'The Handmaid's Tale' Episode 2 recap: Birth Day parties and Scrabble games
By Sarah Bichsel
For The Baltimore Sun|
Apr 28, 2017 | 7:00 AM
Hey, good morning, are you recovered yet from the nightmare world of Episode 1 of "The Handmaid's Tale"? I hope so because Episode 2 opens with a Ceremony scene!
Commander Waterford beds Offred, who is trying very hard to think about anything other than the present moment, and I kid you not, Serena Joy has the audacity to roll her eyes and say "hurry it up." Look, Serena, I know this patriarchal society hurts all women in some way, but can you please not act as though you're the one having the hardest time right now? Please, thank you, and may the Lord open.
Offred and Ofglen, now good friends and secret sharers, walk together and discuss their respective pasts. Offred once worked as an assistant editor for a publisher in Boston, while Ofglen came from Missoula, Montana to be a university professor. Most figures of higher education were sent to The Colonies as punishment for observing facts, but Ofglen was spared because "she had two good ovaries."
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When they pass a destroyed church (apparently The Followers of the Faithful have a non-compete clause) they see a black van roll up and a man across the street is attacked by The Eyes. Ofglen reassures Offred that it's OK to be relieved that The Eyes weren't after her, and encourages her to join in with a mysterious group of "us." Who they are and what they do is part of the mystery, but one can be certain that they are not in favor of Ceremony Days and Pringle Hats.
Shortly after returning, Offred runs into Nick. He is concerned about Offred's relationship with Ofglen, saying she's dangerous and not to be trusted. Offred flashes a bit of ankle at him, and he passes out. I'm kidding, he stands upright, but there is a moment of sexual tension featuring her shin.
Most importantly, Nick passes on the message that Offred is to meet with The Commander tonight, alone in his study. Handmaids are typically forbidden from spending time alone with Commanders, which rightfully sends Offred into a spiral of questions and self-doubt, just in time for the arrival of The Birth Mobile. The Birth Mobile is a transport van that combines the somberness of a hearse with the decor of a red light district parlor. The Handmaids are all piled in the back, hidden from view by gauzy red curtains, and they whisper excitedly that Janine is about to have her baby, which for Offred brings back memories of Hannah's birth. The flashback mirrors every other "get me to the ER on time" scenes from films, except there is an enormous crowd outside of the hospital, praying and chanting for a healthy birth. When Offred (June, then) finally delivers Hannah, a beautiful, healthy girl, she follows the nurse to a chillingly empty NICU. Hannah was the only one to survive the night in good condition.
The Birth Mobile arrives at the home Janine serves, a gleaming, marble-laden mansion. A group of beautiful, green-clad upper class women gather around a woman lying on the floor, urging her to breathe and remember her Lamaze classes. If you think this woman is Janine, you are not thinking pessimistically enough. No, the woman on the floor is the very NOT pregnant wife of the husband Janine was forced to have sex with. But her best gal pals don't want her to feel like she's missing out or that Janine might be superior for physically birthing the child, so they pretend she is due for labor any moment. Meanwhile, Janine, the very actually pregnant woman, is roiling in pain and struggling to breathe even as The Handmaids and Aunt Lydia chant with her.
Back downstairs at Club Med, the ladies are having coffee and cakes and other assorted goodies. Offred helps clear the dishes and finds a brief moment alone with Ofglen. She reassures Offred that she can track down information about the Commander's intentions without being caught. No worries, mate — not like we're living in a surveillance state.
The next scene takes home this week's Gilead Award for Most Dystopian Moment. When Janine is finally ready to have the baby, she is brought to a chair. They bring the wife upstairs, and she sits behind Janine, the same way she does in a Ceremony! It's a moment both highly superficial and deeply disturbing. Janine, the heroine of the hour, gives birth to a healthy, baby girl. No sooner is the baby swaddled, though, do the wives swoop in and take the baby to Janine's mistress, who has been carefully laid down in the king-sized bed to recuperate. The Handmaids form a circle around Janine, and there is a genuine moment of solidarity as they all fold their arms around her.
Once the Birth Day Party is over, the Handmaids head back in The Birth Mobile to their respective postings. Ofglen quietly lets Offred know she couldn't procure information about Commander Waterford's intentions, so Offred is left to her own imagination. When nine o'clock arrives, she makes the long journey down the hallway to the Commander's study and compares herself to the girl in a horror movie who goes down into the basement thinking everything will be fine. The Commander beckons her in, and she sits before him, carefully avoiding eye contact.
"Why aren't you looking at me?" he asks, as if men of his station haven't specifically been training women to avoid eye contact and frivolity at all costs.
Offred reminds him it is forbidden, and he basically says, "live a little." From there, Offred lifts her gaze, and they begin to have a more relaxed interaction. Then The Commander says "I would like to play a game with you," at which point you scream "GET OUT OF THE BASEMENT, OFFRED! NOTHING GOOD CAN COME FROM THIS!" But apparently he is the first creep to ever say that to a woman and literally mean a game of Scrabble. They play together, Offred proving a worthy adversary and losing only by three points. The Commander is impressed by her general literacy and wishes to play again when he returns from meetings in Washington, D.C. She shyly agrees, and he calls it a date. This would all be so sweet if it weren't so absolutely horrifying.
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In the morning, Offred walks out of the house with a spring in her step, Simple Minds' "Don't You Forget About Me" playing in the background. No, I actually mean that: The producers used the song from "The Breakfast Club" and it's perfect. Offred is all smiles. She can tell Nick is a little jealous about her meeting with The Commander (hair flip), and she has new information to share with Ofglen about Commander Waterford's travel plans. She just can't wait to start this beautiful day!
Ofglen is not there. She has been replaced by a new Handmaid companion, and there is only one, four-letter word that can encapsulate the surprise.
What happened to Ofglen? Who is the spy in the Waterford House? Did Commander Waterford really win at Scrabble or did Offred just lose so she could keep her eye? Look out for Episode 3 recap, coming soon!