After the introduction to the world of THE HANDMAID’S TALE, it’s time to go further into Offred’s story, and further into the customs and practices of this harsh and terrifying world. “Birth Day” does both of these things to a t: it shows the titular birth day, with all the ceremony that surrounds it, and it further explores Offred’s place in all of this. Why is she the one that we are following? This episode seeks to clarify that question, with mentions of a resistance network, and with an electrifying game of scrabble.
First, the birth. It’s mesmerizing. This is the first time we see all the various tiers of women all untied for a one common thing. Births are incredibly rare, as Offred explains, and only one in five babies actually survives the birthing process. This fact causes a rift of tangible tension throughout the entire process. Jeanine, with her one eye and her unstable past, is the one giving birth and she is surrounded by handmaids and a few Marthas, all chanting “push” or “breathe” in unison. The visuals of these scenes are astounding, with the red of the handmaids and the sweat of Jeanine. It’s eerie and beautiful at the same time. There is also a separate room with the wives, comforting the “mother” of the future baby, as if she too was in labor. The juxtaposition is stark and uncomfortable, and the resentment toward the handmaids is clear.
However, the moment of the actual birth is the most united these different classes of women have been up until this point. There is a desperation felt from all parties, a plea that this baby be successfully born. When the labor get’s intense, they take a position all too similar to the “ceremony” position, the “mother” poised behind the handmaid, legs around her, so it would seem like she is birthing the baby as well. The other noblewomen hold her hands, collectively participation in the illusion that it is her body in which the baby resides.
To the relief and shock of all the women in the room, the baby comes out alive and healthy. Immediately after its birth comes perhaps the most profound moment of the episode. Jeanine is in awe of her child, of the fact that she survives, but she watches the child get carried over to its mother. Jeanine breaks down then, still filled with the love of the baby, but the knowledge that it will never really be hers. She is then surrounded by a sea of red, the wordless support of all the handmaids as they hold her through her tears. It’s a gorgeous act of solidarity, silently speaking to the emotions behind this heartbreaking system.
The birth is also an excuse for Offred and Ofglen to talk. Ofglen explains that she’s in a network of sorts; a resistance, and they could use Offred’s knowledge of the commander. Their exchange of dialogue on the subject is a reminder of just how terrifyingly relevant this whole situation is. “I’m not that kind of person,” Offred says to Ofglen’s offer to join this network. “No one is until they have to be,” is Ofglen’s chilling reply. This notion is one that we hear all too often in today’s political climate. When times are threatening existence and autonomy, people know never thought they would resist have to. Ofglen’s delivery is spot on, and shows off a side of Alexis Bledel’s ability that her previous work could never tap into.
Offred comes around to Ofglen’s side, tell her of an illicit one on one meeting the commander proposed of her. The meeting turns out to be the tensest game of scrabble any of us have ever seen. Each move seems calculated, with the commander sizing up Offred at every second, and Offred trying to figure out his intentions. They end it with a handshake that lingers a little too long, and an unspoken contract to never speak of this game, but the commander suggests reprising it in a few weeks.
The episode closes shortly after, with a surprisingly music cue of all things. Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” blasts as Offred leaves the house that day, filled with sense of excitement about the Scrabble game itself and what she will tell Ofglen of it. The music is jarring at first, hearing an 80s hit in the middle of a dystopian future, but, as is true in The Breakfast Club, the song feeds Offred’s sentiment. A rare moment of being excited in this harsh world. The music and the feeling quickly fades though, when she sees that Ofglen has been replaced by a new Ofglen. Her once connection to this resistance is gone, captured. It’s an ominous ending to say the least, a warning of what will happen if there is even one moment of joy, that everything could change on a dime.
Season 1, Episode 2 (S01E02)
The Handmaid’s Tale airs Wednesday on Hulu
Raina spends most of her time watching television and trying to find the perfect bagel and lox, because she likes being emotionally distraught.
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Raina Deerwater | Contributor