TV REVIEW: The Handmaid's Tale - Late
The Handmaid's Tale has thus far been one of those shows that lives to make you feel uncomfortable, to question and examine the world around you. The parallels cut especially keenly this week after the expected deal between the Conservatives and the vehemently anti-abortion DUP, as well as the horrific news from Ireland of a girl sectioned after seeking an abortion. The episode frequently reminds us that women's bodies are not their own and that women's rights could be easily taken away. That reality is currently reminding us of the same thing just makes it scarier.
Offred's period is late, sending the household into a bit of an optimistic frenzy; Serena Joy takes Offred to see Ofwarren's baby and begins planning the nursery. However, the ripples of Ofglen's disappearance are still felt and Offred's interrogation at the hands of an Eye and an Aunt soon turns violent. In the time before, we see how fast June and Moira's world collapses, from the law that prevents women from working and owning property to the violent protests that follow. Finally, we find out what happens to Ofglen, offering up a stark warning of what might happen to Offred should her rebellious streak get her caught.
Violence feels very much the theme of this episode, appearing in both physical and mental manifestations. The constant close-ups on the enormous paramilitary types and their actions at the protest are a reminder of the near-perpetual state of war Gilead feels it is in. The disturbing 'Heart of Glass' sequence pulls away from seeing the soldiers themselves, but focuses instead on the victims and the consequences of defiance.
We know that June's defiance will eventually lead to her being captured and caught, but the episode shows us why and how that defiance came to be. It's a reaction to the emerging state of Gilead and how it took control. It's subtly done in certain moments; little references to the alleged terrorist attack that destroyed Congress, the martial law that has been in place since, emboldened misogyny, and the idioms that will eventually dominate Gilead. That softer approach means that the bigger moments, like June and her female colleagues all losing their jobs at once, land like a slap to the face.
There's a savage element to the way in which June starts to realise that the world around her is changing, ripping her out of the 'sleep' that she says everyone was in. The scene in which she and Moira attempt to cover up their fear with the gentle teasing of Luke is packed full of desperation and Elisabeth Moss and Samira Wiley sell that shaky belligerence in the face of the new regime brilliantly.
That defiance flashes again in Offred's confrontation with the Aunt and the Eye, just briefly, but enough to for her to convey to those in charge that they haven't quite broken her yet. Moss is once again exemplary in this episode, often able to convey an entire thought process with a narrow of the eyes or a plastered-on smile.
But it is Alexis Bledel who puts in the most astonishing performance here, all without saying a word, her blue eyes used to haunting effect. Ofglen's fate is an agonising examination of the consequences for women in this society who rebel and the brutality of the regime now in control. That final scene, in which the Aunts render her into what amounts to a human incubator is terrifying in its simplicity, building to that final series of invasive close-ups as she comes to terms with what happens to her.
There's a real queasy feeling that settles in the pit of my stomach every time I watch an episode of The Handmaid's Tale. The line between fiction and reality continue to feel blurred. The state of the world is such at the moment that the ground we walk on no longer feels as safe or as firm as it perhaps once did. The Handmaid's Tale is there to show us what could happen should that ground be taken away.