s so young, that they don’t know each other, that he’s unhappy to be married at all. But he does none of those things. This woman is fifteen years old. She’s spent her adolescence under the yoke of Gilead. While she may be a true believer, she is still not in charge of her fate here. Nick is a bastard.
The next morning, Devil Fred tells Offred he has a surprise for her. He kisses her head and sends her with Nick. They drive out to the snowy wastes, and up to a house. Inside is Hannah and her Martha, a woman of color. I point this out for a reason: while the show has been race blind in its casting, this was a choice that it made to put Hannah, who is biracial, with a woman of color. Offred falls apart, as one would, and Hannah is scared and angry at being abandoned. All of this is understandable, but given current events, everything is so much more upsetting than it would be normally. Offred and Hannah (now Agnes) have ten minutes together. Hannah warms up to her, after asking some tough questions about why Offred didn’t try harder to find her. It’s all heartbreaking, and when they are parted, Offred begs the Martha to take care of Hannah. They are bundled off, and Nick and Offred take some time.
It’s not long, though, before another vehicle rolls up. Nick tells Offred to hide, and goes out to see what’s up. He engages the Guardians in conversation, but before you know it, guns are drawn and Nick is apprehended, perhaps shot. They drag him into the car and drive off in the SUV Nick and Offred arrived in. Offred is stranded, hugely pregnant. No one is around.
Does the rape cross a line? This show has always been about rape. Maybe it’s unfair to be mad at the show for doing what it’s supposed to do. What I do think is wrong is the zig-zagging of Serena’s character. She’s mean and petty, and then she’s happy playing writer to Offred’s editor. Then she’s mad again, and then even more mad after that. Raping Offred to punish her for false labor is insane and irredeemable. Devil Fred has been consistently devilish--a prick who enjoys owning women--but Serena has seesawed from one extreme to another. I don’t think it makes her character more complicated or deep. Instead, it seems like inconsistency in the writing.
This show has been saluted as being of the times, for being very current. When I see children being ripped from their parents, or in an earlier episode this season, people desperate to escape to another country, and then I see it echoed in real life, it is hard to take. Dystopias are less entertaining to watch when you live in a country that seems to be accelerating toward the same.
I want to tell you about Resistbot. You’ve probably already heard of it, but I make it a practice to send letters to my representatives. Text RESIST to 50409 and it will walk you through the paces of composing and sending a letter to your Congress people. It’s something small, sure. But it’s something.