THE HANDMAID’S TALE Review: “Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum”

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In its first episode in the week-to-week format, THE HANDMAID’S TALE dives deeper into the world creation, showing the contrast so heavily between June of the past and Offred now. The episode starts with a sequence of June, Luke, and Hannah on a carousel, such a happy family, smiling and laughing. Even this feels off, not right, as we only know that the other shoe is going to drop, know that this family is going to be subjugated, dead, and missing respectively.

As we go back to the harsh reality of Offred’s situation, that longing for a time when she had rights, autonomy, and her family is clear in every move she makes. Which isn’t many, seeing as ever since she’s gotten her period, Serena has kept her in her room, unable to go outside or anywhere, making her capture all the more literal. An incredible detail of this whole situation is that the door is unlocked, cracked open. Offred is not physically imprisoned, but she knows the consequences of what will happen if she ventures outside the door. Except, of course, for the dreaded ceremony.

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This episode gives us more of June and Moira when they were being forced to learn about their future role as handmaids. The character of Moira is impossible not to fall in love with, with Samira Wiley excellently playing both her rebellions spirit, and deep despair at this new world. It’s also fascinating to see June around Moira, to see a hopeful side of her we don’t get when she is Offred. This is for a myriad of reasons, one being the obvious of the fact that this world of being a captive and essentially raped every month was not one she lived. There’s another reason, though, evident whenever June looks at Moira, that June needs someone to inspire this rebellion, needs a cohort, another woman whose lead to follow. It’s partially why, last week, after Ofglen was taken, Offred was lost in a way, not having someone strong who leads by example.

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Moira does just that to June, and her unwillingness to take this reality is reflected onto June. The scene when all the handmaids find out just what their duties will entail; the actual degradation of the ceremony, is hard to watch. The pain on all their faces is more than apparent, but especially Moira’s. It’s pure sadness expressed, and a deep knowledge that she will not stand for this. And she doesn’t. In a thrilling and terrifying sequence, the two friends steal the garb of an Aunt and break out into the world, only to find it dark and terrifying, with bodies being hauled and being burned. Even when they make their way to a train station, they are clueless of the world that surrounds them. So much so that Moira leaves June alone for just a minute to ask for directions. In that one minute, June is interrogated by a police officer. Moira starts to go back to help her, but June nonverbally pleads with her to just escape, and Moira does. They share a last look, of love, of resilient spirit, before Moira disappears on the train.

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In the present, Offred finds a potential new source of rebellion, in a carving scrawled into her closet, “Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum.” During another tense game of scrabble, Offred carefully asks the Commander what the Latin phrase means. He tells her it roughly translates to “don’t let the bastards grind you down.” Pure rebellious inspiration right there. Offred also learns that the previous Offred, the one who wrote it, ending up killing herself. Furthermore, the commander feels some sense of guilt, thus these Scrabble games and conversations. Perhaps inspired by this , or this sentiment, or even the memory of Moira, Offred tunes into this, uses it. She meekly says that she would never want to get to that point, but it is just so hard being trapped in there. Her eyes plead with the Commander’s.

Suddenly, Offred is opening the door to be outside, her smarts and rebellion put to good use, using the previous Offred as the new inspiration for her to act. This sequence is intercut with one back at the handmaid training after she has been hurt and tortured for trying to escape. As the other Handmaids walk by her bed, they give each a scrap of food: small pieces, but combined they make something of substance, to give June her strength. All of the handmaids together can help lift her up; this group of women can be her new Moira, the inspiration for raging out against this system. Back to the present, as Offred revels in the fresh air and sees the others around her, her voice-over declares, “we are handmaids.” This is how the resistance starts.

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Season 1, Episode 4 (S01E04)
The Handmaid’s Tale airs Wednesday at on Hulu

Read all of our reviews of The Handmaid’s Tale here. 
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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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