May 26, 2024

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The Handmaid’s Tale “Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum”

Season One, Episode Four.

It’s time to check in on another installment of “How Miserable Can Offred Legitimately Be?”

Truth be told, the answer to that question is “Very, but she gets some moments.”

At any rate, it is 13 days after Offred was banished to her room by Serena Joy for the punishment of having a late period.  She gets meals daily from the house Martha, but this solitary confinement is clearly starting to get to her.  She’s having flashbacks to happier days with her family, as well as a daring escape attempt she made with her friend Moira from the Red Center.

The escape may have worked for Moira.  I think the answer to a show like this is “Probably not,” but we’ll just have to wait and see on that.  The plan involved Moira making a shiv from toilet parts, the pair ambushing an aunt, stealing her dress, and then having Moira wear it as the two left the Red Center not long after being told about The Ceremony with the Biblical justification for sanctioned rape.  Offred, then still June, is caught.  Moira catches a train to Boston.  It doesn’t help that all the signs have temporarily been taken down, but the sights of hangings and armed men everywhere sure don’t help.

June’s punishment when she goes back? She has the bottoms of her feet whipped while Aunt Lydia tells her how lucky she is since she was an adulteress.

Back in the present, Offred finds a phrase in what she presumes is Latin carved into the wood of her closet:  Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundum.  Since the Martha finds her lying in there, she claims she fainted so Serena Joy sends her to the doctor to make sure she’s OK for the upcoming Ceremony.  She is.  The doctor lets slip most of the Commanders are actually sterile.  That’s…not the official party line.  He offers to impregnate Offred himself to keep her out of trouble.  She declines.

The Ceremony seems off, in part because the Commander came to see Offred before it happened.  But she gets a Scrabble rematch and asks him about the Latin.  It’s not quite Latin, he explains.  It means something to adolescent boys showing off.  Loosely translated, it means “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”  Now, the Commander guesses who said it to her (her predecessor) and June presses for details on the previous Offred.  What happened to her?  She killed herself because life was unbearable.  The Commander wants June’s life to be at least a little bearable, so she manages to get him to let her out of her room.

We then see two moments of minor triumph that is sure to be undercut by future events.  The first is Offred going outside and breathing in some fresh air.  The second, in the past, after the whipping, the other Handmaids-in-Training bring her bits of food as a show of support.  Is it enough?

Well, it’s something.