The Handmaid's Tale

This recap of Episode 4 of The Handmaid’s Tale is chocked full of {SPOILERS}. ***If you haven’t watched yet, go do that and then come back here. ;)***

This episode opens on June, Luke, and Hannah at a carnival together, laughing, enjoying each other. Offred tells herself she shouldn’t get too deep into her memories, or she’ll never get out of them. As you’ll remember from the last episode, Serena Joy ordered her to stay in her room, and she hasn’t dared defy orders. She’s been in her room for 13 straight days.

She lays down inside her closet and runs her fingers across words carved into the wall, “Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum.” Offred realizes this must’ve been carved by the previous Offred, as a message for her, the next one. BUT WHAT DOES IT MEAN, I YELL ALOUD.

In a flashback at the Centre, Moira sharpens some kind of metal thing she removed from the toilet (desperate times and all), while June watches from the adjoining stall. Moira carves “Aunt Lydia SUX” into the wall. “Once we get out of here, there’s gonna be a girl that comes in here and reads it. It’ll let her know she’s not alone.” Right on, Moira. Right on! Aunt Elizabeth (she’s a new one) comes in and demands they get out of the bathroom.

Back on the floor of the closet, Offred silently thanks the previous Offred for carving those words for her into the wall, to let her know she’s not alone.

Serena Joy, in a green bathrobe (is she only allowed to wear green, wtf), joins good old Commander Fred at the dining table for breakfast. He informs her that an Aunt escaped last night and crossed the border into Canada. I guess Mexico wasn’t an option because of that big wall America built that Mexico paid for (ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha). Even the Aunts want to get the h*ll outta dodge.

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She was interviewed by the Toronto Star and, according to Commander Fred, she spewed “lies and hyperbole.” OR I’M BETTING SHE TOLD IT EXACTLY LIKE IT IS and then broke out into a rousing performance of “O, Canada.” Serena Joy, strategizing politically as if she’s got a brain or something, advises Commander Fred not to discredit what the Aunt told the paper, but that rather, the Aunt, should be personally discredited. His response: “We’ve got good men working on it.” Yeah, Freddy? Your best men are working on discrediting a woman who escaped your clutches and told the truth about you?! Serena Joy’s not at all happy with that, though she responds with fake enthusiasm, “Praise be.”

Rita takes Offred some food in her room, finds her on the floor of her closet. Startled at the sight of her on the floor, Rita drops the tray of food. Offred tells Rita that she must’ve fainted. What she doesn’t tell her is about those carved words she found.

In the dining room, Serena Joy asks Rita, “What’d she do this time?” Rita tells her, “She said she fainted.” Commander Fred freaks, “She fainted?” That’s right d-bag, the prisoner you rape every few days fainted in her room. Are you going to free her and end this bullsh*ttery? Of course not, so cut the feigned worry.

Rita asks if she should call a doctor since, “We do have the ceremony tonight.” Oh do WE, Rita? Do WE?! Serena Joy reluctantly tells her to call the doctor. Commander Fred gathers his things and jets, leaving Serena Joy and her overly tight hair bun alone at the table.

The Handmaid's Tail Serena Joy's hairbun

In her room, Offred’s thrilled to have to walk to the doctor’s office because it’s at least an hour each way. She’ll get to feel the rain on her skin and smell the air outside her room. Think again, Offred, because Serena Joy’s not having it. The car’s waiting for her out front. She’s not about to give Offred the pleasure.

Nick walks her to the car. Serena Joy reaches in the front seat of the limo and raises the privacy window, to separate Offred and Nick. What a b*tch.

In a flashback at the Red Centre,  Aunt Lydia, along with Aunt Elizabeth, leads a lesson on “the ceremony.” It’s a lot like a Lamaze class, only the vibe is way more rape-y. Some of the Handmaids-In-Training role-play as the barren wife, the others as… you guessed it – Handmaid.

Aunt Lydia, bless her cold, black heart, can’t wait to describe the ceremony to them. She explains that when they’re ovulating, they’ll get to lay between the legs of the Commander’s wife where, “the two of you will become one flesh.” Somebody needs to inform her that this is one of those things that might sound great in theory (it doesn’t), but in practice, is something else entirely.

The Handmaid's Tale Ceremony Practice

Aunt Lizzy instructs the girls sitting behind to hold the wrists of the girls in front, who are laying between their legs. Moira raises her hand and asks, “Are you saying that we will be having intercourse with the men between the wives’ legs?” How do you think Aunt Lydia responds? If you guessed she responds with a bible quote, YOU WIN! She rattles on about Rachel and Jacob and Rachel’s maid bearing Jacob’s children. In short, the answer is yes, Moira. Yes.

At the doctor’s office, pictures of Commander’s wives holding newborns adorn the wall of the waiting room. And as you’d expect, the front office staff is nothing but armed Nazi-esque looking dudes in all black barking at patients when it’s their turn to be seen by the doc.

In the exam room, Offred lays on the table, her lower half covered by a privacy screen. The doctor enters, stays behind the privacy screen, and makes inane small talk the same way doctors do here and now in our version of America. Offred responds with robotic, one word answers, just like I do here and now in our version of America.

He says, “You know, you can talk to me. I can’t do much about your situation but I’m a good listener.” No thanks.

He tells her he’s going to take a look at her, since she’s there anyway. For those of us (un)lucky enough to have had pelvic exams, you know what happens next. He tells her, “You’re ripe, right on schedule.” Because blessed be the fruit, and she is the fruit. Gross.

And then he says something that MADE MY STOMACH TURN. He says, “Doesn’t really matter. Waterford’s probably sterile. Most of those guys are.” Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaat!!!!!!! MOST OF THEM ARE STERILE?! I’m going to have to get a prescription for Xanax or something to finish this show. I’m so mad, I can’t think.

Doc McFingers then locks the exam room door. Guys, if this is going where it looks like it’s going, I’m going to throw an IUD, birth control pills, and a whole bunch of expired condoms at my TV.

He says, “I can help you,” as he straight-up caresses her leg. “If Waterford can’t get you pregnant, they won’t blame him. It’ll be your fault.” Then he peeks around the privacy screen at her and it feels SO MUCH MORE INVASIVE. He says, “I’ll only take a few minutes, honey.” Oh my unholy fertility. How many Handmaids has he done this to?! How many of those newborns in the pictures in the waiting room are HIS babies?

Offred tells him it’s too dangerous and he goes, leaving her there to wonder if she should’ve just let him get her pregnant so this could all be over.

On her way home from the doctor’s office, she dives back into her memories at the fair with Luke and Hannah. In a burst of rage, she bangs the h*ll out of the privacy window dividing her and Nick. In the driveway at home, Nick tells her, “I’m sorry this is happening to you.” Thanks, Nick, but you can stuff your sorries in a sack (à la George Constanza).

The Handmaid's Tale Offred gripping Waterford couch

At home, Serena Joy sarcastically asks, “So, are you dying?” Offred stands behind a fancy couch and holds on to the gilded wood that keeps it together for dear life as Serena continues, “Everything is in working order for this evening? Did he check?” Offred apologizes to her and begs forgiveness. Serena Joy barely stops knitting long enough to tell her to go back to her room.

Offred goes right back to her closet and lays down, rubbing her hands over the carved words again, Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum.

In a flashback at the Centre, June summons Aunt Lizzy to the restroom because “one of the toilets is overflowing again.” But it isn’t. Moira’s in there, ready to pounce! She bashes Aunt Lizzy’s head against the wall, holds that homemade toilet shiv to her throat, and tells her not to make a peep.

Near an exit, June demands Aunt Lizzy take off her clothes, and then she zaps her in the neck with her own cattle prod and ties her to a beam. Moira puts on Aunt Lizzy’s potato-sack dress and coat. Moira waves the cattle prod in her face and reminds her that if it ever comes down to it, Aunt Elizabeth should remember Moira didn’t shove the cattle prod down her throat or worse, up another part of her body.

AND THEN MOIRA AND JUNE WALK OUT THE FRONT DOOR. THE FRONT DOOR!!! One of the Guardians at the locked gate asks, “Where are you taking this Handmaid?” Moira snaps at him without even slowing down, “Open the gate!” HE DOES, RIGHT AWAY, with a “Yes ma’am.”

THEY’RE OUT! For just a moment, I’m excited. But this is a flashback, so I know this freedom will not last. At least not for June.

Back at the Waterford house, Offred kneels in preparation for the stupid ceremony. Only things are not progressing the way they’re supposed to. First, the household staff is supposed to come in, then Serena Joy, then the Commander is supposed to knock. This time, Commander Fred just strolls right in of his own accord, leaving home alone with Offred. He stands there, looking down on her and fondling a key in his hand. “I just wanted to say hello. I haven’t seen you in a while,” he tells her. Yeah, well. Life sucks, dipsh*t.

He’s down for a Scrabble rematch tonight at 9:00, in his office, “What do you think?” Before she can answer, Rita and Nick come in, then Serena Joy. You best believe Serena Joy’s annoyed that Commander Fred is already there, not following protocol.

In their bedroom, Serena Joy sits behind Offred on the bed, who lays between her legs, while they wait for old what’s his name, who isn’t in the room. Serena Joy barks, “Fred.” He finally comes in, looking distracted and unhappy. He halfheartedly tries to do his part, but fails to rise to the occasion.

We all wait while he attempts to resolve his issue himself, but can’t. He leaves and Serena Joy looks like someone just punched her in the ovaries. It’s normal and it happens sometimes, S.J., so please have several seats and calm yourself down.

In a back room full of tchotchkes and fancy porcelain do-dads (which seems like it would not be conducive to his current undertaking) Fred continues to try to resolve his situation for himself. Serena Joy finds him there, and wants to help.

The Handmaid's Tale Serena kissing Commander

For the first time ever, they look almost like a couple in love. There’s a glimpse of shared tenderness and vulnerability that they usually hide from each other. Are they not allowed to touch each other like this, since they can’t reproduce? I think so, and it makes me sad. As much as I want to hate Serena Joy and Fred, right now I can’t.

Just as they start to become more intimate, he tells her, “Don’t,” and leaves. Serena Joy sends Offred back to her room. Offred thinks she’s going to get blamed for this disaster that isn’t a disaster.

In the “Moira and June escape” flashback, they’re trying to get to the city because “the Collective has some safe houses.” They don’t know where they are. There are no street signs anywhere and everything’s unrecognizable. They go by a building that’s riddled with hanging corpses. Guardians wheel carts full of dead people by them. They pass a bonfire where artwork and books are being burned. It’s a hellscape.

The Handmaid's Tale dead bodies hanging

In a subway station, Guardians are taking down the station signs. June asks Moira, “Which track goes to Boston?” They don’t know which way to go. Moira, in one of those amazing acts of bravery bordering on complete stupidity goes to ask a Guardian for help. While she’s gone, a different Guardian asks June where her partner is and, “Can I see your ID card?” AS THE TRAIN TO BOSTON PULLS IN TO THE STATION. “Where are you posted?” he asks her.

Moira is at the door of the train, looking back at June, who’s now got two Guardians up in her grill. June smiles at her, nods ever so slightly, giving her the okay to get on the train. Moira hesitates. The Guardians take June out of the station as the train to Boston pulls away, with Moira on it.

In her bedroom closet, Offred talks herself back to sanity in the name of Moira, “Get up. Get your crazy ass up.” She goes to Commander Fred’s office, knocks. Cut to, they play Scrabble and she asks about his trip, like a couple of old friends. She plays a word that he thinks is “archaic” so he challenges, tells her to “hand him the dictionary, lower shelf.” D*mn, dude, “get off your butt and get it yourself, you’re the one who’s challenging the word,” I muttered to no one but myself.

At the bookshelf, Offred takes her time looking at the books. One catches her eye, Latin Grammar. She asks him if he studied Latin and he hits us with, “Oh yes, my parents thought it would help me with the SATs.” Which is exactly what everyone I’ve ever known who took Latin has said.

He finds her word, “silth – a thin and graceful girl,” in the dictionary. 26 points to Offred. Offred wonders if the previous Offred had played Scrabble with Commander Fred, “Did she displease him?”

In a flashback, June is back at the Red Centre strapped to a table by some Aunts. Aunt Lydia tells her, “The most painful thing in this entire ugly incident is the ingratitude.” She goes on, “You were an adulterer, a worthless slut.” Again with the slut shaming. “But God found a way to make you useful.” She touches June’s hand. Aunt Elizabeth comes in like a dominatrix holding some kind of twisted-looking back scratcher and if I weren’t so terrified, I’d think, “oh, kinky.”

Aunt Lizzy tells two subordinate Aunts to take off June’s socks, which they do. She commences to beat the holy crap out of the bottoms of June’s feet. Later, feet bloodied and bandaged, she’s dragged to her cot in the cafeteria.

Back in the present, Commander W declares she let him win their game. He wants another rematch. Then she asks him for a favor. I’m scared, but for no reason, because he immediately responds, “Sure, anything. Within reason, of course.” She wants him to translate Latin for her: Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum. He says it doesn’t really mean anything because it’s a joke that only a 12-year-old boy studying Latin would find funny. He brings her the Latin Grammar book and shows her that those exact words are handwritten inside the front cover. And then he does translate it. It means DON’T LET THE BASTARDS GRIND YOU DOWN.

The Handmaid's Tale nolite te bastardes carborundorum

He asks where she heard it, and he’s not just asking out of curiosity, it’s a loaded question. When she says she heard it “from a friend,” he follows up with, “Did you know her somehow?” Oh jeez. What’s the right answer? Don’t answer him, that’s my vote. Just ignore the question and move on. Talk about Scrabble.

She doesn’t. She asks, “What happened to her?”  “She’s dead,” he says. She asks him again, “What happened to her?” Offred #1 hung herself in the room that our Offred now calls her own.

Guys, please excuse me for just a sec to diverge from the story to call extra attention to the writing and to Elisabeth Moss’s acting in this part of the scene because it’s all EMMY WORTHY. When she sees that the Commander is sad as he relates what happened to Offred #1, she uses that to her advantage, with just her words, her tone, and the most minor of physical cues. The subtle shift of power in their relationship is VISIBLE and it’s spine-tingling.

Hulu, if you’re reading this (and I know you’re not), you better start clearing shelf space for all the Emmys.

The next morning, Offred heads outside. Birds are singing, the air is fresh, and she knows things are different now. She heads to the gate, gives Nick a little smile, gives Serena Joy, who’s watching her from and upstairs window, an “eat sh*t and die” look, and heads out the gate.

The Handmaid's Tale June in bed at Red Centre

In a flashback to the Red Centre. She’s lying in her cot, feet still bloodied and bandaged. The other Handmaids-In-Training shuffle by, dropping off bits of food they probably stole for her. It’s a lovely act of sisterhood.

Back in the present on the street, Offred and Ofglen #2 walk. Offred thinks, “There was an Offred before me. She helped me find my way out. She is dead. She’s alive. She is me. We are Handmaids.” They’re joined by a swarm of other Handmaid pairs walking in the street.

“Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum… b*tches.”

My fave moments:

  • Moira referring to Aunt Lydia as Aunt Chlamydia. I’m very immature.
  • Moira and June walking out the front of the Red Centre. Bye, Felicia (kids still say this, right?).
  • Serena Joy and Fred looked like they were in love for about a nano-second.
  • Moira got on that ever-loving train to Boston!
  • “Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum, b*tches.” Get ready to see this everywhere, because it’s going viral.

What I hope we see in the next episode:

  • Who are the Collective?
  • Was it June or Luke (or both of them) who was married to someone else?
  • Still waiting on that Hannah update. Need to know she’s okay.
  • Max Minghella, shirtless, washing a limo or taking down a fence. Or both.

Something I learned:

  • Aunts want to escape too, not just Handmaids.
  • Serena Joy only wears green. Green dress, green robe, green pajamas. Green = envy and jealousy.
  • The Red Centre is somewhere outside Boston, MA – because the subway sign they were taking down in the station was “Arlington” and Ofglen (Emily) was a professor at “the university” (Harvard).
  • Recently, I’ve had some of the most meaningful, life-changing conversations I’ve ever had (covering feminism, religion, freedom, masculinity, sexuality, politics). These conversations happened as a DIRECT RESULT of watching and discussing THIS SHOW. So don’t tell me TV can’t bring people together.

 

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Kim Bowman

In addition to recaps, Kim writes witty ensemble TV comedies with strong female leads, none of which have been produced *insert sad trombone sound here.*

Nevertheless, she persists.
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