‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Episode 4 Recap: She Gets by with a Little Help From Her Friends
It's been 13 days since Mrs. Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski) banished Offred (Elisabeth Moss) to her room. Offred's mental fortitude begins to slip away and the only way she can maintain what’s left of her fleeting sanity is by exploring every nook and cranny of her figurative prison cell. (There may be no lock, but she’s still trapped.) She finds a message etched into the baseboard of her closet that reads, "Nolite te bastardes carborundorum." Although she’s unable to comprehend the phrase, it oddly comforts her. The household Martha, Rita (Amanda Brugel), barges into the room to find Offred lying motionless and thinks she is dead.At that moment, Offred snaps out of her reverie, startling Rita. Fearful Rita will discover and report her new comfort phrase, Offred lies and tells Rita she fainted.
Rita tells Mrs. Waterford and the Commander (Joseph Fiennes) that Offred fainted and suggests she see a doctor before the evening's "Ceremony." Mrs. Waterford reluctantly agrees, and Offred is overjoyed at the prospect of escaping the suffocating hell of her bedroom. She hopes she’ll be permitted to walk so she can feel the cool rain on her skin and enjoy the tiniest reminder that she is a living, breathing human being. But Mrs. Waterford insists that Nick (Max Minghella) give her a ride.
Later, Offered is lying atop an examination table with a sheet blocking her view of the doctor. The doctor speaks to her through a thin veil (oh, the irony) and offers his confidence should she be experiencing mistreatment at home. The doctor continues to examine her in preparation for her "Ceremony" later in the evening and mentions her pelvic health doesn't matter because Waterford is "probably sterile." (The word "sterile" is strictly forbidden in Gilead.) The doctor locks the door, peeks over to the other side of the sheet and casually offers to take care of the Commander’s unfinished business. He says a lot of the handmaids take him up on his offer to get pregnant and all of the masters' wives are well aware. Offred still declines.
Back at the homestead Offred apologizes to Mrs. Waterford and asks for permission to be freed from her room. Her plea is frigidly denied.
Offred bides her time until "The Ceremony" thinking about the day Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) explained how to perform "the sacred ritual." Once she and bestie Moira (Samira Wiley) realize they'll be subjected to monthly rape, they know they must escape. So they kidnap an Aunt, steal her uniform and cattle prod and set out in search of a rumored safe house in Boston. Moira, disguised in the Aunt's uniform, successfully makes it aboard the train to the safe house, whereas Offred doesn't fair so well. A Gilead soldier captures her and brings her back to the Red Center where a bloody beating of the soles of her feet awaits.
Back in present day, Offred waits for "The Ceremony" to begin and is shocked when the Commander arrives early to chat. (This too is forbidden in Gilead.) He asks for a Scrabble rematch later that evening.
During "The Ceremony," the Commander is unable to, erm, get his Little Commander to come to attention. He walks away in frustration, and when Mrs. Waterford offers her assistance, he brushes her off. Ouchies.
Offred and the Commander play Scrabble, and she notices a Latin book on his bookshelf. She asks him to translate her beloved phrase etched in the closet (she doesn't tell him where she learned it). He says it roughly translates to, "Don't let the bastards grind you down." He asks her again where she heard the phrase. She says, "a friend," and, surprised, he asks if she somehow knew her predecessor. He tells her the previous Offred killed herself. “I suppose she found her life unbearable,” the Commander says. Offred asks if he wants her life to be more bearable and he responds, “I’d prefer it."
Offred seizes this opportunity to ask him to plead with Mrs. Waterford to release her from the confines of her room. Smart girl...