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‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 1 Episode 2 Recap: “Birth Day”

We left off last episode with Ofglen giving Offred the chilling news that an Eye—a member of The Handmaid’s Tale’s version of secret police—was in her house. Offred wandered through the rooms in a fearful daze, looking at all the people it could be. “Someone is watching—here. Someone is always watching. Nothing can change,” she announced in voiceover.

Indeed, when we return to the eerie town of Gilead in episode 2, nothing has changed. We find Offred engaged in another Ceremony: the ritualistic rape of the Handmaid for the purpose of conception, her head in the wife’s lap, her legs spread open for her possessor. Offred gazes up at the pale blue ceiling, distracting herself with all the blues she used to know, like “Blue Moon,” “Blue Monday,” the blue of her family car. “I wish he’d hurry the fuck up,” she thinks.

This episode, we get to witness another ceremonious occasion that’s central to the society and accordingly creepy as hell: the delivery of a baby. A red van called the Birthmobile picks up Offred and the other Handmaids from their houses and takes them to a gorgeous mansion, decked out like it’s high tea, to assist in the childbirth of Ofwarren—known to Offred as Janine from the Red Center, who had her eye cut out for misbehavior, was likely tortured, and has some psychological repercussions. As Offred and the other Handmaids arrive, the wives are helping one of their own through her sympathetic labor. She lays in the middle of the group, cringing and gasping as the others chant breath, breath. They run their hands over her flat, barren stomach.

Further back in the house are the Handmaids, surrounding a bed where Janine is in actual labor. They pray and chant like the wives, praising this “blesséd day.” The warmth and support around Janine as she fulfills her purpose, from Aunt Lydia, the other Handmaids, and even the wives, next to the condescension Offred must submit to when a few of the wives pull her aside and ask for news (“Would you like a cookie, dear?” one of the wives asks her, as if talking to a toddler or a pomeranian, and when Offred accepts: “Aww, isn’t she well behaved?”), emphasizes the sickening falsity in the dynamics between these classes. Janine is still less than human, but she is about to produce the most precious thing.

With her commander’s wife sitting behind her and quite literally going through the motions, surrounded by wives and Handmaids under the direction of Aunt Lydia, Janine miraculously gives birth to a healthy baby girl. Some of the women cry from joy, they laugh and cover their mouths with their hands, even Offred, even Ofglen. The euphoria and the pure relief of the moment are real for all of them, and with what we’ve seen in the flashbacks this episode, we know why. For Offred, this process has brought back memories of her daughter’s own Birth Day. Rushing to the hospital (which was ominously crowded with praying protesters), waiting breathlessly for the results of the baby’s tests and finding out she was healthy. We see Offred’s former self, June, go to an empty nursery, confused by its lack of babies. “Oh, we had a tough night,” the nurse tells her serenely. “Two went to the intensive care unit; the others are with God.”

But even as the instinctual joy of new life sweeps us up, a lingering shot of Janine’s calm infant, with her big round eyes and little hands reaching out for anything, stuns us. The Aunts wrap her up. The wife sits in the bed where Janine had lain before. They put the baby in her arms. With Offred’s lead, the Handmaid’s knowingly surround Janine, comfort her loss.

What a world this child has entered.

Throughout all of this, Offred has had a few other things on her mind too. Most heavily, the fact that Nick, her commander’s live-in driver, had informed her before the birth that the commander wanted to see her that night. Alone. In his study. Which is super against the rules. Offred doesn’t know if she’s in trouble or if some other dystopian weirdness is afoot, but she has no agency, so she’s got to go.

It’s a dark descent into his masculine lair—full of leather-bound books she’s not allowed to read and big dark-leather easy chairs. He thanks her for coming, even though she had no choice. “I’d like to play a game with you,” he says. And then they play Scrabble. (Seriously!) Offred stares at the letters lined up in front of her on their little wooden squares. Her face fills with the emotion and thrill of recognition, of greeting a long lost friend.

The evening is a strange play of a date, which is not the kind of thing factored in to the commander/Handmaid relationship. Still, this blip doesn’t really change anything. The commander dangles a treat before her, takes pleasure in the dead act of wooing, imagines winning her admiration. Offred, for her part, lets him win the game, all while amused and confused. Neither knows what the other is really thinking. Like everything else in this world, the interaction is a quiet power play, obscured by shadows and secrets.

The next morning, Offred rolls out of the house with smirk and a blaring soundtrack of “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds, an anthem of freedom, rebellion, and victory from “an extinct reality.” In her voiceover, she wonders how Ofglen will react to this story. She wants to dish just like any girl would when a creepy guy has done something weird and hilarious. But her victory lap is cut short, her music cuts out, for when Ofglen turns around—it’s somebody else. Another woman stands in her place. “Has Ofglen been transferred to a new post so soon?” asks a stricken Offred, still trying to keep up her pious character.

“I am Ofglen,” the woman replies, matter-of-fact and stern. How easy it is to erase someone without a real identity.

We’d learned a bit more in this installment about Ofglen’s illicit activities, with a worrying sense that it was soon going to get her into trouble. “You can join us,” she had said earnestly on a walk home with Offred. The information Ofglen has periodically divulged was coming from her role in a very real resistance—maybe too real for Offred.

“I don’t know,” Offred told her. “I’m—I’m not that kind of person.”

“No one is until they have to be,” Ofglen said.

The resistance is a product of the oppressor, and it’s not an easy role to play. It is perhaps easier to just get used to it. To not be that kind of person, to leave the fight to someone else.

But Offred will soon need to reevaluate her priorities. “Nothing can change,” she had said, for she was going to survive for her daughter—survive. Now her sole ally has been disappeared. She has no name to ask after and no one to ask. Will she keep her head down, not look beyond the edges of her clean white bonnet, wait for things to change? Or will she find that the past life that haunts is worth fighting—and even dying—for?