The Handmaid’s Tale: (S01E03) “Late”

I was particularly interested this episode, as it solves one of the novel’s mysteries, i.e., what happened to Ofglen. The novel is written in the first person, everything we see is from Offred’s point of view, and as Offred never learns her friend’s fate, neither do we. The series is rated MA, meaning it’s for mature audiences. My personal rating for this episode is SA, which means it required both sugar and alcohol to recover from the disturbing storyline. I’m not much for trigger warnings, but if you have a trigger, considered yourself warned. Another warning: Jolly Ranchers and Stella Artois, both excellent in their own way, really don’t work as a flavor combination.
The epsode is entitled “Late,” which presumably refers to Offred’s tardy period, one of the episode’s main plot points. But I think it has another meaning too. A good part of the episode is a series of flashbacks, to how all this began. A movie once made the point that liberty dies with thunderous applause, but in The Handmaid’s Tale, it is much more chilling. It doesn’t die with anything nearly as dramatic as thunderous applause. It is chipped away so gradually, that no one really notices until it’s…wait for it…too late. Congress machine-gunned? Constitution suspended? Martial law? Offred and Moira kind of talk casually about those events, but when their bank accounts are suspended and a barista calls them sluts? When they lose their jobs because women are no longer allowed to work? Suddenly, they’re all concerned. I think might, just might, be a lesson in there for us all.
Everyone is being weirdly nice to Offred. It seems she hasn’t asked for her pads and she’s a couple of days late. At first I was a little creeped out by how closely they kept track, but of course they would. Offred’s uterus is the only part of her anyone cares about. Serena Joy even brings her a rose from her garden.
Speaking of Serena Joy, can we discuss the casting for this character for a minute? In the story, both the Commander and his Wife are described as older than Offred. In the series, they are much closer in age, and in a less screwed up world, more likely to be peers. In fact, both Elisabeth Moss and Yvonne Strahovski were born in 1982. It’s an interesting choice.
Offred is invited to accompany Serena Joy to the Putnams’ house, to visit the new baby. Offred spends some time with Ofwarren, who has clearly lost whatever feeble grip in reality she still had. Upon returning home, she is horrified to see one of the black vans belonging to the Eyes. An Eye is waiting for to interrogate her, accompanied by Aunt Lydia and her cattle prod. They want to question her about Ofglen. Did Offred know she was a gender traitor? Why didn’t she report it?  Her defiant response earns her a terrible blow from Aunt Lydia.
Ofglen, whose official designation is Handmaid 8967, and the Martha who was her lover have been arrested. After the cursory ‘trial,’ both are sentenced. Ofglen’s lover is sentenced to the “common mercy of the State.” Because she is fertile, Ofglen is sentenced to “Redemption.” Both sentences to be carried out immediately and both women are bundled into one of the dreaded black vans. “Common mercy of the State” turns out to be decidedly unmerciful. Ofglen watches in horror. The van doors close, but through the window, you can see the lifeless body dangling. Remember when I said that prescribed and ritualized described life in general in the Republic of Gilead? This part, not so much. Ofglen is taken somewhere else. When we next see her, she is waking up to find that she is experiencing some inexplicable pain. Why is her crotch bandaged? Aunt Lydia comes in. She tells her that she is still able to get pregnant but life will be easier because she won’t want what she can’t have. So now we know what Redemption is.  Can we give Alexis Bledel a round of applause? She did an incredible job of conveying her emotions without a single word of dialogue.
And Offred? Not pregnant. You know, watching her clear out a room to turn into a nursery, I was beginning to feel just a little bit sorry for Serena Joy. After she assaults Offred for not being pregnant, not so much. I hate her, and I hate myself for being so easily manipulated. Though of all characters to hate, and let’s face it, we’re kind of spoiled for choice in that department, I think I hate the Aunts most of all.

Other things:
– When June and Moira are jogging, they pass a woman who gives them a nasty look. Was the woman Aunt Lydia?
– One of the standard greetings in the R. of G. is ‘under His eye.’ It’s supposedly a reference to being under God’s protective gaze, but it’s also a warning that the Eyes are everywhere.
– June tells the barista that she has to have sufficient funds, since she just deposited her paycheck the previous day. Who doesn’t have direct deposit in this day and age?

Choice quotes:
“In a gradually heating bathtub, you’d be boiled to death before you knew it.”

“A rose is a rose, except here. Here it has to mean something.”

“Brave isn’t a part of any of this.”

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