Hi everyone, welcome to The Handmaid's Tale, recommended by two of my very favourite readers (you know who you are!!) and a great neighbour; I understand this show has extra significance in these uncertain political times. Not that hating women or misogyny is new, we're just not used to seeing it being openly displayed so we're all playing a bit of catch up. Rolling S1:E1 Offred after the break.
Disclaimer: I read the book a loooong time ago and the only specific thing remember is the coveting of vaseline for skin care. And that people humped in three part formations, just not in a sexy too-much-apricot-brandy kind of way.
We open with the sound of sirens chasing an old blue Volvo down a highway; inside are Offred (Elisabeth Moss), Luke (O-T Fagbenle!! The best part of The Five) and Hannah (Jordana Blake), all terrified. Luke loses control of the car and slides into a tree; he stays behind to distract while Offred and Hannah run into the woods.
Side note: parenting in an emergency sounds EXACTLY like this. "We're good, baby, we're fine, I love you, we're good NOW RUN! RUN FASTER!!!!"
Offred and Hannah don't make the two miles to where someone is waiting for them; Offred stops when she hears gunshots.
And then hides to no avail. Hannah is dragged from her kicking and screaming while Offred is knocked out with a baton. She comes to while being loaded into a van and now we're in the present and Offred is repeating words to herself. She muses about the nature of shatterproof windows; they aren't to discourage running away but rather to prevent a permanent escape, the kind that comes from a cutting edge. Offred tries not to think about those.
We see her back at the beginning of her second posting as a Handmaid, being instructed by Serena Joy (Yvonna Stahovski) and it's almost worse because here her oppressor is a woman, yes? Although truly: what kind of choice does any woman have under these circumstances? Serena Joy is just happy that Offred has been through this already, the last Handmaid they had was new, "it was like training a dog, only not a very smart one."
Offred and I blink a lot at that.
Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) joins us with a "blessed be the fruit"; Offred answers "may the Lord open." They have a scripted dance of a conversation, ruined at the end when Offred answers "you too" to his "nice to meet you." She knows instantly she messed up, she thought for herself for a second and Serena Joy is furious. She wants to see as little of Offred as possible; Commander Waterford is her husband until death do they part.
Next we meet a Martha, which I'm guessing refers to infertile woman who are still able-bodied. I thought Rita (Amanda Breugel) was Naya Rivera, she could be her twin! She's making bread in the kitchen from scratch (there's another way to make bread?); it's what they fought for, the return to traditional values.
Offred eavesdrops on the Waterfords then collects her food rationing stamps from Rita, who chastises her for not rushing out right away where Ofglen (Alexis Bledel) is waiting. Offred thinks Ofglen is a "pious little shit with a broomstick up her ass."
She walks outside, greeting Nick (Max Minghella) the driver whom she calls low status, he hasn't even been issued a woman. He flirts a tiiiiiiny bit and while Offred is flip in her head (she's going to pound brews at the Oyster House!) she can't know if he's an Eye, so she leaves with a Peace Be With You and some meaningful eye contact.
Ofglen isn't just a pious little shit, she's also watching Offred, as Offred is watching her. In Gilead, all Handmaids walk together in pairs, for their safety, course, but mostly for the spying. They discuss the ongoing war, it's going well, praise be. The wings are obviously blinders, meant to keep the women from seeing too much or being seen, but they do have their uses.
Offred is distracted by a group of schoolgirls being led past, we all looked for Hannah, yes? She flashes back to watching her daughter play with her dad in the water while Offred watched from the beach.
In the grocery store, armed guards watch the cashiers while Offred and Ofglen run into a couple of young Handmaids, Oferic (Bahia Watson) and Ofsamuel (Jenessa Grant). They're excited, there are oranges, so fighting in Florida must be going well. Ofsamuel suggests that Offred ask for some for Serena Joy, even without tokens she might be able to get some since the Commander is so high up. His name is in the news! A tightening around Ofglen's eyes warns Ofsamuel that she's made a mistake: she wasn't reading the news, she just heard about it! Ofsamuel is in trouble because pious little shit Ofglen is totally the type to tattle on literacy.
Offred doesn't need oranges; she's doing her level best not to scream and grab the nearest weapon. Instead she agrees to walk home by the river, which turns out to be not as awesome as that sounds.
For one thing, there are all the dead men hanging there.
A priest, a doctor (abortion assumed) and a gay man. This flashes Offred back to Orientation in her new life, where Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd - ohmigod I love Ann Dowd SO MUCH. She's phenomenal in everything she does, I saw her recently in Captain Fantastic but last in Girls, this gif needs to be aired again
) is educating the women on God's scourge of infertility. Offred catches the eye of Moira (Samira Wiley!! From Orange Is the New Black! Her name is high up in the credits, I hope she has a big part) who carefully shakes her head. Offred remembers Moira smoking a jay and getting groped by an unknown woman, none of that should be shared right now.
Aunt Lydia explains their purpose: they're to bring forth children for the faithful and their barren wives.
An obstreperous new recruit is tased IN THE NECK then dragged out screaming while Offred tries to settle herself from shaking.
Aunt Lydia reassures everyone; this may not feel normal now, but "ordinary is just what you're used to." It will seem normal soon AND THAT'S THE PROBLEM.
At night, Moira and Offred at least have each other, thank the gods. Moira knows it; Offred is gonna find Hannah. Does Moira promise? Pinky swear?
You gotta take the tiny moments that make you laugh on this show.
Moira's girlfriend Odette wasn't as "lucky" as Moira; she was picked up in one of the Dyke Purges, reclassified as an unwoman and sent to the colonies.
The young woman who disrupted class earlier is brought in, bloody and mewling like a kitten, her right eye has been removed. "If my right eye offends thee, pluck it out." Breeding stock doesn't need eyes.
Back in the present, Offred can't linger by the dead hanged men that are thankfully not Moira, she has to go home and prepare for the Ceremony.
First is a bath, she is to be washed and brushed like a prize pig. In the bath, she closes her eyes and thinks of her daughter. She prays that her daughter remembers her but I'm transfixed by the tag on her ear. They get tagged like animals?
At the sound of chiming, she heads to the living room, trying to figure out what she did to deserve this.
Back in the past, the young woman with one eye Janine (Madeline Brewer) is sharing her feeling about the gang rape she endured. She knew most of the men involved, from school and the like, she couldn't believe they were doing this. And whose fault was that, asks Aunt Lydia? Janine doesn't answer quick enough so the rest of the Handmaids help: HER FAULT. She led those boys on!
Offred stares, but she isn't pointing so she gets smacked in the face by Margaret Atwood. Yes, Margaret Atwood who wrote the book this is based on, that was weird! Took me right out of the scene, mostly because I'm pretty sure Dame Atwood is totally in the habit of randomly slapping strangers.
Offred kneels in the Waterford living room, Rita and Nick make small talk while they wait for the patrons to appear. Serena Joy is first, lighting up a cigarette and waiting until there is a knock at the door.
The knock is lipservice to Serena Joy's status this evening; it is her domain. Commander Waterford enters and reads a bible verse to his captive audience.
We see the act of procreation; the Commander fully dressed thrusting between the legs of Offred, also fully dressed, laying with her head in Serena Joy's lap while Serena Joy holds tightly to her wrists.
Two things: Serena Joy tries not to cry during and the Commander never touches Offred with his hands, which are on his hips.
He cleans himself up with a handkerchief then takes his leave; Offred is sent packing immediatey after, even though both women know she's supposed to stay on her back to help the chances. When Serena Joy orders her out, Offred hesitates, perhaps not wanting to have to keep going through this same grotesque ritual, but Serena Joy wants to cry alone.
Offred creeping carefully off the bed to keep the semen in place is perfection; there's not a woman alive that couldn't tell that's what she was doing.
Later, she can't take the feel or the smell of the Seed of The Worthy leaving her vagina and bursts into the garden, gasping for air as Nick watches.
Back at the Red Centre, Janine has completely lost the plot, naked and introducing herself to the window over and over. Offred tries to help, but it's Moira who snaps Janine out of it, slapping her across the face. If she doesn't shape up, she'll be sent to the colonies to clean up toxic waste. Moira warns Offred to do the same if she sees Janine like that again; that shit is contagious. "Keep your f*cking shit together."
Those words are a mantra for Offred now.
She wonders as she watches Nick outside the next day; why didn't he tell the Eyes? Three bells chime, which means a Savaging? Salvaging? I dunno!
Nick is definitely flirting with our lady of the bonnet; but she's too terrified to respond past a slight tightening of the lips that could be a smile. Maybe.
The Handmaids all gather at an outside location, walking between rows of armed men, but it's not all bad. There are friends from the past there! Alma (Nina Kiri) whose patron can barely get it up, but she hasn't heard anything about Moira. One-eyed-Janine pops up then to tell everyone that Moira is dead, but there's not time to react because Ofglen has been clocking everything and the event is starting.
Moira tried to escape, a jubilant and very pregnant Janine explains; Moira was sent to the colonies so for sure she's dead by now *big smile*.
Oh and now we find out what a Savaging is. A man is brought forth by Aunt Lydia; he had raped and the punishment is death. Offred cries for Moira while the man's fate is sealed: not only did he rape someone, that someone was a pregnant Handmaid and she lost the baby. To think that all of this inhumanity and humiliation was for nothing.
The Handmaids remove their wings and gather in a circle around the doomed man
It's a swarming when Aunt Lydia blows the whistle; Offred leading the bloody charge in attacking the stranger. It's kind of genius; this gives the Handmaids somewhere to direct their anger (not at the Aunts) under safe conditions. I wish the man had spoken. His silence made me wonder if his tongue was cut out and if Aunt Lydia was lying about the charges, they were too perfectly suited to trigger all these women into a murderous rage.
Only pregnant Janine abstains, rubbing her belly and enjoying the sun on her ruined eye as the woman attack.
The whistle blows again and it's over as suddenly as it began, Offred breathing heavily as Janine wishes her a good day and Ofglen watches closely. They walk home together, Offred (back when she was Patty? I fink?) meeting Moira, whose late but that's okay because Offred is REALLY late: as in pregnant. She's not happy or excited, though, she's worried. People aren't just having trouble getting knocked up, they're also having a hard time carrying to term. Moira reassures her: she has a good man and she has Moira! Always, no matter what.
Ofglen expresses condolences for Offred's loss and asks the existential question of the day: was there ever a Before? They stop at a clothing storefront, Ofglen remembers when it was an ice cream shop that sold salted caramel ice cream that was better than sex. Well, she amends, better than good sex and Offred and I aren't quite sure we heard right. Did Ofglen just make a joke?
Ofglen totally thought Offred was also annoyingly full of piety; that's what the Eyes do: get them to mistrust each other. Of course, Ofglen could totally still be spying for the Eyes, who are coming along right now in a van.
Some real talk on the way home about their lives Before; Ofglen's wife and child got away with Canadian passports (whew - wait, does this mean this is strictly an American problem and not worldwide?) but she didn't have one. They part at Offred's stop with a "nice to finally meet you" and a warning: there is an Eye in the house, Be careful, Offred.
It must be Rita because otherwise Nick would have reported her already. Oh but there are loads of other Marthas around; Offred stares at them all suspiciously, following the crowd to see Serena Joy be dismissed casually by her husband. Oh you should not have let her see you witness her humiliation, Offred.
She makes her way back to her room, furious and scared that someone is always watching, everything must be the same. She counts off the names of her beloved; she will stay alive for Hannah. Her husband was Luke and her name is June.
This type of show is exactly the kind of feminist-baiting glory hole that I can't possibly not be drawn into, but it's a beautifully done show for a number of reasons besides the message, which I am definitely hearing from the choir.
It is beautifully shot, light both obliterating and highlighting main plot points. The scoring even! The scoring deftly creates tension without ever exploiting the watcher; so many shows overuse the dun dun DUN that it becomes almost insulting but this show is careful in using it to create a visceral response. It WORKS.
Of course the characters: Lovely to see Samira Wiley as the wisecracking bestie from Before but I did wonder if she was getting typecast as a lesbian. And then I remembered that NOBODY EVER THINKS THAT ABOUT STRAIGHT PEOPLE and I sat my bum down. When's the last time you heard someone say "oh god, look, they've cast Brad Pitt as hetero again, slobbering over ANOTHER woman."
I've always loved Elisabeth Moss, but I don't think I fully appreciated her prowess as an actor until now. Her use of her entire body but mostly face take us there in a way I don't know if another actor could. Well, maybe Sarah Lancashire but that's because she is a GODDESS.
Aaaannnd now on to the message. Essentially: women have been robbed of their humanity and forced into a hierarchy where they inhabit the second-to-bottom rung in society. We see this today, don't we? To the woman wearing a shirt with "Trump can grab my (arrow pointing down)" who accepts that women's need to feel safe from a sexual predator comes AFTER financial concerns of the menz, to women actively recruiting other women to be submissive to their men and accept marital rape as their duty. Those things are happening.
The Pro-life movement is the heart of this mesage; which is an argument I personally don't think I can make. It is tough for me because it is a complicated issue. Do I think women should be treated as nothing more than incubators, with no choice as to what happens to their bodies? Of course not. The problem is that it is ONLY women who can produce life; if it were only men reproducing you could see how women would also want a say, right?
I probably shouldn't get too much into religion, except to say that this perfectly demonstrates how I think religion works. Religion has always been used as a tool of oppression, to keep the serfs down but also especially women. If they can take away the credit for the miracle of birth from women and replace it with the shame of tempting men astray, why wouldn't they? And so they did. I'm not talking about you and your relationship with your god (s), I'm talking about millennia of poor people and women systemically oppressed for the gain of a few.
It is interesting to me that race isn't addressed here, I have to wonder if it is because of when the book was written. Feminism didn't always incorporate the needs of people of colour; so as not to make the message diffuse. Now we know that the needs of ALL women are equally important, I wonder if we'll delve into race later.
Janine enjoying the sunshine on her face and the feeling of her thankfully full womb is such a great symbol of those that stand by and bask in small glories (new lipshade! Named after a female body part) while atrocity is committed immediately to the alt-right of them.
Because women are encouraged to spend our rage on each other and those deemed unfit, aren't we? Think about all the fights between women for male attention, encouraged and vetted. Or how comment sections fight to eviscerate whatever woman of the day managed to get herself dateraped and dares to talk about it; THEY would never do that! THEY would be more careful! How about all the comments on how women should parent? Not men, noooo, they get all the kudos but women rake each other across the coals for breastfeeding. Or bottlefeeding. Or having kids to close together, or too far apart. All it does is reinforce that not only is there only one way to parent, but also that only women are responsible for worrying about it.
At what point do we accept our dehumanization as breeding stock? How about now, where so many womem have accepted their roles as receptacles of male sexual rage? The simulation of rape onscreen is at record highs, and it makes me understand why Sarai Walker was so angry in Dietland (YOU MUST READ).
Why is it worse when women are the ones who break us? We all know that older woman / women who tell us our place in this Man's World; the kitchen and bedroom, with nary a thought in between.
Until next time, when hopefully I won't be quite so voluble but I wouldn't put money on it.