This article contains information that could be considered too revealing according to our spoiler policy. Proceed with caution. You can't unsee it!Reason Some mild plot points from The Handmaid's Tale novel.
This article has some content you might find disturbing!Reason A public execution; genital mutilation.
The Handmaid's Tale Shows Us What 'Redemption' Means In Gilead
That you can be 'sentenced' to it is the first clue that it's not great.
Since she's been drafted into service as a Gilead Handmaid, Offred has enjoyed very little respite from the generally unrelenting of her new life. She got a few fleeting moments of relief when she got to the Rachel & Leah Center and saw that Moira was already there. Janine's delivery in the second episode brought her back to some semblance of normality as she and the rest of the women in her community pulled together to get Janine through it. But since we've joined Offred's story in her present day, she's had no more important assistance in the daily project of maintaining her mental health than her fellow Handmaid and covert Resistance agent Ofglen. When the Commander's secret and mysterious summons for her to come to his study after hours turns out to be so that the two of them can play a round of Scrabble, Offred can't wait to tell her all about it, which is why, when Offred comes out for her usual shopping trip at the end of the second episode to find that the Ofglen she knew has been replaced, she's both disappointed (the agony of having hot goss and no one to share it with!) and alarmed. She doesn't know how concerned she should be, though.
As I wrote in my New Show Fact Sheet on the series, its biggest deviations from its source material in the first three episodes revolve around Alexis Bledel's Ofglen, the Handmaid assigned to accompany Offred on her daily shopping trips and in the limited amount of discretionary time they have to...walk the long way home past the wall where the state displays its latest executed criminals. As the series begins, both Ofglen and Offred conscientiously observe the mores of the new regime. But when the Handmaids gather for a Particicution at the end of the series premiere and the women who knew each other from the Rachel & Leah Center start quietly exchanging what few scraps of information they've actually managed to come by, Janine -- now Ofwarren, heavily pregnant -- tells Offred that her beloved Moira has been sent to the Colonies and is surely dead by now; Ofglen then watches Offred take out her rage about Moira on the convict they've been assembled to kill with their bare hands (which: mission accomplished, gruesomely), Ofglen realizes Offred's not as pious as she seemed. The two have a real conversation about their lives before, and we learn more about Ofglen than we did in the book: she and her wife had a son, but since they had Canadian passports and Ofglen didn't, she got caught at the airport when they all tried to flee. Given her sexual orientation, Ofglen -- "a carpet-munching gender traitor," as she sardonically describes herself to Offred in the second episode -- would have had to join the Resistance or start it.
When Ofglen is apprehended, we go with her, to brand-new territory the book doesn't include -- and can't, since Offred is our narrator; when Ofglen leaves the novel, we get no further reports of her, nor does she come back. Both book and series Offred assume Ofglen has been arrested for her membership in the Resistance, and the show's Offred, therefore, is not optimistic about her friend's prospects: "There'd be no mercies for a member of the Resistance." But when Aunt Lydia shows up with an Eye to interrogate Ofglen's former partner, Offred finds out the truth: Ofglen was "in a relationship with a Martha." Knowing Ofglen's incarceration isn't about anything in which Offred herself could be implicated is perhaps why she disregards Nick's advice and defies Aunt Lydia -- saying Ofglen is gay rather than a "gender traitor"; quoting scripture that exposes the emptiness of Aunt Lydia's self-righteousness: "Blessed are those who suffer for the cause of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven."
It's lucky for Offred that Mrs. Waterford thinks she's pregnant; one doubts she would care how savagely Aunt Lydia cattle-prodded Offred otherwise.
Meanwhile, Ofglen's going through much worse. She appears at a "trial" where no defense is offered on either her or her partner's behalf; "Martha 6715301" is sentenced to "the common mercy of the State."
"Handmaid 8967" is told, "Your existence is an abomination. True justice would see you sent to an eternity of suffering. But God has seen fit to make you fruitful, and by that we abide. Handmaid 8967, you are sentenced to redemption."
And thus the viewer braces herself to find out what barbarism "redemption" euphemises in Gilead, if "the common mercy of the State" is death by hanging. The answer doesn't come until the very end of the episode -- long enough that we might think Offred's physical assault by Mrs. Waterford, precipitated by the news that Offred actually isn't pregnant, is the last blow we'll be absorbing this time.
But then we rejoin Ofglen, waking up in a pure white recovery room, groaning from a pain she can't understand.
"The stitches will come out in a few days," coos Aunt Lydia, coming to her side. "I know this is a shock for you, Emily. You can still have children, of course. But things will be so much easier for you now."
"You won't want what you can't have. Blessed be the fruit, dear."
Before joining the Resistance, Ofglen would have known some of the punishments visited upon Handmaids who don't fall in line. She might have been at the Rachel & Leah Center when another Handmaid was tortured with blows to her feet; she was certainly present at the labour of a Handmaid who'd violently lost an eye. Ofglen would know Handmaids are subject to retribution that doesn't interfere with their wombs -- as are we, as the show has methodically normalized the Gilead government's most inhuman practices. But we and Ofglen discover together that there are invasions we could not fathom happening in what used to be America, or that we just would not allow ourselves to contemplate. Is this the attack on Emily's personhood that drives her to new feats of heroism? Or the one that, finally, destroys her will to resist?