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A Structural Breakdown of The Handmaid Tale's First Season

by ScreenCraft on June 30, 2017

Episode 4 – Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum
(Do not let the Bastards Grind You Down)

Teaser

Flashback to Offred with her daughter at a fair.  This episode’s thematic subtext examines Offred's will to live for her daughter.

Act One

Offred is locked in a room by Serena Joy. She discovers the words, ‘Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum’ - Do Not Let the Bastards Grind You Down - carved into the wall. This establishes a recurring theme of Offred coming to terms with her new consciousness . In flashback,  Offred remembers Moira carving graffiti into the girl’s bathroom wall - ‘Aunt Lydia sux’. It's one of several similar pieces.

Act Two

A false high with Offred leaving the house for a doctor’s appointment, which gives her with some alone time with Nick. Offred has a flashback to the handmaid's school - 'the ceremony' is outlined. Women are emphasized in simple terms: as wombs, containers, and vessels. In the present, Offred does not want to go back home on account of the nightly ceremony. Another false high with a flashback to Offred and Moira almost escaping. Moira succeeds and Offred is left in the subway. Later, Offred has her feet whipped as punishment for this attempt.

Act Three

A low point occurs on ceremony night. Offred lies on the floor and touches the carved Latin. ‘Do not let the Bastards win’. We flashback again to her escape attempt with Moira.

Act Four

Commander Waterford begins secretly inviting Offred to play Scrabble. Meanwhile, we see yet another piece of the escape flashback. Her memory holds up Moira's fighting spirit as an example of survival. In the present day, she uses her sway with the commander to further empower her position.

Act Five

Another scrabble game with commander. Offred finds out about the previous handmaid to occupy her role. Waterford mentions her life became so unbearable that she committed suicide. Offred uses this information to her advantage. We see flashbacks to other girls in the handmaid’s group offering small pieces of fruit/food to Offred after the beating that followed her failed escape attempt. Final voice over - “There was an Offred before me. She helped me find my way out.”

Episode 5 - Faithful

Teaser

Offred plays Scrabble again with Waterford. Her ‘lure’ is emphasized yet again - ‘You fit into me like a hook into an eye, a fishhook’.

Act One

The commander gives Offred a beauty magazine, recognizing her as more than a breeder. Serena Waterford introduces the idea of impregnation by Nick, the driver, to Offred. The problem juxtaposes love against animal lust and breeding.

Act Two

Offred’s relationship with Nick, her previous husband, Luke, and the commander is examined in terms of themes of love, lust and relationships and previous graffiti, “Don’t Let the Bastards Grind You Down”.

Act Three

The commander brings Offred another glamour magazine and mentions “biological destiny”. Themes of love, lust, and 'breeding' are juxtaposed once more. In this darker episode, all of the men and Offred are driven in different degrees by these various drives. Cliffhanger in flashback: Offred’s previous husband, Luke, reaffirms his love for Offred.

Act Four

Offred finds out from Ofglen that she can join the subversive organization, “Mayday”.

Act Five

Offred gives herself to Nick but takes control of her own sexual power, a small but incredibly important step.

Episode 6 – A Woman’s Place

Teaser

This episode begins by establishing the theme of Nick and Offred’s developing relationship.

Act One

With a delegation arriving from Mexico, the handmaidens must clean the dead bodies hanging from Gilead's walls. We see a flashback of Waterford and Serena. Serena is an intelligent woman who gives Waterford helpful advice. Her love for him is obvious.

Act Two

The Mexican delegation meets Offred. A female ambassador asks about the retrograde position of women in the US. Offred lies about her life in response. All of the upper class wives are similarly obedient.

Act Three

There is an argument between Commander Waterford and his Serena. Flashback: Earlier, Waterford promotes the intelligence of his wife - from her books to her writing ability. In the present, Commander Waterford calls Offred to a Scrabble game but finds that she's distracted. Offred's mind is on Nick. She understands that she to be duplicitous to ensure her survival. This is a low point - a dark moment of uncertainty.

Act Four

The handmaidens are paraded for the Mexican delegation, re-emphasizing this new subjugated role for women. Serena speaks to the delegation out of turn as Gilead’s children are dressed and paraded like Hitler youth. Handmaidens and children alike represent little more than a commodity to be traded. Offred resolves she must do something.

Act Five

Offred announces her name to Nick during a moment of humanity. She courageously corrects her previous lies to the Mexican ambassador: "We’re prisoners. If we run, they’ll try to kill us. They use cattle prods. If they catch you reading, they cut off a finger. I was trying to escape to Canada. They took my daughter. They are trafficking in children and women as breeders.” Offred speaks her truth to the ambassador, continuing to reclaim power over her own fate.

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