In a time when births are rare and healthy births are even rarer, the arrival of a new baby is a joyful thing — at least until you remember what kind of a world we’re in now. This is Gilead, remember? We can’t just have nice things.
The process of even getting there (even hoping to get there) brings us to another Ceremony night, this time watching the Offred/Serena Joy/Commander tableau from above. No one looks happy to be in this unsexy threesome. (“I wish he’d hurry the f— up,” Offred mutters to herself. Serena Joy just looks away, joyless per usual.)
The next day, Offred goes outside to meet Ofglen, greeting her now-friend with a very un-Gileadian “Hi.” Ofglen’s reply is stoic: “Blessed be the fruit.” Yep, Nick’s outside — and we have no idea if he’s an Eye or not. After their shopping, taking their long walk home past the wall where more traitorous bodies are being strung up for everyone to see, the two exchange more information about themselves. Offred is a local from Brookline, Massachusetts — they now live in what was once Cambridge in the time before Gilead — and was a book editor in her former life, while Ofglen is originally from Montana, came to New England for school, and then worked at a university. Offred is surprised, noting that most of the academics were sent to the colonies (I guess all those facts they knew were dangerous to those pesky alternative ones), but Ofglen says she was spared that fate thanks to her functioning ovaries. So, lucky her?
They pass a church that’s being demolished, and Offred recognizes it as her dad’s parish, the place where her daughter was baptized. “They took down St. Patrick’s in New York City,” Ofglen remarks. “Blew it up and dumped every stone in the Hudson River.” They’re destroying artifacts of the civilization that came before.
But how does Ofglen know that, or that there’s an Eye in her friend’s house? Before Offred can press for answers, a black van comes speeding down the street. Two men clad in black emerge and grab a man walking down the street with a briefcase, shut the doors, and drive away. Something tells me that man will never be seen again, unless it’s hanging on the wall. Something also tells me this is a frequent occurrence in Gilead.
“It’s OK to be relieved it wasn’t you,” Ofglen tells Offred. She isn’t reassured. “It was someone,” she says.
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Ofglen then reveals she’s part of some sort of resistance against the government and invites Offred to join (“There’s a way to help them…”). She hesitates, saying she’s not that kind of person. “No one is until they have to be,” Ofglen says. Waterford is important, and anything she can find out about him could be important. The prospect of that “us” — a secret resistance against this brutal new regime — roots Offred to the spot even if as it starts raining. She runs through what she knows of the world now: There’s fighting in Chicago, Anchorage is the capital of what’s left of the U.S., and that flag only flies two stars. There needs to be an “us,” she tells herself, because now there’s a “them.”
Back in the house, Nick is waiting in the kitchen with a message — the Commander wants to see her in his office tonight, alone. Needless to say, this isn’t standard protocol. Handmaids are supposed to just be “two-legged wombs,” after all. “Have I been invited to my own ending,” Offred wonders to herself. In any case, it wasn’t an invitation. It was an order. The driver also leaves her with another thing to ponder: a warning not to trust Ofglen.
Before she can contemplate it much further, a red van pulls up outside, sirens blaring. It’s the “Birthmobile,” come to collect her and the other local Handmaids to witness one of their own giving birth. The mother-to-be is Ofwarren, a.k.a. “one-eyed, bats— crazy” Janine. Offred wonders what she’ll give birth to — she’s not pondering boy vs. girl, more that the chances of a healthy baby are now one in five, if you can get pregnant at all. It makes her think back to her own labor, Luke driving as she fights through contractions. The hospital, eerily, is lined outside with people praying.