THE HANDMAID’S TALE, 1.2 – “Birth Day” (TV Review)

 

Channel 4 – 9pm – Sunday 4th June 2017

Created by and teleplay by: Bruce Miller

Based on the novel by: Margaret Atwood

Directed by: Reed Morano


 

THERE IS AN US

At the close of last week’s series debut (reviewed HERE), reluctant concubine Offred (Elisabeth Moss) was warned that a despotic Gilead spy (known as an “Eye”) is watching her, even while she goes about her demeaning slave-like duties as a sex-surrogate for wealthy Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and his stuck-up wife, Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski). In “Birth Day”, Offred feels herself stuck ‘tween two extremes and pulled both ways: should she go against the strict new conventions and meet with her new master alone, or use her unique position to betray his trust and provide intel to a network of rebellious Handmaids, led by “carpet-munching gender traitor” Ofglen (Alexis Bledel)?

“Please, God, don’t let me be a fucking moron…”

Packed full of slow-playing violins, composer Adam Taylor’s mournful score contributes perfectly to the heavy, mournful air which permeates this exquisite adaptation; even in the bright, opulent surroundings of the communal birthing room there is no joy, instead “something primal.” While Janine/Ofwarren’s (Madeline Brewer) surrogate mistress fakes labour as ‘her’ baby is delivered in front of a room full of chanting Handmaids, Offred is reminded of her own nightmare delivery in the “before times,” when her daughter, Hannah, was nearly kidnapped from the maternity ward.

Darkness and injustice is everywhere in this oppressive totalitarian Republic, perfectly symbolised when Offred is offered a cookie by one of the wealthy, only for Serena Joy to chide and admonish her like a naughty toddler or, worse, a puppy. “We shouldn’t spoil them,” she says disrespectfully, before her snotty friend disdainfully comments “Isn’t she well behaved?” The patent insolence is painfully infuriating; how is this backwards class-system considered progressive?

Opposingly, elsewhere in episode two the tension is heightened when words instead go unsaid. The Commander’s private meeting transpires to merely be an anxious game of Scrabble! But the hope and revived confidence this inappropriate assembly gives to Offred is encapsulated in a frankly inspired choice of song: Simple Minds’ darkly ebullient 80s synth anthem “Don’t You Forget About Me”. The Handmaid has an advantage over her keeper, the future is bright. Right? Right?! “… Fuck.”

CR@B’s Claw Score: 5 stars

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