Handmaid’s Tale Episode 2 Explained in Detail


Or, how this episode just made Scrabble eternally scary and fraught with extraordinarily dark undertones from now until the end of time…

Handmaid’s Tale episode 2 was fantastic!! But by my math, the show is burning through the content of the book so fast we will be in uncharted territory by episode 4, five at the absolute latest. Which, in my opinion is fantastic… but wow. Episode two was a fantastic bit of television that has me dying to watch episode 3… but here I am writing this instead! Hahah. So many great details envisioned here. I think, at the end of the third episode I’ll be able to start guessing where the story is going to go next. So much of the book has already been covered I think there will be tons and tons of blank space left for the show to go in. But I wont do it in this episode as I could spoil a lot of the show for many of you inadvertently. Come on, let’s dive in to ep2.

Handmaid’s Tale Episode 2 Overview

Kicks it off in high gear with the Offred and the Ceremony. A month later? Nope… I learn later that it can’t just be a month can it, because Janine is delivering. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, time has passed, and at the very least it’s one month, but most likely a couple months later?  Ofglen meets Offred to go into town and we learn soon offer that Ofglen is actually a member of an underground resistance group that opposes Gilead and supports its downfall. (In the book the resistance group is called Mayday… but so far we haven’t heard much about this group. So maybe that’s what it’s called?) Ofglen lets Offred know that she would be very valuable to the resistance movement since she is in an important home serving Commander Waterford, one of the founders of the Republic of Gilead.

Nick, the driver, though, warns Offred not to get too close to Ofglen, that she’s dangerous. But we don’t know why he thinks so.  Oh, and by the way, the Commander would like to see you Offred at 9pm sharp. And don’t be late. Um. Ok. If you’ve read the book you saw this coming a mile away… but you probably hoped that the game played would be something other than Scrabble because I am still suffering from Scrabble induced PTSD and can’t think of anything but Offred and this book when I play now with my kids! But I am getting ahead of myself here.

Handmaiden Birth Mobile

When the siren of the Birth Mobile goes off Handmaidens are to head in to the birth center in order to help. The upper echelons of Gilead pantomime helping a woman give birth, while the Handmaidens actually help Janine give birth. And at the last minute, the woman whose baby it will become sits astride Janine and acts like she is the one giving birth in order to fully own this child for the future.

It’s like those movies where the Dragon Slayer kills the dragon, and then the King comes out and symbolically sticks his sword into the beast and everyone cheers the King as their protector and sovereign. Janine’s Commander’s wife is completely taking the baby, and the birth, as her own… completely and totally. But I got a kick out of Offred staring at Serena Joy (that is her name in the show right?) and just marveling at the show that the women were putting on in order to appropriate this child as their own. Right?

But what about the cookie? What happened there? One of the other women tell Serena to offer her Handmaiden a cookie. “But we shouldn’t spoil them with sugar…” but Serena basically is forced to offer her a cookie. And likewise, Offred is forced to accept it. And right there in front of them she takes a bite to show her gratefulness. But before she knows it she is about to throw it up. In this one scene we see her real hate and disdain for her oligarchic overlords.

Offred’s Birth of Hannah

Offred flashback to her birth of Hannah shows us a couple things pretty clearly. Probably the most important thing we learn is that the revolution and civil war started at the grass roots out of a real desire to increase the birth rate. As June and Luke are arriving at the hospital we see that there are crowds outside the hospital praying and rallying in support of the women inside attempting to give birth. Or I assume that is what they were doing. What do you think their purpose was? The next day we see that all the babies in the baby center had been removed because of death, and intensive care issues. So we know that fertility was an issue starting just a couple of years prior to what we are focusing on. We also learn that someone had tried to forcefully abduct Hannah… they had even killed a nurse in that attempt. So we know that matters are verging on desperate.

Scrabble Is Now Ruined

So Offred heads in and joins the Commander and very quickly the standards of interaction have been thrown away by his allowing her to look at him. And quickly he invites her to play him a round of Scrabble. In the book they not only played Scrabble, but he allowed her to read magazines, which she would not normally be allowed to do. But yeah, they play a round of Scrabble. And the score when it is all said and done? The Commander beat Offred 386 to 383.

And of course, the show didn’t have to tell you this, (even though they stressed our patience by telling us anyway), but Offred let the Commander win.

But it’s the end of this exchange that is the most interesting. As Offred is heading out, and the pieces and the board have been put away, the Commander shakes her hand. Wait what? He shakes her hand? That is possibly the most normal thing we have seen in this entire show so far. He shakes her hand?!? Is the Commander a silent dissenter? Is he actually involved in the Mayday rebellion to the power structure that he actively created?

Um. No. He’s not. The answer is way more simple than that. He’s bored. But I am CERTAIN we’ll get to that next week. Regardless, don’t get too sympathetic in your perspective of the Commander because he isn’t all that. Trust me.

And at the very end of the episode, Offred is all kinds of excited about the most recent turn of events. Not because she is becoming more important in this evil hierarchy, but because she wasn’t sent away by the eye. But because she wasn’t in trouble. She was giggling like a maniacal little girl solely because she wasn’t cattle prodded into submission for her involvement with Ofglen. That she wasn’t hanged for thoughts.

But then she heads out the next day to meet Ofglen and finds that someone else is there to meet her. “Has Ofglen been transferred to a new post so soon?”

“I am Ofglen.” And with that the episode ends. Which, was a really surprising turn for me because Ofglen doesn’t disappear until the last 20% of the book. We haven’t even been told much about Mayday – not even the name – and Ofglen is gone? How is this going to work? I’m all kinds of intrigued on where the rest of this season is going to go. Eight more episodes? Really? Hahahah. But dang, they have mined the many great things from the book and posted them as some of the  choicest samplings so far. So it’ll be fascinating to see where the writers take us next.

Interesting Details From Episode 2

One interesting detail that stood out to me that I didn’t remember from the book was that the United States is now only two states, Alaska being one, and possibly Hawaii being the other? Anchorage is the capital of what we used to know as the United States. I also adored the birthing center and the decadence throughout the house. The fine china. The desserts for the women. We realize that this is the most important place in this new world. This house is where the Republic lives and dies. This is the actual front lines of the war. It isn’t near the bombs and the jets. It’s actually here in this birthing center.

Thoughts About Commander Waterford

I want to dive into the book a bit here for a second and object a little bit with the direction that the show is going in. One of the most interesting details about the book is that the Commander’s identity isn’t actually given. It’s surmised, and guessed at. But even at the end of the book we have only narrowed it down to two possible candidates. It isn’t even clear if they are the right two. But Fred Waterford is a guess that is made in the epilogue. Which, makes the story an open ended indictment against patriarchy and oppression. But to pin this commander’s actions on an actual identifiable character seems to limit the reach and the authority of the overall story. No? Maybe that’s just me? But who knows, maybe we will find out that Commander Jeff Waterford isn’t actually who we think he is. But has this story that much foresight? We’ll just have to see.

Thoughts on the Second Episode

After watching the first episode I was fairly blown away. It was such a good portrayal of the book. Obviously this isn’t a cookie cutter from the book because there are numerous deltas that are obvious without much work. But it has heightened the fear from the book. Boiled down and concentrated the elements that were truly horrifying from the book. But it is so well done, and so interesting, I can’t wait to see where the show goes next. Obviously we are going to see the relationship between Offred and the Commander grow and get more complex. We will see … yeah, we are going to see lots of crazy going on. That’s for sure.

Over the next couple days I will post a walk through and a discussion for episode 2 and for episode 3. Then the episode 4 through 10 will come weekly as Hulu releases them. What are your thoughts though? Where do you think this is going to go? Obviously don’t spoil it for others if you’ve jumped through the next two. Can’t wait to watch the next show… well, in a sort of, I can’t look away sort of way.

Interested in reading all of my Handmaiden’s Tale episode recaps so far? You got it – I will update them here as I write them:
Episode 1 – Offred
Episode 2 – Birth Day
Episode 3 – Late
Episode 4 – Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum
Episode 5 – Faithful
Episode 6 – A Woman’s Place
Episode 7 – The Other Side
Episode 8 – Jezebels
Episode 9 – The Bridge
Episode 10 – Night

Edited by, CY