The Handmaid's Tale: Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum
May 3, 2017 11:10 AM - Season 1, Episode 4 - Subscribe

Punished by Serena Joy, Offred begins to unravel and reflects on her time with Moira at the Red Center. A complication during the Ceremony threatens Offred’s survival with the Commander and Serena Joy.
posted by odinsdream (49 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Another excellent episode. I think I'm going to have to re-watch all of these because of there being so many details worth consideration.

Two things struck me:
* I'm with everyone on the concern about glossing over the white supremacy of the Gilead authority. The escape in this episode relies heavily on the idea that it's perfectly normal for aunts to be POC. Which, wow. No, that seems intensely wrong. As much as I love having a diverse casting, this definitely feels like they're just discarding the idea that Gilead is at all white supremacist.
* The world outside the neighborhood is chillingly possible when I look at our real world right now.
posted by odinsdream at 11:14 AM on May 3, 2017 [9 favorites]


Yeah, seconding the POC issues. This continues to be riveting and good, however. I'm willing to acknowledge it and keep watching.

I went to IMDB, and Alexis Bledel is credited with 10 episodes. I wonder of some of the beyond-the-book storytelling will center on Ofglen/Emily. I certainly wouldn't say no to more of her acting. But she wasn't in this one at all, so maybe IMDB is mistaken.
posted by sazerac at 11:41 AM on May 3, 2017


And look at the family photos in the doctor's office, up above the fish tank. Two of the commanders in the pictures are black. I had to pause it to see them.

Best parts:

- Elisabeth Moss is killing this. That microscopic nod she makes to Moira at the train station? Amazing.
- How pretty everything is. She leaves for the doctor's in the rain and there's this sweep of tree branches and sky.
- Offred finally finding the carving in the closet.
- Dr. Donnie!
- The humble offerings from the handmaids - a part of a banana, a half of a cookie, a slice of apple, and the solidarity that comes with it.
- ...Bitches!
posted by mochapickle at 12:42 PM on May 3, 2017 [12 favorites]


I was like Moooooooooooooiiiiiiraaaaaaaaa nooooooooo, but then that tiny, generous, love-filled nod. I am ruined. The crumbs of solidarity were so touching. I loved the sound of just the rain over the credits.
posted by Iteki at 2:14 PM on May 3, 2017 [10 favorites]


I think what I particularly loved a lot about this episode was showing the complex complicity of otherwise good men. Making them not all complete monsters is the most chilling part of it all. The guard in the subway wanted to be helpful and paternal - but still not let her get away. Waterford's driver wants to make her life a bit easier and dream she is his girl, but not enough to actually risk his position instead of just wishing it. Waterford himself wants to flirt, wants her life to be "bearable", promises her anything "within reason", but still acts to discredit the fled Aunt, still forces his wife away from forbidden sexual practice, still enforces Gilead every moment of every day.
posted by corb at 3:40 PM on May 3, 2017 [24 favorites]


Good lord that whole entire thing surrounding the "Ceremony" was horrible and perfectly done.
posted by odinsdream at 4:37 PM on May 3, 2017 [4 favorites]


I watched the "outdoor" scenes behind fingers, I was so tense.

Fred holding the key in-front of her face before the ceremony, my god...
posted by armacy at 5:43 PM on May 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


I keep coming back to different things, so dense. I don't know to what extent we can discuss differ news from the book or similarities to but... One of the other things I reacted to was Serena Joy instantly popping into "PR management" mode and being all "ignore the message discredit the messenger" and you can see her light up as she appears to perhaps slip into a pre-Gilead role/persona. Was she in marketing? Publicity? Crisis management? This flash of interest and intellect before Fred tells her to sit down and let the boys do their jobs. A. Maze.

It's so hard to place Fred either as all bad, that he can't get it up without the sheen of consent given by his "dates" speaks perhaps in his favor, but the danger he puts her in to create that feeling and secure his performance of his role is enormous. Just as the stolen moments with the driver, is it even possible to have consensual hetero relationahips in this society? I would have to argue against it...

And A+ for O/J's singsong voice and eye-contact when she says how sad she would be to give up. I love that she's not even trying to pretend for him. She's like give me what I fucking want.
posted by Iteki at 10:11 PM on May 3, 2017 [12 favorites]


And yet you know that as satisfying as it is to watch the power shift in June's favor, it's totally going to shift back against her twice as hard.
posted by mochapickle at 10:45 PM on May 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


you can see her light up as she appears to perhaps slip into a pre-Gilead role/persona. Was she in marketing? Publicity? Crisis management?

Activism, I think. If the Commanders are the men who built Gilead, they probably leaned heavily on their wives to do so. Serena Joy remembers a time when she was a true helpmeet, instead of a protected flower - a time when she would help her husband both in and out of bed. It's not just her power in the outside world that's been affected, it's her dynamic inside the home, as well. In trying to protect and idealize the marriage, she also has lost. Making Serena Joy a somewhat sympathetic figure is yet another stroke of genius I love, as is emphasizing the "Give me children or I die", pitting the unfertile and privileged directly against the fertile wrongdoers. (Also, I wonder - are there no fertile wives? Or do they just not have sex anymore now that it would be non reproductive?)
posted by corb at 4:45 AM on May 4, 2017 [2 favorites]


Book Serena Joy is part Tammy Faye Bakker, part Phyllis Schlafly, and her main schtick is lecturing on the proper role of women. Offred comments on the hypocrisy of her jetting around the country in style to tell audiences how women should stay at home.

"She doesn't make speeches anymore. She has become speechless. She stays in her home, but it doesn't seem to agree with her. How furious she must be now that she has been taken at her word."

I love the idea of updating her to a Fox News style personality and hope that plays out.
posted by Flannery Culp at 5:22 AM on May 4, 2017 [26 favorites]


One of the things I'm really struck by with the show is how unhappy everyone is. The driver is an Eye, but he's stuck single because the powers that be don't deem him worthy of a girl. Doctor guy is risking being torn apart by a whistleblowing aunt and a bunch of handmaidens for an office quickie with a random woman. Serena can't get affection from her own husband. Husband guy can't form the sort of real connections he needs with women, and has watched at least one woman kill herself to escape him, (an experience that's clearly affected him).

Plus, quality of life is just so low. They have tech, but everyone lives so shabbily that seeing the doctor's office is absolutely jarring.

Maybe a few real fanatics are content with things, but normal people - even people who literally fought and bled for this - are suffering because of their victory. I love that. It's such a good examination of how patriarchy hurts everyone, even the people who are simultaneously gaining from it. Presumably Waterford was not a big muckety-muck with very important Confederate business before this, but I bet he could do better than Scrabble dates when he was nobody.

I love that. It's both a much better cautionary tale, and just so much more real than if anybody's situation had really improved, even the people on top.
posted by mordax at 8:19 AM on May 4, 2017 [10 favorites]


The driver is an Eye

Really?
posted by mochapickle at 8:25 AM on May 4, 2017


Oh, sorry. I am assuming he's an Eye or has Eye friends from the privileged information he shared about Emily, and the warning he gave June. I'm not a book reader, and have no spoilers goin' on.
posted by mordax at 8:37 AM on May 4, 2017


Making Serena Joy a somewhat sympathetic figure is yet another stroke of genius I love,

Yeah, I wanted to note Yvonne Strahovski's acting as well. Because she's hitting this exact right note between "complicit monster" and "equally a victim."
posted by dnash at 8:46 AM on May 4, 2017 [10 favorites]


Oh, sorry. I am assuming he's an Eye or has Eye friends from the privileged information he shared about Emily, and the warning he gave June. I'm not a book reader, and have no spoilers goin' on.

See, I was sure the series was hinting that Nick was also part of the resistance, and that the reason he told June to stay away from Emily was because Emily was getting a little reckless (with sharing information, with her relationship to the Martha, etc.) and he wanted to keep June from any damage by association.
posted by mochapickle at 8:48 AM on May 4, 2017 [1 favorite]


Mm. That makes more sense than my guess. (I also suppose it could be both - double agents are twice as handy.)
posted by mordax at 8:50 AM on May 4, 2017


It could totally be both. And add the layer that he's conflicted about it and it's really hard to guess!
posted by mochapickle at 8:53 AM on May 4, 2017 [2 favorites]


The Strange History of “Nolite te Bastardes Carborundorum”
Technically speaking, “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum”...means nothing. It’s a made-up phrase in mock Latin—a schoolboy’s joke, as it’s explained in both the novel and the series. If it were a real phrase, it would roughly translate to “don’t let the bastards grind you down.” Outside the world of the book, the phrase has taken on a life of its own, as a sort of feminist rallying cry for women—and even within the book, it inspires Offred to fight back against the repressive powers that be. But various forms of the phrase actually go back much further than Handmaid itself; as Atwood herself said, the motto was a joke when she was in school, too.
posted by dnash at 9:04 AM on May 4, 2017 [6 favorites]


Hey so the Executive Order just signed basically makes that scene where the coffee shop guy throws them out totally legal now.
posted by odinsdream at 9:06 AM on May 4, 2017 [1 favorite]


As a cishet passing person, I hear and see a lot of "guy stuff" and the theme of men minimizing female alarm and being almost willfully ignorant of female lives feels really too possible. The complicit to commander spectrum is really easy to see right now in men's only spaces.
posted by French Fry at 9:36 AM on May 4, 2017 [5 favorites]


I think at this point there's been enough quotes from the production to confirm they are not going with the white supremacy storyline. Maybe there will be enough outcry that they'll make modifications in the second season. I am sympathetic to the many problems that would be introduced by sticking to that storyline - either you hire no actors of color or the only roles for actors of color are depictions of racial violence, which runs the risk of becoming televised pornography for white supremacists and generally contributing to our shitty zeitgeist. If I was a producer with my name on the thing, I would be very uncomfortable with that.

Or you have to rewrite the story to make characters of color the spine of the Resistance - which, if we're going to just go ahead and straight up predict the future, is likely accurate - but the problem remains with upsetting purists and running some risks with the depiction of black people in an actual difficult time in the real world. Like, I am in absolute agreement that theocracies are powered by white supremacy, but wow am I super uncomfortable complaining that my televised entertainment - already treading some pretty awful territory with the treatment of women - isn't white enough. This may just be ground that needs to be conceded because it isn't the time or place.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:54 AM on May 4, 2017 [23 favorites]


The modern music used in the series is very jarring. It brings me out of the story but also reminds me that this is not some far off past or future scenario. It's now.
posted by LizBoBiz at 10:00 AM on May 4, 2017 [2 favorites]


I think at this point there's been enough quotes from the production to confirm they are not going with the white supremacy storyline. Maybe there will be enough outcry that they'll make modifications in the second season. I am sympathetic to the many problems that would be introduced by sticking to that storyline - either you hire no actors of color or the only roles for actors of color are depictions of racial violence

I dunno, it seems to me that the way to handle this is to feature PoC men and women heavily in the flashbacks, then when they're mostly dead/gone/etc. in the modern era, it's just that much more horrifying. Especially if it's just down to PoC women left behind in non-reproductive labor roles, with obvious mention of the men going to the Colonies. It doesn't really have to be as binary a choice as just 'no PoC guys' versus 'complicit PoC guys.'

(Per my discussion in the last thread, I'd hate the point lost that in Gilead, I'd just be dead. Women have it worse, no question, but I wouldn't want to let the people who want Gilead off the hook for any part of their sick fantasies.)
posted by mordax at 10:08 AM on May 4, 2017 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I'm not really sure why a show about a white supremacist organization suddenly means you can't cast PoC or have roles for them at all. Gilead is apparently at war (trade and physical) with most of the rest of the world. Not only are flashbacks an opportunity for diverse casting, but the show could definitely extend and show us the rest of this hell world outside of Gilead. You'd have an overwhelmingly non-white cast of powerful characters, then. Certainly if this were a 1:1 retelling of the book you wouldn't have much room, but this isn't the direction they've chosen.

I have to say that's pretty much my only complaint (though it is a significant one) with the show as produced so far.
posted by odinsdream at 10:12 AM on May 4, 2017 [5 favorites]


Questions about Offred's closet:

Who missed the glass lightbulb when they stripped the room of potential self-harm items?

Is it just my eyes/TV or is the carving misspelled? I could swear it said 'corborundurum' with an O instead of 'carborundorum'. Is corb undercover as part of the Resistance?
posted by Flannery Culp at 10:24 AM on May 4, 2017 [3 favorites]


Anyone else getting the feeling that this is what was going on in the US when Children of Men was happening in Europe?
posted by LizBoBiz at 10:28 AM on May 4, 2017 [34 favorites]


o shit. yes. of course.
posted by odinsdream at 10:30 AM on May 4, 2017 [4 favorites]


I also felt something pass between Serena Joy and Rita in their exchange about 'should Offred go to the doctor? No, she'll be fine. ...but the ceremony is tonight ...Yes, she should go' like they both know what that doctor is up to and given last month's outcome, maybe this would be a fortuitous day for Offred to see him, wink wink.
posted by Flannery Culp at 10:35 AM on May 4, 2017 [18 favorites]


Wow, I bet that's what Serena was getting at when she was asking June later about whether everything was in order.
posted by odinsdream at 10:49 AM on May 4, 2017 [3 favorites]


maybe this would be a fortuitous day for Offred to see him, wink wink.

... shit. Every time I think I understand everything bad that's going on on that show, there's one. More. Thing.
posted by mordax at 2:19 PM on May 4, 2017 [5 favorites]


Hi there. Joining the party.

I'm into this show so far. Agreed with everyone else that it's a tough watch, best viewed one episode at a time.

The race thing: I definitely think that the diversity-for-diversity's-sake seems incongruous with the MAGA-ness of Gilead, and yet I also understand the tricky spot that the showrunners are in. Agreed that there could be plenty of opportunities for POC characters without rainbow-washing this far-right dystopia. It's a fairly minor quibble for me, though - the show is already tangling with some heavy shit, and perhaps it'll find a clearer voice on race as it evolves.

The contemporary music: sometimes it's really effective, and sometimes it's a bit jarring (i.e., takes me out of the narrative and makes me wonder why they chose a particular song). A couple of times, they've played a jaunty pop song right after something horrible - and instead of coming across as darkly ironic, it just feels like they're trivializing things. Maybe it's just me.

The overall arc so far: it does move slowly, and that's fine, but it's starting to feel a bit like endless misery porn. We did see some glimpses of resistance by June and Moira (a flash-forward?), so that bodes well.

I haven't read the book, so I have no idea where this is going. Eager to find out, though.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 10:09 AM on May 5, 2017 [1 favorite]


I believe the June and Moira escaping scene was a flashback to their time at the Red Center.
posted by LizBoBiz at 12:37 PM on May 5, 2017 [2 favorites]


I also felt something pass between Serena Joy and Rita in their exchange about 'should Offred go to the doctor? No, she'll be fine. ...but the ceremony is tonight ...Yes, she should go' like they both know what that doctor is up to and given last month's outcome, maybe this would be a fortuitous day for Offred to see him, wink wink.

I was horrified at the thought of what would have happened if she had taken the doctor up on his offer with a resulting pregnancy...on the day of the first ceremony where every party is very aware that no.....insemination....could have occurred during.

Just one more sick turn of the stomach in this episode.
posted by blue suede stockings at 5:13 PM on May 5, 2017 [5 favorites]


It sounds like they're doing it on the second night she's fertile, though, since the first night didn't work? Wasn't that the convo over the Scrabble game, that they'd try the next night? Or did I imagine that?
posted by olinerd at 5:59 PM on May 5, 2017


Yeah, but what if they hadn't had their Scrabble game and the same problem occurred? Chiling.
posted by corb at 6:12 PM on May 5, 2017 [1 favorite]


Yeah this is dumb but could Nick have looked any more fake "working on" the G Wagen?
posted by Monochrome at 2:25 PM on May 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure which moment made me despair (and yet be incredibly impressed with the actors) more, when the handmaids realize in their "training" that they are rehearsing for monthly ritualized rape, or the offer from the compassionate-selfish-complicit gyn.
posted by desuetude at 9:04 PM on May 6, 2017 [4 favorites]


Was I the only one who read the gyn as gay? I know gay men were murdered in Gilead, but maybe this was his escape? And so the offer may have been more utilitarian than "an opportunity for me to finally get laid!"?
posted by divabat at 9:22 PM on May 6, 2017 [3 favorites]


Gay? No, my take was just that he was a dude who didn't rate a wife or definitely not a handmaid, so he creeps on his patients.
posted by janell at 11:29 PM on May 6, 2017 [3 favorites]


The way the show is, I was pleasantly surprised he actually asked and respected her no. I thought he was going to rape her.
posted by LizBoBiz at 7:28 AM on May 7, 2017 [6 favorites]


The doctor is an interesting and ambiguous character. I could see either way on gay/straight and also on legitimately dislikes the Gilead leadership and wants to "help" handmaids/is a true believer trying to flush out renegades.
posted by Flannery Culp at 7:43 AM on May 7, 2017 [5 favorites]


here's a really great interview with Margaret Atwood from cbc radio

Also, what a chilling way to see city hall!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:57 AM on May 8, 2017 [3 favorites]


The doctor is taking advantage of his position, for sure. The infertility crisis and the complete refusal to admit to it possibly being a male thing puts him in a position of power, albeit quite a different one from the commanders. It reminds me of that fertility doctor who used his own sperm to impregnate about fifty women, although this fellow is at least telling the women what he's doing.

This show is so bleak and from a Western point of view it almost beggars belief but that's just because it's easy to forget the very recent history of women in many cultures and times (still ongoing - witness the Boko Haram nightmare). And there have always been Aunts and Wives who were/are complicit in the misery of other women deemed lesser.

An an atheist I would find living in this universe so terrible and unthinkable and yet I think moderate Christians would be even more aghast, because I should think it would be incredibly difficult to see something that gives comfort and meaning warped and twisted in the name of power.
posted by h00py at 7:47 AM on May 8, 2017 [4 favorites]


I mean the horror is that we kind of DO live in this universe, just we don't live in Gilead.

Take the example of the Boko Haram Kidnappings. Maybe in this universe people in Canada are passing around facebook petitions to "save our girls" with clandestine pictures of handmaids being escorted around. Then not realizing that years later those girls are still not saved.

The world is a big place, and our brains can't seem to care about all of it at once.
posted by French Fry at 9:35 AM on May 8, 2017 [8 favorites]


I saw that doctor scene a little differently. He thinks he's helping them, risking his life to do something to make the lives of these women a little better. He actually thinks it's a noble thing to do, and it doesn't even dawn on him that in reality it's a kind of coercion.

He's your second cousin who only dates women who have been abused because he thinks he's really good at helping them.

It's a twist on white knighting. And it's a way of showing how even people who believe they're being helpful are ultimately doing harm.
posted by mochapickle at 9:50 AM on May 8, 2017 [19 favorites]


As a huge fan of the book, I was nervous, but excited, to see whether this series would surpass the lukewarm movie that even Atwood disliked. It has. Lyn Never and escape from the potato planet , I think you all hit the nail on the head about the toss up between opportunities to cast more POC and adapting/updating this post-9/11 US setting where so many of the 1980s struggles are still fresh. It is more intersectionally feminist to cleave to the text or revise the text this way?

Mild spoiler: I wonder whether the ending/framing will be similar to the book.
posted by MidSouthern Mouth at 5:43 PM on May 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


This episode creeped me out a bit in that we are given a bit of sympathy for Fred and for Serena, for the Commander and his Wife. Serena's character is deliciously complex and I love the acting, and the scene where she wants to discuss politics is indeed painful. And I couldn't help but feel a bit of sympathy for the Commander in his inability to perform the ceremony. OTOH these people are literally the power that perpetrates a rape culture, they are evil through and through. And I don't even want to sympathize with them, I don't want to know about Fred's need to "connect" with the woman he imprisons and rapes monthly. Ugh. It's masterful TV, but it sure makes me uncomfortable.
posted by Nelson at 5:52 AM on May 20, 2017


It's a twist on white knighting. And it's a way of showing how even people who believe they're being helpful are ultimately doing harm.

The problem I see is that the male characters (the doctor and the driver and the commander, so basically all of them who don't hold a gun) who are 'helping' June are trying to help her exist within a system designed to subjugate and enslave her. They're handing ice packs to the person they put inside an oven. That they fucking turned on. Whatever the doctor's motivations are in offering to jack himself off into June, helping someone cope with an untenable situation you've created for them is not helping.

Anyone actually helping June is smashing the system that has enslaved her, and educating all people about how the atrocities came about so as to better protect against its inevitable resurrection in the future.
posted by carsonb at 4:51 PM on May 29, 2017 [3 favorites]


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