BABY, OPRAH, SHOTGUN, WOLF (HANDMAID'S TALE RECAP)
In which 1) I don’t know nothing about birthing no babies 2) Offred meets her spirit animal 3) the Waterfords star in on off off off off off off Broadway revival of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” 4) we talk about moms. Also: OPRAH.
Okay, so I really liked this episode, but I know from my Facebook Handmaid groups and from an hours long text fight with KP, many of you did not. I know why I liked it—because it was basically a post-apocalyptic bottle episode (and if there is one thing I like better than dystopia, it’s post-apocalyptic narratives) and because a certain choice felt emotionally true.
Offred is alone, and she basically starts rifling through the house, trying to find what she needs to escape. She finds food and a backpack and a warm coat, but her search is interrupted by the Waterfords driving up, in full panic mode. Into the house they run, Serena screaming Offred’s name like she’s going to catch her and probably murder her. I mean, this is full throated scream. If your dog ran away, you wouldn’t scream his name that way because he would be like: that bitch is crazy and wants to kill me. So it unsuprisingly doesn’t work on a human woman. They go through the house, and Serena finds Offred’s cloak. Oh, I forgot! The house is huge and has super high ceilings and at least three floors and an open staircase (I don’t know what that’s called, I’m not a architect.) Offred hides in the attic, and she gets balcony seats to the Devil Fred and Serena Shit Show.
Serena is like: this is your fault! You raped her and you’re sickly infatuated with her. Devil Fred counters that it is Serena’s fault for never being kind to Offred. He calls her a fucking bitch (which, aside from cunt, is the most potent gendered curse in my book) and wonders when she became such a raging bitch. Serena is like: about the time when I gave up EVERYTHING for you and the cause, and all I ever wanted was a baby, and now I’m not going to get one! Also, lose a Handmaid once, shame on you. Lose one twice: straight to the Wall go you! Devil Fred straight grabs her by the throat (around the time she accuses him of being infatuated with Offred) and throws her against the wall. And she’s like MY BABY WHERE IS MY BABY I NEED A BABY WHY WON’T YOU GIVE ME MY BABY. It’s v. dramatic.
Meanwhile, in the attic, Offred creeps around and opens up what I’m sure was a super creaky chest and finds a shotgun and some shells. She loads the gun and squares up, ready to shoot. But she doesn’t. And many of you howl in fury. Why wouldn’t she waste these two rapist baby stealers? Well, I’m no ballistics expert, but I do think that she is very far away from them and I have my doubts about the shot. Secondly, and more importantly, Offred is not a killer. The threat that the Waterfords pose to her is existential, in that moment. They are not actively threatening her life. Would she be better off without them? Yeah. Have they hurt her in immeasurable ways? Completely. Would I allow a freshman comp student to ask so many questions? Absolutely not.
We’ve seen what it takes to be a killer: Emily poisoned Marisa Tomei for the crime of being a Wife in her area. Devil Fred killed the wife of Serena’s attempted assassin. Both of these murders were done in cold blood, for vengeance. Emily has been tortured, and Devil Fred is the King of the Sons of Bitches.
Offred is not either of these people. And that’s okay. I think it takes a lot to be able to kill another person, and I don’t think Offred had it in her. I believe that--I buy it. I buy it about both the show Offred and the novel Offred. Pulling the trigger is not as easy as we might believe from watching movies and shit.
I was raised on a ranch, around guns used as tools, primarily. The last time I shot an animal was more than 20 years ago. (It was a squirrel, and I still feel guilty) A few weeks ago, I was visiting my mother (a Scorpio) on the ranch. My mother is a bird watcher, and she develops really intense narratives about the birds. Anyway, she felt beset by cowbirds. The thing with cowbirds is that they lay their eggs in other birds’ nests, and their eggs hatch first, to be fed by the other bird parents. The cowbird fledglings grow quickly, and they push the real bird babies out of the nest. They are brood parasites. My mom came home to find a fledgling in the forsythia (say that five times fast) and she pinned the murder on the cowbirds. Now my mother, a noted Scorpio, has decided that all cowbirds are evil and deserve death. We were sitting on the porch, and my stepfather had left his shotgun outside in case the cowbird came back. The male cowbird came into the yard, performing his elaborate mating dance for two females. “Look at that bastard,” my mother said. “All puffed up.”
I knew my mom wanted me to shoot the bird, so being a good daughter, I picked up the shotgun. I looked down the barrel and I couldn’t do it. Cowbirds are bastards and assholes, in the bird world. Even the Audubon site has a bad opinion of them, and states that they may be pushing other species into endangered territory due to their parasitism. Also, my mom really wanted this bird dead. But I could not do it. I couldn’t satisfy her Scorpio bloodlust. (Later my step dad came and shot the damn bird. He’s a Scorpio, too, for the record.)
What I’m trying to say is that I understand why she didn’t pull the trigger. Birds are birds and these two are hideous traitors and rapists, but I understand. Taking a life is not easy for most of us.
Anyway, Offred lets them escape. She continues to rummage through the house, finding keys to the four car garage, maps that detail the spread of Gilead, and a picture that Hannah drew of her new parents (in Wife blue and Commander black). In the garage, she finds a super hot rod car, and she keeps turning it on and running the engine, making me fear carbon monoxide. The power is out in the house, and she can’t get the garage door open. She tunes the radio and hears the sweet sounds of Radio Free America, featuring Oprah Motherfucking Winfrey as a DJ broadcasting from the Great White North. The real Oprah. She talks about international sanctions against Gilead, and then throws to a Bruce Springsteen song to remind both the Gilead traitors and American patriots that the stars and stripes are forever, baby. (Now, in my imagination, RuPaul is the evening DJ on Radio Free America. Probably with Visage cackling in the background.)
Pumped up by the Boss, Offred puts the car in gear and drives into the garage door. She really puts the pedal to the metal, burning rubber like a real American, but to no avail. She goes back outside and sees the black wolf. This wolf keeps showing up, and it stares at her, and her in her red outfit, and it's just oh so Little Red Riding Hood. It’s beautiful, but illogical. I feel like the wolf is her spirit animal. Also its a lone wolf. SYMBOLISM!
Offred is struggling with the garage door when she has her first labor pains. She remembers being pregnant with Hannah, and how her mom, Holly, wanted her to have the baby in a deluxe birthing suite at a birthing center with midwives. We also get to hear that Holly had June with no drugs, and went into labor in the middle of surgery. It is a known fact that all mothers who had natural births will lord that over their children until the heat death of the universe. June is not into that natural midwife shit, and wants a hospital with all the drugs. Holly promises to be there, and June is like, we both know you won’t. It’s pretty heartbreaking. She goes into labor with Hannah at the hospital with Luke and Moira (these three really are a triad) fighting over playlists. We get the typical labor story. Push push push, I hate you husband who has done this to me, etc.
Meanwhile, she is in labor with this baby. And boy is there a lot of blood. I don’t know anything about birthing no babies, but I do think that is an extraordinary amount of blood. She had complications earlier in her pregnancy, if you recall. So she goes outside with the shotgun, has another wolf encounter, and blasts off some rounds to alert someone of her presence. Then she goes back inside and takes off all her clothes and shits that kid out. While she does that, she flashes to her mother coming in right after Hannah came out, and back to the Red Center where Aunt Lydia gave them forced Lamaze, and to poor old one-eyed Janine, shitting out that kid with Mrs. Putnam sitting in a chair over her. E. Moss screams and the baby comes out, lit by firelight. She cuddles with the baby, names her Holly, and is relaxing when headlights illuminate the room.
So, there is a lot of rage in the air about this. Why didn’t she bust out that car and drive to Canada? Why didn’t she waste the Waterfords? Why didn’t she run through the woods, leaking blood? Why didn’t she tame the wolf and have the wolf drag a travois upon which she would give birth right as they crossed into Canada, and then the wolf could lick the baby clean? BECAUSE BITCH SHE WAS HAVING A BABY AND DOING THE BEST SHE COULD IN THE MOMENT. Why don’t you go do all that, Ms. Murder Rebel Wolf Tamer? All while you are shittting out a NINE pound baby and hemorrhaging blood. As for me, I stand by her choices.
One more thing to yell about. The writers. Oh, the writers. Why did they have to put a shotgun in there in the first place? Her hiding from the Waterfords was scary enough. That’s horror movie territory. If this crossed my workshop table, I’d lean forward and say, “Why don’t you make this a flare gun?” Putting a shotgun out there and not murdering is sort of breaking Chekhov's gun rule. Yes, the gun went off. But my point is that it shouldn’t have been a shotgun in the first place.
Anyway, I liked this episode. They already put her in a ridiculous position, and this gave E. Moss a chance to really act the fuck out of some stuff. Fight me in the comments.