Handmaid's Tale episode 4: Et mulieres superesse?

A hidden message and new perspective.

click to enlarge Offred's Latin message - which translates - "Don't let the bastards grind you down." - Hulu Promotional Images
Hulu Promotional Images
Offred's Latin message - which translates - "Don't let the bastards grind you down."

This was the episode I was waiting for.

Last week ended with Mrs. Waterford discovering that Offred wasn’t pregnant, which drove her to banish Offred to her room. Episode 4 picks up with Offred experiencing a solitary-confinement style shell-shock after being imprisoned in her room for two weeks straight.

Lying on the floor of her closet (as one does) Offred notices a Latin phrase carved into the wall that says, “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.” Little insight into my life — I’m instantly hooked into this episode. Secret Latin message that a previous handmaid carved into the closet wall? Yes.

The following sequence of events are all scenes where Offred was shown something passing for kindness from a man, only to realize it wasn’t kindness at all. When she is sent to the doctor for a check-up the doctor seems kind, and offers her words of comfort — only to ask if she would like him to have sex with her saying, “It will only take a few minutes honey.”  

Through a flashback, the audience sees Offred and Moira attempt to escape from the Handmaid’s. Moira was successful — Offred was stopped by two men in uniform who greeted her kindly only to restrain her and send her back to be tortured.

Finally, when playing chess with the Lord Commander, Offred asks him what the Latin phrase in the closet means, claiming she heard it from a friend. While hesitant, he reveals that his previous Handmaid killed herself. Offred realizes that she is most likely not special, and these nightly trips to play Scrabble with the Lord Commander was probably something that was enjoyed by her predecessor. The Lord Commander tells her the phrase means, “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

The Handmaid’s Tale kills at sticking the landing in each episode. This week, it ended with Offred, after hearing the meaning of the message, convincing the Lord Commander to release her from house arrest. As she walks into the street to do her shopping with the other Handmaids, her voiceover says, “There was an Offred before me. She helped me find my way out. She is dead. She is alive. She is me. We are Handmaids. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum, bitches.”

Watching Hillary Clinton lose the election sucked. I know she made mistakes, and she wasn’t perfect by any means — but watching a woman who had worked her entire life for a job she deserved lose to a man that didn’t even take it seriously knocked the wind out of me. A lot of women went to bed that night feeling like "it’s a man’s world and we’re all just living in it." In part that’s what's so terrifying about The Handmaid’s Tale; it’s not difficult to believe that reproductive rights would be monitored by the government because they already are.

However, as Offred walked away saying, “Don’t let the bastards grind you down,” all I could think of was the Women’s March the day after President Trump’s Inauguration. Where literally millions of women went into the streets to say, “I will not be silent.” They had the option to lie on the floor in the closet but they stood up and demanded that people listen.

Somewhere I hope there’s a little girl that looks at herself in the mirror every day and says, “There have been women before me. They helped me find my way out. They are dead. They are alive. They are in me. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum, bitches.”

Now more than ever, it seems the only way out for Offred — and women today — is to band together.


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Toni Jannel

Toni's a true Tampa native, equal parts Italian and Cuban — she's practically an ad for Ybor City. She's a USF graduate and a genuine enthusiast for anything with a script.

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