Handmaid, Pt. II

It’s long, it’s messy, it’s long. My concluding remarks on America Now. Just sort of kidding. 

from Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Elizabeth Moss as Offred/June

But what I wanted to talk about was Offred or June.

As I expected to hate her. I’m not a big Liz Moss fan. I had almost no liking at all for Peggy on Mad Men, found her annoyingly whiny and too much of a Mary Sue. Which was probably the writer’s doing that but still. And then episodes I did like her and then…it seesawed. But here. I find myself holding my breath on Offred’s fate from scene to scene and I read the damn book. Years ago!

Moss’s character provides the voiceovers. This is June’s tale. This is Offred’s tale.

Of-Fred. I had an actual OMG moment…I realized how those names were arrived at in episode one of this series.

I had either forgotten or not figured it out when I’d read the book and yes, seen the movie made of this, with Natasha Richardson as Offred and Robert Duvall as the commander. The real names of the handmaids are not used! They lose their identity! They get erased! OMG.

Yeah, then you realize…that’s what getting married does, or did. Still does. The wedding industry, after all, wields gigantic power as well as churning out gigantic profits. You, the girl in the marriage equation, erased your name and took on a new one. You have a maiden name.

Tee hee, how cute!

Handmaid’s tale doesn’t include any radically new way we’ve treated females in the course of history, does it?

Tangent. Back now. Offred. Oh.

Her voice is the voice we need. It is our rock, our anchor, in this batshit crazy Gilead, where everything is so stark and harsh and demarcated.

Commanders, the wives, the Marthas, the Eyes, the Aunts, the handmaids…it’s like a rancid layer cake. With the frosting tasting like blood, tears and shit. 

handmaids-1-3 Nerd HQ
from Nerd HQ. Making Gilead look nice for the Mexican visiting diplomat. 

June speaks of her days, the dread of that Ceremony, what her life was like before and what her life is like now. We see her oh so careful shuffling through her existence and hear her rebellious, fierce reaction to it all; her thoughts wrap around us like blankets of thorns. We grow uncomfortable. We become witnesses.

Witness to her daily degradations. Witness to the routines her life has become. Witness to Serena’s understandably abusive treatment of Offred/June. Witness to Fred’s pattern of flirting with handmaids too scared and broken at times not to play along with his obvious games.

Joseph Fiennes as Commander Fred Waterford

Witness to her letting this fragile man win, witness to that ego stroking that most women on the planet have had to do…

Witness to her growing relationship with Nick, the driver, even though we know her husband is still yet alive.

Witness to her friendships with the other handmaids, which is fraught with suspicion and paranoia, as anyone could be a spy in this new reality and that spy could very well get you hanging from the wall down by the river, your body rotting away, some sign nearby stating your crime. We witness how nothing about Offred is important except her uterus.

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from Ms. Magazine. Note the gun-wielding guards…

Nothing else matters. She’s a womb on legs, as the show had one of the wives say. A womb on legs.

I don’t know if it was ever stated why the fertility rates had gone down. [America’s own birth rate has been down the last two years running, by the way…] Oh yes, it was attributed to pollution, for one. Ah. Mm. Do I even need to go there with the current administration? Do I?

The sequence involving Mexico.

Where the diplomat, a woman, refused to help Offred. Because Mexico wanted the breeding potential of the handmaids and was prepared to trade with Gilead to get fertile women…after Offred stood there and told this diplomat, a woman, the truth about her existence after having been forced to lie.

To a room full of people who clearly knew she lied and yet…it was all a show. A show with Offred forced to give a bravura performance or face dire consequences, more than she already endured.

I also wondered why this brand new spanking theocracy didn’t just use in vitro fertilization. Instead of that ghastly monthly rape ritual. No monthly rape ritual, the wives can have their husbands back and handmaids can still be bred like human cattle. And you can feed babies formula from the get go, so, really, no need at all of the vessels after they’d pushed out their sole purpose for being allowed to live at all. Sure, it’s not Biblical. Or whatever that reasoning would be. But why not use modern science and ancient patriarchal oppressive regime stuff in one horrid, lumpy lump?


Offred and Nick, the Eye spy.

imagestv owl.jpg
from Owl TV. Max Minghella as Nick

Both are victims of this new, awful regime. Nick might seem freer, being, oh, a guy and everything but he’s really not. He’s walking a big tightrope here that could very well end up with him going splat. And by splat I mean being hung by the neck until dead in a very public way. Or shot. We find out he’s there to spy on Fred Waterford, and he admits to Offred that he’s an Eye. Yet, we also see that Nick has more than a professional interest in the oh so carefully controlled handmaid, who can’t quite yet hide how repulsive she finds this entire new system.

I find the characters of Nick and June to be those of survivors cast deep into a prison that can crush them at will at any time. Both driver and handmaid are, after all, interchangeable. Any fertile woman will do, any guy who can drive can sit in that front seat behind the wheel. They are not valuable or unique in Gilead, at all. They are bricks in the wall. Thank me later for that song going endlessly through your head.

Nick and Offred find ways to rebel. Their forbidden affair. It allows them a measure of illusion. A measure of control over their very much regulated and regimented lives. Nick doesn’t betray Waterford, as it would also get Offred taken away. It might also get him into deep doo doo as– why didn’t he report the commander’s behaviors IMMEDIATELY?

There’s no actual mercy for anyone in this world. You could be next in the public execution spectacle, no matter your rank. We see this, over and over and over.

And as the series moves relentlessly onward, we catch glimpses of Nick’s growing feelings for the newest handmaid in the Waterford’s lovely but prisonous abode. And Offred admits she goes to Nick’s room because it feels good.

This is sex she chooses to have. This is sex that’s not about filling her womb with some sort of sacred child. Even though their first time…was under Serena’s hard, watching eyes. As she arranged a far more likely fertile stud for the vessel of God living in her home. Nick’s body is also at the mercy and exploitation of this new order; what would be the consequences if he refused? And he can turn Serena in for this one, but then what? Mm.


That manly ideal of rampaging, all-powerful stallion who can run everything all day and fuck everything that moves all night. That toxic notion seems to be rampant in this world.

The manly leaders, praised for their potency, are seldom actually fertile or even able to achieve an erection at times. But these men in charge must be praised incessantly for how potent and hard-dicked they are…while the handmaids are probably fertilized via doctors, drivers and whatever lower down stud the wives can arrange. Or perhaps a handmaid let a doctor or some other male other than their commander use them to get that much-lauded pregnancy up and running.

Again, it’s all about the Big Show here in Gilead.

Ann Dowd’s Aunt Lydia amidst the rather theatrically clad Handmaids.

Where was I? Oh yes, Offred. I wanted to end this rather long take on a positive note, because America right now is a grim-seeming dystopia in the making.



I find that last episode, where Offred says no to Aunt Lydia ordering Janine stoned by the other handmaids incredibly satisfying. Here is what I want the Resistance, that so-named movement against the Far Right Fuckery, to be like.

And of course win the day and turn everything back to what it once was. I am just as delusional as the next person, thanks.

I want that HEROINE TO RISE trope. I want it. I want it!

You shouldn’t have dressed us like an army…Offred thinks at us. And I go, FUCK YEAH, BABY!

We get to see the actions of a swelling opposition to Gilead’s draconian strangle-hold over its citizens. We see a small act of defiance. We see decency and humanity take forefront over conditioning and fear. We see that in June’s face, her wide blue eyes as clear as open skies full of freedom, hope and strength. Those stones dropping from hands is the act of revolutionaries being born.

Do You Hear the People Sing, from Les Miserables, should be playing in the background!

We get an actual HELL YEAH GIRLFRIEND moment in Moira’s hand wiping the snow from a license plate. We rejoice in June telling off Serena after Serena’s savage tactic in trying to make sure Offred knows her place and her only value. When Serena offers proof positive Offred’s child is yet alive and then threatening that child in bald terms if Offred doesn’t deliver the baby Serena so desperately needs to keep her high status. 

And yet…!!

I haven’t seen the second series yet. I hear it’s…grim. I hear it doesn’t go the way I want it to go…where Gilead gets overturned and it’s all happy ever after, of course.

I find I want my television to not reflect reality. At all. Because. It’s unbearable. It hurts. Because I am being made to feel just as helpless and corralled as Offred, Ofwarren and Ofglen.

Which is probably just me identifying too much with fictional characters created by a writer writing during the big bad Eighties.

Until I look at how others react to Handmaid’s Tale.

And it seems everyone else, oh tee hee, feels much as I do. That it’s a timely series that has arrived just when it needed to.

As All in the Family allowed American audiences to become a bit uncomfortable over accepted norms that were racist, sexist and usually pretty awful…so does  the Handmaid’s Tale allow the audience to see what happens when you allow a religion to take over so completely and impose their set of rules and regulations. We can all agree such a society is bad.

And yet…in real life, people vote for the very thing they find off-putting, bad or evil in a television series.

Restricting or outlawing abortion access.

Going after the poor, the elderly and the disabled.

Going after the LGTBQ community– see Kansas and Oklahoma.

Religious freedom laws.

Oh there are now a plethora of shitlaws that attempt to turn back time. To some time that never really existed, at that. That’s not new or prophetic or original at all.

We here in America have seen this attempt for, well, years now. When the Far Right embraced the Evangelicals way back during Jimmy Carter facing off against the juggernaut that was Ronald Reagan. The Family Values party, one of the more cynical names ever invented by smirking Jesus-shouters ever. In my humble opinion, at least.

The religious righties coldly stepped back, assessed both candidates and put their support with the divorced Hollywood jelly-brained bean, rather than the actual Christian who, to this day, practices his Christianity in open, gentle ways.

It’s about power, as it always was, and not any sort of love for a god or need to see people treated well, fairly and as equals under the law.

It’s about power and that’s what the Handmaid’s Tale gets so frighteningly right. I have to go watch puppies doing cute things now while I’m still allowed access to the internet. Small joke. Tiny one.

hunter s. thompson.jpg
Hunter S. Thompson
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from PetMd. Puppies!


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