Under the Eye: “First Blood”

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Nearly a season-and-a-half has gone by in this Handmaid’s Tale and we’ve ignored or neglected another handmaid’s tale. This is the story of Ofglen the Second, conscripted to replace Ofglen the First (or Emily) who got caught with her hand in a cookie jar and had her clitoris removed for the good of Gilead. Then came Ofglen the Second. Fast-forward to one-eyed batshit-crazy Janine’s stoning ceremony. Offred and the other handmaids drop their stones and apologize to Aunt Lydia. Ofglen the Second spoke up for Janine and her tongue was removed. Nice world, isn’t it? What with all the on-demand tongue and clitoris removals, public hangings, and cattle prods! We only get a brief bit of Ofglen the Second in the show’s second and third episodes, but she deserves a back-story. She deserves it more than June. Her real name was Lillie Fuller. She wanted to play it safe. She didn’t want to make waves initially and resisted all contrarian talk from discontented handmaids. She lived in poverty before Gilead, so she had little reason to complain about her current circumstance. That was until she was slammed in the head with a Guardian’s machine gun after refusing to cast a stone at Janine. Ofglen the Second led a parallel life to June, but she took action. I suspect she took action because she had nothing left to lose. Where June had “stakes,” that of her daughter, husband, and life outside of Gilead, Ofglen the Second had no one and nothing looking out for her. When you have nothing left to lose, you become dangerous. When you have nothing to fear, you become a weapon.

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The Handmaid’s Tale is not the story of Ofglen the Second. It should be, but it isn’t. Instead, for this episode, we’re treated to more of Serena’s story. In our current 2020 world, where would Serena fit in? Serena could be a political “pundit,” author or journalist; an intellectual who advocates for a return to “simpler times,” when women wore dresses, cooked dinner, and made babies. Serena believes we’ve moved away from tradition. Her book, A Woman’s Place, is an international best-seller I would assume, given the enormous amount of people who want to kill her for her beliefs, and this was before the love & terror cult of Gilead rose to power. I’m getting away from the premise of the show; this bizarre, sadistic slice-of-life character study of June. I find I want to get away from June. June is boring. She has but one ambition in life: to get away from Gilead. Serena is a much more fascinating study, being the monster she is. Ofglen the Second is even more fascinating, but this series is not about Serena or Ofglen the Second. We’re back to business as usual after June’s near death from the previous episode. Stress is a killer, and Gilead is a Petri dish of stress. Keeping Offred emotionally off-balance is Serena’s specialty, so she converts a guest room into Offred’s temporary bedroom so that she doesn’t have to walk up and down so many flights of stairs every day. Today, Serena is being … nice. She sets up a small dinner party for June and her “handmaid friends,” but she monitors every aspect of it, surgically removing any chance of fun from the proceedings. Serena (stupidly) chides Ofglen the Second for not talking. She has to be reminded Ofglen the Second has no tongue. Oh yeah, right, I forgot about that. The next day, Serena isn’t so nice, particularly when June asks to see her daughter, Hannah. Serena complains to Fred about June’s selfish desire to see her daughter. In other news, the Rachel and Leah Center is nearing completion. I don’t know why I feel this way, but I don’t think Gilead constructed this building. Gilead is a lazy creature that simply moves its ghastly carcass into already-constructed facilities. Gilead does not create. Gilead destroys.

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Delving deeper into Eden, it’s obvious she is a true believer. She’s sweet in trying to make pleasant conversation with Nick, but he resists, either because he loves June, or because he is creeped out by this idea of impregnating a 15-year-old. In our very real world, this would be known as “child grooming.”  She looks like a little girl. When Nick tries to avoid her, she tells June she suspects Nick might be a “gender-traitor” (that’s a phrase I’ve been hearing a lot lately, but in a different context) as in homosexual. This causes June to take Nick aside and advise him to do his manly duty and knock up the girl. Nick protests. Eden’s 15. It’s creepy. June tells him, “Oh, you have to fuck somebody you don’t want to? Poor thing.” Nick tells June he loves her. This is getting complicated. Serena goes back to the time when she could wear tight pants and attempt to give lectures about the book she wrote. We have to remember this is the Serena of the before-time, and not the monster she would become. She psyches herself up and Fred gives her gentle encouragement. She’s met with a chorus of jeers. Why are these people here? Why are there so many of them? She’s not two words into her speech when a young woman stands and shouts, “Nazi cunt” at her. She’s called a “fascist bitch.” Wouldn’t that be considered “hate speech?” Or is it only hate speech when the “nazi cunt” speaks? People can be incredibly stupid. I mean, she wrote a book. No one knew that the book would serve as a foundation for indoctrination of America by Gilead. Most of the time, I’ve noticed, from controversial lectures like these, the fans and enthusiasts greatly outweigh those who dissent, and that the right to protest a form of speech is itself a freedom of speech, but this is a world where the observation of irony is in short supply. There are no “dangerous words,” only dangerous people. Serena may be a dangerous woman, but her book is just a book. Security tries to get Serena out of the building, but she is met with an angry crowd of protesters. She rebukes the crowd, shouting back at them that they are “spoiled and privileged.” Interesting words. She cites the low numbers of live births. As they exit, Serena’s assistant is shot and killed. Serena is shot in the stomach. Even understanding this bitter polarization between people, I must quote Bill Maher when, in 2004, he said, “no one should have to die for writing a book.” Freedom isn’t free, it’s a hefty fuckin’ fee!

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Taking a cue from the Book of Joyless Sex (I just made that up, but I’m sure there’s a book like that out there), Nick has relations with Eden through a festively embroidered hole in a sheet. Contrary to the popular belief, this is not the preferred method of sex for Orthodox Jews, rather it was a literalist interpretation of passages from the Torah (and as we know, one literalist bad apple spoils the whole damned bunch), but God bless Nick for giving it the old college try! In the immediate aftermath of the shootings, Fred and his team have managed to grab the assailants. He takes them into the woods and executes them. So Fred, this Commander Fred, is a murderer in more ways than one. Like Serena, he murders dreams but he also murders people. Atypically, he’s also capable of compassion. He visits June and gives her a photograph of Hannah. Oddly, Serena is incapable of this. To Serena, Offred is a fertile creature to be filled with child to keep the line going. To Fred, Offred is an object of desire. In the midst of all of this, we’ve forgotten about Ofglen the Second, haven’t we? Of course, we have. The Handmaid’s Tale is not about her. She comes back like roaring thunder at the opening of the Rachel and Leah Center. What is the Rachel and Leah Center? To save you a trip to the Good Book, Jacob had two wives, Rachel and Leah, who were sisters. Leah was the “unloved” wife. Rachel” is the “favorite” wife. Jacob had four wives in total, fathered seven children with Leah, and two each with the other wives (two of whom were Rachel’s sisters). Yeesh! It’s kind-of gross when you think about it.  I guess that’s what you did when there was no sports or pornography. So, at the opening of the Rachel and Leah Center, Ofglen the Second, her face a mask of rage, charges the stage with a detonator in her hand and a bomb explodes, killing many Commanders and handmaids, and this was the first time I applauded the show. The episode ends right there with “Oh Bondage Up Yours!” by X-Ray Spex playing during the credits. This might be the first appropriate use of a song in the show’s run. When you have nothing left to lose, you become dangerous. When you have nothing to fear, you become a weapon.

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