The Handmaid's Tale: A Woman's Place
May 17, 2017 1:12 PM - Season 1, Episode 6 - Subscribe

Visitors come to Gilead. Offred gets some surprising news.
posted by roolya_boolya (63 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
My first thought on discovering the purpose of the trade mission was that being traded to Mexico might be an escape route for the handmaids. Perhaps they would not treat the fertile woman so brutally there.
posted by roolya_boolya at 1:13 PM on May 17 [2 favorites]


I really like how much more robust this medium can make the world.

And terrified.

I was wracking my brain to figure out what movie they were watching but the Wilhelm clued me in it was a fake.

Six years since a live child was born. I can't even fathom.
posted by tilde at 4:03 PM on May 17 [2 favorites]


Did Janine get her tray of desserts? THIS IS WHAT I WANT TO KNOW. Girlfriend deserves them.

I was oddly touched by that scene with Aunt Lydia. She's a terrible, abusive collaborator, obviously, but the Handmaids are shown so little kindness or gentleness. And at least she doesn't shun them for carrying the scars of their abuse.
posted by Aquifer at 7:14 PM on May 17 [8 favorites]


So they cut off fingers and hands for reading, put out eyes for disrespect and circumcise for unapproved sexual activity. Several of the handmaids had scarring on the cheek and neck, maybe burns or acid burns. I wonder what infraction that is for.
posted by Karmakaze at 9:12 PM on May 17


> Several of the handmaids had scarring on the cheek and neck, maybe burns or acid burns. I wonder what infraction that is for.

Vanity, I suspect. Which might be sneaking/improvising a dab of makeup or regularly taking too long to get ready when called. Or, just attracting admiring looks from Mr. Patriarchy, because inciting any soupçon of inappropriate attraction is obviously the handmaid's fault.
posted by desuetude at 10:35 PM on May 17 [6 favorites]


The most heartbreaking thing to me about the illicit sexual activity (whether consensual with Nick, or the Commander taking further advantage of his position) is how it drives home that handmaids are almost completely deprived of human touch. They may get a pat on a clothed shoulder or arm, but I can't think of any skin-contact except for: the ceremony, gynecologist visit, and salvagings. Rape, medical examinations, and beating someone to death.
posted by desuetude at 11:04 PM on May 17 [4 favorites]


I am currently rereading the book and while they're different things in a lot of ways, I do like how much richer this reality feels on the TV show. I've seen comments about "this world makes no sense!" but I think some of that is because people just don't want it to. There are some leaps about how we got from where we are now to where Gilead is ... but they're not huge leaps. I liked seeing Serena Joy being complicit in the creation of this (and I appreciate how much the show is turning her into a complicated character. I don't think she'll ever be June's ally, but she has some depth).

That kiss scene with the commander was super, super gross.

I am glad they touched on what's going on in other countries, too -- that the whole world hasn't turned into Gilead, although the whole world is facing the fertility crisis. June laying it out for the ambassador in such plain, honest terms was amazing, and the ambassador's reaction was heartbreaking in that context (it wasn't quite a "so what?" but it felt close).

Luke being alive (allegedly) opens up some more interesting possibilities. We're past the halfway point with this season and I do wonder where this is going and where they're going to take it.
posted by darksong at 4:54 AM on May 18 [7 favorites]


Did Janine get her tray of desserts? THIS IS WHAT I WANT TO KNOW.

Did the damaged handmaids get led off to the slaughterhouse? This is what concerned me after Aunt Lydia's sudden kindness and kiss on the cheek (immediate thought: Godfather). Pretty sure Janine at least will still be alive next week since she is the only one we have seen successfully give birth.

There is so much to unpack in this episode and I may have to rewatch when not in a strep-induced stupor, but for now I would like to focus on the terrible cruelty of telling the handmaids they are going to a party, honoring them with thanks and acclamation, and then parading their stolen children in front of them. Some of those kids were old enough to be pre-Gilead births and there were several shots of pained handmaids watching their children play. I was waiting for some of the older ones to recognize their mothers and the whole scene to blow up, but presumably that is why they didn't bring in any kids above 4 or 5 - if they were taken as toddlers they wouldn't necessarily remember, especially with the handmaids cloaked the way they are.
posted by Flannery Culp at 6:11 AM on May 18 [5 favorites]


It made me sad to think how much as a culture Gilead values fertility, but feels justified in treating the handmaids with contempt, hatred, jealousy and cruelty. In the episode when the baby was born one of the wives talks of Offred as so well behaved, condescends "have a cookie" then "they're all sluts" or something else derogatory like that. In a group they are referred to as 'girls' by the aunts and wives. I can't stop thinking of the pretend birthing of that older episode too that ended in taking the baby out of the birth mom's arms and leaving her off to the side to the unobserved comfort of the other handmaids. I think in the future of this world someone will notice and put an end to that because the handmaids do need to be deprived of touch and comfort, as desuetude mentions above.

The lovely parade of beautiful children was tragic. The myth Serina Joy wanted to present worked as the handmaids look longingly for their own stolen babies. Their rapists holding the children's hands as they frolic and play in their lovely white clothes.

I don't have much faith that a trade to Mexico would be less cruel. After hearing Offred confess the reality of her situation the Ambassador Mrs. Castillo tells her babies are more valuable. I do not think she hears Offred say Gilead is already dead. They value Offred's fertility more than her personhood too.

Thank goodness for that little bit of hope about Luke, but I also imagine this news yet another risk for Offred. Hope in this world is almost more dangerous than bland horrific compliance.

I love this show. And am also reading the book because I can't wait for next Wednesday. But wow it is terrifying me.
posted by dog food sugar at 6:13 AM on May 18 [3 favorites]


I loved that they went back into the history of Serena Joy and the Commander. They had a weird but somewhat normal passionate sexual life. And now if Serena is infertile are they even supposed to have sex at all? Now they co-rape Offred together in a monthly ceremony. In a world of their own creation and choosing. It's horrid. And infuriating.
posted by dog food sugar at 6:19 AM on May 18 [2 favorites]


That relationship is something else to explore. Pre-Gilead Serena Joy seems totally into sex and is ready to rip Fred's clothes off and go for it, he is the one who stops the foreplay for that weird scripture recitation (shades of the later Ceremony) and also seems checked out as soon as he is done, while she is left unsatisfied. She may be the mastermind of the pair but he is the true believer in men's/women's roles and apparently the architect of Gilead's twisted theology.
posted by Flannery Culp at 6:40 AM on May 18 [6 favorites]


He was kinda a sad sap in the before days. Constantly needing her to encourage him while he never really backs her up in return. Sets it up for Serena to be blamed for this miserable future. It was her ideas. Without her encouragement would the commander been able to do it? Without her activism would the movement been able to progress?
posted by dog food sugar at 7:22 AM on May 18 [3 favorites]


This was a great episode for the TV show. I like the detailed look into the Commander and Serena's pre-Gilead life, and the whole thing with the Mexican delegation was chilling in every possible way. So, so well done.

Sucks for June's newfound sexytimes with Nick if she knows her husband is still living.
posted by olinerd at 7:32 AM on May 18 [1 favorite]


So much feels and thoughts! I found this to be a much more "TV" episode than the previous ones, and with it the show was suddenly really full of men and their thoughts and feels and words.

I am dissapointed with the romance and footsie-playing and that they didn't linger at all on the issues of consent regarding Offred/June's sexual approach on Nick at the end of the previous episode, it went from a quite complex question regarding her use of power to "oh, they fancy eachother". And now onto some sort of "omg, Luke's alive, such drama, jealous, you kinda cheated". Do. Not. Care.
What the fuck was she supposed to write on that note? Luke, you dumb fuck, talk about passing the emotional labour puck!!

Amazing, amazingly made show though, the camerawork in this was delicious, and the microexpressions from both SJ and O/J are a joy(?) to watch.
posted by Iteki at 7:46 AM on May 18


Yeah good point. What do you write on that note!
posted by dog food sugar at 8:13 AM on May 18 [3 favorites]


What if it's a trap and you could lose a hand? Do you write anything?
posted by Flannery Culp at 8:34 AM on May 18 [4 favorites]


> Some of those kids were old enough to be pre-Gilead births and there were several shots of pained handmaids watching their children play. I was waiting for some of the older ones to recognize their mothers and the whole scene to blow up, but presumably that is why they didn't bring in any kids above 4 or 5 - if they were taken as toddlers they wouldn't necessarily remember, especially with the handmaids cloaked the way they are.

Huh, I interpreted Serena Joy's speech to mean that these children were all post-Gilead. None of them looked more than three or so.

To be fair, the show has been ambiguous about how much time has passed since women first started getting turned into handmaids. (Except that unlike the books, it seems clear to me that there has NOT already been a generation of girls raised as handmaids from childhood.) I presumed there was a semi-gradual roll-out of the system and that June was a fairly late "recruit," based on the fact that other women seem to know more about the whole deal, the infrastructure seems quite set, and an active organized resistance network is already in place.

Also, I think we're to assume that June has been Offred for going on two years at this point. In the prior episode when Serena Joy talks to Offred in the garden about trying to get impregnated by Nick, she says that Offred's time at their house is running out.
posted by desuetude at 8:34 AM on May 18 [2 favorites]


Hmm, you're probably right. I think June has been a handmaid about five years now - this is her second posting, they stay for three years, and that works out with Hannah being eight now. (I may be mashing up book and show but I think we have been given all these pieces in one episode or another.) And I believe in the book the definition of 'sins' that get you rounded up as a handmaid expanded over time as they needed more recruits, so Offred would not have been in the first wave. Assuming Hannah was a toddler in the Luke/Moira fight scene, when he comes in from putting her to bed off camera, that gives one, maybe two years from loss of women's rights and rioting to their attempted escape.

tl;dr: it looks like we are 6-7 years into Gilead, so yes, those are probably all children born to handmaids. You can still see the despair in their faces though as they look for resemblance to their lost babies.
posted by Flannery Culp at 9:19 AM on May 18 [1 favorite]


And now if Serena is infertile are they even supposed to have sex at all?

Supposed to I dunno. But they did, right after the dinner. She congratulates him on closing the deal then they start smooching & then keep going.
posted by scalefree at 9:22 AM on May 18 [1 favorite]


And now if Serena is infertile are they even supposed to have sex at all?

I've seriously been wondering that about the Wives in general. I'd think no, it'd be considered a waste of sperm (in spite of the fact that the book says in a couple places that most of the MEN are actually sterile, especially if they're older, so that's why women aren't getting pregnant--but it's not kosher to place the blame on anyone but the women).
posted by dlugoczaj at 10:13 AM on May 18 [3 favorites]


So this episode gave me a LOT of feels, particularly in kind of what I think is the meta analysis about how women are treated in the actual world we live in.

So we have Fred and Serena having what seems to be a relatively good marriage, even if they were planning a creepy overthrow of the government. He is clearly excited by her power and competence and she genuinely seems to love him. And he's worrying about whether the other Commanders - and I think I just now realized that the Commanders are the original commanders of their little militia, like everyone in power is there only because they led the revolution - will go far enough. And then they do, and all the power he thinks he has, the power he thinks he has to excerpt Serena from the restrictions, to get her a place at the table, is meaningless. And she just gets to make a home for him, forever - to have nothing to talk about conspiratorially, ever again. And eventually, not even have sex - that's clear from his "we shouldn't" when they start. And not even wives can read, they have to throw out even her own book that she wrote. Fucking chilling.

And then you have other countries - Mexico, without a single live birth in six years in a major city - who are so visibly unable to have children, which must make the Commanders feel like it is God's will that they are doing, because why else would they be rewarded with children? it's this spinning top of hell that keeps going and everyone is seeing it working and doesn't want to mess with whatever the fragile balance that makes the babies in.

And that face - the face of the ambassador, omg forever, and you can tell she's telling herself that it will be different with the Handmaids once they get to Mexico, she'll treat them better, they won't be threatened - but they're such an incredible resource, that you know while she's telling herself this now, even accepting the Handmaids at all, accepting that you can own fertile women and they are property - incredibly valuable property - is accepting Gilead into itself.

God this was such a good episode and left me feeling like "fuck fuck fuck" afterwards.
posted by corb at 12:18 PM on May 18 [12 favorites]


It does seem illogical for the commanders to not be having sex with their wives. The best chance to have children would be as many women as possible trying to conceive.
posted by LizBoBiz at 12:41 PM on May 18


I would assume those wives already tried for awhile, were deemed infertile and assigned a handmaid. I don't think we have seen any wives with older children, but then, they wouldn't be part of Offred's orbit and up to this episode things have been mostly from her POV.
posted by Flannery Culp at 12:54 PM on May 18 [2 favorites]


I would definitely assume that the wives have all been proven infertile at least with their husbands - which might possibly be either why they or their husbands bought into Gilead in the first place. In a fertility crisis, it's not as though there would be a lot of opportunity for adoption either.

Which also means that the wives, as well as the handmaids, can never, ever, cheat - the risk of getting pregnant when they are both supposed to be faithful to their husbands /and/ their husbands aren't actually having sex with them.
posted by corb at 1:02 PM on May 18


And for obvious reasons contraception isn't a thing that is available anymore...
Someone above was wondering if the women with facial scars had perhaps. Even burned by acid; I think that sounds right, and would fit with my thought that they are consciously keeping the punishments as things being done to women right now in our world.
posted by Iteki at 2:32 PM on May 18


If by random chance Serena Joy gets pregnant, would she be kidnapped and enslaved and forced to become a handmaden?
Would her status as the wife of a powerful man protect her, or would natural resource of her fertility be more important?
We don't know yet how much corruption of the fondamentalist principles are allowed for those in power.
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 2:53 PM on May 18 [2 favorites]


I mean yeah, I get that the wives have been declared infertile, but everyone has heard the stories (or maybe even knows someone personally) who has been told they were infertile and then 4 or 5 years later they end up pregnant. It seems like such a waste to not be trying with them, but I guess I shouldn't assume there's solid logic behind what they're doing.
posted by LizBoBiz at 4:00 PM on May 18 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it's not a great plan. Three years of a single handmaid only having sex with one commander and only on the most fertile day of the month... it's surprising more than a handful of babies have been born.
posted by Flannery Culp at 4:14 PM on May 18 [2 favorites]


told they were infertile and then 4 or 5 years later they end up pregnant.


That's in normal. This isn't normal. The issue has hit at least 60-95% of the population... so three years trying is probably the new normal.

I was thinking about all this when Zika first started making headlines ... (I hadn't read the book but I knew the gist).

I can imagine in this scripture twister of a world, sex for other than direct conceptual purposes is forbidden.

And the signs point towards careful charting and cyclical cervical checks for the Maidens. High and open or low and open, but soft. I remember that much from my TCOYF days. I think I had an average 48 day cycle ...

I want to know more about "the colonies" since we are painting a larger back story.

Lots of excellent and sardonic innuendo this episode.
posted by tilde at 5:55 PM on May 18 [2 favorites]


I thought the Handmaids were such based on their previous non-elite status... a junkie prostititute, someone living sinfully, someone in a marriage deemed illegitimate (in June's case), etc. I think it must be a combination of class, involvement in the revolution, and morality of previous status.
posted by olinerd at 6:01 PM on May 18 [4 favorites]


this was an amazing episode, and directed by Floria Sigismondi!!!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 10:37 PM on May 18


The Mexican ambassador looked familiar! Who plays her?
posted by divabat at 10:45 PM on May 18




One thing about "trading for handmaids" - if Gilead still has some percentage of fertile women, are we to believe Mexico has no fertile women at all in the entire country? And Gilead is really willing to give them up?
posted by dnash at 5:14 AM on May 19 [3 favorites]


Until the last scene, I wasn't sure if "I want to help you" dude was actually from Mexico or if he were some kind of State Department (or whatever they call it) handler for the Ambassador.

Had the Ambassador not seemed so earnest in her speech about no babies for six years, the final scene would have made me wonder if they were actually going to trade for Handmaidens in an effort to somehow liberate them.

As things stand I simply don't know if she should trust him or not.

The preview makes me think the entire episode 7 will be in flashback.
posted by anastasiav at 9:48 AM on May 19


The "writing it down" part makes me nervous. Even if the ambassador's aide is a friendly, which I think is the case, it could so easily get intercepted. What if the aide is found out and searched? Even if the aide was spared for diplomatic reasons, I worry for June.

I like, though, how a situation that could have greatly imperiled her led directly to help coming from an unexpected place. That speech to the ambassador was amazing. If she hadn't spoken up, I'm betting the aide would have assumed that June really was fine and adjusted within the new regime and would have remained silent so as not to put himself in danger.

Other things:
- It's a testament to the consistency of the show that I held my breath every time the ambassador spoke. Seeing her in a pantsuit(!!!!) and speaking so freely, simply commanding the conversation among men, was flabbergasting.
- I'm betting Lydia did get those trays of dessert back to Janine and the others.
- I'm also betting that Lydia has had a moment of kindness to humanize her but will do something absolutely shocking within the next two episodes.
- Which makes me worried for Emily. I don't think Emily's dead. I think they have plans for her. Scary plans.
- We finally get to see the scene of the handmaids cleaning the walls, which we always see at the beginning of each episode.
- Yvonne Strahavoski gets more fantastic to watch every week. When she couldn't resist standing up and addressing the dinner crowd (it was like she was channeling Claire Underwood), which was clearly not planned, I kind of sort of cheered for her. It's complicated.
- And of course Gilead started with terrorist acts. And of course they thought they were doing the ultimate good.
- I think they're trying to show that sex in Gilead is only for procreation. Which means that, in a way, the Commanders' actions with/to Handmaids are more legitimate than those actions with their own wives. And that's super creepy.

I've been watching Harlots at the same time I've been watching this and it's kind of an interesting countermelody. It's 1765-ish London, where women have very little agency and there's also a lot of movement for the women to gain what limited power they can get.
posted by mochapickle at 12:37 PM on May 19 [3 favorites]


In June's place I'd draw a picture. Not a writing, but something that could mean something to him, to them, while providing just enough plausible deniability about it being an innocuous doodle.
posted by tilde at 3:35 PM on May 19 [3 favorites]


One thing about "trading for handmaids" - if Gilead still has some percentage of fertile women, are we to believe Mexico has no fertile women at all in the entire country? And Gilead is really willing to give them up?

There seem to be enough of them that they can afford to hang them in large numbers for offenses against the State.
posted by scalefree at 6:21 PM on May 19


I don't remember them mass hanging the handmaids
posted by LizBoBiz at 10:57 AM on May 20 [3 favorites]


IIRC back in episode 3, the judge told Emily that by law she should be sentenced to hang just like her Martha partner, but because she is fertile she is too valuable to the state and thus gets "redemption" instead of death. We've seen a wide range of punishments and mutilations, but no handmaids on the wall yet.
posted by Flannery Culp at 11:43 AM on May 20 [6 favorites]


Yeah, it's stated explicitly in the book (and maybe in the show thus far, can't remember) that handmaids are punished in ways that don't prevent them from bearing children. Lose a hand, foot, eye, etc.
posted by telegraph at 3:37 PM on May 20 [6 favorites]


God this episode had me so upset. I mean they're all upsetting, but somehow things are getting more normal and it's striking closer to the bone. I'm sort of angry that Serena has some sympathetic backstory, she's a victim of sorts herself, because good heavens but she and her husband are monsters. But mostly I'm just breathless with every risk June takes. With Nick, with telling the truth to the ambassador, with using Janine's name, with trying to play the Commander in his man cave. So, so dangerous. Be safe, June!

I do wish the sci-fi world building made a little more sense, the fertility crisis. I brought this up in a previous discussion, about the conspicuous absence of any sort of fertility medicine. If you really have only a few fertile women there are far more efficient ways to have babies than some creepy Ceremony. In the last discussion we chalked it up to the twisted Gilead religion, that somehow it had to be a "natural" conception. But if Mexico has a similar crisis surely they'd approach solving it in a different way? Surely some country still has medicine and scientists and isn't given over to neo-Christian nut jobs? But I think this TV show's strength isn't in being a hard sci-fi consistent world. The book doesn't even try to be, to its credit. It's the horror of sexual slavery that makes this story so compelling.
posted by Nelson at 6:33 PM on May 21


Nelson, if it helps, remember that when the book was written fertility medicine was virtually nonexistant. That's where our timeline and theirs diverged. We both got iPhones, but they didn't get Louise Brown.
posted by anastasiav at 7:48 PM on May 21 [5 favorites]


(I watched the last two episodes together so some of my remarks pull from both of them.)

I'm increasingly confident that new-Ofglen is with Mayday. Her backstory doesn't quite fit but her insistence on getting details that June doesn't readily provide tilts me that way. And her aggressiveness in warning June away from Emily could be a factor of wanting to maintain June as an asset, when Emily has already been compromised.

In both book and show, Gilead has existed for about five years. June is halfway through her second posting. And I hope the ambassador understood her when she said that her country--America--is already dead. I sucked in my breath at that line. Too close to home right now.

Aunt Lydia was surprisingly sympathetic. Still evil, but I guess the flip side of being a true believer is that once the punishment is meted out, the crime is atoned for.

The handmaids are always referred to as girls. I wince every time. Especially since June and Emily are both in their mid-thirties based both on show continuity and actress age. (As is Serena Joy, which yes, does make me wonder if non-ceremony sex is forbidden. Under normal circumstances, Serena Joy is definitely young enough that she'd still be trying.)

Serena Joy looks crazy tall in a lot of shots. I looked it up - Yvonne Strahovski is 5'9" but wearing heels.
posted by athenasbanquet at 8:13 PM on May 21 [2 favorites]


I don't remember them mass hanging the handmaids

There's a scene in one episode (forget which) where she goes downtown & passes by a large round government-looking building with quite a few people hanging on its wall. Mostly Handmaids but some Aunts & men. Plus the ones along the path she walks every day. It starts to add up.
posted by scalefree at 10:56 PM on May 21


Episode 4 when they're heading for the subway? There are no handmaids on the wall. And none at the wall by the river.
posted by mochapickle at 11:12 PM on May 21 [2 favorites]


The uneasy feeling I got about Mexico's even worse fertility rate is the idea that taking away fertile women's right to refuse sex is what's making the difference. So there's an argument to be made that Gilead actually has chosen the most effective solution (less the problem of weeding out infertile men.) I really hope that's not the case.

The other option that occurred to me is that people were trying to run to Canada, which seems to have weathered the crisis a bit better. In fact, the show mentioned Alaska and one of the NW states as the remnants of the USA, and regularly mentions Florida as one of the worst places to get sent. Add that to the way they're folding climate change in as well as the fertility crisis, it's possible that the closer to the equator you get, the worse the effect.
posted by Karmakaze at 5:51 AM on May 22 [2 favorites]


The handmaids are always referred to as girls. I wince every time.

Yep. I take a decent amount of flak in real life for being fairly steadfast about not referring to adult women as girls (even when we're being "casual" and it's "slangy" and "girls is just the equivalent of guys!") and every time it comes up on this show I feel vindicated.
posted by telegraph at 11:00 AM on May 22 [9 favorites]


I was oddly touched by that scene with Aunt Lydia. She's a terrible, abusive collaborator, obviously, but the Handmaids are shown so little kindness or gentleness. And at least she doesn't shun them for carrying the scars of their abuse.

I saw that as as even more chilling facet of the entrenched abuse structure - playing herself up as the tender protector of her charges, reinforcing her authority even as it mirrors the fact that they are maimed because SHE maimed them. Plays very much into the classic 'I love you, why did you make me hurt you' paradigm.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:31 AM on May 22 [14 favorites]


Yeah, I have to agree with the others, Gilead does not hang Handmaids.

The breeding stock is too precious... **shudder**
posted by Pendragon at 12:36 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


I am rereading the book right now and this episode really strayed from the source material in a way that makes me question why they made those choices.

First of all, in the book, it's Serena who delivers info about Offred's daughter (not husband) as a bribe to get her to sleep with Nick. I'm not done with the book yet but the whole Mexican ambassador plot is something I don't remember from first reading.

Secondly, Offred never uses her own name in the book. In fact, June might not even be her name — it's just assumed by readers. One reason for this is to display the subtle indoctrination she's already undergone. They have barely touched on this in the TV show but it seems like it always comes from other characters — for example, Janine commenting that the wall looks weird without all the dead bodies on it. In the book Offred sees some (Japanese?) tourists in tank tops and shorts and remembers wearing those kinds of clothes in her past and but now she thinks it looks really immodest.*

Lastly, in the book, Offred SPECIFICALLY says what she endures is not rape.

I do not say making love, because this is not what he's doing. Copulating too would be inaccurate, because it would imply two people and only one is involved. Nor does rape cover it: nothing is going on here that I haven't signed up for. There wasn't a lot of choice but there was some, and this is what I chose.

They touch on this in this episode when Offred lies to the ambassador in the Commander's office, because what choice does she really have with everyone watching her every word? I am thinking of the phrase "When you can't say no your yes means nothing." But many people consider the narrator in the book to be unreliable (*see previous comment), and I feel like they could have addressed this with more nuance in the tv show instead of having Offred say right out "rape."

Which leads me to one more quibble about this episode — it was almost entirely devoid of Offred's snarky internal monologue. One thing I thought the TV show did really well was display the dichotomy of Offred's inner life with the pious smalltalk she's required to make outside of it. Had they used that inner dialogue for this episode the "rape" comments and also the reveal of her real name could have been handled in a less obvious way. As Iteki noted, this episode felt very "TV" to me and it seems like they were lacking in trust of the audience to tease out those nuances of the character.

One moment I loved though was when Ofrred was in the tub and Martha comes to tell her Serena wants to see her. Offred responds with a nasally and sarcastic "awesome" which elicits a barely-contained smirk from Martha.

And that face - the face of the ambassador, omg forever, and you can tell she's telling herself that it will be different with the Handmaids once they get to Mexico, she'll treat them better, they won't be threatened - but they're such an incredible resource, that you know while she's telling herself this now, even accepting the Handmaids at all, accepting that you can own fertile women and they are property - incredibly valuable property - is accepting Gilead into itself.

I just read the book Island Benetah the Sea by the writer Isabel Allende. It's about the Hatian slave rebellion of the late 1700s. In the book, a Frenchman inherits his father's plantation and SWEARS to himself that he'll treat his slaves much more humanely than his father did. I bet you can guess what happens. It doesn't matter how well you treat slaves. They're still slaves.
posted by Brittanie at 7:53 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


I just finished listening to the latest episode of Still Processing ("We Watch Trump TV"), where they discuss how various shows do or don't resonate with current events, and thought their take on this adaptation summed it up well: the book is horror but the show wants to be a thriller. The source material is essentially a slave narrative where Offred has given in to her powerlessness, and giving her an active spirit of rebellion changes every other dynamic and perspective in the story.
posted by Flannery Culp at 9:16 AM on May 23 [9 favorites]


This episode ruined me. It is fantastically well done. I can't really organize thoughts about it, though.
posted by odinsdream at 9:39 AM on May 23


I just finished watching this one and tried to read the thread and my brain just won't right now. I will go back. I need to say, though, that the scene where she tells the ambassador what's been going on, after having beat herself up for not having done so, where she steels her courage and, despite the enormous risk, speaks up for not only herself but everyone else, and is told, "Sorry, I can't do anything," was just... There is one scene in every episode that has been a total gut-punch, and that one was just at another level. Strength combined with extreme vulnerability combined with desperate optimism at very high stakes meeting indifference. Very Atwood, despite not having been in the novel, and such a familiar feeling of metaphorically being slapped in the face these days at every political twist and turn.
posted by lazuli at 8:13 PM on May 23 [2 favorites]


Lastly, in the book, Offred SPECIFICALLY says what she endures is not rape.

I do not say making love, because this is not what he's doing. Copulating too would be inaccurate, because it would imply two people and only one is involved. Nor does rape cover it: nothing is going on here that I haven't signed up for. There wasn't a lot of choice but there was some, and this is what I chose.

They touch on this in this episode when Offred lies to the ambassador in the Commander's office, because what choice does she really have with everyone watching her every word? I am thinking of the phrase "When you can't say no your yes means nothing." But many people consider the narrator in the book to be unreliable (*see previous comment), and I feel like they could have addressed this with more nuance in the tv show instead of having Offred say right out "rape."


In the TV universe it is unequivocally rape. The handmaids thought they were signing up for something like IVF (there is the flashback scene where Moira speculates on how they are going to be inseminated and then they all discover to their horror that they are going to be subjected to actual intercourse). In the book the details of how much information they were given before they agreed to be handmaids are more vague, but given that IVF was a nascent and experimental technology when the book was written, women presumably knew when they "chose" to be handmaids that this meant intercourse.
posted by mama casserole at 10:15 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]


Well, I need to back that up quite a bit because apparently sperm banks were commercially popular beginning in the 1970s so the book's handmaids may also have assumed they would be artificially inseminated (but may have been informed otherwise before they committed). The TV show makes it clear that the women agreeing to be handmaids were not fully informed.
posted by mama casserole at 11:51 AM on May 24


I didn't see anyone else mention this so maybe I misheard but did Aunt Lydia used Janice's real name?
posted by LizBoBiz at 2:48 PM on May 24 [1 favorite]


Yes, Aunt Lydia called Janine by her real name when she was persuading her to leave the reception. I think that's the only time she's used a handmaid's real name while still assigned to a man. She called Emily by her name after her surgery but it was after she was Ofglen and before she was Ofsteven. I figure calling Janine by name is significant but I can't quite put my finger on it. Was it just meant as a way to show Aunt Lydia's "caring" side? Or something more sinister?
posted by Neely O'Hara at 2:56 PM on May 24 [1 favorite]


I took the use of the name Janine as a sort of urgent get-her-to-behave thing. We've seen before that she's not co-operative or entirely coherent, and the handmaids have been given a little latitude by the Aunts in getting her to be compliant.

And some support for that position, an interview with Ann Dowd, the awesome actress playing Aunt Lydia
Lydia also says her name, Janine, which struck me as significant.
I think Lydia’s learning too as they go along about how to do this right. The decision to take her eye out was a severe one. Would Lydia have done something less? I don’t know the answer to that. However, it is her vulnerable place, Janine’s. And being called your former name connects them to the ground. It connects them to something that was real and had meaning to them. Their life. And to simply say her name is a way of reaching her because she’s starting to spin. And we learn about Janine. She’s not the most stable creature in the world. I think Lydia is protective of all the girls, but I think especially of someone like Janine, who is not handling it well.
It never occurred to me that the Handmaids would have volunteered for the service or that consent or choice of procedure was considered. I always assumed from the book and the TV show that at the start of this nightmare their options were some sort of hideous medical imprisonment, banishment to The Colonies, or agreeing to be impregnated for The State. IIRC June goes straight from being arrested on her escape attempt to being thrown in the Handmaid School. Surely June had no meaningful choice, but I'm not sure she even had a nominal one.
posted by Nelson at 3:11 PM on May 24 [4 favorites]


And Lydia calling Janine by name also shows that even Lydia recognizes that the Gilead thing is just a facade that's only holding up through collective efforts to perpetuate it.

She's the last major character to reveal this -- we have sarcastic Rita rolling her eyes, Serena Joy sneaking June into Nick's room, Fred bringing in forbidden Scrabble and trying to connect with June, Nick (oh Nick...). It's important to show that they're all in a standoff where no one fully buys this but they're all invested in it to the teeth.
posted by mochapickle at 7:14 PM on May 24 [6 favorites]


> Lastly, in the book, Offred SPECIFICALLY says what she endures is not rape.

I do not say making love, because this is not what he's doing. Copulating too would be inaccurate, because it would imply two people and only one is involved. Nor does rape cover it: nothing is going on here that I haven't signed up for. There wasn't a lot of choice but there was some, and this is what I chose.

They touch on this in this episode when Offred lies to the ambassador in the Commander's office, because what choice does she really have with everyone watching her every word? I am thinking of the phrase "When you can't say no your yes means nothing." But many people consider the narrator in the book to be unreliable (*see previous comment), and I feel like they could have addressed this with more nuance in the tv show instead of having Offred say right out "rape."


For the book, the reader can parse her characterization of "I had tiny amount of horrible, horrible choice so I am not calling it rape" as an (incredibly common) coping mechanism to compartmentalize trauma. I don't think that hearing this in a voiceover would produce the same effect, it would just be confusing and inconsistent with the way her internal thoughts are being presented in the show.

I feel like they tried to get at a similar sort of idea by the way Offred/June replies to the Mexican ambassador's incredulous-yet-hopeful question about whether she chose this life -- the dissonance between her words and her face makes it clear that her reply is very complicated. The way to get through a high-stakes lie like that is to say something that you can swallow for the moment as technically true.
posted by desuetude at 10:05 PM on May 24 [6 favorites]


How many of those kids do you think were fathered by the doctor?
posted by LizBoBiz at 3:28 PM on May 31


Really powerful hearing her breach kayfabe in front of the ambassador and call things by their true names - something even the rulers of this society can't do.

I thought it was notable that Lydia was enough of a true believer to defend her handmaids, since their punishment was part of their sacred duty and not something to be ashamed of. That involves allowing her victims to be seen in public: lack of shame on her part as well.

The lack of closure in the book works so well - I hope they manage to develop the themes without grinding through every possible change. Woke Serena Joy would be too far.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 12:53 AM on July 3 [1 favorite]


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