The word chilling has been used ad nauseum by myself and others to describe the content of THE HANDMAID’S TALE. It bears repeating, though because the events of the third episode send a chill straight down the spine of anyone with a vagina and/or a conscious. This world isn’t pulling any punches. It’s hard, it’s cold, and there is no mercy. “Late” shows us this world, as well as the structure that built it.
The title “Late” refers to Offred’s period, which is just a few days late this month. In this world where pregnancy is hailed above all else, these few days make all the difference. Serena, Commander Waterford’s wife, treats Offred with more respect that we’ve ever seen, offering her food and comfort. It’s too nice, too easy, and it’s clear that there is just a matter of time before the other shoe drops. The shoe is taking its sweet time to drop though, and every kind move on Serena’s part makes it seem like maybe, just maybe, there is some kindness in her. It’s an ungrounded thought to have, as she does not view Offred as a human, just a vessel. Since in that moment, she believes the vessel is full, this supposed kindness comes from a respect for a potentially fertilized egg than an actual person. It’s impossible to miss the connection to the anti-choice movement today, with the unborn having often more value than women.
Offred has a lot more to worry about than just the potentially of not actually being pregnant. After the capture of Ofglen, Offred finds herself the topic of interrogation. The scene where she is questioned is one of the coldest of the series, with a man asking her question as Aunt Lydia, the matron of sorts for the handmaids, hold a taser at the ready. Over the course of the scene they question her about the nature of her relationship with Ofglen, seeing as they have discovered that Ofglen is a “gender traitor,” someone who has same sex relationships. “I knew she was gay,” Offred says to Aunt Lydia, before receiving a harsh turn from the taser. They do not take kindly to that word there. Luckily, Serena bursts in to save Offred, or her egg rather, saving her from the violence temporarily.
Offred’s talking back is the first real sort of rebellion we see from her. The abduction of Ofglen ignited something in her, and the viciousness in her face shows that she is willing to fight back. Elisabeth Moss is impeccable in these moments, her sneer speaking volumes. Of course, no moment of hope can live for long in The Handmaid’s Tale, soon after this, her period comes. Serena’s reaction is violent and cruel, dragging Offred into a bare room, and commanding her to stay there. She is nothing without the Commander’s DNA in her, just and empty vessel.
All of this, though compelling and heartbreaking, is not what makes this episode stand above most thing of television. Oflgen’s story does that. She is captured and muzzled, and her inability to speak is incredibly loud and poignant. Though at first we are lead to believe it is for her place in the resistance, she is being arrested for a relationship she’d been having in secret with a Martha. Being queer is punishable by death in this world, and again, the real life parallels raise goosebumps on our skin, as people in 2017 are still arrested and killed for their sexuality. It’s hard to watch, and harrowing as Oflgen and her lover are given a “trial” which is just the accuser saying they are guilty and the judge agreeing.
Though the punishment for being a “gender traitor” is hanging, Ofglen is spared of this, because she has the potential to bear children. Her lover is not so lucky. This leads to one of the most painful and emotional scenes of the episode. As the two women, still muzzled and handcuffs are taken to the place where the Martha is to be hanged. The two clasp hands as tears roll down their cheeks, completely unable to fight the most unjust fate. The connection is more than apparent between them, with their hands entwined and the pure love and fear in their eyes. Though it is the bleakest of moments, there is some resistance in it. There is a popular epitaph in the LGBTQ community that “an act of queer love in itself is an act of rebellion.” This moment between these two women is proof of that saying, and the cruel reality is that their love sends a woman to her death. Watching Ofglen watch her lover be hanged is sickening, and hard, and it shows just how unforgiving this world is.
This isn’t the only terrible horror Ofglen has to endure, though. The episode ends with her waking up in a hospital, and slowly she looks down to see bandages covering her vagina. Aunt Lydia comes in and tells her she will not betray her gender anymore, but she can still bear children. The gears click into place for both the audience and Oglen. They removed her clitorus. It’s shocking, heart wrenching, and completely in the world of the show. Women are not supposed to receive pleasure while bearing the fruit, and especially not from other women. And if women’s pleasure and autonomy can be physically removed all the better. Again, the show is simply chilling and almost hard to watch, but that is what makes it excellent television of the utmost necessity.
Season 1, Episode 3 (S01E03)
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