Awwww, when I was but a baby feminist I used to write Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum all over everything! It means "don't let the bastages grind you down" and it's the title of our super-grindy episode of The Handmaid's Tale. Rolling after the break
We open back with June / Offred (Elisabeth Moss) in her memories of a good day with her daughter and husband Luke (O-T Fagbenle), at a carnival which looks like the kind of fun only a TV family could have. Offred's been locked in her room for 13 days since she was banished to her room for menstruating (FOR REAL. THAT'S A CRIME HERE) by a terrifying Serena Joy (Yvonne Stahovski) and trying not to get locked in her brain for ever.
She explores her room like an adventurer (not a lunatic lost in the past), crawling into the closet
Which as I said above: I used to write on everything! Or "Ni illegitimus carborundum", so, close. Someone carved that into the wood, close to the baseboard in the closet where nobody but another Offred was going to see it when locked into the closet or worse.
We're in the Red Centre with Moira (Samira Wiley) and Offred, it's almost time to graduate. Moira's not looking forward to any of that "forced surrogacy" bullshite. She thinks there's a "turkey baster full of old man jizz" and hey, she actually made me think the Ceremony might be the lesser of the two evils. I'm joking: those rituals are grosssss.
Moira carves "Aunt Lydia sux" into the bathroom stall while she and Offred talk, Offred's worried about Moira getting caught, Women aren't allowed to write any more, Moira will lose a hand if they catch her. It's worth it to Moira, if one other person sees it and doesn't feel alone.
Jaysus wept: for WRITING? Not even stealing a loaf of bread?
Serena Joy comes upon Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) reading his laptop and looking concerned, an Aunt escaped from the Red Centre and made it to Canada where she gave an interview to the Toronto Star (hay gurl, hay! I love Toronto and inadvertently read more Toronto Star than I should because my sister likes to tweet all their links). Serena Joy starts to troubleshoot to be waved off and patted on the head by the Commander, she doesn't need to worry her pretty little head about it. There are good MEN working on it.
It's not much better for the wives of the reich, is it? Still a distant second class, not allowed to read or write either, just all this frustration to take out on the women their husbands are fucking For The Cause.
Martha Rita (Amanda Bruegel) drops her tray when she sees Offred lying half in the closet, scaring Offred almost as much as Offred scared her. What was she doing in there? Watching Offred lie is a master class in useful deception.
Offred and I stare at the little pieces of glass on the floor as Rita reports to Serena Joy. Rita offers to make a doctor's appointment for Offred in case she is unwell (Offred implied she fainted and that was why she was lying on the floor), Serena Joy brushes it off until Rita mentions the ceremony. Offred will be taken to a doctor.
It's interesting how the only time Serena Joy is forthright and indeed: almost rude with her husband is when anything involves Offred. It seems to be the one thing that offers Serena Joy any power, the one area her husband does not question her and indeed, follows her lead. It must be very tempting to be cruel to Offred, to flex that tiny bit of power, especially as it concerns her husband putting his penis inside someone else.
Offred is almost giddy at the thought of going to the doctor's office: that's almost an hour each way! An hour of outside there and an hour of outside on the way back, praise be! Ah but it is not to be, Serena Joy brings the unwelcome news of the car bring brought around, that's got to be bittersweet. We getta see Nick (Max Minghella) but no two hours of sunshine. Or rain! Offred and I both feel exactly like this about rain: almost orgasmic.
We get to see Nick, but we aren't allowed to talk to him, as Serena Joy slides up the partition between driver and passenger just in case we weren't sure that she's a raging arsehole.
We're back in the Red Centre with Aunt Chlamydia explaining the Ceremony to a bunch of incredulous Handmaids. They're to lay between the Commander's wife's legs, becoming "one flesh. One flower to be seeded."
Janine (Madeline Brewer) is 'CITED! Moira and us, less so.
Moira needs a little clarity: so they'll be having intercourse with the men, between the wives' legs? Aunt Lydia recites a bible passage about someone named Rachel who sounds like the Original Problem.
At the doctor's office, there are a couple of other Handmaids, one is hugely pregnant with that smugness only someone looking at a month of vanilla ice cream in Gilead can display.
Now this is bizarre; Offred is led into an examining room where she talks to a doctor who has full access to her medical history, including the knowledge that she'll be "fitting the Commander in" later, as well as full access to her privates, but he can't see her face and she can't see his. He asks her to speak openly about the Waterfords, he can't do anything about her situation, but he's a good listener!
THIS is exactly what's wrong with every single goddamned dude that listens to other men objectify and dehumanize women but doesn't say anything. If you aren't part of the solution, YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM and being a good listener does exactly jackshit.
He decides to have a probe around to see if "everything is in fighting shape" for the evening and she's ripe, yay! But Waterford's probably sterile, most of them are, so.
It's the men who are sterile but the women who suffer for it. Sounds legit
You know what else it sounds like? It sounds like Henry the VIII having Ann Boelyn beheaded because people didn't understand genetics back then (coz everyone's an expert now) and she wasn't bearing him any sons.
Offred ponders the forbidden word "sterile", fertility in Gilead is only spoken about in terms of women being barren or fruitful. The doctor sneaks back in to whisper an offer of help.
My disgust at the "honey" was tempered with my recognition of Kristian Bruun from Orphan Black! I miss that show, I gotta get back to it. Sorry, sorry, where were we?
Wow, and now the doctor is mad at her for turning down his totally awesome offer to double-screw her on the big day. Honestly.
Remembering that day at the carnival with Lucy back in the car, Offred loses it, pounding on the glass and screaming as Nick pretends he doesn't hear her.
Maybe I'm too hard on the bystander men here; what can they do in this militarized environment?
He offers her his hand when they get back to the house; he's sorry she's going through this, he wishes...he wishes WHAT? Offred and I want to know exactly what he wishes, but he doesn't tell us, not now.
Offred hears Serena Joy in the sitting room and makes her report, then gives a desperate apology for letting her down. Can she please come out of her room now? She's learned her lesson.
She may not come out of her room.
Offred returns to her room, to the closet to ask the writing on the wall how to survive Serena Joy.
Oh wow, we're back in the Red Centre and Offred and Moira are making a break for it! They grab Aunt Elizabeth (Edie Inksetter), tie her up in the basement and make a run for it. Go Moira! It's awesome to see Offred be something other than meek, but the neck-tazing felt...reminiscent. They have so many armed men to get past!! I held my breath, even though I can guess how it ended.
The Commander breaks protocol, appearing before household staff on Ceremony night and asking Offred if she wants a Scrabble rematch later. She can't even get it together enough to answer, do you know what your wife would do to this woman if she found out you were playing board games with her in your forbidden study?? Do you care? Oh sorry, I forgot myself, of course he doesn't. He's still pretending Offred has a choice or that any of this is consensual. That's probably easier for his ego.
Something affecting ol' Fred tonight, he can't seem to rise to the occasion now that maybe he knows that Offred is a person, not simply a flower for seeding between his wife's legs. Serena Joy follows him into the backroom where he's fruitlessly yanking his own chain and offers to help. For the love of. Now we have a wife helping her husband get hard enough to screw their forced surrogate. There's a bad BDSM novel in this but I'm not writing it. She drops to her knees and just before I pull the plug, he stops her because there are limits even in Gilead.
Serena Joy is left on her knees, alone, returning to the bedroom to dismiss Offred for the night. I can't be the only one thanking the gods and wee fishies Offred didn't take the doctor up on his disgusting offer because that would be a super big problem with no procreating tonight.
Offred heads back to her room, she feels like the word "shatter." She sleeps in the closet.
Moira and Offred have made it out of the Red Centre, but they have no idea where they are. Moira knows of some safe houses in the city, but are they in the city? They can't tell. Everywhere are men with machine guns, they can't put one foot wrong here. They make it as far as the subway, but the lack of signage confuses them and Moira moves away to ask a guard which one is the train to Boston.
A soldier walks up to Offred then, she doesn't have any answers for him. Moira is right by the train as it pulls in, should she walk back and help Offred or take those two steps to freedom for herself? Offred gives her the nod and smile to leave and Moira is gone, safe on the train as Offred is led away back to captivity.
Ah that was beautiful and terrible.
Offred uses the memory of defiant Moira to get her arse off the floor of the closet, Moira wouldn't stand for this shite. She makes her way down to see the Commander to give him the connection he needs to seal this babymaking deal. Because she's lived to fight another day and the only way to do that is to take every opportunity possible.
The Commander is happy to see her in his study. She asks how his trip went, he gives her the same brush off he gave his wife, so she wonders aloud if she should let him win again? No thanks, he prefers a fair fight.
He challenges her word and she fetches a dictionary which is a fun treat given women aren't allowed to even look at words, let alone run around with a whole bound volume of them. Next to the dictionary is a book of Latin Grammar and we all freeze.
The Commander must have played these same games with the previous Offred, maybe there's a clue in the book since the carving in the closet is in Latin! She needs that book!
She ponders the nature of what happened to her predecessor as we see her being punished in the past for her ingratitude to the Aunts, who were just trying to help her by offering an amazing opportunity. Aunt Chlamydia calls Offred an adulterer, what's that about??
Aunt Elizabeth is brought in to mete out the punishment: severe lashing of Offred's feet. She's dragged, catatonic, back to her bed in the middle of the night.
Offred asks the Commander about the Latin carved into the wall, he translates it for her as I worry that she's acting too...typical and he's bound to pick up on it. He translates it for her (see above!) and then it gets serious.
From a friend, and he knows immediately what that means. Did she know the first Offred? What happened to her? She's dead and Offred persists: what happened to her?
The previous Offred hung herself, the Commander supposes she found her life unbearable. Offred sits back in sudden understanding: he's trying to make her life bearable. Yes, he would prefer that.
This is her chance to get out of her room and she takes it with both hands.
And she's out, yay! She's out walking the streets, Nick smirking at her and Serena Joy watching from an upper window, she's the first Offred and the last Offred remembering the other Handmaids at the centre bringing her food. She has them, and they are legion. We're oot with a Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum, bitches.
It's difficult to not have compassion for each character in this farcical tale of desperation, Serena Joy is both pitiable and cruel, the Commander locked into his role as much as Offred but benefiting so much more. Fierce Moira's fate is all the more poignant when you see her bravado is liberally laced with terror. I can't really feel sorry for Serena Joy, the Commander or especially the Aunts, they've chosen to live within the system that relegates their gender to the lowest rung of society in the most bizarrely humiliating way.
One thing: I noticed the hold the wives take for the first time, they hold the Handmaid's wrists, almost pinning them down for their husbands. Creepy af.
Until next time!