The scariest moment of the fourth episode of The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t brutal as the shocking ending of the third episode, but it too takes place in a sterile, white doctor’s office. When Offred visits an exam room, her physician makes her an offer, and it’s unclear if he’s being sincere or not. It’s also unclear which option would be more horrifying.
Spoilers for Season 1 Episode 4 of The Handmaid’s Tale.
This episode, “Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum,” opens with Offred in dire straights following Serena Joy’s furious reaction to the news that she’s not actually pregnant after all. Offred is confined to her room, and she’s starting to lose it. She finds some small bit of hope when she sees that a previous Offred carved the episode’s title (later revealed to be Latin for “don’t let the bastards grind you down”) inside of her closet. However, to hide this discovery from her masters and in an attempt to go outside, Offred claims that she’s sick and fell.
Serena Joy sends Offred to the doctor. At first, we don’t get to see the doctor. He sounds and acts like a professional — he’s friendly, even, which is unusual in Gilead — but he’s hidden behind a curtain. When he gives Offred an examination, though, he can’t help but come off unsettling. Here, yet another man violates Offred, and even though this is, in theory, something that happens during a normal visit to the doctor, Offred’s lack of agency makes it feel wrong.
Except, maybe the doctor really is a friend. He tells Offred that chances are Commander Fred is sterile, even though nobody in Gilead will ever admit to a man being at fault. He’s empathizing with Offred even though she’s a handmaid, and then he offers to — gasp — help her.
This is dangerous. With The Eyes — Gilead’s secret police — everywhere, Offred has to be careful with what she says next. If he’s part of the resistance, he could be Offred’s way to safety, but if it’s a trick, then going along with him will spell her doom.
But, it doesn’t come to that, because the “help” the doctor wants to give her is his penis.
The doctor, knowing (or perhaps claiming) that Commander Fred is probably sterile, selflessly offers to impregnate Offred himself, because that way she won’t eventually be blamed for “her” infertility.
“It will only take a few minutes, honey,” he says, peering out from behind the curtain.
Offred says no, and he seems disappointed and a hair confused, but not mad. He just finishes up the examination. It’s a really, really upsetting scene, no matter what the doctor’s intentions were. Maybe he has no reason to suspect that Commander Fred is sterile, and is just using that excuse in order to have sex with a handmaid. If that’s the case, he’s essentially a rapist.
But, let’s say he was sincere and was really just trying to help Offred. That’s still totally fucked. Gilead seems to be working out pretty well for the doctor — if it weren’t, he might actually try to do something that would actually help change things. No, he tries to help Offred by suggesting that they have sex. Gilead is so regressive that even his attempt to help Offred is extraordinarily oppressive (not to mention a major violation of every doctor’s code of conduct).
Offred encounters three men in this episode, and all of them seem to do something “nice” for her. The doctor offers to put a baby in her, Nick offers her some sympathy (but it’s unknown where his loyalties truly lie or what he really wants), and Commander Fred offers her companionship and the brief opportunity to be treated like a human. But, all of these acts of “kindness” are truly warped — especially Commander Fred’s, since he owns and regularly rapes Offred.
“Good Guys,” the type of men who thinks basic kindness entitles them to women, are toxic in our world. In the dystopian, patriarchal world of The Handmaid’s Tale, these “Good Guys” are even worse.