Praised be, bitches. Here we are at the penultimate (one of my favorite words in the English language) episode of the first season of The Handmaid’s Tale. And I suppose because the main action of the story is heating up, we don’t go to flashback land or man land (hip hip hooray for that). We take a little trip to poor crazy one-eyed Janine land (sounds almost like a Grateful Dead song) (My husband is making me watch a million part Grateful Dead documentary and I’m going mad. Send help.)
So, the show opens with a line of Handmaids in the snow, outside a very fancy house. Inside, poor Janine is having to give over her baby to the Putnams. Mrs. Putnam is a real bitch who clearly just wants Janine out of the house. She doesn’t even really seem to have much affection for little Angela/Charlotte. Aunt Lydia is there, too, and they go through another little twisted Old Testament ritual. Aunt Lydia walks Janine out through the line of Handmaids and she stops to hug Offred. They had a connection in the Red Center, with Offred trying to take care of her and keep her from losing it. Janine hops into a red van and waves like a true dork at everyone. Aunt Lydia takes her to another fancy house--her new posting with Daniel and his wife. Here I was like, woah. Can’t the girl take a fucking vacation? A little spa trip? To place her immediately with a new couple is extra callous. At least let her get a mani/pedi before you set her up in a new rape situation.
On both Aunt Lydia’s coat and the van there is a Handmaid logo, and I do believe this is the first time we’ve seen it. It’s a womanly figure with her arms outstretched, trapped in a circle. This is interesting to me but I can’t put my finger on why. Does it symbolize a codification/branding around the Handmaids? Gilead is post-literate, at least in the parts where women are allowed, and I’m curious if the other types of women have symbols.
Offred tries to connect with Alma, who must be part of the Mayday resistance. Alma is like, what are you talking about, get away. Serena Joy goes to visit Mrs. Putnam, who is relieved to have “that feral cat” out of her house. They push the pram down the sidewalk, and Putnam is just being the total worst. A Martha stops to see the baby and their armed guard runs her off. During the conversation, Mrs. Putnam tells Serena Joy she’s lucky to have an obedient Handmaid and that her miracle is coming soon.
The next day, Alma catches up with Offred and clues her into Mayday. Alma wants her to go to Jezebel’s again and pick up a package from the bartender there. And do it tonight, Alma says. Offred is like, oh, okay. So she goes to Commander Devil Fred to simper and scrape. He eats it up because he’s a fucking creep. After the house settles down, they go out. Nick is super pissy and Offred is making him eat it, fresh off their breakup last episode. Offred is half an awesome spy and half a shitty one. She keeps asking if they can go to the bar, and Devil Fred is like, no, we are boning.
Meanwhile, poor Janine is trying to adjust to her new post. But here again, these people are terrible. They insist on having The Ceremony, and seem to break protocol. Mrs. Daniel is overly friendly and insists that Janine come lay between her legs while Commander Daniel gets ready. Janine is not having it, and promptly breaks down during the terrible act. This is probably the worst rape scene the show has put forth. To hear Janine, first nervously humming and then begging them to stop as she crouches in the corner is very upsetting. Janine never took too well to the Handmaid indoctrination, and taking her eye didn’t help. What also didn’t help was Commander Putnam’s clear flouting of the rules here. He’s fed her a whole bunch of bullshit about a future together and warped her already fragile mind. The Putnams are a good example of all the ways this system is doomed to failure. The intimacy between Janine and Commander Putnam created a great deal of hostility and resentment in Mrs. Putnam toward Janine (logically, I might add!). Commander Putnam apparently couldn’t separate the reproductive act from the desire for deeper sexual intimacy, and so broke the rules. And poor Janine, successful in becoming pregnant, was alternately cosseted and ignored. Aunt Lydia proudly asserts that she is “stronger than you think” to Offred when Offred asks her to take care of Janine, but that is based on nothing. Aunt Lydia, too, blindly pushes this person to her end, buoyed by her faith in the system and her belief in her own skills as an indoctrinator.
At Jezebel’s, Offred endures the sex and then keeps asking for a trip to the bar. Devil Fred tells her he knows what she is up to. Offred uses every bit of strength in her body to keep relatively cool and play dumb (something Devil Fred loves). Devil Fred brings in Moira, who he calls Ruby, and says that he knows they were friends. Offred, to her immense credit and my huge relief, snaps that they were not that kind of friend. (I mean, really, thank non-existent God. I was terrified there was going to be a forced threesome and that would have been soul crushing.) Devil Fred, again to his credit and my slight confusion, backs off and let’s the two women talk. He goes to shower and the two get to talk.
Offred tells Moira that she needs to get a package from the bartender and that she is helping the resistance. Moira refuses to get involved, obviously afraid of what would happen to them if they were caught. Here is where, I think, the focus on men in the last two episodes really fails. We don’t know exactly what Moira endured after she was recaptured, but we have no doubt it was bad, to turn a woman we’ve seen as brave into a coward without hope. It’s Moira, remember, who seems more plugged in to the pre-Gilead coup, who suggests they go to the rally where they are fired on. Moira was the woman who told the asshole barista to go fuck himself. Moira was the woman who engineered their escape from the Red Center. Where is that woman, and what happened to her? The show has the ability to show us, just as we followed Emily/Ofglen’s trial and torture. Instead, we followed Lucky Luke’s trail of dead helpers and Nick’s skulk through the ranks of the Eyes. What a wasted opportunity.
Offred and Moira argue, and Offred calls Moira on her seeming cowardice, reminding her that she has Hannah to live and fight for. Moira seems unmoved. And really, that is understandable, too. She’s had everything taken away from her, and it seems like a real moment of Offred privilege, much like the new Ofglen called her in a previous episode. Offred’s husband and daughter are still alive, which is great for her but does nothing for others. She seems to believe that she can return to her old life, and on the face of it, all the pieces are still on the board. But what does Moira have left? Her partner was eliminated early in the purges. She’s been tortured and raped--perhaps worse, compelled to feign enjoyment. I don’t blame her for initially rejecting Offred’s orders.
Back on the homefront, Serena Joy is working on her baby clothes and feeling sad. When will I get my rape baby, she almost visibly sighs. She goes downstairs to search for a bottle of something, but is surprised by Rita, who blows up Devil Fred’s spot by telling her she thought he was home for the night. Serena Joy didn’t know he was out, gulp. The two women bond over a bottle of brown liquor (Serena Joy would be a total vodka gal, btw) and Rita’s tales of her dead son.
Nick visits his Martha friend in the kitchen of Jezebel’s. I wrote a quiz about where the rest of us would end up in Gilead, but I’m beginning to think that this Martha has the life. She was a famous chef before, and she gets to cook and brag like fuck about her awesome skills. She has a sex friend (even if he is an emo bitch) and she gets to inform on whomever she pleases. We know Jezebel’s is only open at night, so her hours are not as strenuous as the Waterfords’ Martha, Rita. She’s sassy as all get out. She has a little bit of power in the kitchen. I think she’s living her Gilead BEST LIFE. She basically tells Nick to cool his fucking jets a bit and eat his pasta, which is mind blowing if you are not a pouting wiener.
All the Jezebel’s going nere-do-wells sneak into the house, although Serena Joy does approach Devil Fred. She’s beginning to think something is going on. The next morning, Offred is shaken awake and of course we are terrified for our girl. She’s not busted, but her presence is urgently required. Poor old crazy one-eyed Janine has stolen back her child from the Putnams and is standing on a bridge, ready to jump with the child. Lots of soldiers, the Putnams, and Aunt Lydia are on the scene. The Putnams try to talk her down, but even then Mrs. Putnam cannot get the stink look off of her face. Aunt Lydia asks Offred to help.
Offred approaches and begins talking to Janine. She’s trying to build on her rapport from the Red Center. Janine reiterates that she expected to have a life with her baby and Commander Putnam. Offred paints a little picture of a post-Gilead girls night, complete with karaoke (full disclosure, I fucking love karaoke.) Offred basically tells her that she has to keep her baby safe so her baby can live into a future where she will be free. Slowly, Janine hands over the baby. Then she says, “Bye!” and jumps off the bridge, into the icy water. Some Guardians scoop her up with a giant Showtime at the Apollo style hook. The Putnams snatch the baby up and Aunt Lydia seems like she thinks Offred did a good job. But nobody really thanks her, because she is a woman.
OKAY, JUST A WARNING: THINGS ARE ABOUT TO GET DARK. I honestly think perhaps Janine would have been better off jumping with the baby. The baby is a girl. What kind of life is she going to have in a regime that treats womanhood like a terminal birth defect? Sure, she’ll be raised as a Commander’s daughter, with the privilege that entails, but best case, she is participating in the morally bankrupt Handmaid system when she is married. This child will eventually go on to oppress women like her real mother. And with Mrs. Putnam for a mom, we can be that she’s not going to have much sympathy or feeling for her fellow woman. Even Serena Joy thinks Mrs. Putnam is too much. (I really wish they’d cast the woman who plays Mrs. Putnam as Serena Joy. She fits my mental picture of the character much better.) Offred, in this episode, repeatedly tries to sell a vision of a future in which Gilead is gone. As a book reader, I know that is not the case (not that it might not turn out differently in the TV show, but it better not, HOLLYWOOD!) Realistically, none of these characters would live to see a country that is not Gilead (again, if they stick to the book, WHICH THEY BETTER!) I see Offred as a parallel to Aunt Lydia: they both have signed on to an ideological standpoint and they are going to try to convince others they are in the right. Through sheer force of will, if necessary. Will is nice, hope is okay, but neither of those ideas are the truth. The truth, from my dark corner of the world, is that maybe it’s better to throw the baby out and spare her all of this.
And, the plot thickens. The next time we see Serena Joy and Mrs. Putnam, we find out that Commander Putnam is being investigated and could be in big trouble for his immoral dalliance with Janine. We’ve heard whispers that things are going to start tightening up in Gilead, and Commander Putnam’s goose looks cooked. And not just his, but in all likelihood, Mrs. Putnam’s as well. I think the show has underrepresented the pressure and far reach of the surveillance state. We are talking East Germany here. Failing to report a breach of conduct is paramount to committing the breach yourself. If they get the idea that Mrs. Putnam knew about Commander’s bullshit, she’s in trouble. This bothers Serena Joy, too. Her household has lost one Handmaid due to Devil Fred’s nonsense, and may be on the way to losing another. Again, if he’s busted, she is, too. I expect she’ll be watching more closely from here on out.
Offred goes to the store the next day, and the butcher seems very weird. He hands her two packages--one of which contains meat, I’m sure. The other, though, is the Mayday package, complete with a note from Moira. We see a glimpse of Moira, toilet shiv in bloodied hand, getting into a vehicle in stolen clothes and hitting the road. I guess our girl did talk her into hope.
Also, poor Janine is alive. She’s on life support, and she’s being watched over by Aunt Lydia. That giant hook was good for something.
Is Moira a better navigator than Emily/Ofglen? Does the giant hook have a technical name? How good was that carbonara? How would you live your Gilead BEST LIFE? OMG NEXT WEEK IS THE LAST EPISODE WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN WILL GILEAD FALL IMMEDIATELY TO LUCKY LUKE’S CHARM/CURSE?