We armed ourselves with glasses of red wine I had picked based solely on the label, but it was hardly fortification enough.  If the first episode was dedicated to rage, the second was a testament to grief.  I watched it, appropriately enough, with my sister-in-law/best friend/murder wife, and I recommend considering a viewing buddy for this show – in addition to giving you someone to flail with, it softens the desolation a little.  And make no mistake, this is a show very invested in the complicated machinery of female relationships.

In my tip o’ the hat to some core concept of plot summary, here’s the bones of what happens:  Nick, the driver with eyebrows that go all the way up, warns Offred that she shouldn’t trust Ofglen – her only real friend.  The handmaids witness and participate in a birthing ceremony that, despite the absence of capering demons, is more horrific than anything Kubrick could have dreamed up with his eyes widest shut, where the baby is immediately taken from the handmaid who birthed her, and given to the wealthy, infertile woman who owns her.  Offred is summoned by her commander (and dear friends, if you bet that I choked on it, calling the man her commander, please stop by the window to collect your winnings) to what turns out to be the most chaste game of Scrabble ever played.


Ok, so the basic DNA established, call ‘em out with me:

Return to traditional values: I questioned in the last review, which traditions, whose values.  We can begin to use the clues provided by the setting and the background to flesh out the answers to those questions.  The episode opens with the handmaids casually chatting while men in black hoods are being hanged behind them – clearly not a new occurrence.  This is as much performance as a warning as it is punishment. The work of tyranny that uses constant fear and intimidation to mask their own and maintain their sense of order.  Fall in line, or else… It’s witch trials that ran too long, past the point of their dark fascination.  A constant reminder that you are never safe.  This casual approach to death is a stark contrast to the premium put on childbirth.  It is hard to accept that life is what is valued, when it is thrown away on street kabuki, as a tool of manipulation and control.  This is a retrograde notion; the public execution shock collar.  As too is the notion that men have no place in child birth.  It is a relatively new phenomenon, the supportive partner in the room while a woman pushes a watermelon out of her pelvis.  Much like handmaids are only wombs, men are walking seed factories.  This world has taken all of the pleasure out of sex.  All the love out of child rearing.


Code Speak:  Guys, I could write a book on this.  I’m going to try to rein it in a little, because the temptation is to get extremely precious here, push my glasses all the way up my nose and prep for wedgies.  Pull out your Orphan Annie decoders, we’re going in.  The phrase “under His eye” is used casually enough, but we know two things:  one, that His as spoken is not inherently capitalized and thus can easily be representative of men in general, the patriarchy over all, and two, that “eye” is the word used to refer to spies in this society.  There is no innocuousness in this world – is it paranoia if you really can’t trust anyone? During the birthing scene, the women chant “breathe” and “push”.  These are, yes, obvious child birth watch words, but they are also very general.  Breathe, yes, deep breaths to push out a child, but both words, to women whose constant existence is a struggle, could also mean “survive”.  Keep breathing.  Push through.

They’re good at making us distrust each other: this is almost as representative of the relationship between the viewer and the show as to any character relationships. Nick warning Offred not to trust Ofglen is a simple action made complicated. We inherently distrust Nick because he is male, but we also do not know enough about Ofglen to be sure she isn’t dangerous.  When you don’t know who to believe, don’t believe anyone.


Keep your head down.  All this crazy shit is going to end. – Is pretty clearly disproven by the casual hangings I mentioned way back in paragraph 3 ( we were so young then). In a flashback, while discussing violence, Offred tells her friend Moira “I’m not that kind of person” and Moira responds “No one is until they have to be.”  The essence of this world is what we can endure if we want to survive.  The things that make it difficult to recognize ourselves, once the blood dries.  You can become so accustomed to death that you don’t notice the last twitch of the body swinging next to you, while you walk to buy groceries.  Offred can go from being a woman with a career to a woman in a red robe who chants in a colonial ritual, while another woman gives birth.  However, she cannot swallow the cookie offered to her by her commander’s wife, and that is telling.  She will accept it, chew it, but she will not swallow it.

It’s insulting to your intelligence and my word count to even go into Femininity equals fertility. You see it.  I don’t need to beat that particular murdered horse.

And last but not least, since our resident male only just watched the pilot, here’s the What did Jim think? for episode 1: “Well, according to Margaret Atwood, the future is shite and a little kinky but mostly just shite.   Earth is jacked up and ruined by pollution and said pollution has rendered most of the ladies infertile.  So instead of accepting this as a simple cause and effect science situation, god is blamed for the ill effects and yes religious kooks seems to rule the future as well.

Few females can still produce viable offspring, so to make them more desirable to a potential suitor they are forced to wear granny panties and dress like pilgrims.  Fortunately they have not gone completely puritanical and when its time to knock boots with a handmaid, they rock out in a naughty reverse cuckold style which allows the barren wife to enjoy the process much more thoroughly.”

I have so much more I want to discuss, but I run the risk of getting wildly long-winded. So instead I will include a picture of my notes from the episode, including a list of words that Offred and the Commander used in their Scrabble game.  I’ll be in the comments if anyone wants to take a crack at them!

Until tomorrow, friends, don’t let the bastards grind you down.

By Kelly Mintzer

Kelly Mintzer hates dolls but loves movies about evil ventriloquist dummies. She is working her way through the “Sandman” series slowly but surely, and has been compared more than once to that iteration of Death. Holding down South Philly with a creative writing degree and the full series of “Hannibal”, she hasn’t seen her natural hair color in years.