‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Episode Two Review: ‘Birth Day’

After a swift dive into the Republic of Gilead in episode one, The Handmaid’s Tale plunges audiences deeper into the world in episode two. Following up an impeccable premiere episode, The Handmaid’s Tale doesn’t give fans a time to breathe or process, instead we learn more about the Handmaids and the horrific world around them. Episode two of The Handmaid’s Tale entitled “Birth Day,” gives us some outstanding performances while continuing a descent into a world that could be our future.

In a crucial follow up to the premiere, The Handmaid’s Tale episode two showcases the polarizing environments the Handmaids and the wives of The Commanders live in. While they all inhabit the same space, their lifestyles are vastly different. The polarizing differences allow “Birth Day” to be an important episode in The Handmaid’s Tale series.

Episode two shows Offred and her fellow Handmaids assisting with the delivery of Janine’s baby. This prompts Offred to remember her own daughter’s birth before Gilead. Also, Offred and Ofglen grow closer as Offred is asked to meet with The Commander, alone.

While Janine gives birth in present day, Offred remembers the birth of her daughter, Hannah. Not present in Atwood’s novel, the flashbacks to life before Gilead work extremely well in The Handmaid’s Tale. With each added flashback we get to see everything Offred has lost and everything she fights for. She fights for Hannah. She fights for Luke. And now, she fights for Moira.

Joseph Fiennes in The Handmaid’s Tale. Photo Credit: Hulu

In the flashbacks, we also get to witness the early stages of how the United States transitioned into Gilead. After giving birth, Offred’s child is the only one to survive the night. Later, Hannah is even stolen by a woman who claims she’s her child. Watching Offred try to get Hannah back provides a great parallel to present day where Janine doesn’t even get to hold her child because she’s not see as hers in Gilead. The flashbacks are a welcomed addition to The Handmaid’s Tale universe and episode two utilizes them perfectly.

Moss’ best work in episode two comes opposite Joseph Fiennes as The Commander. When The Commander invites Offred to his office, alone, the audience is left to imagine all the horrible things that could happen. In just two episodes, we’ve witness Offred internally and externally tortured, so descending into the lair of one of her biggest fears is horrific. Once in The Commander’s office, they play Scrabble. Yes, Scrabble. A simple word board game that speaks volumes in The Handmaid’s Tale. Especially when Offred places the first word on the board: “nation.”

Without sharing much dialogue, Moss and Fiennes add to the eerie nature of The Handmaid’s Tale. The silence in the room is palpable as audiences are left wondering what The Commander’s motives truly are. With one episode under their belt, The Handmaid’s Tale makes a game of Scrabble seem like the worst thing ever. Fiennes and Moss elevate this somewhat simplistic scene to new heights. Including direction by Reed Morano, The Handmaid’s Tale knows how to make the small moments carry just as much weight as the larger ones.

Elisabeth Moss and Yvonne Strahovski in The Handmaid’s Tale. Photo Credit: Hulu

“Birth Day” also allows two other female characters a chance to shine. Yvonne Strahovski astounds as Serena Joy. A character that rides the line between evil and good, Serena is an essential character to Offred’s world. In this episode, audiences witness Serena Joy taking part in the Birth Day ceremony on the mother’s side. While the Handmaids are upstairs helping Janine, Serena Joy is downstairs with the other mothers. It’s an interesting parallel that hinges on Moss and Strahovski’s performances. In Atwood’s novel, Serena Joy is significantly older than Offred. What makes their dynamic in The Handmaid’s Tale so eerily brilliant is they’re around the same age. Only two episodes in, Strahovski is the villain you want to trust, but can’t. She plays the dynamic opposite Moss perfectly and her storyline will only increase from here.

Meanwhile upstairs, Janine gives birth to a beautiful baby girl. Madeline Brewer’s performance as Janine is exceptional. Without any dialogue, you’re able to see the pain Janine feels when she must give away her child. It’s heartbreaking, but at the same time launches Janine into a very interesting and intense character arc. “Birth Day” allows us to see more of Offred’s crazy world. Through Strahovski and Brewer’s performances, we learn more about the other women in Gilead and it’s still as frightening as ever.

“When they blamed terrorists and suspended the Constitution we didn’t wake up then either. They said it would be temporary, nothing changes instantaneously. In a gradually heating bathtub you’d be boiled to death before you even knew it.”

While the entire second episode of The Handmaid’s Tale is amazing, the last few moments are truly extraordinary. After growing closer and revealing their true selves to each other, fans surely took a moment to breathe that Offred has Ofglen. Of course, this is The Handmaid’s Tale, breathing is simply not an option. At the end of the episode, Offred goes to meet Ofglen, except it’s not her Ofglen. A new Handmaid has been assigned. Atwood’s original words make the voiceover in The Handmaid’s Tale one of the best uses of voiceover in any TV series. Her words are chilling, eerily timely and when spoken by Moss, Emmy Award worthy. In just a singular voiceover, Moss sends chills down audience’s spines as we learn how dangerous this world can be.

“Birth Day” is an episode filled with set up as we dive deeper into characters like The Commander and Serena Joy. The episode acts as a set up for arguably the best episode in The Handmaid’s Tale so far.

The Handmaid’s Tale is currently streaming on Hulu.

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