Alias Grace – Part 4

CBC’s Alias Grace
Part 4
Directed by Mary Harron
Written by Sarah Polley

* For a recap & review of Part 3, click here.
* For a recap & review of Part 5, click here.
Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 12.02.13 AMGrace (Sarah Gadon) and the other women in prison witness the whipping of a woman while they eat breakfast. Normal day at Kingston Penitentiary. Soon, she’s taken up to the house, to talk with Dr. Simon Jordan (Edward Holcroft). He’s busy still having daydreams about her, falling for his patient.
He also wants to talk about James McDermott (Kerr Logan), reading the man’s confession where it paints a picture of a jealous Grace, the green eyed monster focused on Nancy Montgomery (Anna Paquin), apparently. “Shes not better born than we are,” Grace told him. So he claimed. She doesn’t particularly deny the story, though in not many words she passes it off.
She tells him more about her and Nancy’s relationship around the house. They were a little close, but the hierarchy around Thomas Kinnear’s (Paul Gross) place was evident. One day when James isn’t around, she has to kill a chicken on her own. This prompts Nancy to treat her like trash, all but throwing her out of the house, demanding she kill their food. Grace is able to get Jamie Walsh (Stephen Joffe) to help her, a young man who also works for Mr. Kinnear, and it gets Nancy interested in her personal life, of course.
Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 12.09.42 AMPeople at the local church seem to have their ideas about Mr. Kinnear, one woman (Margaret Atwood) calls it “an outrage” having him there. They don’t stay, either, after Nancy wants to leave rather than be stared at the whole time. Grace talks about church, how people act as if being there is the only God is with them; elsewhere they do what they want, dropping the act. But God “cannot be caged in as men can.”
Nancy decides it’s time McDermott finishes employment at the house. He’s got no job come end of the month. Not easy any time, certainly not easy back then. Especially for a misogynistic arsehole like James. He winds up revealing to Grace that Kinnear and Nancy sleep together, as if it weren’t already obvious; such is the sweet innocence of Grace, at the time.
Eventually Grace calls Nancy out and gets a slap across the face from her. Gradually, we see our lady being warped. By the way Nancy treats her, by how McDermott pours his poison in her ear. He actually mentions knocking them in the head, throwing them down the cellar. Very specific, no?
We’re seeing all different sides of possible truths. Grace claims one thing; McDermott another. We see both, literally. Yet staunchly, she denies any wrongdoing, despite what her Irish friend said in his confession before his hanging. She also talks to Dr. Jordan about loneliness. How bad things were in the asylum, at prison. How cruel were the punishments of being locked in a coffin-like box, stood up, left there endlessly. Not to mention the “liberties” taken by various men, winding up in a “delicate condition” when she was leaving the asylum. Ugly, violent male behaviour.
The road to death is a lonely highway, and longer than it appears. Even when it leads straight down from the scaffold by way of a rope. And its a dark road, with never any moon shining on it to light your way.”
Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 12.20.21 AMScreen Shot 2017-10-19 at 12.26.57 AMOn her birthday, Grace was given the afternoon free by Nancy. She went for a walk by herself, enjoying a beautiful day, picking flowers; time to herself, for herself. A rare occurrence in the life of any woman in the 1800s. Jamie shows up, asking to be her sweetheart. She lets him down fairly easy. And from afar watches Mr. Kinnear, he asks her what they were doing in the orchard together, as if suspicious, or jealous. Then, as expected, Nancy is right back to being herself, weird and passive aggressive. Plus McDermott acting jealous to boot like an angry idiot.
One good thing – Jeremiah (Zachary Levi) arrives at the house. They sit for a drink, he tells her he’s going giving up peddling to be a hypnotist. The new fad, all that spiritualism infecting the people of the 19th century. He goes on to warn about Kinnear, his “appetite” for servant girls, the talk of the town that everybody’s heard of plenty. He’s scared for her, wanting Grace to go away with him elsewhere. She doesn’t like the idea, if they don’t get married, which he doesn’t seem to believe in. Soon enough McDermott comes in, running her friend off. That lad is bad news, for sure.
When a man gets a habit, it is hard for him to break it, like a dog gone bad.”
Grace notices a doctor come by one day. Then she’s seeing Nancy throw up, ordering her to clean the vomit. Safe to say, she’s probably up the duff with the master of the house’s child. Aside from that, Kinnear seems to have started admiring the young servant, leering at her silently. What would he do once he figured out his mistress was pregnant?
That night, Grace hears Nancy talking about her, planning to possibly let her go along with McDermott. The mistress really doesn’t like that the master finds his servant attractive.
Grace dreams that night of men surrounding her, George Parkinson (Will Bowes), Kinnear, McDermott, all grabbing her, touching her. Afterwards, she sees sheets in the trees outside the house, like angels, or ghosts. When she woke, the sheets she’d hung had blown into a tree.
Screen Shot 2017-10-19 at 12.47.40 AMScreen Shot 2017-10-19 at 12.51.16 AMAnd we’re always left wondering, is Grace telling the truth? Is she telling any of us the truth? One of the reasons I love the miniseries is how they capture the truth v. lies theme that Atwood’s book tackled so well. Grace is a dichotomy, you can never tell for sure what she’s thinking, if she’s lying or being truthful.
Can’t wait for Part 5.

Advertisements

Alias Grace – Part 1

CBC’s Alias Grace
Part 1
Directed by Mary Harron
Written by Sarah Polley

* For a recap & review of Part 2, click here.


We begin on Grace Marks (Sarah Gadon), speaking about herself through the perspectives of others, as she looks at herself in the mirror. Reeling off the various things people have called her, from “soft in the head” to “an inhuman female demon” among many other names.
How can I be all these different things at once?”
1859, at Kingston Penitentiary. Grace has been there fifteen years. She goes to the Governor’s House, meant as a housekeeper. Although she believes it’s her status as a murderess which fascinates people, they want her around. We see various edits of madness, murder, letters. Now, Dr. Simon Jordan (Edward Holcroft) is coming to see Grace in her cell, to see if he can get to the bottom of her case, her mind.


When Dr. Jordan arrives he sees the dichotomy of identity surrounding Grace Marks, that she’s at once apparently the cold-blooded murderess who killed two people, she’s likewise a meek woman, afraid of doctors, one who can appreciate the smell of a fresh apple. This begins a relationship between the two, as he’s there to delve into her psychology; of course this is before psychology meant talking with a therapist, mostly patients being strapped down in asylums, abused mentally and physically. One major reason why Grace is so reluctant to get into conversation with Dr. Jordan.
The doctor begins digging into the trial, about Grace’s claim of seeing James McDermott (Kerr Logan) tossing Nancy Montgomery (Anna Paquin) into the cellar. He speaks with the Reverend (David Cronenberg) about her, those claims, McDermott’s claim concerning what Grace had done. The Reverend’s only concerned with getting the young woman pardoned, out of that hideous jail. Now, the doc is arranging to try getting Grace back into the Governor’s house, after the fit she threw when a doctor tried measuring her head, so that they might meet outside the jail. This doesn’t particularly help the woman, making other prisoners and the jailers believe she’s seducing the doctor, surely to kill him like she’s done already. Poor Grace, indicted in the media, let alone the courts. Her reputation precedes her, when much of it might not even be true.
Note: The quilt was a great device in the novel, marking the chapters, taking us into the story on a whole other level. Margaret Atwood’s writing shines through even in this adaptation; she is a wholly unique writer, why she’s a literary treasure in Canada.
As Dr. Jordan takes a crack at opening the secrets kept in Grace’s mind, the viewer is offered the other side, seeing what she’s thinking while she gives her answers to him. Some of what we see appears to be what she’s thinking; other times her answers differ greatly from what she’s TRULY thinking.
Saying what you really want brings bad luck
Screen Shot 2017-10-01 at 2.44.53 PMGrace takes the doctor back through her past, coming from Northern Ireland as a Protestant family, poor, driven out by Catholic violence. We see them mistreated, looked down upon simply for being Irish, and with an English father no less. They took a boat across the ocean. A rough journey below deck, as people vomit, pass out drunk, fight, shit, all the while dealing with storms, rats, scurvy, and worse. Grace compared her journey in that “slum in motion” to Jonah in the belly of that great whale, who had it easy by himself, rather than stuffed together with tons of others in those wretched conditions. Worse, her mother was ill and getting sicker all the time. Until one morning Grace woke next to her cold corpse.
The hardest part for her was the old wives tale that the spirit couldn’t be free if a window wasn’t opened for it to escape, something that obviously was foregone under the deck of a ship on the Atlantic. But she survived the remainder of the journey to Toronto, where she and her family saw the mix of culture already pouring in from the ports.
Things were no better when they settled in. Grace’s father called her terrible things, beat her unconscious. He did worse than that, as well, lusting after his own daughter like a lecherous old drunk. Life, in general, for Grace meant survival. She actually showed great restraint in not murdering her disgusting father.
Screen Shot 2017-10-01 at 3.06.24 PMSoon enough, Grace was kicked out of the house, made to make a wage; not just that, her father expected her to sent money back home. So, she packed the few little things she owned and left by herself. Out into the unknown of Toronto in the mid-1800s. She found herself work as a housekeeper for the Parkinsons, where she first met Mary Whitney (Rebecca Liddiard), the two fast becoming close friends. Mary tells her all about the rebellion “against the gentry.” This has been causing plenty of chaos, in public and private.
Mary: “The difference between ignorant and stupid is that ignorant can learn
After Grace’s talk with the doctor, she must return to life at the penitentiary, quilting by night in candlelight. Left with her memories of the trial, of all that’s happened. She talks about the media, how everything that she said was “twisted around” by the papers, no matter if it were truth. And this is all leading her to an epiphany, about how she’s perceived, how she can mould that perception, or at least try to, anyways. She also understands how the media, the rumours, all of it can tear a person apart, and in a sense harden them.
Screen Shot 2017-10-01 at 3.21.38 PMBeautiful opener! This is my personal favourite Margaret Atwood book, so to see it as a miniseries, and looking so good out of the gate, I’m tickled. Hope to see more of the excellent characterisation in the next episode, Grace Marks is a tricky character. Even Atwood’s chaged her view on the woman over time. So, bring on more good writing, more intensity, lots of drama.
Part 2 comes next.

The Handmaid’s Tale – Season 1, Episode 7: “The Other Side”

Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Season 1, Episode 7: “The Other Side”
Directed by Floria Sigismondi
Written by Lynn Renee Maxcy

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “A Woman’s Place” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Jezebels” – click here
Pic 1We begin back before Gilead, as Luke (O-T Fagbenle) and June a.k.a Offred (Elisabeth Moss) flee with their girl Hannah. They crash their car, but Luke sends his wife and child off running while he gathers his gun and some ammo. In come the black SUVs and one fires on him, right in stomach. He fades out, thinking of June and his daughter.
When he wakes there’s an ambulance taking elsewhere, until they flip off the road upside down into a ravine. He makes it out alive, though remains wounded. Packing up a few supplies, grabbing a gun, Luke heads alone out onto the road.
But he isn’t well, his gut holding that bullet. He makes it back to the car where he last saw June, then goes into the forest. Soon enough he comes upon the remnants of his family’s things, neither his wife nor his child are anywhere to be found. An impossible situation. Full of terrifying emotion. What does a person do at that point? Aside from fear the absolute worst, knowing where June is likely to get taken.
Unsure where to go, what to do, he concentrates on mere survival.
Flashback to before they fled and crashed. In the car, they try driving out of the city. Moira (Samira Wiley) already left crossing the border on foot and June wishes they’d left then. However, things take time. Passports, all that type of thing. They had to be sure, to try covering all bases. At a dockyard they meet a mane named Mr. Whitford (Tim Ransom); turns out June’s mother gave him a vasectomy after it was made illegal, so he feels he owes them. He’s helping smuggle them out of the county.
Pic 1AWhitford helps them out to the woods where he lives, and they’re safe. For the time being. Their trustworthy friend also shows Luke how to load and handle a gun. Furthermore, U.S. passport “doesnt mean shit” these days, so Whitford’s heading into Canada to get them passports. At a lake near the cabin a man happens across June, Luke, and their daughter. In this world they can never be sure if it’s just another friendly face, or if it’s someone who’ll alert the Guardians to a free woman roaming.
Then switch back to Luke alone, as he’s found by two women who first believe he’s a Guardian. When he explains himself one of the women takes a look at his gut wound, which will surely be fatal if he doesn’t get help. And they’re with a few people that are certainly helpful. He’s piled into their little school bus and they head off together in that dark, new world.
For a while in Whitford’s place at the cabin in the woods, life is okay. Not normal, but okay. All the more sad when Luke thinks back to it, now without his girls and cast adrift with strangers. Many of them with similarly brutal stories surrounding the search for fertile women, the patriarchy knowing it’s dying and attempting to secure the future for them and the world in the most misogynistic way imaginable. Luke’s friends are headed to Canada. He’s determined on going to Boston.
When the man from the lake comes back to the cabin at night, he warns them people are searching for them, they know the car and the license plate. So he offers further help, to get them over the border. “This is pretty fucked up,” he says; and boy, is that ever a huge understatement.
Pic 2One of the women shows Luke what happened at a place where fertile women were being hid. The town was trying to fight back. When the Guardians found them all, they were strung up from the roof of the church. She makes Luke look, to see what’s happening. To understand the grave magnitude of the situation, the depths of the male, patriarchal depravity at play. This changes his mind and he decides on going with them across the border.
But suddenly they’re attacked by gunfire, though they manage to get on a boat and speed away into the night.
Cut to 3 years later. Luke is living in a city of relative freedom. He and one of the women that escaped, Erin (Erin Way), are drinking coffee. A far cry from Gilead’s authoritarian nation-state security. Then he gets a call on his cellphone, another luxury of this place compared with the rigid law in the city of the handmaids.
He goes to a place littered with posters of missing women, cards, drawings, et cetera. There he meets a woman who asks him about June, she has an envelope for him. Inside, a note: the one she wrote him and gave to the Mexican trade delegate. Although it’s only a short note, written three weeks prior, it is one major thing to him: hope.
Pic 3Wow. This was an emotional ride. While I care more about the female perspective and characters, it’s nice to see the other people out there, Luke included. Now I’m wondering what he’ll do, now that he knows for sure she’s alive. Will he and others go searching for June and the handmaids?
Next is “Jezebels” and I love the name of the episode, I’m excited to see something intense!

The Handmaid’s Tale – Season 1, Episode 6: “A Woman’s Place”

Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Season 1, Episode 6: “A Woman’s Place”
Directed by Floria Sigismondi
Written by Wendy Straker Hauser

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Faithful” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “The Other Side” – click here
Pic 1We start as we finished last episode, as Offred (Elisabeth Moss) falls into actual passion with Nick (Max Minghella). She thinks of it the next day, but laments it won’t happen anymore. “Sorry, Nick.”
The handmaids are out cleaning a wall of execution blood. Government officials are coming, so they don’t want any of the nastiness around to make Gilead look bad, now do they? Janine (Madeline Brewer) remarks how it doesn’t look the same without all the “dead bodies.” Amazing what you can get used to in Gilead. Back at home, Offred’s called to see Serena (Yvonne Strahovski), she preps the handmaid on the coming visit, a trade delegation from Mexico; the one which Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) went to arrange a short while ago. The woman of the house wants everything to go smoothly.
But will it?
Offred: “Reds my colour
We see Serena remember different times with Fred. They rushed to the bedroom in lust for one another. Although quoting the Bible’s a bit strange. Either way, there were happier moments for them. Now it’s all an eerie struggle, a routine, an elaborate, emotionless spectacle. Serena’s complicit in the patriarchy, despite any of her issues she continues trying to make her husband happy.
Pic 1AOne thing Offred, the woman formerly known as June, has not lost is her spirit, and her sense of humour. She’s very sly, in many ways. Also there’s a clear connection between her and Nick. He does his best, outwardly, to deny this fact. It’s obvious, though. And they keep it as quiet a secret as possible. In the meantime, Offred’s trotted in to see the delegation. There’s a vast divide between women in Gilead v. women from Mexico, for instance. She automatically believes the ambassador could not be a woman. Even as smart and tough as June was, still is, she’s been brainwashed, beaten down by the system in this nation-state.
On top of everything, she’s forced to say that she chose being a handmaid. When Ambassador Castillo (Zabryna Guevara) asks if Offred is happy, she reluctantly reads the script prepared in her mind. Sadly, she knows a woman’s place in Gilead. As do the barren wives, all too tragically. We find out more of Serena, too. She was a rebel. The ambassador puts it to her pretty hard and sees how these women, all of them, are trodden upon.
Ambassador Castillo: “Never mistake a womans meekness for weakness
More flashbacks show us a time before. When Fred was working towards the idea of Gilead, setting things in motion. Serena supported him every step of the way, which illustrates the lengths of her complicity in an authoritarian patriarchal rule. We see the divide between America then, Gilead now. Even Fred, he was slightly different. Before power took hold, anyways. Then suddenly he gets word about “three attacks” coordinated in several weeks. The beginning of the end.
So, as much as I pity Serena, I pity the handmaids more. She used an epidemic to subjugate the will of fertile women. Offred, and so, so many more, they suffer much worse because of what Serena allowed to grow in her own actions and support of Fred. Kinda like how I couldn’t give a shit now that Ann Coulter thinks anybody cares that she’s FINALLY figured out that Trump duped her and a portion of the country. Because she is one of those women whose toxic aid to the patriarchy of America has only made things worse for women who don’t hold the privilege of her status.
Pic 2Alone together, Offred gets closer and closer with Commander Waterford. Perhaps too close. It’s a dangerous game, even if it’s a part of a plan she’s enacting over the course of time. He feels wildly unpredictable. He asks for a kiss, which she grants him. Later she scrubs her mouth raw with a toothbrush to get the taste out.
Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) has the handmaids out, well behaved, going to a dinner. They even get to sit at tables like normal people. Present and enforcing strict dress code, Serena requires “the damaged ones” removed. But Lydia says they are serving the Lord, therefore it’s worthy of honour. To Mrs. Waterford they’re “bruised apples” and nothing more.
More flashbacks take us to before Gilead rose, as America fell. Serena slowly sees her privileges erode. Once a writer of books, she was on her way to never being allowed to read one again, being pushed out of the bureaucracy of the coming changes. Fred actually starts coming off as a guy who didn’t realise what would happen when he started out. As if he was one of those bible thumping Republicans who began hard on terrorism, letting civil rights erode, then watched as it all spun out of control. But no matter. Somewhere along the way he wholly accepted the state of things.
In Gilead, at their fancy dinner, Serena is allowed to speak. ALLOWED is the operative term. The handmaids are honoured. Blah, blah, blah. All for show. Then the children are paraded through to music, those who’ve been produced in Gilead like cattle. IT’s a way of blinding the delegation. All the sour, hideous shit is hidden beneath this glossy exterior, fabricated out of the sadness of these women who are made to stand by and, some of them, watch their own children who’ve been yanked from their arms being used as propaganda.
Worse – Mexico’s looking to trade for handmaids. That’s so terrible, so ugly. What a heavy scene. With all the heaviness that’s come before it, hard to imagine this is so weighty. One of the subtle, toughest moments shows us a flashback as Serena gathers things together, throwing things away; outside, garbage trucks and men take all things belonging to women, truckloads, and cart it away for a new beginning.
Pic 3A rare lovemaking moment occurs between Mr. and Mrs. Waterford, going against the whole idea in Gilead that sex is for procreation only. Tsk, tsk. But I wish they’d get back to that, their old lives. Instead of raping women into pregnancy for their own cruel needs.
Offred beats herself up for acting in front of the ambassador and everyone else, saying she’s happy there. It rips her apart, and no wonder. Having to say that, even if she doesn’t mean it, just having to let those words out of her mouth is a form of giving up to the patriarchy of Gilead.
The next day when the ambassador stops by before leaving, June tells her it is a prisoner there and about the abuse they suffer. She tells her everything. She pleads for her to do something, but the woman refuses. Another woman complicit with the authoritarian patriarchy of Gilead. Disgusting. All in the name of making babies.
Ambassador Castillo: “My country is dying
Offred: “My countrys already dead
However, the man with Ambassador Castillo offers to get a message to her husband. He is not dead, and Mr. Flores (Christian Barillas) knows. He also knows that her name is June. Wow. I could see the whole episode his eyes were kinder, somehow he was sensitive to their plight. And dammit, I was right.
Pic 4What’s going to happen next? What a grim yet still beautiful episode. Christ, they up the ante every week with this series. Next is “The Other Side” and I’m anticipating other, bigger things will come out.

The Handmaid’s Tale – Season 1, Episode 3: “Late”

Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Season 1, Episode 3: “Late”
Directed by Reed Morano
Written by Bruce Miller

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Birth Day” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum” – click here
Pic 1Offred (Elisabeth Moss) hears about what happened to Ofglen (Alexis Bledel). She was taken in a black van. Whisked away. She was a “member of the Resistance” and those are CHOICE WORDS for 2017. “I didnt even know her name,” Offred a.k.a June laments. Now the girl is gone. Disappeared in some cell, in an unknown place.
When they slaughtered Congress, we didnt wake up. When they blamed terrorists and suspended the Constitution, we didnt wake up then, either. They said it would be temporary.”
Flashbacks to June and Moira (Samira Wiley), jogging together and listening to tunes. They have a nasty confrontation with a guy in a coffee shop. He drops the word SLUT on them and this gets Moira particularly pissed. Open misogyny already, long before the patriarchy clamped down. June has troubles with her bank account, and later she sees men with guns come to the office where she works. A troubling development. Their boss has to let them go, required by law; all the women are gone. Ominous, as an army arrives. Not the regular US army, though.
In the present, Offred is tended to by Rita (Amanda Brugel), who’s suddenly more a fan of her. This shows us what goes in the minds of the women bent under the state. She didn’t care about her before. Since she hasn’t had a period yet, Rita deems her more worthy. Because she may be pregnant. Suddenly Offred, even in the eyes of other women like Rita in servitude and Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) in lesser servitude but still shackled, is more than nothing. For now. Until she’s given birth, like poor Janine (Madeline Brewer).
What Margaret Atwood’s book did well, as does this adaptation, is present how difficult life can be between women when the patriarchy has trodden them into near dust. She shows, through characters such as Serena and Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd), that the ruling class of men oppressing women likewise leads to the oppression of women by other women. Devastating consequences in many forms.
Pic 1AOffred tries comforting Janine, who slips further into a bad mental state. She starts thinking she is free, that she can do what she wants because of her ability to conceive. Fine to think she can eat lots of ice cream. Not fine if she pushes it too far in that militarised zone. I hate to think what may happen to Janine. I truly worry, especially since she believes her Commander is in love.
Later we see Serena try justifying herself, in a way, to Offred. She says that she’s “blessed” to have her around. I can’t help thinking that’s a load of shit. Then there’s Nick (Max Minghella), I haven’t sussed out his purpose or what he’s up to, ultimately. Maybe he’s the reason Ofglen isn’t around anymore, maybe he isn’t. He has a properly nihilistic view of their new world, believing it’s useless to try acting hard: “Everybody breaks. Everybody.” And this time around, he’s taken her to a black van. He advises her to tell them whatever she knows. Uh oh.
Flashback to June and Moira, before the fall. Women cannot own property by law anymore; not money or a house, nothing. They’re starting to shut America down after the terrorist attack in Washington awhile back. Women are systematically being jailed, in every sense. Moira makes a good argument for why the #NotAllMen crowd need to shut up, because the heinousness of men is too terrible for us individual men to worry about being separated in name from the crowd. We do too much damage. In The Handmaid’s Tale, this is presented all too clear, in every bit of its rawness.
Luke: “Should I just go in the kitchen and cut my dick off?”
In the present, Offred is questioned by a man and zapped by Aunt Lydia. They want to know more of Ofglen, what they talked about, any mentions of unpatriotic activities, so on. Then up comes the subject of lesbianism. Touchy, especially when breeding stock and a known lesbian come into contact. According to their world Ofglen is a “gender traitor” and you’ve heard similar words before from rabid racists who use the term race traitor for white people empathetic/sympathetic to people of colour. In fact, this society expressly forbids the use of the word gay.


In the meantime, Ofglen spends her days with a mask covering her mouth, brought from one place to the next in shackles. She tries appealing to the baser needs of the guards, though they won’t bend. She is branded an “abomination” but sentenced to “redemption” because she is “fruitful.” Not a good omen, that’s absolutely positive. Ofglen’s lover is taken to a vacant lot where she’s lifted on a crane and hung by the neck. One of the slowest, most brutal death scenes without graphic violence that I’ve EVER SEEN! Ofglen is then carted away to her own, perhaps even slower punishment.
Nick goes to see Offred, bringing her ice for the stun stick wounds she suffered. There’s more to him, even if he’s complicit in the entire thing. He plays the whole nice guy card while alone with her, acting as if he could be the hero. But again, similar to what Moira spoke of in the earlier flashback, men are not the answer, they are the problem here; the nice ones, too. The women, eventually, are going to enact revolution. Whether it’s painful and bloody on the way is an entirely other situation. It will be women, though. They will not be saved by any men in this world, nor do they need it.
We flashback to a protest, before America fell to fascist, authoritarian government. A spooky rendition of “Heart of Glass” plays while the violence breaks out, the militarised police with their guns bearing down on the innocent protesters, male and female alike. Guns start firing, then Moira and June finally realise the serious depths of what is happening around them. A tragic, emotional sequence as the two women run for their lives and hide.
Pic 3Offred’s discovered she isn’t pregnant after all. Therefore, no more special treatment, and more of that skin crawling sex with Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes), held down by Serena as she watches on. Yuck. And once the infertile Mrs. Waterford hears the news, it’s not pleasant. At all. Fucking horrifying, actually. The woman is mad, driven mad by her complicity in the whole debacle. Then she tells Offred: “Things can get much worse for you.” Something that’s actually hard to imagine at this point.
Pic 4We see that Ofglen’s been brought to a stark white facility. She finds there’s been a procedure done on her while she was unconscious. Aunt Lydia reveals her real name: Emily. She says things will be easier for the girl now. “You wont want what you cannot have,” Lydia tells her. Oh, man. Harsh. Like an Atwood vision of body horror.
By the way, the song playing at the end is “Waiting for Something” by Jay Reatard. Great tune for a whopping moment.
Pic 4AThis was maybe my favourite episode. It gave us a window into before the fall, as well as other horrors in the new world of the authoritarian patriarchy. I can’t wait for the next episode. Very glad to have had the opportunity to preview these before the premiere!

The Handmaid’s Tale – Season 1, Episode 2: “Birth Day”

Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Season 1, Episode 2: “Birth Day”
Directed by Reed Morano
Written by Bruce Miller

* For a recap & review of the Season 1 premiere, “Offred” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Late” – click here
Pic 1Offred (Elisabeth Moss) tries to escape the breeding rape of Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes), held down by his wife Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski). The sex is not just a visceral sexual assault. It is symbolic of women like Serena who’ve been complicit with the patriarchy, holding other women down figuratively, literally, in every kind of way. A brilliantly disturbing metaphor.
Under his eye
Ofglen (Alexis Bledel) gets closer to Offred, they talk of who they were before they were trapped in that nation-state of misogyny. We find out that churches are being dismantled, everywhere. And so do they still worship God? They read scripture, they’re Conservative people. What exactly is the patriarchal nation-state up to? Regardless of that Ofglen tells Offred about a “network” of women. They’re ultra secretive, obviously.
Offred: “There has to be an us because now there is a them.”
Pic 1ANot entirely sure what Nick (Max Minghella) is doing, if he’s a force of good or another arm of the male authority. He seems to like Offred, but again it could be less than valiant. He’s not exactly a Commander, a higher-up. He is the proletariat, a worker. He relays to Offred that Commander Waterford has called to see her. She’s ushered into the birthmobile by Rita (Amanda Brugel); the thing is like a hearse, which is brutally ironic. At once, life and death touches. They are, in fact, living death.
Offred: “Theres a smell coming from that room. Something primal. Its the smell of dens, of inhabited caves. Its the smell of the plaid blanket on the bed where the cat gave birth once, before she was spade. Its the smell of genesis.”
Offred – or, June, as she was – flashes back to when she was pregnant, before everything changed. It’s a creepy atmosphere, as people chant outside the hospital, praying for the babies in the face of the fertility plague. But no time for daydreaming, June! Real life is too nasty now to let daydreams take over long. The atmosphere is creepier in the present, as the infertile wives pamper the handmaids getting ready to give birth, a ritualistic process from which the women almost derive pleasure. So odd. They’re all led into a room where Janine (Madeline Brewer) is in labour. Everybody tells her to breathe, calming her down. Although Offred does the most for her, in less creeper fashion.
Flashbacks to June in the hospital post-birth show us how bad the fertility plague became; her baby Hannah was the only one to have survived while she was there, others dying. A sad image shows rows of empty basins in the children’s ward where June walks aimlessly. Like rows of graves in a cemetery.


Offred does well priming herself to survive that brutal place. She does what she’s supposed to do with grim servitude. She keeps her June alive by smiling in the mirror, remembering who she is on the inside. As long as she doesn’t forget, June’s never lost to Offred.
In the room with Janine another woman is brought in and the two of them push, breath, going through the birthing process with the aid of Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd), Serena and the infertile wives. Turns out the other woman is one of the infertile wives; they go through the whole thing as if actually pregnant, an unsettling ritual. It’s scary to watch. As if a church service has gone wild, the chanting like a hymn. And when a “fine and healthy girl” is born they rejoice. In the midst of all the cruelty, the terror, is that miracle of birth; life in the fields of death.
Such raw subject matter in a dystopian setting. The baby is ripped from Janine, given to the infertile woman, and she lays in bed with it as if she’d just given birth herself. Whoa. Margaret Atwood’s source novel expertly scared already, disturbing and all too prescient. With visuals, the score, the expertly acted characters, it’s all so effective.
We flashback again to June and Luke (O-T Fagbenle) in the hospital, before the fall of America. A woman’s broken in and stolen Hannah. This is what the infertility plague did to people, the mania it caused. Luckily they get the child back. This illustrates the terrifying climate before the authoritarian iron fist crushed American women into submission; they were already suffering, now they suffer more.
Pic 3Janine is still seen as useful. She has to breastfeed the child before she’ll be torn away once more. She sings Bob Marley to her daughter. That intimate connection between mother and child is too strong a bond to simply break with one snap. There’ll be more trouble with this concept as the episodes progress.
Beyond the Commanders door” is somewhere nobody, not even Serena goes. Offred has been summoned to see him. She only assumes something bad, relating it to the typical horror trope of a young woman stupidly descending into a dark basement believing her boyfriend is there, only to meet a bloody end; maybe allegorically, she’s correct. In she goes, sitting with Waterford. They play Scrabble together, in expected awkwardness. Like a good citizen, she spells out NATION first on the board. After they finish she even tries out humour on him; he enjoys it. They plan on another date when he’s back from out of town. Creepy, yet you can see Offred working to figure out what she can do to keep herself alive in that tyrannical palace and city.
Most interesting is that Offred is finally rediscovering her power as a woman. Although she’s in this weakened state because of the ruling class, she starts figuring out that she still holds sway over men, because they are the weak ones. They’re the ones who’ve done this because they are afraid of the power of women, what they hold over them with their sexuality; it’s all they can think of, the wretched, oppressive patriarchy of that place. But a wrench is thrown in the mix, too. No longer is Offred paired with Ofglen, another woman comes in her place. Well, she’s Ofglen; just not the same one.
Things are… never as they seem.


What a great episode to follow-up on the first! I loved it. Can’t get enough already, I’m hooked. You’ll love it, too. Especially if you’re a fan of Atwood’s book.
Next episode is “Late” and it promises more terror, more dark comedy, more powerhouse acting and directing, as well.

The Handmaid’s Tale – Season 1, Episode 1: “Offred”

Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Season 1, Episode 1: “Offred”
Directed by Reed Morano
Written by Bruce Miller

* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Birth Day” – click here
Pic 1AThis adapted series from Margaret Atwood’s blistering novel begins with a car being chased down a road, police close behind. Offred (Elisabeth Moss) sits in the back with Hannah (Jordana Blake) next to her; Luke (O-T Fagbenle) drives, fast as he can. Soon they’re stuck in a ditch and they have to get out and run. They go quick in desperation, their destination supposedly not far off. Gunshots blast in the distance, so Offred picks her child up and runs. After some time they hide, but men with guns lurk too close for comfort. They eventually leave.
Although it’s clear this is a world full of dangers. It isn’t long until the men catch up with them and take the child from her mother. They’re taken out of the woods and back to the place from which Offred so badly hoped to escape.
She is a handmaid. She’s forbidden to be herself; a woman. Or rather, she is made to be only woman. As in, nothing other than her biological sex – determined by the ruling class: man.
She’s kept in line by Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski), who shovels the shit of Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and others like him. Offred is at her new posting, seeing as how the last one didn’t… work out. There is much woman-on-woman hate here. In the days of hyper nationalist women today, ushered in heartily by Trump and Co, it isn’t hard to see Strahovski channel people like Ann Coulter or Kellyanne Conway (among many) who seem to be women bent on destroying other women. And what all that can lead to, which is this authoritarian, patriarchal nation-state they live under.
Pic 2 Offred: “A handmaid wouldnt get far. Its those other escapes, the ones you can open in yourself given a cutting edge, or a twisted sheet and a chandelier.”
Poor Offred and other women go through the motions. They’re in permanent servitude. There’s definitely a hierarchy of men, too. But then again, that doesn’t matter because they’re the oppressing and ruling class, the dominant gender in this horrific world. Guys like Nick (Max Minghella) do the ‘lower’ work like labour as The Commander struts about his mansion. Meanwhile, Offred and Ofglen (Alexis Bledel) walk in pairs, they wear their uniforms.
Note: The headdress they wear is intriguing and in terms of costuming this series is off to a major start, such impressive work! They’re essentially a less-covered, Conservative version of a veil. Also, they’re blinders. Like horses would wear. Fucking grim, Margaret! Nice touch. Likewise the cinematography already is spectacular – so rich, at the same time it’s grim even in the light of day in the midst of a forest. Courtesy of Colin Watkinson (shot Tarsem Singh’s 200 visual feast The Fall).
Life in this nation-state is terrifying. Offred and Ofglen see three men hung on a wall as they walk through the otherwise beautiful city: a priest, a doctor, and a gay man. We see Offred in flashbacks to life outside in the real world, with a friend named Moira (Samira Wiley). Then they’re in a classroom, Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) talking of God and how he “whipped up a special plaguethe plague of infertility.” And we see Offred meet eyes with Moira, now both in the same, awful place. These women in the room are fertile. They’re intended to bear children; this is their purpose to men. Lydia is another self-hating woman whose purpose is to keep other women in line. A little worse, though. She has a stun stick she carries, zapping anyone who talks too much. Those aren’t the worst punishments. The breeding stock women are treated almost worse than others; one of them is punished by having her eyes plucked out. Don’t need eyes to have babies. Yikes!
Aunt Lydia: “This will become ordinary
Pic 2BCeremony Day is coming up, so this means Offred must be washed, cleaned to the utmost care. Like a “prized pig.” At the same time, it’s hard for her to forget life before the state and its tyranny. She longs for her daughter, hoping that she won’t be forgotten. It’s a brutally real emotion and Moss quietly portrays it with great nuance.
The breeding women sit in a circle, as one of them is made to confess supposed transgressions for leading on boys. Lydia makes them all chant “Her fault” in response. When Offred doesn’t say the right words, a woman steps in and slaps her face (that’s Margaret Atwood, by the way). Then she succumbs, falls in line; in her place.
There are many rules living with The Commander. One reason why Serena is so bitter towards Offred is, clearly, she is infertile, and hates her for somehow being able to bear children. Well, Ceremony Day isn’t the easiest especially. A bit of reading from the Bible, some mechanical sex as Offred is held by Serena who looks her husband in the eye, and he stares back. Holy fuck; pardon the double pun. Afterwards, it’s more than awkward. The environment of the house is straight out hostile. “Get out,” Serena tells Offred once the dirty deed is complete.
At night the girl with her eye plucked out, Janine (Madeline Brewer), is having troubles. She’s going a bit crazy, talking to herself. When Moira tries to stop her, we find out a bit of information. About the Colonies, where people clean up toxic waste, where they get radiation poisoning and their skin peels off and they die. One place is as bad as the other, just in different terms.
All the handmaids are brought to a field where a stage is setup. Offred hears that Moira was sent to the Colonies. Likely dead. No time to mourn, they have rituals to perform and everyone lines up to kneel on their pillows while Aunt Lydia speaks onstage. A man’s been convicted of a rape, and sentenced to death. We see the disconnect between state and individual, as the state sanctions widespread dehumanisation of women, lets the Commanders rape and impregnate women. Yet this lower man, still a rapist, is held to a different standard. These men are used to let the handmaids take out frustration. Capital punishment is carried out by their hand, as they beat him to death. All their hatred for the state is purged on this single individual. Such a strange, terrifying concept.


Another flashback to Offred and Moira outside, to when the former first believed she was pregnant. We see the original fears of women before the authoritarian state. Offred worried about a miscarriage, but she had Moira, her husband. She wasn’t kept under lock and key. Now, she’s in that tyrannical place without Moira.
Ofglen: “Was there ever a before?”
We see the further disconnect between the women, how they’re nurtured to distrust one another. Ofglen and Offred understand each other better as they talk more. We discover that Ofglen, in her real life, had a wife, a son named Oliver. They were able to flee to Canada while she was caught on the border without a passport. So many families divided, torn apart. So many women destroyed, abused, and much worse.
At the Commander’s home there’s a big meeting of men, all the while the women scuttle about preparing dinner and alcohol and everything else the patriarchy requires. And again there’s more disconnect. Offred can see how Serena, though more privileged, is just another woman to the men; though she has a seemingly better life than the rest, she is still excluded and set aside.
Furthermore, we now know Offred’s name was and is June. And she intends to survive this tyranny. Some way.
Pic 4What an episode! Wow. I’m more than impressed, and satisfied as a fan of the novel. I’m excited for the next episode. Been grateful to get to see the first few episodes before the premiere.
Next is “Birth Day” and you can be sure, it doesn’t mean what it used to mean.