‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Episode 2 Recap: Birthdays Are a Whole Different Thing in Gilead
Don't let the macaron towers and games of Scrabble fool you. The second episode of The Handmaid's Tale is just as unsettling as its predecessor.
Skipping over the foreplay, episode two drops us right between Mrs. Waterford’s (Yvonne Strahovski) legs for yet another painfully awkward Ceremony. Offred (Elisabeth Moss) stares at the drab blue ceiling and thinks to herself, "Our car was that color." The discomfort among the Commander (Joseph Fiennes), Offred and Mrs. Waterford is so palpable, we found ourselves tightly squeezing our eyes shut and shaking our head in hopes that it would all just go away.
After a good night's slumber, Offred bounds out of the house to meet her new bestie Ofglen (Alexis Bledel) for their daily grocery shopping trip. They then join two other handmaids sitting by the river and all four silently watch as several Gilead offenders are hung.
Ofglen and Offred opt to take the long route home, despite the oncoming rain. They talk more about their past lives—Offred is from Brooklyn and worked as a book editor; Ofglen originally hails from Montana but moved to the Northeast to spend her days “sinfully educating young minds” at a local college. They pass a church and a little piece of them dies as they watch Gilead members tear it down. Ofglen casually divulges that they tore down “St. Patrick’s in New York City.” Offred can't contain her curiosity anymore and asks, “How do you know that? And how do you know there’s an Eye in my house?” Skittish, as if channeling Rory Gilmore being peer-pressured to smoke pot, Ofglen tells Offred that she's part of a secret network against Gilead and because Offred lives with the Commander, Ofglen urges her to find out any secrets she can. Chill, Ofglen. Offred barely even knows you.
Offred arrives homes, removes her cloak and and is met with what appears to be a flirtatious look from Nick (Max Minghella). Mid flirt sesh, Nick tells her she needs to be careful around Ofglen. He also informs her that the Commander wants to see her at 9 p.m. Worry is written all over their faces—it's forbidden for a commander and a handmaid to be alone.
Still reeling from the news, Offred paces in her room wondering what the Commander could possibly want. Her thoughts are interrupted by the birth mobile's arrival—a handmaid is having a baby. The Martha (household servant) helps Offred get ready like it's her first day of kindergarten and hurries her out of the house and into the birth mobile. Once inside the vehicle, Offred learns Ofwarren/Janine (Madeline Brewer) is having a baby. The handmaids (obvs not Offred because she hasn’t completely lost all sense of reality yet) act as if they just won an all-expenses-paid trip to Disney World.
The clown car of handmaids arrives at a mansion gaudily decorated as though Lisa Vanderpump was throwing a birthday party for Giggy. There's a group of women in green (the elite wives, including Mrs. Waterford) soothing a fellow wife vicariously suffering labor pains downstairs while crazy-pants Janine braves actual contractions upstairs.
Offred checks in on Janine and joins the cacophony of handmaid's voices urging her to "breathe." She later takes a break from the spectacle and brings a tray down to the kitchen. Ofglen, who's pleased that someone spiked the juice, traipses in to join her. Offred unloads on Ofglen and tells her she's frightened that the Commander wants to see her. Ofglen is worried as well but jokingly reassures her friend that he may just want a blow job.
There's no telling how long she's been there, but Mrs. Waterford appears and asks Offred to join the elite women and update them on Janine's status. Offred briefs them and is offered a macaron like a dog being offered a belly rub. She takes it in gratitude, but spits it out in contempt in the bathroom. Nobody puts Offred in a corner.
Back upstairs with Ofwarren, the handmaids coo, "Push, push, push. Breathe, breathe, breathe." When it's time for the baby to come, the elite wife (who's been dementedly pretending she's in labor this whole time) straddles Janine to simulate delivery. The baby is born and Mrs. Waterford smiles...perhaps for the first time in her life. Ofwarren hands the baby over to her mistress, and the realness and heavy emotion of the day sets in. She is not, nor ever was, her baby.
This scene hits far too close to home for Offred, who flashes back to the day she gave birth. She woke up in her hospital bed to realize a stranger broke into the maternity wing and stole her daughter, Hannah. Thankfully, her husband, Luke (O.T. Fagbenle), was able to catch the baby snatcher before she ran away with their newborn.
Later that evening, Offred nervously creeps into the Commander's office, fairly confident she's about to meet the same fate as a hot girl in a horror movie (her analogy, not ours). She's reticent to knock on the door even though she's been invited. Not even Mrs. Waterford has stepped foot into the Commander's office. The Commander welcomes Offred, and after a few minutes of meaningless conversation, he asks her to look him in the eye despite that this too is forbidden. Offred thinks she is about to face uncertain death, but then the Commander pulls a Ben Wyatt and politely asks her to accompany him to play a damn game of The Cones of Dunshire Scrabble.
Offred lets the Commander win by three points and he asks her for a rematch, simply as if he didn't have forced intercourse with her weekly. Offred says she'll check her schedule because being a prisoner keeps her pretty busy. Gross, an attempt at flirting. Offred returns to her room and feels exhilarated from being treated like a human being again.
The next morning, Offred feels damn good as she sets out for her usual grocery shopping trip and quickly makes sure to throw Nick the perfect amount of shade. She opens the gate, eager to tell Ofglen everything, but is met by an entirely different woman who says she is now Ofglen (cue the same feelings we had from first watching the GoT Red Wedding scene).
We can’t. Until next episode...