'The Handmaid's Tale' Episode 3 recap: A wake-up call
By Sarah Bichsel
For The Baltimore Sun|
May 01, 2017 | 8:20 PM
"Before I was asleep. …That's how we let it happen. Now, I am awake."
The most famous lines to come out of Margaret Atwood's original novel serve as the nexus of Episode 3 of "The Handmaid's Tale." How does the United States collapse from a country of relative freedom to one of absolute totalitarianism? As viewers, we may scoff at the stark uniforms and the heightened ceremonies, letting the extremes of the society pass as a fantasy rather than a possibility. But after Episode 3, the gap between the two eras is closed. I, for one, feel wide awake.
Previously, on "The Handmaid's Tale," Offred's shopping companion and friend Ofglen disappeared without so much as an "Under His Eye." Unfortunately, she has not been selected for a sweepstakes cruise to the Bahamas, and instead the episode opens with Ofglen being led as a prisoner down a glaringly white hallway, a mask covering her mouth. Offred's voiceover description of how she disappeared makes it uncertain what point in time this is happening, and whether we'll ever see Ofglen and Offred reunited. Ofglen does appear throughout the episode, but we'll get to that last.
The brightness of the detention center hallway cuts to the energy and motion of former Boston. June and Moira are running together — for exercise and fun, to be clear — and the camera takes a few beats to focus June's chest heaving under exertion. They pass a woman, who eyes June's bare collarbones and shakes her head in disgust. Ladies of the modern world who just want to exercise while not sweating under the confines of a burlap sack: I, a humble recapper, take the time to salute you.
Not as much can be said for the coffee shop worker June and Moira stop in post-jog. June's credit card is declined, and the barista openly calls them sluts and orders them to get out. They're astounded but rather than deal with this jerk, they leave. *Every woman in the universe sighs at their own particular memories of letting it go in order to stay alive.*
But this interaction is only the beginning. At the publishing house where they work, patrolmen arrive, and everyone who is female is no longer permitted to work from that day on. Anywhere. Not even Arby's. June soon finds that her entire bank account has been depleted, as has Moira's, as have any accounts registered with an F for female. A new law has passed forbidding women to own property. Luke consoles June and lets her know that he'll take care of her, an attitude Moira savagely derides as the crux of the whole problem they're facing. They argue and eventually laugh it off all together, but even as they joked, I couldn't feel anything but dread. Every day women face these arguments and stares and catcalls, and it is these words that, built up over time, eventually endorse the extremes of no property, no jobs and no comfortable jogging wear.
In the present Republic of Gilead, Offred comes downstairs to discover that Rita has cooked her a special breakfast: stewed apples and a white rose on the table (OH GOD, GET OUT OF THE BASEMENT OFFRED PRESIDENT SNOW IS ONTO YOU). She is understandably confused, because Gilead is not in the business of kindness, but Rita gleefully reminds Offred that she hasn't asked for her monthly rags, which means she must be pregnant. Even Serena is tender and accommodating, inviting her back to Mrs. Putnam's to visit baby Angela (born of Janine with no help from Mrs. Putnam sitting behind her).
At the Putnam Mansion, Offred is given the rare opportunity to hold Angela, and the look of joy on her face as she rocks the baby is crushing, especially as the other wives rip the child away as soon as possible. They all sneer at the wildness of Handmaids, particularly Janine, who it turns out has literally bit the hand that breeds her.
When Offred visits Janine alone, Janine confirms that yes, she definitely bit Mrs. Putnam, but that doesn't matter because she can do whatever she wants — now that she's had a healthy baby girl and proven herself a useful breeding tool, they can't touch her. She even gets ice cream! And the love of her Commander! Well, she knows he loves her and that they'll be running away together. They're the kind of couple that doesn't need to say those things out loud. I have a very bad feeling about Janine. Hope she bought travel insurance.
Before heading home, Offred and Mrs. Waterford share a small but critical moment. They lightly discuss Janine and the baby, and after a pause, Serena says, "what we do is terrible." The words hang there before she corrects herself — "what we do is terribly hard" — but based on her expression, you get a sense that this was a correction made more for propriety's sake. Perhaps there is some hope for Serena Joy after all.
Nick drives Offred home, and for someone in puppy love, he is unusually mute in response to her attempts at conversation. Turns out, he turned her in for being Ofglen's friend, and that is something you share only at the very end of your Uber ride. Traitors get 0 stars.
Offred is forced into an interrogation in the Waterford living room with a patrolman and everyone's favorite, Aunt Lydia. They want to know about her relationship with Ofglen: What route they took home, the sort of things they talked about … and whether Ofglen ever kissed her. The interrogators call Ofglen a "Gender Traitor," and Offred replies that she knew Ofglen was gay, prompting Aunt Lydia to taser her and launch into gross speech about how Ofglen is nothing more than a beast and a freak of nature. I so wish these diatribes weren't keenly relevant today, but the show's urgency makes it all the more cringe-worthy. The investigators demand to know why Offred didn't report Ofglen if she knew about her status, and Offred defiantly defends her friend.
"Remember your scripture," Aunt Lydia warns. "Blessed are the meek."
And in her most badass moment yet, Offred finishes: "And blessed are those who suffer for the cause of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. … I remember."
I fist-pumped from the couch, but nobody outscriptures Aunt Lydia. She tackles Offred and violently tasers her to the ground. Thank goodness for Serena Joy, who runs in and protects Offred because she is pregnant. That night, Nick shows up, acting the part of the regretful lover with a bouquet of ice to make up. He was only doing his duty, and he didn't want to hurt Offred. He leaves, and the crowd goes wild as Offred dumps his ice onto the bare floor. Traitor ice heals no wounds.
Unfortunately for Offred, she wakes up to discover that her days of good treatment are over — she's had her period. No baby, no ice cream. She timidly approaches Serena Joy, who is all smiles clearing out a room for the nursery. Serena Joy admits that it was very difficult for her to become pregnant and thinks of Offred as her miracle. If you have ever had to tell someone terrible news, you will know just how hard it is to watch them crash from elation. For Serena Joy, that elation falls so far as to reach fury, and she grabs Offred by the wrist, drags her to her attic bedroom, and screams at her to stay put. I couldn't help but think of Cinderella in this moment, locked away by the wicked stepmother in the tower.
As Offred has struggled with the fallout from Ofglen's capture, Ofglen herself has been terrorized. She is lead from her overly lit cell to a barely lit courtroom. She is put on trial along with a Martha, whom we realize is the woman Ofglen had become engaged to, and without so much as an opening argument, they are immediately found guilty according to Romans Chapter 1. The Martha will be "sentenced to the common mercy of the state" and Ofglen, with her two functional ovaries, will be forced into something called "Redemption." It is not immediately clear what either of these things means, but we find out soon enough.
The Martha and Ofglen, still trapped behind their mouth gags, share a van ride to their fates. All credit is due to the two actresses, who express love, grief and fear using only their eyes and the touching of their hands. The van stops in front of a construction site, and at first I had the hope Martha might be sent to the colonies, as if that's something you'd wish for somebody. Instead, a noose is put around her neck, and she is strung up on a crane then and there. If Alexis Bledel doesn't break your heart as she wails in anguish behind her mask, nothing will.
The next time we see Ofglen, she has woken up in another fluorescent white room, this time in a hospital bed. She struggles to sit up, and when she finally stands, she realizes with horror that they have operated on her vagina. Aunt Lydia strolls in and reassures her that the stitches will heal, she'll still have children, and now things will be better because "she won't want what she cannot have." Oh, and check out is at 11, so don't miss the continental breakfast. The episode ends with Bledel — the MVP of this episode — slowly coming to grips with the mutilation that has been performed on her and screaming into the void.
If this episode didn't wake you…watch it again until it does.