Season 1, Episode 8: Jezebel's
Right, okay, so after a filler episode showing us where and how Lucas ends up, we return to Gilead and the dumpster fire that is the Waterford household. After getting a bit of background into Nick, we rejoin the Commander and Offred as their relationship continues to advance (into creepier and creepier spaces). I have a feeling we’ll have a bit more to say about these developments, so let’s jump on in!
EH: I’m going to pause really quickly on Nick’s backstory. He’s not my favorite, but I’m happy they are giving him a bit more depth. What we learn from his story is that the conspiracy group had chapters in 30 states and called themselves the Sons of Jacob (fitting given your biblical lesson a few posts back). But, OBVIOUSLY, the most interesting part of this episode is the Commander taking Offred to Jezebel’s, a club where the men of Gilead can buy women and pretend to be in the good old US of A again, complete with cocktails, music, sports on television and the further subjugation of women.
I was gobsmacked watching this unfold, everyone is complicit in maintaining the system and it is complex (these lads thought of everything). We hear how they have found a scriptural precedent for having concubines, so feel free to jump right into Pastor Kristen mode with this one. Were you expecting this level of hypocrisy and deceit? It left me so unsettled (and for this show that’s saying something).
KD: Yeah, so I wasn’t surprised at all. What the men of Gilead did had absolutely nothing to do with faith and had everything to do with institutional power. What was really happening in the country was unexplainable - no one could carry babies to term - and so people who crave answers began to create them for themselves. The fertility crisis stripped everyone of control and men who were used to such control began to craft a way to get it back. Dripping with entitlement and privilege, they forged Gilead out of the carcass of a decimated democracy and wrapped it all in such religious language that selling it as God’s will was simple. This is the behavior of cult leaders, megalomaniacs, and dictators from time immemorial.
Because Gilead doesn’t really represent a personal belief system built on humility, mystery, or faith but is about power, of course these jerks were gonna make sure they could still have pleasure. For all their talk of lust as a sin, and the Commander’s comments that make it seem like the Gilead leadership blames lust/sex for the downfall of America, they don’t realize that by separating sex from relationships, they have fundamentally broken its purpose.
Sex is, yes, sometimes about procreation, but it’s really about the union of bodies and souls. It’s about hormones releasing through orgasms and thus helping all the bodily systems be in line with each other again. Sex in relationships is used to bring people closer - there’s chemistry and such attached to this, but from a theological perspective, I just always think about how there are more nerve endings in the clitoris than anywhere else in a woman’s body and that thing serves no other function other than pleasure. Surely the God of the universe who knits all people together in their mother's wombs (Psalm 139) didn’t do that by accident. Come on, y’all, introduce logic to your theology and things always work better.
All that to say, because sex is not properly located in their theology, it has to remain about power and control, hence Jezebels. Concubines, for the record, were usually also about power. So, the theme continues.
I had wondered where all the gender professors and high powered lawyers and CEOS and such were forced to be enslaved in this new world, and we got our answer. When he pointed to the sociology professor casually sipping whiskey, I laughed out loud and said “well, found my place in Gilead.”
EH: Haha, well, we both know where we would end up in this dystopic future. I really appreciate your distinction about the foundational element of Gilead (and all governments) really being about power and control. Though we had glimpses of it throughout the season, this episode confirms that the new system is all a farce, carefully constructed so that men can continue to enjoy power and pleasure, remarkably cynical stuff from Atwood here. And the beauty of bringing fiction to life through television drama is the ability to create the world the author envisioned.
We’ve talked a lot on this blog about resistance and the ability to conform or resist to a new system of control, and it was heartbreaking to see Moira, one of our fiercest women, bent by the weight of her containment. We always have to remember that a truly successful method of imprisonment includes both physical and psychological containment. Likewise, most power hierarchies operate on layers of fear, which June and Moira are rather adept at showing us.
I thought it was fascinating that because the Ceremony of sex in Gilead is so ritualized and takes all form of consent from the Handmaid, the only way that the Commander could perform is when he creates the illusion of consent by taking Offred to Jezebels.
You have to love the end of the episode where Serena Joy gives Offred the ‘gift’ of the ballerina in the box, which only dances when the box is opened. Pretty clearly stating, ‘Stay in your place and you will survive.’ But our Offred turns that gift into a means to resist, by using the key to carve ‘You are not alone’ into the wall. I thought this was a powerful and sad moment. Even though she is resisting the system, she clearly knows that whatever she may accomplish, she will likely be replaced, and instead just attempts to leave hope for the next handmaid.
KD: Aye, when the voiceover says “I will not be that girl in the box”, I said out loud “no you will not, June!” with a catch in my throat. Of all the episodes, this one felt the most personal somehow to me, and I was just profoundly sad. I agree about Moira - Samira Wiley plays the emotional imprisonment so perfectly. Ugh, two episodes left! That’s not a lot of time to completely dismantle Gilead, so I’m thinking my wildest dreams are not going to come true this season.
EH: Probably not, no, but we live in hope! Join us for our next post on episode 9, I know we will have a lot to talk about!