OOOOH WOOOOOOMAN we made it. Praised be! This week we finished the first season of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale and we find ourselves perhaps more pleased than was expected. The last few episodes have had some stumbles, and I’m happy to report that we seem to be on a track that is much closer to the novel than adventures in Manland. This is not Lucky Luke’s Tale, or Skulky Nick’s Scuttling Eyebrow Hour. NO! This is something better and more fulfilling!
We start with a scene in the Red Center, right after June’s capture. Aunt Lydia is just shocking the shit out of people and being a real terrible B. Then, June is taken to the world’s worst Piercing Pagoda and not even given the benefit of a three count. This damned Aunt Lydia!
Offred is just feeling so good about herself, calling her squad an army. She hides the secret package from the butcher in her bathroom and walks out into her room. AND WHAM! Serena Joy slaps the shit out of her, knocking her head against the door and leaving Offred bleeding and stunned. (Serena Joy was probably an excellent tennis player back in the day.) Man, I jumped! Serena Joy produces the Jezebel’s dress and screams at Offred. She jerks her to her feet and throws a pregnancy test at her. “You better pray,” she says. Offred, still reeling from the slap/thump combination, pitifully pees on the stick and hides in the bathroom while Serena Joy prostrates herself in front of the stick. Of course she’s pregnant! Serena Joy turns on a dime, smiling and trying to hold Offred’s hand. Offred tells her, you think I prayed for this? But Serena Joy just ignores her.
Offred goes down for breakfast, and Rita is just so happy and a real cuddlebug. Nick comes in and is worried about Offred, and she tells him the news. He’s like, YAY MY SPERM CAN DO ANYTHING! He kneels down and strokes her belly, even as she asks him to stop. Poor Offred: everyone is touching her in this scene. I’ve never been pregnant, but I can imagine that people touching you without your consent must be one of the shit parts of it. Serena Joy sees Nick loving on Offred and then tells Offred to get her cloak on. Nick asks if he’s driving and Serena Joy tells him she’s made arrangements.
The two load up in what looks like a hearse and ride for a long time. Offred can’t tell where she’s going. Finally, they arrive and Serena Joy gets out, telling the driver that Offred stays in the car. Peeking out of the curtains, Offred sees SJ go into a giant...house? And then she comes out with Hannah, all dressed in pink. Offred of course starts freaking, banging on the window, trying the doors, and begging to be let out. After a few minutes, SJ walks Hannah back inside and returns to the limo, sitting in the front seat. “Your baby will be fine as long as mine is,” Serena Joy says. And Offred loses it. She screams and cries and curses Serena Joy. She calls her a cunt and a bitch and a monster. She is rage personified, and Serena Joy just smirks.
Blackmail delivered, SJ goes to confront Devil Fred. He’s like, listen, baby, I’m real busy. She tries to entice him with Scrabble, and I’m like: REALLY FRED JUST GOING TO LEAVE THE SCRABBLE BOARD LYING AROUND YA DUMB FUCK. He tells her no and also it’s against the rules, and she says, yeah, I wrote those rules. NOW I’M GOING TO YELL AT SERENA JOY BECAUSE BITCH WHY DID YOU WRITE SUCH RULES YA DUMB FUCK. Serena Joy tells him she knows what he’s been doing and she hates him. Also, Offred’s pregnant but it’s not his, because he’s weak and God wouldn’t want him reproducing. He tells her she’s the one who brought sin into the house by having sex with her husband, of all degenerate things.
That night, Offred opens the secret package and instead of a bomb or anthrax or something, it is a bundle of letters from women who have been made into Handmaids. She gorges herself on these women’s voices. Okay, let’s talk about this package. Moira was scared for Offred to have it because it easily could have been something dangerous. But what we find is something that is as dangerous to the regime as a bomb. These first person accounts, if they are delivered to the rest of the world, shine a bright and terrible light on the sickness of Gilead. Early in the season, Devil Fred was distressed by the fact that one Aunt made it to Canada and was telling all. Imagine what all of these letters could do, PR-wise. Also, I love how this ties into the novel, as well. SPOILER ALERT: the novel, of course, is actually a first person audio recording that is discovered in some ruins after the fall of Gilead. In hindsight, this makes the novel more hopeful and less ambiguous. It also places it within a tradition of slave/capture narratives. So these letters, created for the TV show, connect beautifully with the novel.
The next morning, Offred wakes up to the tolling of the Salvage bells, surrounded by all her letters. She gets it together and she and New Ofglen have a fight about her lateness. I really liked the fact that both women are allowed to get a bit snippy with each other. At the Salvaging, Aunt Lydia drones on about the evils of putting a child in danger. There is a big pile of rocks, and the sweet-faced Handmaid (whose name I don’t know) says, “Man, I hate stonings.” And who should be trotted out but poor Janine, to be punished for her bridge escapade last episode. New Ofglen (previously the only Handmaid we’ve seen who seems content with her new life) protests this insanity. For her troubles, she gets smashed in the face by a Guardian, and teeth and blood fly. Janine says, “Not too hard, guys,” which, oof. Aunt Lydia continues to order her girls to action, but they don’t move. Offred steps forward and holds out her rock. “I’m sorry, Aunt Lydia,” she says as she drops it on the ground. The rest of the Handmaids follow suit, and the Guardian cocks his gun at Offred. Aunt Lydia calls him off, saying the girls are her responsibility.
So, Aunt Lydia, what an overreach! It seems quite stupid to think that these women are going to murder one of their own. The way the system is set up, Handmaids in an area spend a lot of time together shopping, and all of these women witnessed the birth of Janine’s now stolen child. They were also present for her walk out of the Putnam house. Aunt Lydia is way over extending herself, and it exposes some flaws in the system. Speaking of flaws, Devil Fred mentions that three Marthas were arrested for conspiring. Hmm, maybe all of this rigid caste system, uniform shit is actually helping to build that army Offred was thinking about earlier? Anyway, Aunt Lydia promises there will be retribution for the disobedient Handmaids and they saunter away, Offred in front and partnerless. OH YEAH, because New Ofglen took a rifle butt to the face earlier.
I’m attuned to Offred privilege, and as exhilarating as that walk home seemed, it bothered me because poor New Ofglen is not given any credit for her bravery. Offred comes off like the heroine, and comes home uncoupled.
Speaking of uncoupled: we get a little peek into Gilead’s Senate Judiciary committee, as Commander Putnam faces his fellow commanders for his crimes with Janine. Devil Fred argues for leniency, and is very nonchalant about the whole thing. Not a good look in a society that is trying to prove its biblical legitimacy. He mentions the man’s wife and child, and Commander (Prig) Pryce tells him that Mrs. Putnam came to visit him earlier and begged not for clemency but for the harshest punishment. Mrs. Putnam! What a bitch. (There is a commander who looks like Marco Rubio so very much. Keep your eyes peeled.) Putnam gets de-handed on an operating table. It was very gross and graphic. And who are these doctors? They are totally down to cut someone’s hand off? So much for the Hippocratic oath, amiright? Also, I thought for a minute they might be de-dicking him. NOPE.
Later, at home, Serena Joy and Devil Fred make up over their shared desire to steal babies. This baby is a double theft, because neither of them can even pretend to be the parent.
Offred gets home and thinks about how this may be the last time she waits for punishment. Right on cue, a black van pulls up, and Nick rushes in to tell her to trust him and go with the Eyes. And she does. Rita frets over her and then goes into the bathroom to retrieve the letters (RITA, YOU MAYDAYING UP IN HERE? WHAT SIDE WAS THAT DEAD SON OF YOURS ON, YA CRAFTY CUDDLEBUG.) Serena Joy tries to stop them, asking for their warrant (really, hun? You think there’s still Habeas Corpus?) She even calls for Devil Fred. The Eyes load Offred into the van and she sits in shadow, a look of...almost hope. And of course one of my favorite songs (because I grew up in the country) swells on the soundtrack, the forty-one year old “American Girl.” (Did I mention that I love this song? I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE IT) Now, here we are. This season closes the exact way that the main action of the novel closes, with Offred in the back of a van, destined for some fate that’s unknown to her and the reader. And man, do I like it.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE. I left out a whole subplot, mostly because the Offred action needed to be discussed as a whole. And what a subplot it it. We see Moira in the frozen wastes, terrified and struggling after her last episode escape. She stumbles into a barn and wipes the dust off an old license plate. ONTARIO, it reads, the sweetest word in the world. The next time we see her, she is being gently interviewed by a nice Canadian man. He asks her if she has family in Canada, and she says no. He’s trying very hard to take care of her, and mentions they’d had fifteen people cross that day. Moira is shellshocked, hardly able to interact. I spent the whole sequence terrified that she would be sent back. I mean, I’m sure that Gilead offers bounties on returned refugees, so if the farmer with the filthy van had turned her in...or if the refugee processor was like, oh, sorry, we’re full. Instead, we get another scene that put me in tears. The processor starts handing her things: a cellphone, cab money, cash money, HEALTH INSURANCE, PRESCRIPTION COVERAGE, new clothes. Just everything. Fictional, dystopia adjacent Canada treats refugees better than real life America treats citizens today. I found this so moving. Later, Moira walks out of the refugee center, and who should appear? Our old friend, Luke. He tells her that she came up on his list: the list of displaced family members. She seems so stunned that he considered her family, and I about lost it again. At least these two are safe, and she can tell him all about Offred. Of course, Offred is in the wind now. I have a lot more faith in Moira’s abilities than Luke’s, truth be told, especially considering that Luke has been in Canada for three years and Offred was the one who sent him a note.
This subplot was a muted joy. I was terrified throughout, scared that the show was going to pull the rug out from under Moira (and yours truly) but the fact that she made it out is so damned wonderful and such a hopeful way to close out the season I wanted to talk about it last. Three cheers for Moira! Three cheers for Canada (as St. Atwood has always intended)!
Thanks to you, sisters, for joining me on this journey. I’ve really enjoyed recapping this show. Stay tuned for more Handmaid content (I’LL NEVER STOP) including an Offred scarf pattern. Now everybody jam out to Tom Petty’s greatest greatest hit.