The Handmaid's Tale: Birth Day
April 26, 2017 9:19 AM - Season 1, Episode 2 - Subscribe

Offred and her fellow Handmaids assist with the delivery of Janine's baby, prompting Offred to recall her own daughter’s birth. Offred draws closer to Ofglen while dreading a secret meeting with... more
posted by Fizz (40 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
One of the things I loved the most about this episode was the camerawork. Offred is always searching, always looking for faces and connections to the past. When she goes upstairs to the birth, the camera scans the room exactly as Offred would, looking for Moira.
posted by mochapickle at 10:55 AM on April 26, 2017 [4 favorites]

Whoever was talking in the last thread about the amazing close shots for the feeling of isolation and enclosure, that scene where the entire frame is just her sun bonnet and her face after she learns about "us" is just .. wow. Prisoner in your own mind.

Then it starts to rain and pulls out to her small in the frame as she gives world building exposition - who am I to go against all that craziness? I mean, it's amazing what can become ordinary and unquestionable.

Really, really well conceived, written, acted and shot. Worth the hulu subscription so far and I doubt I'll even watch anything else.

So far there is a LOT more backstory and setting reveal than I remember from the books. One of that things I loved about the novel was how slowly and deliberately the setting particulars were revealed. From literally just her room to just the household dynamic to just the Handmaid's relationship to society and on upwards.

I suppose that's not easy to replicate for TV and probably should not be. Since I find the world horribly compelling I'm glad to learn more.
posted by absalom at 5:35 PM on April 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

That smirk after she spit out the cookie. I've never seen such character development in one facial expression before. As a mother, I'm having a very intense reaction to Janine's birthing and Hannah's attempted kidnapping. Ugh, fucking Scrabble. Such a slap in the face. Gilead isn't some theoretical sci-fi dystopia. It's us, with board games. Oh, I gasped out loud when Simple Minds started playing. And gasped again when it stopped. Fuck, indeed.
posted by Ruki at 1:23 AM on April 27, 2017 [9 favorites]

I really liked the way they used that song there and it also made me think about that song in a new way. which. that's something that great art does, which makes you think about things you already know in different ways, and makes them take on new dimensions.
posted by bleep at 4:29 PM on April 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

Omg. I couldn't place the actress who plays Janine. Turns out she played Tricia on OITNB. Wow.
posted by mochapickle at 6:43 PM on April 27, 2017 [7 favorites]

Huh wow, and they are also really similar characters.
posted by bleep at 6:47 PM on April 27, 2017

"Look at how well-behaved she is!" Like she's a fucking PET.

One thing is, I feel like they've already crammed a LOT of the major moments of the book into the show, in just two episodes. I feel like they're going to reach non-book territory sooner than I'd expected. Which is ok, it's just - that's where the true test of this as a series will come; does the new stuff merge well with the book.

Though I think they're doing excellent with that so far. There's a tiny thing in the flashback to June's time in the hospital post-birth, where the nurse says "praise be." Which shows how Gilead didn't come into being in one fell swoop - there were degrees, seeds of it. There already are.
posted by dnash at 7:38 PM on April 27, 2017 [11 favorites]

dnash, on a somewhat similar note, I found it really odd at first that Moira goes right to hugging and congratulating June when she says she's pregnant, even though she seems visibly worried. They're in their early twenties, and having been a woman in her early twenties, when your visibly nervous friend tells you she's pregnant, you don't jump right to hugs and congratulations, unless you know for sure that it's good news.

But then they do the exposition about how few women are able to get pregnant and give birth, and you start to see how, even before the big terrorist act, the groundwork was being laid for this - it wasn't even a question, even among two independent young women in the city, that she would have an abortion or even be ambivalent about having a baby. I'm not saying the character SHOULD have had an abortion, obviously. But it's just noticeable that even before the coup, women's free choice about their reproduction was being eroded not by laws, but by the fertility crisis.

There's just so much there in this show.
posted by lunasol at 9:13 PM on April 27, 2017 [13 favorites]

The young handmaids intrigue me. Some of them look to be in their late teens, and Gilead has only been up and running a few years (June says Hannah would be 8 now and she looks about 4 or 5 in the opening scene), which means they would have been high school age during the theocratic overthrow of the US government. Were they very young teen moms, conscripted for their proven fertility like the others? Are they true believers who embrace this as their God-given role in life? They seem accepting of it and even happy at times.

My current headcanon is that they are fundies of the stay-at-home-daughter variety who are raised to obey the headship of their father until they are transferred to the headship of a husband, maybe even Commanders' daughters, who have been taught that their place is to serve the Lord as handmaids and aspire to becoming Wives. As long as we're expanding everyone else's backstory, I'm curious what it's like inside their world as well.
posted by Flannery Culp at 6:47 AM on April 28, 2017

As a mother, I'm having a very intense reaction to Janine's birthing and Hannah's attempted kidnapping.

Yeah, I am pretty sure I let down a little during the nursing scene. And I haven't nursed a baby in nearly 4 years.

I haven't read the book since high school, so I don't remember how hard it was hit in the book, but so far the fertility crisis angle is actually irking me somewhat. It kind of implies that this could only happen due to such an extreme biological shift in humanity buuuut... yeah, no. If handmaids were less Bilhah and more Hagar then you don't need a global fertility crisis to justify ritualized rape and child-stealing. The speculative biological crisis puts the whole thing at more of a remove than it needs to be and I wouldn't have minded if they decided to downplay that for the show.
posted by soren_lorensen at 9:28 AM on April 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

who have been taught that their place is to serve the Lord as handmaids and aspire to becoming Wives

Handmaids cannot aspire to become wives, by definition. They are different castes. The Wikipedia article about the book lays it out pretty clearly. Offred is forced to become a handmaid because she is a proven fertile woman who broke the (alleged) gender laws. (In the book it was because her husband had previously been divorced, so the marriage between her and Luke as not viewed as legitimate and their daughter was eligible to be taken by the state because she was classified as an illegitimate child).
posted by anastasiav at 11:04 AM on April 28, 2017 [4 favorites]

Yes, I've read the book. The younger handmaids in the show seem qualitatively different in their attitude toward Gilead than the older ones, though, in a way that seems to come from something other than their youth. I feel like the average high school girl, having seen society collapse and all of her autonomy and rights stripped away, would not be so accepting of the situation.
posted by Flannery Culp at 1:24 PM on April 28, 2017

There's definitely a very different perspective being flagged in the young handmaids, but in my head it works like this: they're teenage/young unwed mothers (thereby gender traitors and Handmaid fodder), maybe even gave their original babies up for adoption, so there was never a child being forcibly taken away or just for whatever reason they don't have that trauma. And they're young enough to not have any real idea of what it ought to be like to be a grown woman in society, and probably also young enough to think (they know everything and therefore) they're lucky and working the system and they don't really know they need to sweat their own fertility so...this is fun, for a given definition. It may very well be a better cushier safer situation than they were in Before (or, they're young enough that they got pregnant the first time After and this is all they really understand).
posted by Lyn Never at 2:11 PM on April 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

I wouldn't jump to conclusions about the younger girls. It is well established that you can't tell anything about the handmaids from how "pious" they are.
posted by LizBoBiz at 1:59 PM on April 29, 2017 [11 favorites]

Yeah, I don't really think there's evidence for them having a different perspective. We just haven't been given insight into their inner lives.

The only person we've seen I feel comfortable reading as a True Believer at this point is the Aunt.
posted by meese at 8:26 PM on April 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm not totally sure how the world is built here. It doesn't make much sense to let one of the few proven fertile women stop having kids after a single pregnancy. And are there a lot more women than men? Are the men hoping to upgrade to be given a retired handmaid or something? I cannot remember the book's answers, and I am not sure if this is something the show will answer.
posted by jeather at 7:57 AM on May 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure I'm following... Which woman was allowed to stop having kids?
posted by mochapickle at 8:18 AM on May 1, 2017

The handmaids are, as I gather from the show, allowed to retire if they have one kid. Am I wrong? If they don't have a kid in 6 years they definitely get sent to the Colonies. I'm not rewatching to make sure though.
posted by jeather at 8:57 AM on May 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

And the handmaids are definitely taken out of the house after one child, even though they have proven fertility with that man.
posted by jeather at 8:57 AM on May 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

In the book, bringing at least one pregnancy successfully to term means a handmaid cannot be declared Unwoman and sent to the colonies, but I don't think it's implied that they get to retire immediately, just that they can relax a little bit about post-menopausal life.
posted by Flannery Culp at 9:42 AM on May 1, 2017 [7 favorites]

I don't think there is anything ever specified about what absolutely does happen, only that they won't be sent to the Colonies. I took that to mean that the Republic was so young nobody'd figured out that part yet. Like, probably you keep them having babies for as long as they are having good ones, and you have no idea how long that might be, so you don't want to promise they get to stop after a certain point.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:56 AM on May 1, 2017

Oh! I found it:
She'll be allowed to nurse the baby, for a few months, they believe in mother's milk. After that she'll be transferred, to see if she can do it again, with someone else who needs a turn. But she'll never be sent to the Colonies, she'll never be declared Unwoman. That is her reward.
Of course, this series being what it is, I can't imagine Janine getting out of that place alive.
posted by mochapickle at 11:23 AM on May 1, 2017 [10 favorites]

And the handmaids are definitely taken out of the house after one child, even though they have proven fertility with that man.

Sure, except that male infertility is not a thing in Gilead ideology. You're certainly correct that this seems like a bad move if your goal is solely to maximize fecundity and perpetuate the human race, but very little about Gilead actually does that effectively; remember that many handmaids as their qualifying act had already proven their fertility with a man (and many of those men were subsequently murdered by the State).

I don't recall how explicitly this is stated in the book, but my understanding was always that handmaids are moved regularly not to increase their likelihood of conception (because that logic would tacitly imply that male infertility is possible), but to reduce the risk of any kind of impropriety, e.g. relationships between handmaids and other members of the household (including but not limited to their own child).
posted by telegraph at 3:51 PM on May 1, 2017 [7 favorites]

It's been a very long time since I've read the book, so I am mostly free from being distracted by the changes and adaptations. On the other hand, I think that it's beneficial to have at least a foggy memory of some of the structural things about Gilead that they haven't enumerated quite so distinctly in the series.
posted by desuetude at 8:48 PM on May 1, 2017

my understanding was always that handmaids are moved regularly not to increase their likelihood of conception

It may also be because if you have a proven bearer, keeping them for only one man might increase resentment. Originally I thought it was at the Wives' behest, but now I just can't see them with that much power.
posted by corb at 12:57 PM on May 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Still loving the show, but there's something a bit off-putting about the world building. They've made some choices that localize everything to "America just a few years from 2017". Like mentioning Craigslist, and Uber, and showing the maternity ward that's just like a normal hospital. And making it clear the crisis and Gilead have only been going on 10 years or so. The TV show feels like a sci-fi TV show where we are supposed to believe everything makes sense as literally presented.

But so many parts don't make sense. It is hard to believe social order would be so entirely disrupted so fast. Cambridge doesn't look like an 18th century village, not even down between Harvard and the river. And the part that stuck most to me with the second episode; why not artificial insemination? Either simple mechanical introduction of sperm or full on IVF? No one seems like to enjoy The Ceremony, certainly not the Wives who still hold a certain amount of power. And IVF is going to work better anyway in an actual fertility crisis.

I know, I should suspend disbelief. And the power of the original novel and the film is that you don't really ask those questions, just accept the horror world we're shown is how things are and let the author tell the powerful story of women being reproductive chattel. I'd like to be on board with that, but somehow the TV show is making me ask these questions that don't really have answers.
posted by Nelson at 11:57 PM on May 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

I don't know, to me it makes complete sense that IVF would not be an option in Gilead. We're talking about a "traditional" return to biblical teachings, where they're taking a very literal interpretation of the Rachel and Leah story. Hence, the Ceremony following that very closely. I also think it highly believable that traditionalists who want to return to a time before would be skeptical of medical interventions, and perhaps believe that such interventions and signs of modernity were to blame for decreased fertility. A lack of trust in God, etc.
posted by dysh at 4:39 AM on May 5, 2017 [13 favorites]

Yeah, IVF involves killing a shit-ton of embryos in the hopes of getting one to work. There is pro-life agitation against destroying the embryos that are left frozen after successful treatment, for example.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 7:21 AM on May 5, 2017 [5 favorites]

Also presumably the fertility crisis before would have tried IVF? Also I'm not sure how many reputable scientists Gilead has left.
posted by corb at 7:24 AM on May 5, 2017

The "flirting" at the end of the game turned my stomach. She's joking that he is in complete control of her life, ha ha, and he comes back with a reference to how he puts his dick in her. Time to squeeze me in, *barf*

Offred/June's headspace is something I'm having trouble understanding, there's just so much going on with her. The constant paranoia and fear and memories of a better life, family, etc contrast so weirdly with her interactions with the driver and the commander and with her gusto in the Salvaging. Containing multitudes, I guess, and one can't completely resist the normalization of these horrors.
posted by carsonb at 11:54 PM on May 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

"....her gusto in the Salvaging".

In the book, either Offred or Ofglen (think it was Ofglen), runs ahead of all the other Handmaids to kick the man in the head and knock him out, so he doesn't have to suffer so much. I believe that is what Offred was doing here, but I wish they had spelled it out a bit better.
posted by nanook at 6:47 AM on May 6, 2017

It's Ofglen, who afterward tells Offred she recognized him as a member of the Resistance, and throws some shade at the trumped up charges - he's a rapist! But not just that, he raped a handmaid! And also she was pregnant! And then she lost the baby! With the free space you have bingo.

In the show I think Offred really did go for it. Immediately before is when Janine tells her (so cheerfully!) that Moira is dead. Her anger about that and at Janine seem to cause the rest of her suppressed rage about life in Gilead to boil over.
posted by Flannery Culp at 8:15 AM on May 6, 2017 [9 favorites]

^ yes, yes, yes. I agree. I think this wholly diverged from book.

I think eventually she will have a scene where she runs up first and put someone out of his misery as the story goes (this isn't a spoiler -- there's only one salvaging described in the book), but this version of Offred is angry. The Moira thing was the blowtorch that ignited everything that'd been building up the whole episode -- the grind of her day-to-day, her surrounding oppression and imprisonment, the punishment of having to remember her contented previous life, the indignity of the previous night's monthly rape authorized and prescribed by law, the way Serena hates her for doing what she was posted to do, the way Rita constantly dismisses her and scolded her on the way to the salvaging ceremony.

Portraying it this way is a way of telling us that she's unpredictable, but also a way of levelsetting her within the indoctrination. It's also a way of showing the viewers (who, like June, are smart and snarky and funny and have whole lives of their own) how someone who is completely relatable and normal can do things that would absolutely shock you, given enough pressure.

And that's the thing, isn't it, about the whole awful country of Gilead. It's people who seem normal doing extraordinarily shocking things given enough pressure and circumstance. It's the glue holding this place together, and everyone's miserable.
posted by mochapickle at 8:34 AM on May 6, 2017 [6 favorites]

One thing about the Salvaging that stuck with me from the book; that it was a deliberate outlet for the handmaids to vent their anger. That Gilead lets the handmaids beat someone to death as a way to get their feelings about being so mistreated out in a safe and controlled conduit. I don't think in the book Offred gets so angry as to snap and join the violence, but maybe in the TV show she does. The fact that we're all a bit confused about that scene suggests it didn't work as well as it should have.

Another thing I remember from the book, that at the Birth ceremonies there was always alcohol to drink. The punch being spiked was expected. An allowed indulgence to heighten the sense of ritual commitment.

One last book thing, about the Scrabble game. IIRC in the book the Handmaids aren't allowed to read anything, and the Gilead Elite don't even really understand the handmaids are still human enough to be able to read. So her playing a game about language is a sort of deep irony.
posted by Nelson at 11:21 AM on May 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

IIRC in the book the Handmaids aren't allowed to read anything, and the Gilead Elite don't even really understand the handmaids are still human enough to be able to read.

corb pointed out in the previous discussion that the food labels and tickets are all pictograms.

I keep coming back to that scene, the game. There's a lot of there there, it feels like. Though I can't tell if the staging is a function of translating the book to screen or a deliberate indication of how fucking stupid the commander and his ilk are. He's indulging his base instincts in this scene, transgressing in a way that's somehow (in the world of Gilead) worse than chattel slavery and forced rape, and he hasn't really thought it through. Sit here, he says. Then, immediately, we're playing a game come to over here and sit here now. This is clearly something that is important to him, somehow, either the respect for words and language or just the act of playing a board game, but he goes about setting it up in such an ad-hoc, frankly dangerous, way that it's no surprise his ideological purity allows room for sadists like Aunt Lydia to set up shop.
posted by carsonb at 12:59 PM on May 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

The commander thinks highly of himself. This is his way of testing her to see if she's clever enough to keep up with him, clever enough to be worth it.
posted by mochapickle at 1:12 PM on May 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

at the risk of overanalyzing scrabble games on TV (also done once with The Americans), I noticed that Offred arranged her tiles to form the last seven letters of "DAmnation". To see who goes first, they pick two tiles which spell "ma". Ma, da, and damnation. Offred's first play is the rather meek "nation", not even using the points available from her "M"--and thematically appropriate in the sense of externally acknowledging "duty" to Gilead. Still, it ends up being a very close game, they're both good, and it takes a certain skill for Offred to "throw the game" by 3 points or whatever.
posted by sylvanshine at 7:59 PM on May 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Re: the Salvaging, in Episode One Offred is slapped (by Margaret Atwood!) for not joining in on the taunting of Janine. In addition to what others have said about The Salvaging being a way for the Handmaids to express their anger at their own circumstances, I see continuity in that Red Center scene and this one. She knows better than to stand back.

Nelson, at the birth ceremony, one of the other Handmaids (Offred?) says "At least they spiked the punch."

My husband wondered aloud why there was no doctor present the ceremony. I had to remind him that a lot of people in power hate science these days.
posted by Brittanie at 8:49 PM on May 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

Just watched this and thought the words on the Scrabble board were interesting:

Dote or Dots
posted by Start with Dessert at 4:31 PM on June 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Fantastic show. But in the Scrabble game he drew an A to see who goes first and Offred drew an M. But then she went first, didn’t she? Continuity, people!
posted by freecellwizard at 9:08 AM on May 20, 2018

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