Airing on Channel 4, Sunday at 9pm
Writer: Bruce Miller
Director: Reed Morano
Essential Plots Points:
- We see a woman in a red uniform being walked along by two guards as Offred narrates. It’s Ofglen. She’s been captured.
- We see Offred and the new Ofglen walking along. Offred narrates the story of how Gilead rose, suddenly painfully aware of the gunmen on every corner, the unmarked black vans.
- In flashback we see June and Moira jogging. They go to a local coffee shop and… June’s card is declined due to insufficient funds. The new barista suddenly cooks off, calling them ‘sluts’ and throws them out.
- At the office, June tries calling her bank but it’s too busy. Then she sees three armed men walk past and is told her boss called a meeting.
- He calls everyone together and tells them that all the female staff are being let go. They’re not fired they just can’t work there anymore.
- He tells them they have 10 minutes.
- As their male colleagues studiously avoid eye contact, the women leave. Outside, a silent, armed cordon of men stands guard.
- Back in the present, Offred drops the shopping off and is doted on by Rita the cook. Offred is uncertain why this is happening and disturbed by the sudden kindness.
- And then she gives her a rose.
- Finally, they get to the point. Offred hasn’t asked for her period napkins yet. She might be pregnant.
- Serena Joy arrives and dotes on Offred too. Then she does something even more disturbing; she chats with her, inviting her to visit baby Angela.
- At the visit, Offred is asked to hold Angela. There’s this universal moment of compassion and emotion, an instant connection with the baby that Serena Joy does not have. And knows it.
- As the Wives take tea, they notice a bite mark on Angela’s ‘mother’s’ hand. She mentions Ofwarren bit her and she’s counting the days until the baby is weaned so she can throw her out.
- Later, Offred goes to see Ofwarren. Offred tells her she can’t bite Mrs Putnam. Ofwarren explains Mrs Putnam keeps snatching the baby away and she won’t accept that she”s doing something wrong. She claims she can do anything she wants because she had a good baby.
Ofwarren claims her Commander loves her and that they’re going to run away together. The hope and compassion on Offred’s face visibly dies as she realises just how far gone her compatriot is.
- Worried and with no one else to talk to, she tries to tell Serena Joy about it. Instead, in the closest thing she has to kindness, she reassuresOffred she’s strong and sends her home alone.
- In the car, alone with Nick, Offred channels her rage into pushing her luck with Nick. He tells her ‘Everybody breaks’ and that’s when she sees the Eye van waiting for them outside the house. He apologises, says he couldn’t stop them and gets out of the car.
- In the past, June and Moira discover every female owned bank account has been frozen and the money in it will be transferred to male next of kin. Moira knows what’s coming. June is still in denial. Luke, unintentionally or not, is massively patronising about how he’ll look after June.
Moira cooks OFF, there’s a blazing argument that devolves into a series of uneasy jokes. Moira is adamant that this is how the problem started, with men being patronising. She’s right. She’s also right to accept Luke walking her to the nearest open railway station.That night, June wraps herself around Luke and lets all the terror out.
- In the present, Offred is praying for guidance as Aunt Lydia casually tazes her. The Eye officer in charge is well meaning, jovial and completely on point.
- Then Aunt Lydia starts asking what Offred found attractive about Ofglen. Then they start asking about sex and if Ofglen ever tried to molest her.
Aunt Lydia asks if Offred knew Ofglen was a gender traitor. She says yes. Aunt Lydia sighs, angry and disappointed like a kindergarten teacher from hell. Aunt Lydia asks if she knew what Ofglen was. Offred pushes back. Offred gets tasered.
- Aunt Lydia throws scripture at her; ‘Blessed is the meek.’ Offred fires back with the full quote; about how the meek shall inherit the Earth.
Aunty Lydia clubs her in the face with the taser and shocks her. Serena Joy intervenes, telling them she’s pregnant and throwing them out.
- Ofglen is being moved to a new facility. Handcuffed in place, near an exit, she realises this is her only chance. She begins groping the guard but he bounces her against the wall and passes her to the bailiffs of the court.
- She’s charged in violation of the Bible as a gender traitor.
- They’re both found guilty in under 60 seconds.
- Ofglen’s wife is sentenced to the mercy of the State. Ofglen, because she has a functional womb, is sentenced to redemption.
- And then, the truly horrible thing happens. The two women are shipped away together. Bound. Gagged. Unable to speak and unable to look away from one another they hold hands for as long as they can. They sob uncontrollably, touching heads as they take the last car ride they’ll ever take together.
- It’s nowhere near long enough. It ends with Ofglen watching the love of her life get hung in an anonymous backlot, sobbing with grief and rage as she’s driven away.
- At the Waterford house, Nick visits Offred. She’s got a black eye, a bruised cheek and somehow, still her sense of humour.
Nick apologises, gives her the ice he brought and they almost kiss. It’s a chilling combination of flirtatious and long-suffering and it leaves Offred more off balance than the beating did. Then she dumps the ice on the floor and stares into the middle distance. She’s started bleeding.
- In the past, June and Moira are at a protest. It gets rough and they fall back as two men with heavy calibre machine guns begin walking forward out of the police line.
- And then they start firing.
- The camera locks in on their horrified faces as they run, the gunfire and screams constant. They hide in the coffee shop they were thrown out of earlier and watch in horror as the protestors are methodically slaughtered.
- And then, just as it seems to have quieted down, the mortars start dropping.
- In the present, Offred hasn’t moved. Clearly thinking frantically about how to survive, she leaves her room. She finds Serena Joy and Nick preparing a nursery. She tries to tell Serena Joy the truth but she cuts her off, calling Offred ‘her miracle’. Knowing full well what she’s about to lose, Offred tells her the truth and the hope visibly dies on Serena Joy’s face.
- She snaps, dragging Offred by the wrist back into her room, screaming at her to remain there. She leaves Offred, crying on the floor, with a simple, massive threat.
- ‘Things can get much worse for you.’
- Ofglen wakes up in a pure white hospital room. She gets up, and doubles over in pain. She’s met by Aunt Lydia who reassures her that things will be so much easier for her now. She’s had her clitoris removed.
- The episode finishes with close up shots of Ofglen’s face, horror and terror and rage warring for control.
This is an episode all about interstitial spaces. Some of them are present in the episode itself; the uneasy world Janine has temporarily carved for herself, Offred’s new found respect when Serena Joy thinks she’s pregnant. Others are defined by breaking with, and adding to, the book. All of them work with staggering, knee buckling force.
The newfound, temporary space Offred finds herself in is similar to Ofwarren’s. However, where Ofwarren has convinced herself she’s immortal now, Offred knows she isn’t and yet desperately wants to be. Elizabeth Moss has this incredible ability to contain. You can see her thinking furiously even when her face is emotionless and Offred does a lot of that this episode. She spends the entire episode stuck between two impossible worlds. With Ofwarren she can tell her the truth she won’t accept or eat the lie she can’t see past. With the interrogation, she can tell the truth and die or lie and maybe die. With Serena Joy she can lie to get temporary comfort or tell the truth and be brutalised yet again. There’s no easy option, she sees that and we also see her mounting rage at being unable to do anything.
This is the purpose of the flashbacks this week; to show June and Moira how they used to be. It’s the exact moment the world turns, and their well-meaning liberal trust in authority is exactly what dooms them. June’s pitiful, and pitiable, boss telling her she’s fired is a standout. Moira calling Luke out for being patronising, then accepting a walk to the station is better still. This is a world that’s ended by degrees and done so at different speeds for everyone. No one’s in control, everyone’s struggling for it and the compromises started long before any noticed and thought to stop them.
All of this, by itself, would make for another powerhouse episode. However, the episode’s stepping literally and metaphorically off book makes it the strongest instalment to date. Alexis Bledel is heartbreaking as Ofglen this week. Condemned to silence, to watching her lover die, to ‘redemption’ and to genital mutilation she’s a quaking pillar of trauma and rage. There isn’t a performance less than stellar in this cast. Her’s is the best by far.
The fact the new material, following Ofglen, fits so seamlessly is simply the icing on a cake the Handmaids can’t have. This feels like a textbook lesson in adaptation, unfolding week by week, horror by horror. It’s the angriest show on television, one of the two smartest and the one with the nastiest sense of humour. It’s unmissable and if you see a better hour of TV this year than this, then we’ll be very surprised.
- This show is epic at profanity. We’ve had two F-bombs so far and both are perfectly timed.
- Elizabeth Moss is fantastic this episode. The scene with Serena Joy in particular is great as Offred clearly fights every instinct to recoil from the woman.
- Alexis Bledel has a huge plot this episode taking in terror, loss, grief, hope and horror. Every single scene she’s in, her eyes speak volumes. She utters not one single word all episode. Just stunning work.
- The moment where Offred shakes her head instinctively when asked if Ofwarren is okay will break your heart.
- Aunt Lydia’s approving nod when Offred mentions praying is stomach churning.
- Serena Joy’s reference to ‘this thing we do’ tells you everything you need to know about the desperate need for ownership the Wives have.
- ‘Brave isn’t part of this. Everybody breaks. Everybody.’-Nick warning her in the only way he can. Such subtle writing.
- ‘But you knew WHAT she was.’
‘I knew she was gay.’-A victory three letters wide and Offred pays the price for it gladly.
- Again. Nothing. This show is just this good. Although check below for an interesting counterpoint.
And The Random:
- Some major music choices this week.
- ‘F–k The Pain Away’ by Peaches plays over the jogging scene.
- ‘Heart of Glass’ (Crabtree Remix) is composer Philip Glass remixing legendary band Blondie and plays over the riot massacre.
- ‘Waiting for Something’ by Jay Reatard plays over Ofglen’s breakdown at the end of the episode.
- As an aside, and counterpoint, the New York Times review of this episode makes some excellent points about race representation in the show and how the lack of women of colour in this episode, in Oflgen’s plot especially, really damages it.
- Forward and The Orchid Project are two of the major UK groups campaigning against Female Genital Mutilation or FGM.
Review by Alasdair Stuart