Under His Eye, my fertile sisters. In episode three, shit gets real. Real terrifying, that is! Let’s not kid around here: this whole thing is terrifying. But if we are in a gradually heating bathtub, the showrunners have raised the temperature.
Offred wakes up and suddenly things are different. The Martha, Rita, is acting downright sweet. Serena Joy has cut a special (white) rose from the garden. It takes Offred a minute, but she realizes it’s because her period is late and everyone hopes she’s pregnant. Serena Joy invites her to go to visit the new baby, and she agrees.
The Wife is quite pleased to host the other Wives, although Serena sees a wound on her hand and asks her what happened. It turns out that Janine bit her when she went to pick up the baby. All the Wives talk mad shit about the stupid, slutty Handmaids within Offred’s earshot. Serena Joy lets Offred hold the new baby, and to continue the dog comparison from the last review, the Wife is as uncomfortable as if Serena Joy plopped the baby down in front of a reasonably behaved Boston Terrier.
Offred sneaks off and goes to visit poor Janine. As we saw in the first episode, Janine doesn’t have the best hold on reality. Offred comforts her as best she can, but becomes increasingly alarmed as Janine tells her she loves the baby and her Commander loves the baby and loves her and they are all going to run off together! Offred is like, oh, gurl, no. She also tells her she can’t bite people. Moss is giving Offred this very tender maternal energy that I find intriguing. She’s a mother without a child and she wants everyone to be happy, or at least to not go completely nuts. She shielded Janine in the Red Center, and she wants to do the same here. She knows the Wives are counting the minutes until they can kick Janine out and take the baby for their own. Janine is like, whatever, let’s eat ice cream! Because she is deranged, poor thing.
Serena Joy and Offred go to leave, but Serena decides to stay back to help with the baby. Offred gets in the car with the supposedly sexy Nick, and when they get home, an ominous black van is waiting. “I couldn’t stop them,” Nick says. “Just tell the truth.” Offred is interrogated by Aunt Lydia and the most boring man in the universe. Of course, she is holding secrets: her Scrabble games with the Commander, Ofglen’s talk of the Resistance, her own burning hatred of the regime and everyone complicit in it, but she finds out that they are here because Ofglen is a lesbian, or “gender traitor.” Apparently Ofglen and her Martha were involved and they want to know if Offred is a lesbian too, or if she knew about it. Offred calls Ofglen “gay” and gets a cattle prod to the neck. That word is off the table. The interrogation continues, until it is revealed that Offred knew about Ofglen’s sexuality. Aunt Lydia quotes Scripture at her, and Offred fires back “For theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Aunt Lydia smashes Offred’s face with the prod and then shocks the shit out of her. Serena Joy runs in the room and says: “She’s pregnant!” with the intensity of an actress in a telenovela. The most boring man in the world offers an apology and a congratulations. Aunt Lydia looks horrified and they hurry out.
Offred goes upstairs with her new bruises. Nick comes to check on her and they share a charged moment. But, Offred gets her period. The next morning she goes downstairs to share the bad news. Serena Joy is getting ready to decorate the nursery, which, um, hold up, lady! She tells Offred of how she and the Commander tried so hard to have a baby, but now they are being blessed by Offred’s pregnancy. This is genuinely sad, and this is the first chance for Yvonne Strahovski to shine in this role. She brings some softness and vulnerability to Serena Joy in these scenes. Offred tries, very gently, to break the news. Again, we see this strong maternal energy from Moss. Serena Joy flips, grabs her by the arm and throws her on the floor in her room. “Things can be much worse for you,” she hisses, again like the lead actress in Days of Our Patriarchy. Why not blame the interrogation?
In the flashback, we see the noose tighten around June and Moira, and every other woman in the country. June and Moira are out for a run (to the sweet sounds of the Teaches of Peaches) and they get sneered at by a woman on the street. They go into their regular coffee shop and have an unpleasant experience with a man behind the counter. June’s card is declined and he calls them fucking sluts. Moira does not like that, one bit, and talks shit back to the dude. They walk out, like, WAS THAT THE WORST CUSTOMER SERVICE EVER OR WHUT? Sorry, ladies, it’s about to get worse.
So, I watch TV with the captions on, all right? I don’t come down to where you work and call you old! In the next scene, June is on the phone with her bank, trying to figure out why her card was declined. I mention the captions because Hulu said: MALE VOICE when the automated computer voice tells her that “due to the unusual call volume, please hold for the next available customer representative.” This filled me with so much dread. While she’s on the phone, she sees a whole bunch of dudes dressed in paramilitary black with machine guns come waltzing into her workplace. But still, she’s like, hmm, that’s curious. She walks out into the main office, where her boss is calling for attention. You see, they’ve passed a law and he has to let all the women go. They have ten minutes to get their stuff. Everyone is upset. There’s moment when the normally static camera trembles just slightly that I really enjoyed. June’s boss is visibly terrified. June packs her pictures and leaves the building with the other women, all carrying their belongings in sad boxes. On the sidewalk, armed paramilitary guys stand guard. “They look like the army,” someone says. “They’re an army, but not ours.”
June and Moira drink wine, which is understandable. Apparently, all women have been forbidden from working and their money has been transferred to their husbands or male next of kin. Which is okay for June, being that she’s married to derp derp derp Luke; Moira and her partner are fucked. “They had to do it this way,” Moira said. “They had to take our money and our jobs at the same time, because they don’t want us getting away. Can you imagine the airports?”
So here it is, ladies. We are up against it. Watching this scene in our day and age sends shivers down my spine. The women talk about being under martial law since the attack in DC when the Congress was slaughtered and they said it was terrorists. How could they have done this? they say. How did this happen? Why didn’t we see it coming? Moira gets into with Luke, and Luke is trying to joke. “What, you want me to go cut my dick off?” he says. I say, “YES! THE ANSWER IS ALWAYS YES.” Moira also says yes, but she’s joking. But she does take him to task for being a patriarchal asshole. Moira says that people are getting a march together and Luke walks her home.
The talk of the attack on Congress reminds me of the Reichstag Fire in 1933, which Hitler used as an excuse to suspend civil liberties and complete his takeover of the German government. Of course, Atwood was using that as a historical touchstone anyway. It also reminds me of Iranian Revolution, as documented in the fantastic graphic novel Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, in the way that women in particular are squeezed by the theocratic regime. One day it’s okay to be outside without a hijab, and the next day it is not. Again, those events were an influence for Atwood. But it also reminds me of 9/11. I remember how quickly things happened in those few days. Patriot Act. Bombing Afghanistan. And mostly, the way every voice starts crying out for the same things: vengeance, safety. Keep us safe. Do what it takes. It’s frighteningly easy to imagine what a mass fertility crisis might do. We’ve already seen the crying, praying protesters and the woman trying to steal the baby. We’ve heard the Biblical sound-a-like crazy talk. The fertile women become property of society.
But before that, June and Moira go to the march. I guess Luke stayed home with the kid. People are angry, holding signs and chanting in that slow motion silent way. Someone throws something. And then, bang bang bang. The men in black fire into the crowd. June and Moira run, ducking into a coffee shop. Mortar shells explode. Glass shatters. Things have gone wrong.
Speaking of wrong, let’s pile a few more horrors up. We leave Offred’s point of view for the first time and follow Ofglen through her stint in the justice system of the Republic of Gilead. She’s in a red jumpsuit and is muzzled completely. Alexis Bledel has these beautiful porcelain doll eyes, and they float above that terrible mask. Ofglen and the Martha have a quick “trial”--basically the State really promises that the charges are accurate, and the Martha is sentenced to the “common mercy of the state.” Ofglen is told she is an abomination, but she is sentenced to Redemption. The two women are put in the back of a van, where they weep and hold handcuffed hands. It is terrible. They are still muzzled and can’t speak. They pull up to a construction site, the Martha is grabbed out of the van, and they hang her from a crane. Ofglen wakes up in a white medical ward. She gets out of bed and a voice is talking. She lifts up her shift and she’s wearing gauze for underwear. She’s been Redeemed, saved from her sinful nature. Female genital mutilation. This five minutes is about the worst time I’ve ever spent in front of a TV.
Offred’s Mom Watch: no mom. Moira takes some of her fiery lesbian rhetoric. I feel like Offred’s mom would have had a lot of contempt for derp derp derp Luke.