Get a glass of cold water and your vapors, friends, because today we are talking about sex. Before you get too enthusiastic about the promise of something positive, though, remember this is The Handmaid’s Tale we’re talking about. In my increasingly dire need to get the most bang for my figurative buck, I propose we dive right into the requisite plot synopsis, shall we?
The Ofglen who was Offred’s nearest and only friend has been replaced. I would normally reserve this small bit of dissection for code talk, but I’m going to breach protocol, and I hope you’ll forgive me for it. The nature of the nomenclature becomes pivotal here (and it is entirely possible the more eagle eyed readers/viewers have already broken it down and figured it out. Skip ahead a sentence, have a drink, pat yourself on the back) in that the reason an Ofglen can be an Ofglen without being our Ofglen, is that the name has nothing to do with her – it is, quite literally, “of Glen.” As in “the property…” Alright, so that bit of business attended to, Offred knows that a new Ofglen cannot possibly be a good thing, and we, the viewers get to see the full extent of just how awful it is. Ofglen Classic was engaging in a relationship with a “Martha” – the name that is universally assigned to household domestic staff. Both women are taken away; the Martha is granted “mercy” – which translates to being hanged, and OfGlen is sentenced to “redemption”; a sort of brutal genital mutilation. Simultaneous to this action, Offred has a brush with pregnancy, only to get her period by the end of the episode, and have the hope of better treatment and deeper kindness eradicated. Alright, guys, let’s go.
Return to Traditional Values: The obvious stigmatizing of homosexuality is certainly nothing new, but to outlaw it so completely is definitely a throwback to an earlier time. Though not explicitly stated, it is pretty abundantly obvious here that the purpose for the ban is – as all things in this society are – reproduction. The notion that women might receive pleasure from sex has no place here. Recall that it was not so long ago that the notion of a female orgasm was treated as mythology akin to Tooth Fairies and Easter bunnies. The holder of these traditional values – the upholder of the patriarchy – is very frightened of a world where women do not need men; where sex can be for pleasure on both sides, and not simply procreation.
Code Speak: Oh, man. There is an awful lot to get into this episode. We’ll get the obvious ones (also known as: “The ones Kelly’s already mentioned”) out of the way first. Calling it “mercy” to hang the Martha is, perhaps the most ominous code we have yet encountered. If this is the definition of mercy they are adhering to, we as an audience know that whatever is awaiting Ofglen is so much worse. “Redemption”, they call it, but redemption for who? This is a language where “redemption” means her body can still bear children, but any hope of actual pleasure is removed and replaced with a constant reminder of how she strayed from the societal mores. The names – Offred, Ofglen, Ofwhoever – are further tools of subjugation. Identity is taken away and replaced with a mark of ownership. A brand, so that not only others, but also the handmaid in question, is constantly reminded that she is less than who she belongs to, and can be replaced. In flashbacks to the tumult that directly led to the current society, we come to learn how fear was a tool utilized to impart this new world order. The phrase “that was about preventing another attack,” regarding stringent and dictatorial policies feels terribly close – and we know, with our eyes wide open, that that is a phrase that is used to justify all manner of sins. People are much more accepting of anything from the mundane to the monstrous when they believe it is for their own protection. Finally, Ofglen is assigned a “gender traitor,” because of her homosexuality. “Traitor” is clearly a loaded word, intended to vilify her nature and turn her biology into a decision. Additionally, her pursuit of sexual pleasure instead of simply reproduction is what labels her a traitor. A subtle, constant reminder that we have only one purpose.
They’re good at making us distrust each other: We’re not going to go too deeply into this one; paranoia is omnipresent on this show, but in this particular episode, I think the greatest example of playing one party off of the other is simply in referring to Ofglen as a gender traitor. It’s right there in the name.
Keep your head down. All this crazy shit is going to end. : In this episode, we see the inverse of that. A flashback shows Offred and Moira (a stone cold bad ass I hope we see much more of) protesting the restrictions being put on women’s rights. It is obviously deeply tempting to compare this to the recent Women’s Marches, but even discounting that the episode was filmed well before they occurred, in reality the end result more nearly resembles recent Black Lives Matters protests, where peaceful demonstrators exercising their right to protest and express their dissatisfaction are violently subdued by militant police forces. No wonder then, that Offred decides to keep her head down; speaking up seemed to only create a worse situation.
Perhaps the greatest example of Femininity equals Fertility this week comes when Offred’s mistress (? I guess? I’m not sure what you call the wife of the man who basically owns you…) discovers that Offred’s gotten her period. Earlier in the episode, when Offred is being interrogated regarding Ofglen, her mistress defends her against a cattle prod, because she believes in the bun in that oven. When she finds out the Offred is not pregnant, she goes full Joan Collins, and locks Offred in a room alone, assuring her things can get worse for her. Though really. Duh. Offred is only worth protecting to her when there is the possibility she is carrying a child.
Before I close this review, I want to mention briefly that I have not spent much (any?) time discussing how fucking incredible the performances are on this show, and that is remiss of me. To the last, they are brilliant. A strong argument could be made for this being Alexis Bledel’s (Ofglen) episode, and I would have no complaint with that. Elizabeth Moss kills as Offred, Samira Wiley makes Moira the absolute coolest, and Max Minghella (and his eyebrows) just crackles with this-is-a-bad-idea sexual energy. He and Elizabeth Moss haven’t touched yet, and their chemistry is still completely and absolutely riveting.
I’m afraid that today’s What did Jim think? is slightly obscured by the fact that he can’t separate the episodes in his head right now – so we’ll tag him in when we’re doing just one a week; for today all I’ve got from him is: “Just write something witty and insightful for me.” But we don’t give into the patriarchy around here.
Because I only ever get to a small portion of what I wish I could say, I am including my notes again here. Weekly reviews start Wednesday, so keep geeking out with me!
Until then, don’t let the bastards grind you down.