A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Identity is a struggle in Gilead and a powerful theme in the story that depicts its horrors. The Handmaids, for example, are not allowed to have any names. They instead are forced to brand themselves with labels, labels that make an instant note of which man the Handmaid in question belongs to. “Offred” (literally Of-Fred) belongs to Commander Fred Waterford, “Ofglen” belongs to a man named Glen and so forth. It is a mechanism of erasing the identity of the Handmaids, of reoving even traces of their existence. The simplicity of it is chilling, structurally rendering the Handmaids instantly to being objects that belong to a specific man and nothing else. The label “Offred” also theoretically serves to signal to other men that Offred is out of bounds, not that that always proves to be the case as evidenced by the rapist last week. That points towards an insidious truth in our society as well as in Gilead. Women are more likely to be treated with respect if they are attached to another man. The man’s rank and file and status in society only buoys the respect of him while also likely decreasing the respect of the woman who “belongs” to him.
“Birth Day” is a phenomenal hour of television, allowing the unsettling horror of Gilead established so effectively in the pilot to truly sink in here. It opens up on Offred, who at this juncture seems to have been rendered emotionally rote by the Commander’s constant rape. She’s horrified and with the repetitive nature of the crime, she just wishes that he would hurry the fuck up. Internal monologues played out on screen are rarely rendered effectively, but they are used perfectly here. Having no real external outlet through which she could vent her feelings and thoughts, Offred gives them up to the camera and the world of Gilead become more tangible through her quiet, ferocious, and sarcastic interludes. Even when her commentary is quietened, Elisabeth Moss does such phenomenal work with her expressions
The big set piece of this stunner of an episode is the birthing sequence, which begins as soon as Janine shows imminent signs of going into labor. The Handmaids are quickly collected and taken to the obscenely picturesque manor in which Janine is abused. The world of Gilead is a nightmare for the Handmaids and in that nightmare exists a certain amount of understanding that this world is utterly bizarre. As Janine goes into birth, her rapists’s wife also simulates going into birth, with all of the barren wives acting as if they were engaging in an actual birth. Serena Joy’s face betrays flickers of annoyance at this remarkable charade, but she is careful not to allow too many of those emotions to be readable. Janine successfully gives birth to a healthy daughter, but she is allowed to hold her for merely a second before she is ripped from her arms and handed over to her mistress, who gushes over the child without nary a thought to spare for the woman who just gave birth. Janine’s face collapses and Offred quietly tries to provide some semblance of comfort, even though she knows that there was nothing she could say that would make Janine’s suffering any more bearable.
The one solace Offred has been able to find in this dreary nightmare is Ofglen, who surprises her with the news that there is something of a resistance and that she is a part of it. Offred’s immediate asserts that she was not the kind of person that joined a rebellion, who committed sabotage and openly fought back. It’s a terrifying thought, fighting back and risking your skin, especially when you are in such a marginalized position. Ofglen understands Offred’s hesitation, seeing in her eyes the hesitation that she no doubt had in her own eyes at some point. Ofglen critically notes that no is the type of person that immediately chooses to fight back, but at some juncture they have to become that person because the costs of not fighting back are simply too high. Offred can choose to fight back right then and there, with the understanding that if she were to be caught, the consequences would be severe. The thing is, the consequences are already far more severe than anything Offred could have dreamed of.
Offred agrees, but she immediately regrets a part of her agreement when soon thereafter Commander Waterford asks to receive her by herself in his quarters. Fearing that he may have found out something that would have her sent to the Colonies, Offred understandably panics. Yet she finds herself in a circumstance that would, devoid of any context, seem almost comically benign. Her rapist wanted to play Scrabble. Here was a man, Offred thought to herself, who was so powerful and belonged to a class that ruled the country with an iron fist. Here was a man who abused her at his will because he could get away with it, because the rules of this awful society gave him express permission to do exactly as he wanted. And he was lonely. The thought gives Offred a small degree of power, a small window of some sort of relief, even if it may not ultimately point to much. The joy is short-lived, however. The next morning, Offred exits the Waterford’s home, only to find herself looking at someone unexpected. “I am Ofglen,” the new Handmaid notes quietly and the sudden collapse of hope buries itself upon Offred’s shoulders. Fuck.
+“I wish he’d hurry the fuck up.”
+The shot of the bodies being hung was sobering
+The war on education and knowledge (expounded upon in the next review)
+Anchorage is the capital that is what remains of America.
+“You shouldn’t spoil them. Sugar is bad for them.”
+“Little whores, all of them.”
+The basement horror trope
Episode Title: Birth Day
Teleplay by: Bruce Miller
Directed by: Reed Morano
Image Courtesy: Hulu
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Syrian Refugee/Refugee Crises
Women’s Reproductive Rights