Category Archives: Science Fiction

The Handmaid’s Tale: The Bridge

This post includes spoilers for “The Bridge” (Season 1, Episode 9) of The Handmaid’s Tale as well as for the book this show is based on. As usual, the link on the left has full summaries of all of the episodes that have aired so far. 

Wow, this week was intense! I think it’s my favorite episode yet in this series because of how beautifully everything is coming together.

I’m going to discuss “The Bridge”  by breaking it up into the experiences of certain characters. This is something I did a few weeks ago for “A Woman’s Choice,” and I think it’s a good way to gather my thoughts about everything since there were a lot of exciting and scary things happening.

Aunt Lydia, Ofwarren, and Angela

Aunt Lydia, the woman in the picture on the left who ran the Red Center where Offred and the other Handmaid’s were trained before they were sent out into the world, showed up again this week.

I’ve spent the last eight weeks not having any sympathy for Lydia at all. She has always come across to me as a true believer, and that makes her much scarier than she’d be if she were simply sadistic.

One of the things I’m hoping we get in season two is an exploration of her background. I want to know what could make an ordinary person cling so tightly to a belief system that they know is destroying people’s lives. This happens all of the time in real life, too. It wasn’t something that Margaret Atwood or the other writers had to make up to help the story flow. People behave that way sometimes for their entire lives without ever choosing – or being able to, if you don’t think it’s a choice – to ask hard questions about the things they see going on around them.

Will Aunt Lydia suffer this same fate? She’s a character that I like even less than I do Serena Joy or the Commander, but I still want to see if she ever wakes up and realizes how many lives she’s helped to destroy. Aunt Lydia was present when Ofwarren ceremoniously handed baby Angela over to Warren and his wife before being transferred to a new home. She also showed up later on in the episode after Ofwarren ran away from her new home, kidnapped baby Angela, and stood on the edge of a bridge threatening to jump into frigid water to both of their deaths.

Angela died in her early infancy in the book, so I was genuinely expecting her to meet the same fate once I saw her mother holding her and deciding whether or not to commit suicide. It would have been a darkly appropriate plot twist given how easily people die in this show, but I was glad to see that Angela survived that scene. Whether Ofwarren will be okay depends on how you interpret the final scene she was in. I’m guessing that she’ll live, but it’s honestly hard to say what will happen to her next or whether Aunt Lydia will soften her views at all as a result of this near-tragedy.

How can she deny just how traumatized Ofwarren has been by all of this? We’ve all seen this character’s mental health decline severely over the course of the show.

Moira

Moira’s fate seems much more certain to me at this point.

I was shocked and thrilled to see her again this week.This was something I wasn’t expecting to see until season two, if it even happened at all. I loved the fact that Offred convinced her to stop giving up and start fighting for her freedom again. Those two are platonic soulmates. They are so good for each other in every single way.

I silently cheered at the final scene of this episode, too. It was wonderful to see how quickly Moira came up with a plan to escape Jezebels. Here’s hoping that the final episode of this season will show her arriving in Toronto or some other safe place. Moira’s suffering hasn’t been shown on camera as much as Offred or Ofwarren’s has, but there’s no doubt in my mind that she’s had some horrifying experiences.

Offred

Offred’s development this week wasn’t quite so interesting to me. Of course I’m glad that she’s decided to join Mayday and fight back, but that’s something that’s been building since the first episode. I’d argue that we all knew it was coming. I’m only surprised that it didn’t kick off a lot sooner.

What I was expecting to learn about Offred this week was that she was pregnant. There was a short conversation between the Martha of the house and Serena Joy about her monthly cycle, but it’s still too soon to say if Offred is expecting. When I wasn’t grossed out at the thought of people paying that much attention to something so personal and private, I was wondering if this wasn’t foreshadowing for episode 10.

Offred does wonder if she’s pregnant at the end of the book, so there would be canonical reasons to follow the same path. Then again, baby Angela is still alive and will presumably remain that way. It is possible that the writers decided to wait until a later season to dig up this part of the original plot. We’ll have to wait and see.

Next Monday can’t come quickly enough!

Previous posts in this series:

5 Things I Want from The Handmaid’s Tale

Introducing Offred’s World

Gender Treachery

Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum

Faithful

A Woman’s Place

The Other Side

Jezebels

The Handmaid’s Tale: The Other Side


This post includes spoilers for “The Other Side”
 (Season 1, Episode 7) of The Handmaid’s Tale. It also includes spoilers for the book. As usual, the link on the left has full summaries of all of the episodes that have aired so far. 

One of the things that always bothered me about the original version of The Handmaid’s Tale was that neither Offred nor the audience ever learns what happens to her husband, Luke, in it. She eventually did get some information about the fate of their daughter, but not having that same sense of closure for Luke was troubling.

After this episode, I’m so glad I’ve been avoiding spoilers for this show most of the time. I didn’t know that we were going to learn the fate of Luke, or that he’d get an entire episode dedicated to telling his side of the story after June and their daughter were kidnapped. I’ve been assuming all this time that Luke died during their escape attempt. To see him again was a wonderful surprise.

It turns out that Luke was shot in the stomach by the Guardians a few minutes after June and their child ran into the woods. Hoping to be able to interrogate him, the Guardians called for an ambulance to take him to the hospital. Interspersed between these scenes were flashbacks to when and how Luke and his family decided to try to flee to Canada.

While on the way to the hospital, the ambulance got into an accident that killed everyone in the vehicle except for Luke. Having him escape through pure luck made a lot of sense for his character because Luke’s previous life hadn’t given him any special training at all in stuff like hand-to-hand combat or the use of firearms. He had the average person’s understanding of how these things work, so I really appreciated the fact that the writers didn’t try to change this about him

After Luke escaped, he walked in the direction where his wife and daughter had fled. He found a few personal effects that they’d lost when they were captured, but he still had no idea where they’d gone or what had happened to them. Soon after that, he wandered into an abandoned town and was rescued by a small school bus full of a motley crew of kind strangers who were trying to flee the new regime and who described themselves as “an army brat, two strays, a gay and a nun.”  My favourite scene in this week’s episode was when Luke realized he’s just cussed in front of a nun and apologized for it while they were treating his wounds.

What surprised me the most about “The Other Side” was how much I liked these new characters. So far, we’ve met a lot of folks who have been either openly supportive of Gilead or who are the biggest victims of it. Everyone else’s opinions of it were muted until now.

This episode showed how people who weren’t designated to become Handmaids or high-ranking officers in the new social order responded to the coup and all of the violent things that happened once the Sons of Gilead seized power. If you’re a sensitive viewer, don’t worry. Most of these scenes either happened very quickly or happened after people were killed.

I’m going to be honest with you here, readers. This whole time I’ve been assuming that a fairly high percentage of the people in what was once the United States were either neutral to or actively supportive of most of Gilead’s politics due to what life was like for Offred and the other Handmaids, so it came as a surprise to find out just how much resistance there was to the new government in rural areas.

One of the people from the bus was a former Handmaid who was so traumatized by her experiences in the Red Centre that she no longer spoke. No one even knew her name, and yet the entire group took care of her at the expense of their own safety.

There were other signs of resistance as well. When Luke, June, and Hannah stayed at a temporary safehouse in the middle of the woods on their way to Canada, one of their new neighbours discovered them there. I thought for sure he’d turn them in for a reward, but he kept their secret instead and later tipped them off right before the Guardians swooped down on their cabin.

In a later scene, Luke attempted to run away from the bus people and go find his family. One of his rescuers convinced him to keep moving towards Canada by showing him what happens to anyone who fights back against Gilead. The reason why so many of those small towns were eerily empty now is that they’d been doing things like hiding fertile women and fighting back when the Guardians attempted to separate families.

Gilead’s response to that was to hang every infertile adult from the rafters of the church. You can see a quick glimpse of that scene in the teaser for this episode:

Is it worth it to fight back against terror and injustice if doing so will only get you swiftly killed? I love the fact that this show asks that question but refuses to answer it. Every viewer must come up with their own response to it.

The rest of the journey to Canada was anything but safe. Only Luke and the mute woman made it safely across the border. Once again, I was surprised. I honestly thought that most – if not all – of the people he met were going to become at least semi-regular characters on this series. This is one of the few things I would have liked to see done differently about Luke’s story, although I understand why it was written that way. It matched the earlier scene in the church well. GIlead is not a forgiving place for anyone who steps out of line.

As someone who has lived in Toronto for many years, it was fascinating to see the last few scenes take place in my city. Of course U.S. refugees would pick Toronto as the place to set up Little America while they searched for missing loved ones! Many other countries and cultures have done similar things here. There are many neighbourhoods here where you can honestly feel as tough you’ve stepped into faraway places like Italy, China, India, or Korea.

I also liked seeing how this episode ended.  The note that Offred wrote to Luke in episode 6 was safely delivered. They both know that each other are live. Now we have to wait and see what will happen to them next. Will there be a rescue mission? Will we find out where Hannah is? I’m hoping that both of the answers to those questions are yes.

Previous posts in this series:

5 Things I Want from The Handmaid’s Tale

Introducing Offred’s World

Gender Treachery

Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum

Faithful

A Woman’s Place

The Handmaid’s Tale: A Woman’s Place


This post includes spoilers for “A Woman’s Place”
 (Season 1, Episode 6) of The Handmaid’s Tale. As usual, the link on the left has full summaries of all of the episodes that have aired so far. 

This post is going to be divided into two sections to discuss what went on with Serena Joy and Offred in episode 6. Both of these characters had a lot going on with them this week, so let’s dive in!

Serena Joy

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts about this series, Serena Joy has been an extremely difficult character for me to like. She has brief moments where she is bearable while she’s painting pictures or working in her garden, but the way she’s treated Offred so far has been unconscionable.

They are both women who are trapped in a violent, misogynistic world that values them only for the children they will either bear or be given to raise. No other part of them matters in any way. Up until this point, I’ve been assuming that Serena at least had a good reason to be so callous and cruel.

It was interesting, then, to have so many flashbacks of what Serena’s life was like before Gilead rose to power. We saw many glimpses of a happy, equal marriage between her and the Commander. Their home was filled with sunshine and joy. No one harmed them back then. If there were any skeletons in their closets, we saw no evidence of them at all.

This was a surprise to me because the current marriage between the Commander and Serena exists in name only. There haven’t been any moments of love, intimacy, or tenderness between these characters whatsoever in the present day. They fulfill their religious and social duties, but they might as well be colleagues or roommates when you look at how they speak to and interact with one another.

One of the other things we learned through this week’s flashbacks was that Serena was one of the people who helped to create Gilead. The stuff she wrote and said about gender roles, traditional marriage, and how society as a whole should operate were used as scaffolding for Gilead.

No sooner were her ideas accepted, though, than Serena Joy herself was rejected and sent back home. The men who listened so readily to her in the planning stages of the coup locked her out of the conversation as soon as they got things rolling.

The disappointed and stunned faces Serena made when all of this was playing out clearly showed that she’d been expecting to remain part of the inner circle. I found it hard to sympathize with her once I realized exactly how much work she’d put into creating the society that eventually trapped her.

This was the world she argued was the best possible one over and over again. Did she really expect to be given a pass to keep writing books and giving speeches once she’d helped to recreate such a harsh place? Why did she think she’d be treated any differently or any better than any of the other women in their society? How could she turn her head away from other people’s suffering for so long and then act shocked when her own suffering was quietly brushed under the rug as well?

All of the questions ran through my mind during the banquet that Serena Joy organized for the Mexican ambassador whose visit framed so many of the scenes this week. While the Commander was trying to figure out a way to set up trade with Mexico before Gilead’s economy collapsed, Serena figured out how to seal the deal given the small scraps of power she still possessed.

She did it with their most precious resource: the children the Handmaid’s had provided and created for them. A few dozen healthy, happy children caught everyone’s attention as soon as they were paraded in front of the attendees at a banquet that was thrown for the ambassador, the high-ranking members of Gilead, and any Handmaid who didn’t bear visible scars of the tortures they’ve endured so far.

If Handmaids could give Gilead children, Mexico might just be willing to buy them to bear children for their nation as well. This was one plot twist that I definitely didn’t see coming. It makes me shudder to think about how the Handmaid trade would work and how Gilead would make sure they had enough Handmaids for both personal use and to sell for a profit.

My best guess is that Gilead will begin either dramatically expanding the types of “crimes” that will turn a woman into a Handmaid or raiding nearby villages for freeborn women to capture and sell.

I hope we get more opportunities to explore Serena’s past in future episodes. While I don’t like her at all right now, these glimpses of her previous life have helped me to understand her coldness and lack of empathy a little bit.

Offred

One of the things I disliked about Offred’s character in the book was how passive she was. Yes, she was no doubt horribly traumatized by the things she experienced. In no way am I trying to downplay how that can affect a person’s behaviour, but I always wished that she’d at least occasionally push back against her tormentors.

This week was a rewarding experience for me because of this part of her history. Our Offred is beginning to fight back in bigger ways than she ever has before.

Her first introduction to the Mexican ambassador was as stilted as you might expect. She answered all of the ambassador’s questions about what life was like as a Handmaid with diplomacy and pretty falsehoods. I desperately wanted these characters to meet again so that Offred could tell the truth about the severe sexual, emotional, and physical abuse that she’d experienced repeatedly over the past three years.

This was another point where the plot surprised me: the Mexican ambassador didn’t care about Offred’s suffering at all. Like Serena Joy, she was completely indifferent to other people’s pain. If institutionalized rape and torture was what it took for Mexico to begin having live births again, she was more than willing to sign other people up for that.

I spent so much time feeling confused and horrified by the ambassador’s indifference that it took me a second to realize her assistant didn’t agree with her at all. The message he passed on to Offred in the final scene made my heart skip a beat: Luke was still alive. If Offred wanted to, she could send him a message through the assistant.

Scenes like this make me glad I avoid as many spoilers for this show as I can. I never would have guessed this would happen, so it was wonderful to learn that Luke was safely out of the country at the same moment Offred did.

How did he avoid getting shot to death in the first scene of this series? Was he ever even shot? Who helped him get out of the country? Will they be reunited? What happened to their daughter?

I have so many questions and so few answers at this point. I love the fact that this show is pulling away from the book and forging its own path, though. Next week’s episode can’t come soon enough.

Previous posts in this series:

5 Things I Want from The Handmaid’s Tale

Introducing Offred’s World

Gender Treachery

Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum

Faithful

Why I Love to Read Speculative Fiction

Speculative fiction is an umbrella term for everything from science fiction to dystopians, fantasy to horror.

I’ve been thinking a lot about speculative fiction in general since The Handmaid’s Tale began last month. This specific storytelling style has appealed to me for as long as I can remember for several different reasons.

Honesty

Books like 1984, Animal Farm, or Brave New World reveal the ugly sides of the systems, societies, or cultures they’re critiquing without hesitation. Do they offend some people along the way? Yes, without a doubt. It wasn’t necessarily their original goal, but they’re not afraid to ruffle a few feathers while attempting to get their audiences to wrestle with the big issues that authors in this genre often explore.

I love that about these tales. There are times when I’m in the mood for something light and fluffy, but my first literary love will always be tales that rip off the parts of human society that are hidden and reveal everything they’re trying so hard to conceal.

It definitely isn’t easy to write an entertaining story that also challenges people to rethink their assumptions. When an author manages to pull this off, it’s truly magical.

Critical Thinking

One of the things that irritates me the most about many news networks in the United States is how sensationalized they are. All of their repetitive panic over serious and frivolous stories alike dulls the senses and makes it extremely difficult to think critically about what the newscaster is reporting. When everything is an emergency, nothing is an emergency.

I avoided the news as much as possible when I lived in the U.S. Now that I’ve been an expat for a dozen years, I find it overwhelming when I’m back in the States for a visit.

The nice thing about the more serious side of speculative fiction is that a well-timed plot doesn’t leave room for these kinds of diversions. Yes, there are scenes in The Handmaid’s Tale that draw me into deep thought every time I read about or watch them. These scenes not about assuming the worst or blowing things out of proportion in order to snag people’s attention, though.

Everything that was included in that particular book has actually happened at least once in the past. Some of the plot points have been repeated over and over again throughout history as we try and fail yet again to learn our lessons and improve on how previous generations behaved.

Speculative fiction can push readers to sort through the various points of view in their plots, decide which ones make sense, and come up with our own theories about what happened and how we should interpret fictional stories that have something to say about real-world events.

Wonderment 

First of all, isn’t wonderment a fantastic word? It’s the kind of word that I like to gently roll around on my tongue a few times before I bother to share it with anyone else.

All of the genres I mentioned in the first paragraph of this post are full of wonder in their own way. For example, I will never forget how I felt at the beginning of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone when dozens of invitations to Hogwarts appeared at the Dursleys house after Harry’s uncle destroyed the first few that arrived.

Seeing the Dursleys react so strongly to simple magic makes me grin every time I see it. If only they could have seen the more powerful, playful, and sometimes downright dangerous types of magic that Harry encountered once he started attending Hogwarts!

This sense of wonder stuck with me through all of the Harry Potter books. Even the darkest and saddest scenes in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows still tickled my imagination in small ways. Once wonderment has been introduced into a story, it almost always remains there for good.

Escapism

Yes, I know that some people use this term in a derogatory way. I don’t think of escapist literature as a negative thing at all, though.

There is something to be said for immersing yourself in a completely different world when you need a short break or could use some encouragement.

The first time I read the Lord of the Rings series was shortly after my life had changed in all kinds of stressful ways due to a cross-country move my family made when I was a preteen. I had a lot of  trouble making friends and adjusting to my new school.

I was not a happy kid at that point in my life by any stretch of the imagination, but I found a lot of solace in seeing how Frodo and Sam persevered through even the most impossible circumstances.

We weren’t facing the same obstacles, but we were facing the same fears. If they could push through another day, then I could as well.

How about you? Why do you love speculative fiction? I hope you’ll pop over to Twitter today and tell me all about it!

The Handmaid’s Tale: Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum


This post includes spoilers for “Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum”
(Season 1, Episode 4) of The Handmaid’s Tale. As usual, the link on the left has full summaries of all of the episodes that have aired so far. 

While this episode included several important world-building moments, it wasn’t as action-filled as the previous episodes have been. The picture on the left is one reminder of just how out of the ordinary “Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum” was, but we’ll talk about that more in a few minutes. Let’s stick with the slower pacing for now.

You see, Offred had spent the last 13 days banished to her room as punishment for not being pregnant. Women in Gilead weren’t allowed to read or write, so she had absolutely nothing to occupy her time during those long days and nights.

It was only after examining every last square inch of her room that Offred noticed the phrase nolite te bastardes carborundorum scratched into the wall in her closet. I loved the way they showed her staring listlessly at this phrase as she tried to figure out who wrote it and what they were trying to communicate with her. She had found out in the first episode that the Commander and his wife had a previous Handmaid, but she didn’t know what happened to her predecessor.

There was an important clue to the first Offred’s fate that was revealed to the audience when Martha discovered our Offred lying on the floor and assumed she was dead. Offred lied and said she had fainted in order to prevent anyone else from finding what she’d found in the closet.

The doctor’s visit our Offred was sent on to make sure she was healthy made my skin crawl.  Not only was the doctor creepy in a sad sort of way when he told Offred that he could try to get her pregnant, the rows of pictures of Commanders and Wives holding healthy babies in the waiting room made me wonder exactly how many Handmaids there were altogether out there. For some reason, I thought there were far fewer of them than all of those happy portraits hinted there could be.

They also made me wonder how many of those babies were genetically the doctor’s offspring. Once again I’m glad that I’m only recommending this series for the 14+ crowd. The failed ceremony scene was even more disturbing this week in light of the doctor’s comment about many of the Commanders being sterile. Assuming this is true of Offred’s Commander, then all of the trauma of those nights happens for no reason at all.

My favourite scene, though, occurred at the end of this episode when Offred decided to take the Commander up on his invitation to play a forbidden game of Scrabble after everyone else in the house had gone to bed. Knowing what his intentions were this time didn’t make their interactions any less strange. She was his property. He wanted her to be happy with the arrangement and with her unorthodox relationship with him. In fact, he couldn’t get an erection this month without the illusion that they had some kind of connection.

The nice thing about Offred realizing this was that she was able to use it to find out that the previous Offred committed suicide and that “nolite te bastardes carborundorum” jokingly translates to “don’t let the bastards grind you down.” It was through pretending to have a connection with the Commander that she was also released from her confinement to her room. His fear of another Handmaid killing herself was stronger than Serena Joy’s desire to keep punishing Offred.

Some of the other reactions to this episode that I’ve read have talked about feeling sorry for the Commander in light of how concerned he was about Offred. Given how much power he holds in this world, I had a lot of trouble feeling that way for him. He was so far up the ranks in Gilead that I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d played a key role in creating this world. No, I haven’t read any spoilers about the future episodes. It is pure speculation on my part, but he struck me as someone who fought for something that only sounded good on paper. Once he actually began to experience the world he helped to create, he seemed to feel some buyer’s remorse.

The thing is, the Commander hasn’t had anything important taken away from him. He still has his name, his identity, his family, and as much freedom as anyone can reasonably expect to have in this world. It will be interesting to see if my opinion of him changes in the future, but for now all of my sympathies lie with the Handmaids and everyone else who lost everything to this system.

I have not decided yet if I have sympathy for Serena Joy (who is pictured on the right). The way she treated Offred was abusive and abysmal in this episode, but I’ve also seen the men in her life treat her terribly, too.

That’s not an excuse for her behaviour, by the way. It’s simply an acknowledgement that all of the women in this society have been dealt a crappy hand.

The fact that she has stubbornly refused to help the other women in her house unless it directly benefitted her in some way makes me dislike her intensely. I also hate the fact that she feels so entitled to stealing and raising someone else’s child.

While I have sympathy for her inability to get pregnant when she so clearly yearns to be a parent, wanting to separate a baby from his or her biological mother when the mother has done nothing wrong and has zero history of harming children is horrific.

This is something I hope will be explored further in the future. There have been multiple examples of this sort of thing happening in recent human history, from the Plazo de Mayo mothers to the Baby Scoop era of the 1940s-1970s.

Overall, this was not my favourite episode of this series so far. It was still very good storytelling, but I’m hoping that next week’s episode will have more action in it for Offred’s sake as well as for ours.

Previous posts in this series:

5 Things I Want from The Handmaid’s Tale

Introducing Offred’s World

Gender Treachery

The Handmaid’s Tale: Gender Treachery

This post includes spoilers for “Gender Treachery” (Season 1, Episode 3) of The Handmaid’s Tale. The link on the left will have full summaries of all of the episodes. I will continue to mostly use this series to talk about my reaction to what has been happening to the characters, although I have summered some of the plot today.… Read More

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