The Handmaid's Tale recap: 'Late'
'They said it would be temporary. Nothing changes instantaneously.'
“Ofglen is gone.”
That much was clear at the end of episode 2, when Offred met the new Ofglen, who acts like the old one never existed. Now, we find out exactly what happened to the Ofglen we knew, and it’s bad. Make that unthinkably bad. The bits and pieces Offred tells us, via voice-over, she learned from Rita — the Marthas have a grapevine of their own, naturally. For those in Gilead, it’s their worst fears realized: a black van, so swift and brutal Ofglen was unable to even scream. From there, we see Ofglen in a red jumpsuit, gag over her mouth, being led down a corridor by guards. She left nothing behind, we’re told. We never even learned her real name, though by the end of this episode we will…
“Now I’m awake to the world. I was asleep before,” Offred thinks during an uneasily quiet walk with her new partner. There are black-clad guards on every corner, lurking in alleyways. “That’s how we let it happen — when they slaughtered Congress, we didn’t wake up. When they blamed terrorists and suspended the Constitution, we didn’t wake up then either.”
“They said it would be temporary,” she adds. “Nothing changes instantaneously. In a gradually heating bathtub, you’d be boiled to death before you knew it.”
Back in the old world, we see a few of those changes as they happened. Offred, still June at the time, goes for a run with Moira — wearing the shorts-and-spandex workout gear that’s ubiquitous now, and will soon be forbidden. When they stop in a coffee shop for drinks, the woman who usually works behind the counter is gone, and the man there now says their money’s no good here. Literally — June’s debit card is declined even though she just deposited a paycheck. When she asks him to run it again, the man calls them sluts and tells them to leave. So tell me again about that slowly boiling bathtub…
And of course, it’s not just the card and the gross coffee shop guy. At June’s office, her male boss calls a meeting at which all the women are unceremoniously fired — excuse me, let go — and says he doesn’t have a choice in the matter because “it’s the law now.” They have 10 minutes to get their things together and get out, as guards with guns stand by watching. (Side note: When she thanks one of the soldiers for holding the door open when they leave, he replies with “Under His Eye,” and she seems unfamiliar with the phrase. This is the very beginning of things starting to take hold.)
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The problem with June’s debit card, it seems, is that the government froze any account belonging to a woman, and their money will now be controlled by a husband or male next-of-kin. Another law, Moira has heard, says women can no longer own property. They needed to do it this way, she reasons — seizing the bank accounts and eliminating women’s jobs all at the same time — because people would have made a beeline for the airports otherwise. We learn the country has been under martial law since what happened in D.C., and June says that was supposed to be about catching terrorists, for everyone’s safety. But Moira is more skeptical: Maybe there weren’t any terrorists at all. When Luke gets home, his response to the bank/jobs news is to assure June he’ll take care of her, which is well-meaning but (as Moira and June point out to him) incredibly patronizing. How nice to be in a position where you don’t have to fear everything of yours being taken away, dude! That night, June and Luke lie in bed together, cuddling, but neither appears to be sleeping. Can’t say I blame them
In the present, Rita is being a little too nice to Offred, offering to carry the groceries to the kitchen and going out of her way to make dessert with her lunch — even bartering for some cinnamon and bringing a rose in a vase out to the table, one picked for her by Mrs. Waterford herself. “We’re all so hopeful,” Rita tells her. And there we have it — they all think she might be pregnant. Her period is just a few days late, but because she has to ask for sanitary napkins (and, I’m sure, they must track her cycle religiously), they all know it. Even Serena Joy is being nice to her, and she invites her to come along on a visit to see the new baby, Angela, whose birth we saw in the last episode. She has to sit along the wall away from the wives, but Serena Joy brings the infant over and lets Offred hold her — just briefly, before another wife scoops her away.
Offred also sneaks upstairs to visit Janine, who’s having trouble with this whole arrangement — and bit her mistress, Mrs. Putnam, when the woman took the baby back from her after breastfeeding. She even has a “real” name for the baby, Charlotte. Offred tries to tell her she can’t bite people, and Janine retorts that she can do anything she wants — perhaps not quite, but giving birth successfully has provided her a certain level of privilege in the Gilead scheme of things. She can even have ice cream, even if it’s only vanilla. She also claims her Commander loves her and they plan to run away together with Charlotte, which seems just a hair on the wrong side of delusional. “We’re going to be a real family,” she says. Now I’m wondering if the ice cream is for real, too.
Waiting to leave the Putnams, Offred tells Serena Joy she fears Janine is losing touch. Serena Joy says that can happen with “the weaker girls.” “What you do, what we do together is so terrible. It’s terribly hard, and we must remain strong,” she says, showing at least an iota of awareness that this whole system is very much not normal. “Which is why I feel so blessed to have you.”
Serena Joy sends Offred home with Nick and stays back to help with the baby, and Offred takes advantage of that one-on-one time to try and get some answers: Did he know Ofglen is gone? He doesn’t answer. What did he mean when he said she was dangerous? Nick’s response is to warn her there’s no point in trying to be brave, because the outcome will end up the same either way. “Everybody breaks,” he tells her. “Everybody.” When they get home, it’s clear what he means. There’s a black van parked in front of the house, and Aunt Lydia is standing with an Eye in the driveway. Yiiiiiiiikes.
Aunt Lydia starts with the cattle prod right off the bat, just to let us know this will be a totally safe and reasonable conversation. As we probably suspected, the Eye is curious about Ofglen — if they walked together every day, what would they talk about, if they ever took the long way home by the river, where it’s more private. Aunt Lydia asks if Offred ever touched her, or tried to, and if she knew her friend was, in her words, a “gender traitor.” She explains she knew Ofglen had a wife in the world before Gilead, but not that she was in a secret relationship now with another Martha. “But you knew what she was,” Lydia says again. “I knew she was gay,” Offred says, and it’s a step too far — the Aunt comes forward and shocks her with the prod again, saying, “That word is not to be used.”
The man asks why she didn’t report Ofglen being gay, and she tells them it was because they were friends. Aunt Lydia tells her to remember her scripture, quoting that same line from episode 1: “Blessed are the meek.” And before she can leave the room, Offred responds by quoting the Bible right back to her: “Blessed are those who suffer for the cause of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” That earns her what would have been a much more serious beating if Serena Joy hadn’t swooped in to stop them, yelling that Offred’s pregnant and telling them to leave.
Nick goes up to Offred’s room to check in on her. She’s fine – except, she jokes, for the weird guy that just snuck into her room. He’s brought some ice for her bruises, which is nice, and says he should have just driven away with her instead of bringing her back to be interrogated, which is also nice in theory. There’s a moment where it almost looks like they’ll kiss, but he backs away at the last second. Speaking of things that might have been, it seems Offred isn’t pregnant after all. So there’s no ice cream, and no more kindness from Serena Joy — when she breaks the news, the woman is already gearing up to redecorate a nursery and is not pleased to hear that won’t be necessary. She drags Offred upstairs and throws her in her room, ordering her not to come out. “Things can get much worse for you,” she tells her, slamming the door.
Offred thinks back to a pre-Gilead protest, with men and women crowding the streets holding signs as police in riot gear stand by. The shouts aren’t really audible, and the signs aren’t totally visible (though I did catch ones that said, “Enough is enough,” and, “Human rights = women’s rights”), but we’ve seen enough protests over the last few months for this scene to feel very familiar. A few of the protesters taunt and throw something at the police, and all hell breaks loose — the cops march forward and begin firing on the crowd. June and Moira run as everyone else scatters, but we hear more gunshots behind them, and then something explodes in front of them. They duck into a café and see another man gunned down right in front of them, just before another explosion blasts the glass out of the windows. How many more protests did it take before people stopped being able to publicly protest? I can’t imagine Gilead’s free speech laws are generous.
And before the episode ends, we see Ofglen’s fate. She’s brought into a courtroom, still shackled and masked, and is charged with gender treachery in violation of biblical passages, which are now apparently rule of law. The woman she was in a relationship with is also in the courtroom, cuffed and gagged. Without any access to a defense, they’re immediately found guilty and sentenced — the Martha is given the “mercy of the state,” whatever that means, and the judge tells Ofglen her existence is an abomination. But hey, she’s got a working reproductive system and they have to keep her, and so she’s sentenced to “redemption.” They’re both carted into a van, still bounded and gagged, and they grasp hands, as the Martha bends over in sobs and Ofglen silently comforts her. When the van stops, the other woman is dragged out, and that “mercy” the judge spoke of is hanging her as Ofglen watches. The doors shut, and they drive off again. When Ofglen wakes up next, she’s in some sort of a ward, in pain, her genitals bandaged. So that’s what “redemption” means in Gilead: female genital mutilation.
And of course, Aunt Lydia is there to explain why this is really a gift in the twisted way this world works. “Things will be so much easier for you now,” she tells her, calling her Emily (a name! her own name!). “You won’t want what you cannot have.”
In the book version of The Handmaid’s Tale (spoilers, I suppose, if you don’t want to hear how things differed), Ofglen dies by suicide before she can be taken away. (“She saw the van coming for her. It was better.”) But now, Ofglen is still alive and could very easily remain part of the story. And I hope she does. This can’t be the last we see of her, right? Based on the series of emotions we see her go through: shock, tears, an anguished scream — I want her to go right back to that resistance and burn this place to the ground.