A MOTHER'S LOVE (HANDMAID'S TALE RECAP)
The Office: Gilead sure does leave one with a strange taste in her mouth, huh? This week we get to see Offred and Serena, the new power couple, engage in all sorts of shenanigans, forging papers and saving babies and all sorts of things.
We open on Offred and Serena woman-spreading all over Commander Devil Fred’s mancave. They’re drinking tea, listening to The Commodores (HEY! The Commodores??? Like The COMMANDERS? Show, you minx) and getting down to the work of running the Republic of Gilead behind closed doors. Devil Fred is still in the hospital, and Serena and Offred are writing the policies, man. They are writing the shit out of them. These two are getting along like real friends. Unfortunately, Devil Fred returns from hospital, and I’m sad to report that his devilishness has increased by twofold.
It is clear that Fred was aware of Serena’s doings, and even encouraged them. He was willing to let her take the reins, but now that he’s back, all of that must immediately stop. He casts her out of the mancave, and Yvonne Strahovski earns about thirty Emmys and a Tony in this episode. We’ve seen before how these two fascist turds worked together to build this house of horrors that is Gilead. Serena literally wrote the book on it, and was wounded in an assassination attempt while championing the ideas. I have no doubt that the Sons of Jacob used the attack on her as a way to further their pre-takeover agenda. Can’t you just see them on Fox News, screaming about this deadly attack on free speech from our liberal college campuses? Moral outrage was their bread and butter, I’m sure. We’ve also seen how quickly Serena was hoisted on her own petard--the minute they took over, she was escorted to her place as second class citizen.
Second class citizen is a lot better than third or fourth class citizen, which is what Gilead made of most of the other women in the country. Offred has the sheer ovaries to ask Serena about how she feels with all of this--being pushed out, putting her intellect out to pasture, being forced into her role. Serena admits that she “truly detests knitting” and I was like haha but also KNITTING IS AWESOME. I have a theory that you can tell a lot about a person by the quality of their stockinette stitches, and this just confirms that Serena’s work must be super tight and radiating resentment. Just like the lady, right?
Fred is greeted by his stable of women: Rita, Eden (with a craft project), and Offred. Rita is the best, basically, telling him that she’s made all his favorites. Eden nervously hands over the little pocket square or whatever the fuck that was, and Offred is like, yeah, I’m pregnant and you love it.
Anyway, Fred is like, NOPE to Serena. Meanwhile, Serena tells Offred that baby Angela is not doing so well. Offred spills the beans to Janine in the market, and she is predictably freaked out. But before that, poor Janine says: my new family is really nice! It’s just the Ceremony and no blow jobs! Crack--goes my heart. While they are at the market, they hear the baby ambulance go by. I want to pump the breaks and talk about how incredibly stupid Gilead is. This baby ambulance, with its special siren and it’s diaper pin logo, is just the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen. It made me want to giggle. Like, who are these people? This comes straight from St. Atwood’s text! All the different vans with different sirens. To quote Serena, “Not the commanders’ best work.” All the effort they put in to this stuff! Why must they make me use my lifetime quota of exclamation points just to talk about how ding dong this whole system is?
Janine is freaked out. She wants to see her baby. Offred tries to smooth her down, and Emily basically says that everyone complicit in the structure of Gilead deserves to suffer. Because the show has relapsed on its addiction to voiceover, we get to hear Offred think about what Emily would say if she knew Offred was helping Serena. Yeah, she probably wouldn’t like it.
Offred, with those powerful ovaries of hers, goes to Serena to beg for Janine. Serena agrees, and then she tells Offred that the baby is not receiving as much care as she deserves. You see, the top neonatologist is now a Martha. Serena thinks that she could save baby Angela if she could be transferred to the hospital for one day. Serena goes to Devil Fred to tell him about the situation, and he’s like, SUPER SHRUG, women aren’t doctors, so what if a baby dies. Doesn’t this just underline what was really in it for the men? All along, saving the human race was the stated goal, but underneath, the real purpose was to push women out of society. This is the problem with Serena. She’s a true believer--she wants to save the human race, and she thinks this stupid shit is the way to do it. (A big sidenote here for novel readers: what’s interesting in the book is the way that white supremacy plays out over and over again. Gilead is not trying to save the human race--it’s created to save the white race. Professor Pieixoto, in the epilogue, specifically cites the falling birth rates among Caucasians. They weren’t interested in the human race, but merely their own kind. We’ve lost this in the color blind casting of the show.) Anyway, when Fred denies her request, she sees no other way but to forge the documents and make it happen.
What do we think everyone’s signs are? I think Devil Fred is a Virgo because of course he is. Serena...maybe an Aquarius...possibly a Scorpio. Rita is a Taurus, Eden is another Virgo. Nick is a Cancer (IN ALL WAYS). Luke is a...Sagittarius because he’s lucky and dumb. Moira is a Leo, no doubt. Offred is probably a May Gemini. (That two facedness is going to come in big time here.) Anyway, fight me in the comments.
Serena appeals to the Putnams to let Janine see her baby. For some crazy reason, Mrs. Putnam goes along with it, even though her idiot husband is like oh, that’s a good idea. This seems totally out of character for the most definitely a Scorpio Mrs. Putnam. Aunt Lydia brings Janine to the hospital, where Offred swears to manage the situation. Aunt Lydia is a bit of a puppy dog when it comes to Janine--that is, when she’s not having her eye removed or sending her to the Colonies. They have a weird relationship, those two. Janine gets to look at baby Angela/Charlotte through the glass, as the baby struggles in an incubator. Meanwhile, Serena sneaks the doctor Martha (Dr. Hudson, apparently) (also shout out to Doctor Who fans, you fucking dorks) into the hospital, and the attending doctor gushes over her and her accomplishments. How stupid are these people, and how clear is their agenda? The answer: very stupid and very clear.
Dr. Hudson is shell shocked at her position, and it is truly heartbreaking. Like Serena, and Offred, and the Top Chef Martha in season one, and every single other fucking woman in Gilead, her true potential has been taken from her. This about ripped my heart out. She slips back into her Grey’s Anatomy groove and orders a variety of tests for baby Angela.
The sad news, is though, that they can’t find anything wrong with the baby. Okay, here’s what I thought while Offred and Janine watched the Putnams interact with Dr. Hudson. I thought it was shaken baby syndrome. I really did. Mrs. Putnam hates this fucking annoying baby. The show is not as dark as I am, so instead it amounts to failure to thrive. It seems that baby Angela is not long for this world. Everyone has a surprising amount of humanity, and they allow Janine to come into the room and hold the baby. Janine slips off her mask and gown and kisses the baby.
The next morning, the Putnams wake up to Janine singing to the baby. Because this show is a torture chamber, everyone assumes the baby is dead and Janine has slipped completely into crazyland. BUT--that is not the case. Janine has shed her Handmaid dress and is holding the cooing Angela, skin on skin. She’s single handedly cured baby Angela’s failure to thrive with a night of mother love. This is soppy sop, and I found it incredibly moving. Underneath it all, though, runs this thought--what good does it do in the grand scheme of things? This baby, a girl, is only going to survive to become a part of this system. Her best chance is being a Wife and raping another woman monthly. Similarly, what does Janine end up with? She’s saved the baby but she’s not going to be allowed to mother her. I’m just a little black rain cloud.
Back at the Waterfords’ house, Devil Fred finds the music box and rose Serena gave to Offred and immediately puts the pieces together. He calls both women into the mancave, and proceeds to beat Serena with a belt. We’re right back in the torture chamber now. He makes Offred watch, and because this show is obsessed with Offred, we see most of through her face. Protagonist-itis strikes again. Fred is savage and terrible, and Serena is humiliated. Later, Offred creeps up to her door as Serena removes her clothing and surveys her bruises. Offred attempts to connect, but Serena sends her away. Time will tell if this humiliation has alienated Serena from Offred, as was Fred’s plan to begin with, or if it will bond the women closer.
Fred is smart enough to realize that he must break this partnership before it goes too far. Gilead is a surveillance state, and in a surveillance state, it is in the regime’s best interest to turn individuals against each other. Speaking of that, we see this same idea unfold in the minor Nick and Eden storyline. Eden wants to spruce up the apartment, and Nick gives her permission and plays the husband humoring his little woman’s whims. Which, total and complete barf forever. Nick still doesn’t see Eden as a potential threat, because he is an idiot. While she’s working on her HGTV audition tape, she finds the stack of contraband letters Nick took from Offred when she was going mad. Nick freaks out and has zero cool about it, demanding to know if she read them. Eden swears that she hasn’t, but who knows. She could drop the dime at any time. After all, there is a great deal of secret hand holding, impregnating, and memo forging happening every single day in the Waterford household.
At the end of the episode, Offred approaches Devil Fred’s mancave and knocks. He comes to the door and opens it only a crack. She flirts with him and slyly begs forgiveness. He doesn’t come around right away, and when she turns around, she at first seems smug and satisfied. E. Moss performs that patented face acting, though, and we watch as she distingrates into despair. What are we supposed to take away from this? That she’s tortured by betraying her new bff, Serena? That she’s disgusted that she has to play these games with Shithead Fred? That she is in the world’s worst case of the prisoner’s dilemma? Some of it? All of it? I’m not sure, but I’m a lucky and dumb Sagittarius. Offred is living that #GeminiLyfe.