The Handmaid’s Tale: (S01E02) “Birth Day”

The episode opens in the middle of a Ceremony, and I’m pretty sure it couldn’t be more uncomfortable if we had, in fact, walked in on them. Once again, the episode focuses on one of the major events that periodically punctuate a Handmaid’s otherwise monotonous life. This one is a comparatively happy event, but only comparatively, and let’s face it, that bar is set pretty low. A pregnant Handmaid has gone into labor, and all Wives and Handmaids in the area gather at the house for the occasion. And this is definitely an occasion, with real coffee and a gorgeous display of macarons and juice that has been spiked. The pregnant Handmaid is Ofwarren, formerly known as Janine, the one who had her eye gouged out and went crazy. The Wife of the Commander Ofwarren is assigned to is lying on the living room floor being coached in deep breathing by the other Wives, even though she isn’t the pregnant one. Okay, maybe Ofwarren isn’t all that crazy after all. The baby is born, a healthy girl, and the Wife is tucked into the bed with the newborn and fussed over.
Hey! An ad for Colonial Williamsburg! I love that place! Would Colonial Williamsburg still be itself in the Republic of Gilead? Discuss.
While all this is happening, Offred is preoccupied with the worrying summons she received that morning to visit the Commander in his study that evening. It is forbidden for a Handmaid and a Commander to be alone together, and even Serena Joy isn’t allowed in his study. When Offred isn’t thinking about the evening visit, she is thinking back to the time she gave birth to her daughter Hannah. And the hospital nursery, with its array of bassinets and not a single occupant other than Hannah, give us a very good indication of how quiet things have gotten on the reproductive front.
That evening, bells ring, indicating that it is 9 o’clock, the appointed time for Offred to meet with the Commander. Offred is terrified, but of all the things she imagines the Commander wanting, she never imagined that the Commander wants…to play Scrabble. No, that’s not a euphemism. He wants to play the actual game where you spell out words with tiles. Interesting to think that Scrabble, with its letters and and words and reading, is not the least forbidden part of this for Offred.

Offred learns that the Commander is going on a trip to Washington D.C., and can’t wait to share that bit of intelligence with Ofglen. The Commander didn’t ask her to his study to arrest her or solicit sexual favors. Nick, the Commander’s driver, is checking her out. All this combines to make Offred feel a bit more light hearted than usual when she leaves the house the next day to meet her friend for their shopping trip while “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds sounds in the background. Or foreground, really, it’s quite loud. She lets herself out through the gate, smiling, and Ofglen turns. Offred stops, her smile freezes, and the music abruptly cuts out. There’s a new Ofglen! Dun dun duuuuun! Aaaaaand, credits!

Other things:
– A big deal is made when Loaves & Fishes has oranges available; bearing that in mind, didn’t the house where everyone gathers for the Birthing have an amazing selection of fruit in bowls on the kitchen counters?
– When the nurse tells June that newborn Hannah is healthy, June says “Thank God.” The nurse replies “Praise be.” Common phrases spoken carelessly, but they do have an underlying Christian meaning. Not even underlying, really. Do they foreshadow the coming of the Republic of Gilead?
– Why would a room full of books where presumably reading would happen be kept so dark? Is there something un-Godly about recessed lighting?

Choice quotes:
“Isn’t she well behaved!”

“Trusting anyone in dangerous. Especially a carpet munching gender traitor.”

“Does he know what the Commander and I did last night? Our illicit journey into the world of triple word scores? Does he care? I think he does.”