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Today we’re discussing The Handmaid’s Tale episode 1.04: Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum – including ideas of hope, a confusing tale of rebellion, and silence being key…
“Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum”
Don’t Let The Bastards Grind You Down.
I can already see the t-shirts, tatoos, and any other kind of merch just flying off the shelves as I write this. Something tells me this is going to be a recurring phrase throughout the rest of The Handmaid’s Tale run.
Ultimately, this is a good thing – because the show is in need of some hope.
When we did our podcast about The Leftovers on HBO, one of the main criticisms from fans and critics alike was that it lacked any humor, and there was an unrelenting sense of hopelessness. It was just dour — all. the. time. I understood the complaints during the first season, but my argument to those people was that it was a show about grief. Of course it’s going to be dour. What do you THINK would happen if 2% of the population just up and disappeared without a word, sound, or trace?
But then Mary and I had a great chat with a writer of The Leftovers, Kath Lingenfelter, and she argued that while the show had it’s roots in grief, it was more about hope. She was proven right, of course, and the following two seasons either leaned into that more, or it course corrected and gave us more hope onto which we could latch ourselves. In fact, when I looked at it from the perspective of hope, it totally rearranged my interpretation of every scene it offered. I was happily corrected in my sense of what should and shouldn’t be explored in that show.
Ultimately, The Handmaid’s Tale so far has been VERY dour too.
And it should be.
It’s not quite apocalyptic, but it’s so very different from our society that the whole notion of how this world works is preposterous at best. We’re witnessing babies being stolen, eyes being plucked out, lovers killed, riots being met with ultra violence, torture, isolation, rape, and much more. But, now, we have our moment to shift our perspective.
We can see the hope by the end of this episode.
With that hope, we finally have a larger understanding of what THMT is trying to accomplish — it’s offering a story that isn’t as entrenched in the hopelessness of Gilead as we originally assumed.
To that point, because of the ending, it’s starting to look the opposite of dour. Perhaps it’s a byproduct of the former relationship between Offred and Oflgen, or maybe it’s just what we need as viewers – but this story is about triumph in the face of total oppression.
Don’t let the bastards grind you down.
Though I will say even though I am a big fan of Mike Barker’s directing – as evidenced by our interview with him on Outlander Cast – the theme of hope and rebellion is a tad wonky toward the end. In fact, it left me a little confused.
Is Offred going to be a leader of this rebellion? Do the Handmaid’s already have an understanding of what she did with Moira to Aunt Elizabeth? Do they already look up to her as a rebellious figure and admire that? In other words, have we just not been privy to an already brewing current of dissent among the Handmaids?
The final shot, played in conjunction with “Perpetuum Mobile” by Penguin Cafe Orchestra, seems to suggest that all the Handmaids are all walking with Offred in solidarity to whatever goal they’re trying to accomplish. I will also note that the slow motion seemed a tad ham-fisted too, but, hey who am I to judge?
I’m just confused by the final shot on one major level – this episode was so personal to Offred – dealing with her isolation at the hands of Serena Joy, being left by Moira at the train station, being shaded from men for most of the episode (note the shade with the doctor, and the blocking of the Commander without seeing his face in many shots) her torture by the Aunts, and being left alone with Offred’s thoughts of her family at a carnival. Juxtaposing the final slow-mo walk with Offred’s sudden burst of rebellious confidence doesn’t seem to jibe with the framework the episode used to achieve that rebellious confidence in the first place.
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The little bouts of rebellion – whether it’s telling the doctor that she cannot have sex with him, getting her freedom from the room because of her manipulation of the Commander, setting Moira free, and even seeing the value in scratched words for her own well being – are what pull her from her desperate state of depression. Sure, there’s a scene during her “Handmaid Training” (for lack of a better phrase) that the other Handmaid’s give her pieces of their food, but that is a show of support – not an “eff you” to the man. In the end, the rebellions and confidence came from a personal understanding and acceptance of who and what Offred can be. There is hope, but it’s been realized by her – not through a collective effort of the Handmaids.
You see, we may have learned from Jyn Erso that “rebellions are built on hope” in Rogue One, but I’m of the opinion that rebellions are really built on trust.
One must trust the person next to them that they are both on the same page. Taking it a step further, one must trust in a group of people that they all have one common goal. Having said that, I keep going back to what the driver and Ofglen said to Offred in prior episodes – you can’t trust anyone. Which is why it’s also important to recognize that any “help”, words of encouragement that were given by anyone else in the episode (whether it be the doctor offering to help her, the Commander saying that it would be a tragedy if Offred died, or the driver saying he “wished” whatever the hell he wished) was resoundingly rejected or redirected by Offred at each turn.
It’s up to her to find the rebellion she needs to survive. Even in small moments.
Can she trust the other Handmaids? Is that what the show is trying posit here?
By the conclusion of the episode, Offred declares she and the old Offred, the apparent author of the words that were inscribed in her solitary closet of doom, are one in the same. She has officially been inspired by the words that gave her meaning outside of her own lonely thoughts and actions. By saying that she and old Offred are one, she assumes her life and message. She’s assuming the role of hope after she steps out into the rain, washing off her old self, and gaining her freedom in the sun.
Maybe Offred can be the uniting factor for the rest of the Handmaids, and maybe it will work. But I don’t see how she can trust anyone yet. Especially after how isolated she has been this whole episode. But the hope is there. And hope is good.
Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum Bitches.
Mary & Blake certified: A-
Apropos of nothing:
- I’ve never been a huge Joseph Fiennes guy. Maybe it’s my irrational hatred of when the Academy chose Shakespeare In Love over Saving Private Ryan for Best Picture in 1998, or maybe it was his role in one of the most awfully written and acted lines in the history of television on the equally awful ABC show “Flashfoward”. But I am digging him as the Commander. He seems to have that cold, distant, morally questionable, yet vulnerable thing down.
- Yvonne Strahovski continues to kill it as Serena Joy. Something tells me we’re getting an episode focused on just her soon and I am all in on that. As bad as I felt for Offred in her isolation, I felt even worse for Serena Joy when the Commander rebuffs her attempt to help him. Offred’s isolation is more prevalent on the surface, but Serena Joy’s isolation seems to be more devastating. Could you imagine having to share your husband with another woman through no fault of your own, not being able to connect with him on a level that is commensurate with the oath you made to him in marriage, being at the whim of another woman’s uterus, having the societal pressure of creating your own familial unit based off that uterus, and still look/appear happy about all of it? Add in the fact that she, too, probably knows the commander is sterile, and all of this is for naught? Man, that’s devastating.
- I’m out on the driver kid. Every time he comes on the screen I just wanna punch him. Is it me, or does he just have a super punchable face?
- The scene between Moira and Offred was another stunning example of this show being confident in it’s director and actors. I’ve said time after time, good television should show us it’s story not tell it. THMT is doing this to perfection right now.
- I really hope the show doesn’t go down The Hunger Games route. THG was good when it was a focused on Katniss and her specific plight within the rebellion. But it got too big for its britches by the end, and there wasn’t a natural way to conclude the story. I hope this stays focused on Offred.