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A Structural Breakdown of The Handmaid Tale’s First Season

By June 30, 2017 No Comments


Episode 7 – The Other Side

Teaser

The episode begins with a flashback to the car crash that opened the series’ pilot: Offred,along with her husband Luke and daughter Hannah, struggle to escape with Gilead police hot in pursuit.

Act One

After sending Offred and Hannah into the woods when their car runs off the road, Luke is shot by Gilead police and taken away in an ambulance. Fortunately, the ambulance soon overturns. Luke makes his escape, finding Hannah’s rabbit in the woods and determining that his wife and daughter must have been captured.

Act Two

A badly-wounded Luke seeks refuge in an abandoned cabin. This act ends with another cliffhanger as a group finds Luke in the cabin. Are they friend or foe?

Act Three

It’s revealed that the new arrivals are in the process of their own escape attempt. They help him with his wounds, which leads to a flashback of Luke’s family in an abandoned cabin shortly before leaving town. There are constant questions as to who in their vicinity can be trusted.

Act Four

Luke continues with the new group to Canada. We catch brief glimpses of people hanged by the Gilead regime, reminiscent of the Nazi’s crash and burn policy. Luke manages to get on a boat to Canada amid Gilead police firing at the group as they take their final steps to freedom.

Act Five

Luke turns up later in Toronto, Canada. He lives now as a political refugee with one of the other female escapees. We watch as he visits a Gilead refugee center crowded with pictures. He soon receives a message that ‘June’ is alive. We’re left with a cliffhanger: what will be his actions now that he has found this out?

Episode 8 – Jezebels

Teaser

The episode begins with Offred reflecting on her former husband in Nick’s bedroom. The teaser establishes themes of sexual freedom that underline the episode.

Act One

In flashback, Nick is shown earlier at unemployment office speaking with a career counselor before ending up in a fight. The job counselor takes him for breakfast, telling him about a new men’s group, “the Son’s of Jacob”, a displaced, heterosexual, working-class white male club. This act ends with a cliffhanger as Counselor implores Nick to attend a meeting.

Act Two

Waterford appears in Offred’s bedroom. He shaves her legs, gives her lipstick, a cocktail dress and high heels. These scenes emphasize the Offred’s objectification – and the objectification of women as a whole – in the eyes of Gilead’s men. As they depart, Offred asks Waterford where they’re going.

Act Three

Waterford takes Offred through checkpoints – he asks her to impersonate Mrs. Waterford before taking her into territory where ‘women’ aren’t allowed. In flashback, Waterford and the commanders strategize about ‘the ceremony’ and the handmaids. Back in the present, the commander takes Offred to what looks like a high class bordello. The hypocritical upper class men disregard Gilead’s fundamentalist religious rules. Offred sees Moira dressed as a prostitute.

Act Four

Meeting in the ladies room, Moira apologizes for leaving Offred following their failed escape attempt. Meanwhile, in the servant’s quarters of the hotel, Nick exchanges contraband with a ‘Martha’ and watches as Offred and Waterford retreat to a hotel room. He has a brief flashback to memories of the previous Offred who hanged herself. In the hotel room, the commander forces himself on Offred.

Act Five

Having witnessed the hotel’s debauchery, Offred sneaks out of her room. She finds Moira and learns about the possibility of the“Femaleroad”, a potential way out of the country. Meanwhile, Nick’s backstory continues in flashback. It’s revealed that he is an ‘eye’, tasked with watching Waterford’s profligacy.

At home, the commander’s wife, Serena, brings Offred a symbolic gift – a lock-and-key music box ballerina. On one level the gift is recognition of Serena’s humanity and childhood memory. On another, it is a girl trapped in a box, a symbol of woman’s place in this dystopia. “She only dances when someone opens the lid, winds her up”.

The episode concludes with Offred in the closet much like the music box ballerina. She scrawls “You are not alone” on the wall, her narration telling us that she will not be “that girl in the box”. This is a subtle but significant moment of victory for Offred, further solidifying her growing will to resist.

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