RECAP: ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ S1, E2 – “Birth Day”

handmaid's tale season 1 episode 2 birth day recap

**EPISODE 2 SPOILERS**

Episode 2 starts off in the midst of a Ceremony as Offred stares at a blue ceiling and narrates how she lets her mind free associate with blue so as to escape the ugliness of the moment.

Afterwards she meets with Ofglen for their errands. The two later decide to walk home next to the river which offers some privacy to talk. They come across some men in black and are relieved when they apprehend someone else. Ofglen later suggests that Offred join or at least help the Resistance with information about Waterford who is an important figure.

When Offred returns home Nick tells her she needs to be careful about Ofglen and not get too close because it’s dangerous. There is a brief moment of sexual tension between Nick and Offred. Nick informs her that the Commander wants to see her alone in his office later.

Offred joins a “Birthmobile” full of other handmaids that transports them to the house of Naomi, the wife of a Commander whom Janine (the one-eyed handmaid) serves as surrogate for.

(Flashback: June (Offred) is going into labor and Luke drives them to the hospital. Outside are a bunch of religious protestors of some sort, praying.)

At Naomi’s house there is a birthing ceremony taking place as Serena Joy and the other Commanders’ wives comfort Naomi who is mimicking the process of labor (which Janine is actually undergoing in a private room upstairs). Offred goes upstairs and joins the other handmaids and Aunt Lydia who are guiding Janine through the labor process.

(Flashback: June is in the hospital, having given birth. A nurse tells her that her own baby daughter is healthy and well, but June learns that the other babies have died or gone into intensive care.)

When it’s time, Naomi comes upstairs, sits behind Janine and pretends to give birth as Janine does the actual giving birth. Once delivered, the newborn is taken away from Janine by Aunt Lydia and given to Naomi. Janine immediately feels the loss and is comforted by the other handmaids.

(Flashback: June wakes up in the hospital with no one around. She leaves her room to investigate and runs into Luke. They see that the nurse who was caring for their baby, Hannah, has been murdered and begin to panic. They discover that one of the protesters from outside has kidnapped Hannah, believing her to be her own baby. She is subdued by Luke and the police and Hannah is rescued.)

Offred goes to meet the Commander privately as per his wish. It turns out the Commander wants to play a game of Scrabble with her. They play and the Commander wins, though it is a close game. He says they’ll have to have a rematch when he gets back from a business trip, calling it a “date.” They bid each other goodnight and Offred returns to her room, apparently giddy with relief that she wasn’t in trouble about something.

The next day Offred goes to meet Ofglen in their usual spot only to find that a different handmaid is there instead. When Offred asks about Ofglen the handmaid replies, creepily, “I am Ofglen.”

Thoughts

  • There is some interesting handling of religious themes in this episode. While the government that has taken power is a theocracy, and while the subjugation of women is closely tied with religious beliefs and rules that resemble Christianity, it appears that things are not so simple. We learn, during Offred and Ofglen’s walk, that Catholic churches were destroyed after the theocracy took power. It’s suggested, though very subtly, that certain types of Christian religious groups – in this case Catholicism – actually posed a threat to the theocracy, perhaps by taking a political stance more true to the humanistic teachings of the Christian religion’s central figure, Christ.
  • There’s definitely some sexual tension there between Nick and Offred, though the show and its writers are going to have to handle very well if it’s going to be believable and accepted by viewers.
  • There is also some striking imagery and subtle commentary in this episode about class oppression as Naomi, quite laughably, pretends to be in labor and give birth to Janine’s baby – an illustrative instance of those in power taking credit for, and reaping the fruits of, the labor and toil of those under them.
  • The Commander’s little game session with Offred was… weird. It’s not really clear yet exactly what he  wants at this point, and I hope it isn’t as simple and obvious as him “just wanting a blowjob” as that wouldn’t be particularly imaginative.
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