TV Review: The Handmaid's Tale (Season 1, Episode 4)
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After three strong, world-building episodes that have shocked and appalled, this week's instalment of The Handmaid's Tale seems a little slow in comparison. Still reeling from the events of last week, Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovsky) has condemned Offred (Elisabeth Moss) to her room. Feeling more cut off from the world than ever before, the cracks in Offred's seemingly calm exterior begin to show, as the life of a handmaid starts to take its toll on her mental wellbeing. This week's episode is very much focused on Offred and her situation within the Waterford household. Unlike last week, there are no detours to the trials of other handmaids, such as Ofwarren and Ofglen. Instead, we remain confined, much like the protagonist herself, within the house and other compact spaces. Throughout the episode, we feel the same sense of suffocation that Offred does, and though that is somewhat commendable in itself, the episode feels much longer and slower because of it. Trapped within her room, Offred finds solace in the closet - a safe haven in which she finds a hopeful inscription; 'Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.' A latin phrase - which we later discover to roughly translate as "don't let the bastards grind you down" - this message of solidarity and defiance was etched into the doorframe by Offred's predecessor. Shattered by Serena's unrelenting coldness, Offred becomes transfixed by this phrase and the ghost of the handmaid before her. Even when Offred finds a reason to escape the confines of her room, after fainting on the day of the ceremony, Serena ensures that her captivity is enforced by sending her to the doctor in a darkened car. Offred's trip to the surgery proves to be a strange experience, as a faceless doctor tries to comfort her. Revealing that the Commander (Joseph Fiennes) is likely sterile, the appointment takes a creepy turn when the doctor offers to "help" Offred by impregnating her. Truly, the way that "help" is defined in this world is warped indeed.
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