It can always get worse. That is my takeaway from "Late."
Ofglen's disappearance has Offred shook. As she walks with her new silent partner, she muses on how she got here.
"Now I'm awake to the world," she thinks. "I was asleep before. That's how we let it happen. When they slaughtered Congress we didn't wake up. When they blamed terrorists and suspended the Constitution, we didn't wake up then either. They said it would be temporary. Nothing changes instantaneously. In a gradually heating bathtub you'd be boiled to death before you knew it."
First of all, yikes. The scariest part of all that is that it's completely plausible. It's so easy to be complacent. I know I'm guilty of that. And what comes next, in a harrowing flashback to life "before," makes it all the more obvious.
After a jog (during which the camera pans on a woman's disapproving glance at their lack of clothes, as if to indicate what's coming), June and Moira stop at their local coffee shop. The woman who usually works there is out, and June's card is declined. She asks the man behind the counter to run it again, at which point he gets agitated and refuses. "Fucking sluts, get the fuck out of here," he spews.
Moira and June's reaction is what's relatable here. Imagine some guy said that to you — you'd laugh in shock, too. I know I would. I'd marvel at his audacity. This is America, you can't talk to women that way!
And then there's the business with the card. High call volumes — K, that's normal, right? And then these weird guys show up at work. Are they building security?
And then your boss calls a meeting. No biggie, all good?
Except, no, of course it's not all good. Your boss is not firing you, but he is "letting you go" because you're a woman, and women are no longer allowed to work.
It's worth paying attention to the boss' reaction here. Here's what he says: "Ladies, you should all know that I feel really sorry about all this. It isn't my decision. I don't have a choice. I have to let you go." Sure, he's sorry. But he doesn't (and can't) do anything about it.
But neither do the women. They protest, yes. But they go. The threat of guns will do that, especially if you believe that it can't get any worse.
And you can't blame them. I would go. You would go. Because we can't imagine a world in which this doesn't get fixed. We'll protest! We'll march! We'll wear pink pussy hats! SCOTUS will step in! But those attitudes don't apply in a broken system, and we later get to see the result.
Back in the present day nightmare, everyone is acting awfully nice to Offred — they think she's pregnant. Rita cooks her special meals (stewed apples with contraband cinnamon for dessert!), and even Serena Joy has thawed out. She invites Offred to come visit Janine and baby Angela.
I could write a whole essay about these wives' conversations but let's just say:
1) It's fascinating how babies are both a common joy but also such a divisive force.
2) Apparently, handmaids go somewhere else (nice? I hope?) after the babies are weaned.
3) Janine bit Mrs. Putnam.
Never too stable to begin with, Janine is now delusional. She's renamed her baby Charlotte (how trendy!), and is convinced that Mrs. Putnam is trying to steal her, which, in her defence, isn't that far from the truth. She also believes that her commander is in love with her, and truly intends to take her and the baby away from all this.
Offred mentions that Janine isn't doing so well to Serena Joy, and we get a rare glimpse into this ice queen's true feelings. "What you do, what we do together is so terrible," she says. "It's terribly hard, and we must remain strong, which is why I feel so blessed to have you." I feel bad for this woman. She probably really believes in this world, in which she has no rights.
Alone in the car, Offred grills Thirst Trap Nick about Ofglen. He reminds her that she needs to be careful, which seems like sound advice given that when they pull up at the house, there's a black van waiting. The Eyes are here. "Tell them everything," Nick says. "Whatever they want to know, just tell them."
"I couldn't stop them," seems to be a constant male refrain. In a society where men hold all the power, they seem to believe that they are powerless. If they can't do anything, then who can stop them? And who is them, besides other men?
Speaking of powerless, we learn that the big push happened when they froze all bank accounts marked with the tell-tale F. Women can't own property anymore. But don't worry! All that money is still yours — your husband or male next of kin can withdraw it.
"They can't just do this. They can't," June says, echoing the refrain we hear throughout this entire episode. How could this happen? But they can, and they have.
Offred's questioning starts with a jolt. Literally. Aunt Lydia tazes her, as Hot-Eye-Who-Really-Looks-Like-Liam-Hemsworth explains that he finds these conversations most productive if "we're all on the same page from the start."
Unsurprisingly, he wants to know about Ofglen, but specifically about her sexual activities. Ofglen wasn't picked up because she was a rebel. She was picked up because of her relationship with a Martha. "Did you know she was a gender traitor?" they ask.
In a rare moment of rebellion, Offred answers: "I knew she was gay." This earns her another taze. This is the first time we've seen anyone challenge the new world order, and honestly, it's not pretty. Offred ends up on the floor, writhing in pain, before the scene is interrupted by Serena Joy, crying out that her handmaid is pregnant. Those magic little words cut the interrogation short.
(Hot-Eye-Who-Really-Looks-Like-Liam-Hemsworth has the doofiest voice: "Congratulations on your blessed miracle.")
Meanwhile, a desperate Ofglen tries to escape by seducing a guard, who shoves her away. She's brought in for what can't really be called a trial, and charged "with gender treachery and violation of Romans, Chapter 1, verse 26." It's like an even more twisted version of The Trial in Pink Floyd's The Wall. There's no jury and no defence. Ofglen and her Martha lover are found guilty. Martha is sentenced to the "common mercy of the state" and Handmaid 8967, a.k.a. Ofglen, is "sentenced to redemption" because "God has seen fit to make you fruitful, and by that we are bound."
That does...not sound good.
The final moment between these two women is so poignant — have we seen anyone actually cry on this show yet? They all seem to be past tears.
But these women have nothing left to lose. We're down to the worst case scenario. Or are we?The Martha is methodically hung on a crane in a scene I never want to watch again. Ofglen's keening as she watches makes it that much harder to bear.
Back at home, Thirst Trap Nick comes to Offred's room to check on her. (I see what you're doing, buddy.) "I should've just driven away with you," he whines. Shoulda, woulda, coulda, is all I here from men in this show. This one is definitely up to no good. Pass.
Oh, and Offred is definitely not pregnant. As she stares down at her blood-stained panties, she flashes back to the last time she tried to protest this insanity.
The scene of the march is uncomfortable to watch, especially given the number of marches we've witnessed since Donald Trump became president. We encourage people to come out, protest, and be engaged. But what happens when our fragile agreement with authority dissolves, and those meant to keep the peace start shooting back? Our system shatters, which is made all the more apparent by the use of Blondie's "Heart of Glass." (The music in this show deserves its own thinkpiece.)
The confusion in the air is understandable. They still trust in democracy. They do their job as citizens, and in return, the system protects them. But not anymore. It takes a while to register, and by that time, it's open season on protestors. It's the worst thing that's ever happened to them...so far.
Poor Serena Joy has already started decorating a baby's room. She's in a confessional mood and almost has tears in her eyes when she tells Offred that she and Fred the Commander tried for so long to have children. "You're my miracle," she says, kissing her hands.
Except Offred's not pregnant, and tells her so. The gentler Serena Joy we've seen in this episode disappears, revealing the woman scorned by her beliefs. She violently drags Offred back up to her room and throws her down, warning: "Things can get much worse for you."
They always can. And Ofglen is proof. She wakes up in a hospital, only to feel a stab of pain as she tries to get up. She pulls up her gown, and reveals a vaginal bandage.
Aunt Lydia comes in, calling her by her real name, Emily, and explains that the stitches will come out in a few days. She can still have children, but things will be "so much easier."
Ofglen has been the victim of female circumcision.
I am not okay.
The first series of The Handmaid's Tale is shown on Channel 4 on Sundays at 9pm.