The Handmaid’s Tale: “Late” Recap


By: Karen Valenzuela (@VictoriaNoir89)

We’re three episodes into Hulu’s original series The Handmaid’s Tale, and the panic and fear are mounting. (It can’t just be me dealing with a lot of THINGS while watching this.)

The episode, titled “Late,” begins by showing us what happened to Ofglen. Offred tells us the Marthas have their own network and Rita told her a black van pulled up, took Ofglen, did something “brutal” to make sure she couldn’t scream, and she was gone. Apparently members of the resistance receive no mercy in the Republic of Gilead. We see Ofglen led down the hallway by guards, a creepy Hannibal Lector-type mask covering her mouth, and she’s locked in a cell.

If you weren’t sure about this show being a cautionary tale, Offred’s inner monologue as she walks with the new Ofglen makes it more than clear. (She has time for inner monologue now because new Ofglen is surely not as chatty as old Ofglen was, and how much can you really talk about the weather?) It’s a warning to everyone brushing off tyrannical and authoritarian behavior because they aren’t directly affected by it (yet): “Now I’m awake to the world. I was asleep before. That’s how we let it happen. When they slaughtered Congress, we didn’t wake up. When they blamed terrorists and suspended the Constitution, we didn’t wake up then, either. They said it would be temporary. Nothing changes instantaneously. In a gradually heated bathtub, you’d be boiled to death before you knew it.” In other words, y’all…WAKE UP.

We’re sent into a flashback again. June and Moira are jogging together. June is wearing earbuds and listening to Peaches, who – it’s important to note – is known for her sexually explicit lyrics and non-conformist approach to gender. With the way this episode in particular broadens the scope of Atwood’s novel to specifically address LGBT oppression in Gilead, it’s a relevant addition to The Handmaid’s Tale soundtrack. Offred is confused as a woman they jog past gives her a disgusted look. And things get a lot worse when June and Moira enter a coffee shop after their run and the rude (and pasty, I’m just being honest) male barista tells June her card has insufficient funds. She’s confused. She asks him to try again. And when Moira chimes in, he immediately becomes verbally violent, calling them sluts, telling them to get out. The amount of disrespect and unbridled hatred from him is startling, sudden…and that’s when the panic sets in for the viewer.

The face you make when a barista calls you f-ing sluts out of nowhere.

June is at work, calling her card company to address the situation when guys dressed in black carrying giant guns file past the doorway. Startled by the sight, she walks into the hallway and a female coworker tells her their boss called for a meeting. June’s boss is visibly shaken, as though he’s been threatened, when he announces that the “ladies” in the office are being “let go.” He repeats that he has no choice; they only have ten minutes to pack up and leave. The women gather their things, confused and upset as they file out of the building to see more of the gun-wielding men standing guard outside. It looks like protection…but you know deep down it isn’t.

In Gilead, Offred enters the Waterford house through the back door, and Rita hurries to take her bag of produce from her, telling her to sit. What follows is the strangest scene. Rita, who has never once shown anything but eye-rolling/I-guess-I-have-to-talk-to-you/you-make-my-job-so-hard-ugh towards Offred, is suddenly generous and warm, making her a nice lunch. She makes a point of telling Offred that she went out of her way to stew apples and even traded “a lot of cheese” to get her cinnamon. Offred sits at the table looking so confused, at which point Rita tells her she knows she’s late this month. Ahh. Pregnant Handmaid equals Pampered Handmaid. (I use the term ‘pampered’ VERY loosely here.)

To add to the crazy, Serena Joy, Miss Prickly Pear herself, sweeps into the room, all grace and intimidation, but she’s being…nice?? She asks after Offred’s health, then sits next to her and invites her to go with her to visit Angela (Janine’s baby). Her kindness is unsettling but sad. There’s a genuine happiness in her now that we haven’t seen before this. Hope, as though her life has taken a turn for the better. The scene is framed beautifully with Offred in the center, looking small and confused, and it increases our worry as we all wonder what in the heck is going on here. She looks entirely weirded out, as though she’s wondering if Ashton Kutcher will pop out and yell, “You’ve been Punk’d!”

Ha ha, Ashton. Very funny. You can come out now.

At the Putnam home, the Wives are gathered in the sitting room, cooing over Angela. In a surprise turn of events, Serena takes the baby to Offred, who sits alone in the corner of the room, and she asks if she’d like to hold her. At first glance, it’s almost a kindness, and it feels good because Serena almost seems to be trying to connect with Offred. Warm and cushy feelings are creeping in… But then when another wife asks if she thinks that’s a good idea, Serena’s response sets off alarm bells. “Offred knows; she’s done it before.” How does Serena Joy know whether her Handmaid has done this before? The questioning look on Offred’s face reflects the same thought. But then she’s distracted by the little life in her arms. One of the Wives appears and snaps “If you don’t mind” taking the baby out of Offred’s arms just as Mrs. Putnam enters the room. We learn that Janine bit Mrs. Putnam’s hand when the wife tried to take her baby from her after feeding. (All together now: HAAA HAAAA!!!!) Offred sneaks upstairs to see how Janine is doing.

The heartbreak continues. Janine shows increasing mental instability as she chats with Offred. When Offred tells her she can’t bite people, she says, “Can I tell you a secret? I can do anything I want.” She can’t. Offred knows she can’t. We know she can’t. But Janine feels like she has power because she gave birth to a healthy baby. Whether she gave birth to a healthy baby or not, we know she’s either in denial or lost it if she thinks she has any power at all. It isn’t a reach to imagine she’ll be taken away the moment she’s no longer needed to nurse the baby. It gets worse, though. She insists that her Commander is in love with her, and that he loves the baby. She tells Offred that they are going to run away together to be a real family. Offred asks if the Commander said that, and Janine doesn’t answer the question, but it’s just as plausible that he did say it as it is that Janine is losing touch with reality. That kind of cruelty seems completely possible. And you aren’t exactly left to wonder; Janine’s Commander won’t be taking her anywhere.

Offred and Serena meet in the entryway of the Putnam home. Serena awkwardly attempts some light conversation, asking if she had a nice talk with her friend. As she hints they must have lots to talk about “these days” – super smooth, Serena Joy! – we get a glimpse into how much this woman is willing to let slide if this Handmaid will be giving her a child. This is the longest, most open conversation we’ve seen from Serena even though there’s still a blatant barrier between the two women. She’s attempting to connect, and it’s sad how poorly she does. The awkwardness of the situation apparent to both women, Serena decides to send Offred home without her. This gives Offred some quality time with Nick. And by that, I mean she tries to ask him about what happened to Ofglen, letting out some of her fear and anger by being a bit harsh and judgmental (not that we can judge her for it at this point).There’s no point in being brave, he says, because eventually everybody breaks. As they pull up to the Waterford home, we see an Eye van parked in the driveway, and Nick says he couldn’t stop them. He advises her to tell them everything they want to know.

The show sweeps us back in time again, as June and Moira try to figure out what is going on, why they no longer have jobs, why they can’t access their bank accounts. Moira says she heard there’s a new law that says women can’t own property. Their money and property will most likely be transferred to their husbands or male next of kin. They did it fast, Moira says, so that people had no warning and wouldn’t flood the airports. “They don’t want us leaving, you can bet on that,” she says. There’s a march being organized, she says. We see more of Luke in this scene and there’s definite tension between him and Moira.

Back in the Waterford home, Aunt Lydia and the Eye are questioning Offred. Of course, Aunt Lydia is being Aunt Lydia and decides using a cattle prod on a human is perfectly acceptable (using one on a cow isn’t even acceptable). They immediately ask about Ofglen. The Eye asks her questions, about what they talked about, where they walked. It quickly devolves into something much more sinister when Aunt Lydia asks Offred about whether she thinks Ofglen is attractive. It’s unsettling, outright creepy how interested she is in hearing a confused Offred’s answer. And then the Eye asks if Ofglen ever touched her. “Did you know she was a gender traitor?” Aunt Lydia asks and we find out Ofglen was arrested for having an affair with a Martha. There’s defiance in Offred’s face when she finally admits, “I knew she was gay.” (Note: Gay is a forbidden word in Gilead. Wow, show. You’re going there.) The interrogation continues to get worse when Aunt Lydia says, “Blessed are the meek,” and Offred finishes the scripture. (This is outright defiance. There’s a reason Gilead cut off the, “for they shall inherit the earth” part.) Aunt Lydia knocks Offred to the ground with a wicked crack of the prod across her face, then continues to torture her with it while she writhes in pain. Serena Joy busts in to save the day, stopping them by shouting that Offred’s pregnant. The Eye shuffes his feet awkwardly like Oh great. Wow, blessed news. Congratulations. Dude, just stop talking and go. You stepped in it. Just go, Eye.

The next scene gives us an idea of what a criminal trial is like in Gilead. Ever hear “Innocent until proven guilty?” Well, this is “Guilty because we said so. Sucks for you.” Ofglen is led into a creepy courtroom where a prosecutor for “the state” says what she’s accused of, swears he’s telling the truth, and the judge goes, yep she’s guilty. The Martha she’s accused of being a gender traitor with is there, as well. Separation of church and state is not a thing in Gilead (and it’s VERY apparent here why that’s such an important thing for a non-authoritative, democratic country to have). For the second scene in a row, we see just how desperately important fertile women are to this society, and why they’re so closely protected (in a bad way), strictly restricted, and controlled. In spite of her gender treachery, Ofglen is spared death. Her Martha lover is not so lucky, as she – like all Marthas – is barren. Ofglen is forced to watch out of the back of the Eye van as her lover is brutally hanged in the yard. It’s the slow way, the way that ensures suffering. It’s earth-shatteringly upsetting.

That night, Offred is visited in her room by Nick. She breaks the tension by teasing him. He looks genuinely anguished as he tells her he wishes he’d just driven away with her. That wouldn’t have ended well; they both know it, and we know it as well. But it means something that he says it, and so sincerely. They have a moment as he puts the ice he brought in her hand. There’s an almost kiss! And then he leaves again. That same night, Offred is also visited by her period. For those of you who flunked health class, that means no baby. Feel that dread creeping in? Yeah, me too.

We’re dropped right into the protest before Gilead, the one Moira mentioned organizing in the last flashback. It looks like your average march, people holding up signs, yelling in anger, standing tall and strong in the face of heavily armored police organized in front of them. They’re holding giant serious guns. It gets ugly quick as Moira and June rush away from the frontlines. The second they hit the sidewalk, the police start firing on the protestors. There’s no reason. It looks like it’s for sport. Oppose us, we kill you. It’s a shocking and horrific scene as people scream and scamper. June and Moira take cover in a nearby cafe and cower behind some furniture as they watch through the window as human beings are murdered in cold blood. Gruesome isn’t a strong enough word for it.

I’m a pacifist but I still know this is a SERIOUS gun.

The day after Offred’s encounter with Aunt Lydia and the Eye, she happens upon Serena Joy cleaning out a room for the new baby. Serena is all smiles, gushing, even calling Offred her “beautiful miracle.” It’s painful to watch, because you know she’s about to be gutted. Her hopes and dreams dashed. Her happiness obliterated again. And when Offred tells her she’s not pregnant, you can see she knows how badly this is about to break the woman’s heart and it seems to hurt her too, almost. Or maybe it’s fear? It could be fear. Because Serena grabs Offred, drags her through the house, throws her onto the ground in her room, and threatens her in a way that is filled with pure and unfiltered rage, promising things can get much worse for Offred. Serena Joy, the pious Christian woman we all know and love!

The episode ends with Ofglen waking up in a white asylum-like room, wearing a white hospital gown. She looks to be in great pain as she gets out of bed. She pulls up the robe and we see that her groin is bandaged up. Aunt Lydia strides in and basically tells her, don’t worry you can still have children but good luck with literally everything else. It’s probably the most horrific thing anybody can imagine. This is Gilead.

In this episode especially, I was struck by the costume design. Serena Joy’s cloak, for instance, with the stiff collar that rises up over her neck, almost like a green version of Maleficent’s collar. It makes Serena look regal and important, but also severe and intimidating, powerful. The Wives all wear green dresses, but the design is different for each wife, almost as if granting them just a smidgen of individuality, a separation in identity. Meanwhile, every handmaid wears the exact same robes, the same caps, the same wings, the same cloaks, same shoes. There’s no individuality, no identity. Same with the Marthas: drab, grey dresses with aprons and nun-like head coverings.

We see a lot more of June in this episode, before she was stripped of her name and identity and given the name Offred. She’s bitingly sarcastic, flippant, and genuinely funny – and it seems Offred’s inner monologue is the last vestiges of June as she was, witty and sarcastic. But there’s a lot to break down in the scenes between June and Moira. June – a straight, white, progressive, healthy woman – repeats the whole “this isn’t happening,” “they can’t do this” refrain, still joking with her husband that he gets all her money now, still teasing Moira when she’s telling some truth about the state of things. Moira, on the other hand, is not only a lesbian, she’s a woman of color. And while she’s knocking back wine like it’s her job (just kidding, women don’t have jobs anymore ahhh), you can see how seriously she takes this, how real she knows all of this is. Women of color, especially LGBT women of color, have no choice but to be awake at all times. It’s a pretty good reflection of white/straight privilege in our own society.

Utterly heart-shattering. Poor Serena Joy.

Okay, but don’t do THAT, Serena.

Shout-out to Yvonne Strahovski! Serena Joy increases in depth with each episode. The range of emotions she goes through is so incredibly human and real. We see how badly this prison she helped to construct affects her, and the only real way she thinks she can be happy is to have this child. She swings from utter joy of knowing how close she is to it, to the debilitating despair of knowing how close she came before having it ripped away from her grasp. It’s a testament to Strahovski’s talent that a woman who is so selfish and capable of such cruelty can also make us feel so very sad for her. Her Serena Joy is helping me to see that those two things don’t have to be mutually exclusive. You can be heartbroken for a person who’s suffering, while also not excusing their cruelty and selfishness. Thanks, Yvonne!

The fourth episode of The Handmaid’s Tale is up on Hulu now, and the show has just been renewed for a second season!! What did you think about episode three? Let us know in the comments!

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