"Birth" is, as you might have guessed, about birth. But it also gives us insight into how dire the infertility crisis was before society went completely topsy turvy.
The episode opens with Offred staring up at a blue ceiling. It's ceremony night and she's thinking about her blue car. Something, anything rather than think of the Commander pumping in and out of her. "I wish he'd hurry the fuck up," she thinks, echoing me, screaming at my screen.
Meetings with Ofglen are different now. They still have to keep up appearances — in the presence of others it's all "Blessed be the fruit," and "Under his eye" — but alone, the two share details of their lives "before." They never say what comes after; they don't need to. It's actually fascinating how quickly they lapse into regular behaviour. Ofglen asks: "Do you work in the city?" before catching herself. "Did you?"
Turns out Offred is from Brookline, and was an assistant book editor in Boston. Ofglen is from Mizoula, Montana. She moved for school, because Ofglen is a badass scientist who lectured in cellular biology. (We learn she escaped the great purge of college professors because she "had two good ovaries.")
The two come across a church being destroyed. This is apparently a thing happening across the country. "They took down Saint Patrick's in NYC. Took down every stone and dumped them in the Hudson river," Ofglen says. "They fucking erased it."
Wait a second, Ofglen — how do you know that?
Offred barely gets the sentiment out before a black van pulls up and yanks a random-looking man off the street. They are safe. For now.
On the way home, Ofglen suggests to Offred that she could help people like that man. "You can join us," she says.
Offred answers pretty much like I do when people ask me if I want to try a juice cleanse. "I don't know. I'm not that kind of person."
"No one is until they have to be," Ofglen replies.
Offred considers this for a while. On the one hand, the idea that there's a way out of this seems like "a hangover from an extinct reality." We believe the system will work for us, because it always has. Until one day, it doesn't. But on the other hand, clear lines have been drawn. There is still a resistance, fighting with the Guardians of the Faithful in "the remains of Chicago." Not everyone has given up. "Now there has to be an us. Because now, there is a them." (Random thought: Can you even imagine Anchorage being the capital of the United States? What a world.)
Inside, Thirst Trap Nick warns Offred that she should be careful — Ofglen isn't what she seems. Oh and by the way, the Commander wants to see her tonight in his office at 9 p.m.
This, needless to say, is not allowed. Handmaids aren't supposed to be alone with commanders. Serena Joy would kill her if she found out. Literally.
Offred is stewing over what that means when the Birthmobile shows up. Yes, this is a thing — a red van which drives all the handmaids to wherever one of them is giving birth. This time, it's Ofwarren, a.k.a one-eyed Janine!
In the van, Offred flashes back to her own experience, which is pretty terrifying. At this point, chances for a healthy birth are 1 in 5, if you can get pregnant at all. (I don't even want to know what an "unbaby" is. Pig snouts? Wtf.) Crowds swarm the maternity wards in a doomsday scenario. Later, we see that a woman went as far as to try to steal June's baby, driven mad by the loss of her own. (Also: "Where are all the babies?" and "Oh, we had a rough night" are things that never should be said together.)
(Note: I will try to use "June" to refer to Offred when she is in flashbacks. It's her real name, and we shouldn't forget that.)
And... let's talk about that crazy birth scene. If you thought the ceremony was nuts, then how fucking batshit crazy is it that the wives pretend to give birth?! Not to mention that they use this opportunity to feast on macarons and real coffee while rubbing it in the faces of the women actually doing all the work. Harsh.
TBH, all this chanting made me think of pilates class. (When Aunt Lydia cries out: "Girls, energy!" I had flashbacks to my very half-hearted side-plank efforts.) But I guess giving birth is kind of like that? You definitely need good core muscles.
Offred goes down to the kitchen for a break, only to have Mrs. Waterford call her in for an update. Idiot Wife #1 offers her a cookie, while Idiot Wife #2 thinks that's a bad idea. They speak about as one would a toddler on the brink of a tantrum. ("You shouldn't spoil them. Sugar is bad for them." "Oh, surely one won't hurt.")
Serena Joy plucks a macaron off the artful pile and hands it to Offred, who thanks her. Idiot Wife #1: "Aww isn't she well behaved." Fuck you very much. Amazingly, they manage to think of the handmaids as both children and whores — to protect, but also to be protected from.
Janine gives birth to a healthy baby girl. For a second, all the women in the room are bound by the same joy. But that doesn't last. The wife is tucked into bed with the child, Angela, as Janine cries, exhausted physically and emotionally. (Later, she will be woken up to feed the baby, which is just about the cruelest thing I can imagine.)
9 p.m. strikes, and Offred goes to see the Commander. What does he want? Is it, as Ofglen suggested earlier, just a blowjob? Or is Offred about to be punished? (Also, LOL to Elisabeth Moss' horror movie impression, and "Please God, don't let me be a fucking moron," is my mantra from now on.)
She steps into the inner sanctum, and he's...weirdly nice? Kind of normal? I said in my first recap that the Commander looks like a good-looking librarian, so I'm glad to see all these books. He asks her to look him in the eye, something she's not supposed to do. "In here we might be able to bend the rules, just a bit," he says.
Oh. The Commander wants to play Scrabble. (I feel like my assessment of him was spot on.) It's interesting that men take over the world only to realise they're deadly bored without women to converse with. He wins, but barely. This seems to please him — he wants a rematch when he returns from D.C. ("It's a date.") They have a definite MOMENT as she leaves.
Immediately upon returning to her room, Offred collapses into a fit of giggles. I feel you girl.
The next day brings a very Breakfast Club moment as Offred swaggers out to meet Ofglen to the tune of "Don't You Forget About Me." Something has shifted. Things will get better — she found a weakness she can exploit. A little side-eye flirt with Thirst Trap Nick is just what she needs. Except, wait... That's not Ofglen.
The first series of The Handmaid's Tale is shown on Channel 4 on Sundays at 9pm.