May the Lord open, sister. Okay, so...let’s take a trip to Poundtown in this episode of The Handmaid’s Tale. The episode opens with some sexy Scrabble between Offred and Commander Sexy Polo Shirt, who both drink brown liquor. Offred is knees out, (I do enjoy how knees are the new boobs in Gilead) flirting her ass off, and he rewards her with a fashion magazine, hilariously named Beautify. She’s shocked by its existence, and the women in the pages look insane to her. But she reads it and smiles while Commander Sexy Polo Shirt twinkles at her.
Meanwhile, in flashback land, we see the beginning of June and Luke’s relationship, which started at a food truck, because of course these hipsters met there. Moira disses June’s Tinder profile pic and performs some high level lesbian wing-woman maneuvers on derp derp derp Luke. They flirt like crazy and after he leaves, June says he’s married.
I happen to be very interested in sexy and realistic flirting as portrayed in film and TV. Like, very interested. Like, I find it very sexy. It’s basically my favorite thing. I like it better than most actual sex scenes. And this episode offers a ton of it (also a ton of sex scenes). The next time we check in on them, they are at a coffee shop, just flirting like two adorable Chia pets. Scratch that: two adorable, adulterous Chia pets. Derp derp derp Luke is married. He also derps all over when he asks June if she and Moira ever hooked up. Oh man, I got so irritated at that. It is just so dude of Luke. We’ve seen him be a dude before, when the women realized their money was frozen, but still: his dudeness is a lady boner assassin. Anyway, these two flirt around while young girls in red coats play outside, which is very beautifully shot. They start talking about a hypothetical sexual encounter, and because E. Moss is always Peggy to me, I was like, you know how this is done! You worked for Don Draper! Anyway, they go to a terrible business class hotel (I mean really, it’s like a Hyatt or something) and go to Poundtown. June tells him she likes to be on top and he obliges. When we return to them, she tells him she wants him to leave his wife and he agrees to.
Back in Gilead, Offred is summoned to Serena Joy’s garden for girl talk. She freaks because she fears that Serena knows about Scrabble, or the fashion mag, or the writing in the closet, all of which would result in de-handing. Offred is wearing her scarf again and as god is my witness I will write a pattern for it and knit one. So stay tuned for that, sisters. Turns out, Serena Joy is on the same page as Dr. Fertile and thinks that Commander may be sterile. She wants Offred to get knocked up by any means necessary. Well, one specific mean: the supposedly sexy Nick. Serena Joy reminds Offred that if she doesn’t get pregnant she’ll end up in the Colonies, so Offred “agrees” in the sense that she really has no choice. Also, Offred eyes Serena Joy’s garden scissors (IDK I’M NOT A GARDENER) and thinks of murder.
Offred goes on her shopping trip with the new Ofglen. At the store, they run into old Ofglen, back from her female genital mutilation and now stationed with Steven, so technically she’s Ofsteven. Offred goes over to chat and our girl old Ofglen is not doing well. Offred asks if Nick the supposedly sexy is an Eye, and old Ofglen is like, I don’t fucking know. Offred is being a dick here, I think. Maybe think about other people, gal! Old Ofglen tells her that she is no longer a part of the resistance, Mayday, because she’s too dangerous. New Ofglen comes over and hustles Offred away like she was drunk and talking to a creep at a bar.
New Ofglen reads Offred the riot act on their walk home. She calls Offred on her white feminist privilege: on her spinning classes and yoga and sexy cooking man and her Nordstrom’s--scratch that, her Antropologie. You see, New Ofglen had a bad life before and now she is protected and treated well, and she’s not going to let Offred fuck that up. For New Ofglen, the safety and security she’s received as a handmaid more than makes up for the lack of freedom. In her old life, she “got fucked behind a dumpster to afford a sixth of Oxy and a Happy Meal.” This is the first time we’ve seen the suggestion that this life could have benefits, but it also ties into a major idea in the book. The Aunts sell the idea to the Handmaids by telling them they used to have freedom to, but now they have freedom from. They don’t need to fear rape anymore, because they dress modestly and rapists are summarily executed. They don’t need to hold themselves to impossible standards of beauty because they must only concentrate on their wombs. And in New Ofglen’s eyes, this tradeoff is worth protecting.
Back at home, Serena hustles Offred to Nick the supposedly sexy’s bachelor pad above the garage. Nick has everything: books, guns, a record player, cigarettes. It truly is a paradise of objects. Nick asks if they should pray and Serena Joy has no time for that. Also, Serena Joy stands in the room while they bone in the Gilead approved sad missionary style (sad missionary: when the woman lays fully clothed on her back and the fully clothed man keeps his feet on the floor.) So, I had friends who went to Christian colleges because I live in a small town, and most of these colleges had honor codes that insisted on male visitors to the dorms keeping their feet on the floor at all times. Gilead has those rules as well! Apparently, if you let a man put his feet up, you are in a world of lust. (It’s like opposite 90210!)
Yeah, so Serena Joy watches while Nick and Offred fuck. It’s gross and weird. It’s pretty dangerous and stupid, as well. What if they’d been caught? If she left them alone, they would swing on their own. But she is really taking a risk with her own precious life to be in the room. There’s no plausible deniability. Maybe she’s just a sex pervert. I mean, she’s already being whatever the female equivalent of a cuckold is. (Cuckette?) Or maybe she just discovered a perversion that lurked in her heart forever when the Republic rolled out the Handmaid stuff. J/K let’s keep it super sex positive like St. Atwood would prefer.
The deed is done and Offred and Serena Joy hurry back to the house. Serena tells her she should go lie down and then they have time to pray. Serena seems really into the prayer. We are still not sure how to locate Serena Joy in regard to faith. Is she a true believer? This staircase prayer would suggest so. The closet blowjob would suggest the opposite. She is super baby crazy, but is that for a baby, for the species, or for the status a baby confers? I JUST DON’T KNOW!
We cut to Old Ofglen, now Ofsteven, playing with a German Shepherd. My notes here say: In Gilead, even the dogs are fascist. My notes also say: at least she gets to play with a dog! Her Wife comes out and is like, oh, I’m not feeling too good, we better skip the Ceremony. Old Ofglen says, we can’t skip it every month. Then the Wife puts her hand on Ofglen’s shoulder.
Offred has to endure the Ceremony again, and Commander is getting a little too comfortable with the setup, making eye contact AND vigorous thrusting motions. Offred actually shakes her head at him during, saying with her eyes, cool it, dude, your wife is right here. Afterward, she barges into his man cave and they have it out. AT LAST we get to see what a real monster Commander Mansplaining is. If we are unclear about where Serena Joy stands, we can rest assured that the Commander is 100% invested in the most terrible aspects of Gilead. After dangling another hilariously titled fashion mag (LADY FAB) in front of her, he sits down to critique women’s lives before. Women were never enough, he says. We had choices then, Offred says. He says, now you have respect and protection. Women only have to concentrate on fulfilling their biological destiny. He asserts that children are the only thing to live for, but Offred suggests that love is. At this point, I’m a bit like, Offred, dear, are you a codependent? I can think of 15 things besides love. Maybe she’s a Cancer. Commander Mansplaining tells her that love is just lust with a good marketing campaign. He lets her know about Old Ofglen’s surgery, and I bet Offred feels like a real dick for being so selfish in the grocery store. Fiennes looks like the goddamned devil in these scenes, lit as he is by the flickering fireplace, all angular and smirking.
The next day, Offred goes to an outdoor market with New Ofglen. Old Ofglen is there, and Offred tries to talk to her, despite New Ofglen’s displeasure. OG Ofglen tells her Mayday can use Offred. OG Ofglen tells her her name is Emily. Then, she jumps into one of the chauffeured cars and drives...well, not off, as I would have, but around a couple of times? She gets blocked in and runs over a guard. Then she runs over him again and smashes him in an explosion of gore!!!! I mean, really. Brains fly up in the air! My notes say: JESUS!!! They break the window and pull her out. All the Handmaids have been watching, including poor crazy One Eyed Janine, who claps like a toddler at a monster truck rally. They drag Emily away.
At home, Offred sneaks into Nick’s bachelor pad and bones down on him. We are talking fully nude, feet on the bed sexual encounter. We are talking PEGGY’S BOOBS. We are talking TV MA for Nudity and Sexual Content. We are talking hide your kids. We know from the flashback that Offred likes being on top, and she hops right up there. The episode closes with “I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl” by Nina Simone.
Okay. You know that I love this book. But. This is the plotline that has always puzzled me. I cannot understand Offred hooking up with Nick. I can intellectualize it as a longing for connection in a society that has shredded intimacy, or as an act of rebellion and an attempt to regain power. I can understand it, but I don’t believe it. It rings false or at least frivolous to me. It roots her power again in her vagina. I want her power to be rooted in her brain. And in the book, she is super horny. I can’t help but think of the 1990 movie adaptation, and Natasha Richardson smashing her boobs against a window. It is too sexy for a book about institutionalized rape. I’m trying really hard to be pro-sex and not be Offred’s mom about it all, but, guys, I can’t. This sex scene is very sexy. It feels titillating for the presumed audience of mostly women. But those moments of Luke and June flirting are more sexy to me. Maybe I’m a prude or a stodgy feminist like the ones St. Atwood rails against. But it feels emotionally confused. This is a problem from the novel that balloons in the visual medium of TV. But I still love it!