Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Season 1, Episode 5: “Faithful”
Directed by Mike Barker
Written by Dorothy Fortenberry
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Nolites Te Bastardes Carborundorum” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “A Woman’s Place” – click here
Offred (Elisabeth Moss) and Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) continue playing Scrabble. They have a drink in front of a fire. “He likes it when I flirt,” she tells us, discovering this for certain after 34 games. They’re certainly spending quite a bit of time together, which you can also be sure pisses off Serena Joy Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski).
If only she knew her husband was giving the handmaid presents, such as a copy of Beautify magazine that were thought destroyed with all the other supposed feminine things in society reaching out to women. What we see is how Waterford breaks the rules for her, he has feelings for Offred underneath all the patriarchal horror. As she looks through the magazine the women all appear foreign to her in this new world, like “zoo animals” unaware they’re heading into extinction shortly.
Fashback. Moira (Samira Wiley) and June a.k.a Offred debate the merits of Tinder. This is when they first meet Luke (O-T Fagbenle) on the street, as Moira asks him to help pick out June’s profile picture. A cute little meeting at that.
Luke (to June): “You look invincible”
In the present, Offred’s helping Serena in the garden, worrying if the wife’s found out one of her several secrets. At the same time our handmaid sees the men around her, from the Commander to Nick (Max Minghella), vying in sly ways for her attention, just like Beautify and Cosmopolitan tell ladies via 10 Ten lists. But more importantly Serena worries her husband may be sterile, she whispers of it in the garden with Offred; she wants to help her get pregnant, via another man. You know exactly who, too: Nick. That’s a lot of conflicted feelings. And is Serena doing this for real, or is she luring the poor handmaid into something worse? I’m inclined to believe the former. For now.
Offred runs into Janine (Madeline Brewer) and others at the eerie, white-walled grocery store. Moreover, Ofglen (Alexis Bledel) – Ofsteven now – has returned, genitals mutilated and her soul crushed. She’s adjusting to the new life. Offred wants to know about The Eyes, whether Nick is one of them. Then she discovers something called “Mayday” before being pulled away by her latest handmaid partner, Ofglen #2 (Tattiawna Jones).
We see that #2 is brainwashed. Her life before was that of a junkie, now she’s clean and sees this place as where she’s been saved. That’s sad; you offer a measly little olive branch to the right, vulnerable woman, and she winds up complicit in the patriarchy.
Later that day Serena sneaks Offred out to see Nick; an unauthorised Ceremony Day. Our handmaid thinks about Luke, for the time it’s as if she’s “cheating” on him, though every bit of it’s forced. Flashback to her on a date with Luke. They’re getting to know one another, the first steps of falling in love. Although he’s still married; tsk, tsk. And gradually they teeter along an affair, slipping into the water flirtatiously.
An awkward meet of Serena, Nick, and Offred, as they start their hopefully baby-making exercise. Nick and Offred’s first time, almost as awful as she and the Commander, is juxtaposed with the tender first time of June and Luke in a hotel room succumbing to a waiting passion. Compared to that, the sex with Nick is horrible, between the silence and Serena watching in the background, them barely touching one another aside from the obvious penetration; it’s ghastly. Then they finish and Offred’s brought back home, put away in her room like a piece of fine China.
Poor Ofsteven. Her life somehow got worse than it was previously. Now she adjusts to a life without a literal, physical part of her. We briefly see some woman to woman care, just a glimpse, as she’s offered a slight hand by her keeper. But Ofsteven recognises the fact there is no escape from the nastiness of a handmaid’s life.
Another Ceremony Day commences at the Waterford house, though everyone’s hiding their respective secret – Fred’s falling in love with Offred, Offred had to have sex with Nick, Serena of course knows about what she helped happen. One of the more horrifying moments of rape, if that’s imaginable, so far in The Handmaid’s Tale. That night Offred confronts Fred about how he touched her during the ritual, with lust instead of merely carrying out the function of intercourse. Oh, the waters are muddying. Fast. Particularly with the Commander dangling things from life before Gilead in front of Offred, as they continue spending time alone together at night.
Furthermore we see that Fred doesn’t care about love, he only likes fucking her. He doesn’t believe in love, or much else other than the twisted biblical law of Gilead. Offred also finds out about what happened to Ofglen during her procedure.
Offred: “We had choices then”
Fred: “Now you have respect. You have protection. You can fulfil your biological destinies in peace.”
“Better never means better for everyone. It always means worse for some.”
Flashback. June asks Luke to leave his wife, to which he agrees easily. They’re in love and they both know it, no sense in denying that. Again, juxtaposed with life in Gilead there’s an emotional depth these scenes reach that wouldn’t be seen if we only watched one portion of June/Offred’s life in long stretches. Edited in like memories, these flashbacks help build the core of the story, and it makes the character development shine.
Offred again talks with Ofsteven. She tells Offred to join with Mayday, to help them in her absence. For the first time Ofsteven tells her friend her name, Emily, but Offred’s pulled away before she can also speak her name. Suddenly we see Emily sneak into a car when one of the men hops out briefly. She speeds off.
An act of driving, something so simple, allows the other women to feel a strange sense of freedom. Women are no longer allowed to do the tiniest activities, such as driving. And even with an armed standoff outside the car, Emily gives them all spirit in her brief defiance of the patriarchal rule. Compounded by running over a man’s head, popping it like a watermelon in front of the crowd. Whoa. I worry for what they’re going to do with Ofsteven after that.
Offred: “M‘aidez. Help me.”
At home, Serena paints, and Offred comes back following the scene in town with her renewed spirit brewing inside. While Mrs. Waterford talks of a woman’s “requirements” Offred only eyes the sharp objects nearby. The murder of that man may have instilled her with something dangerous, but useful all the same. That night she goes to see Nick in his room, she gives herself to him only this time with much more passion and heated lust.
Thus begins the next step in her own personal rebellion.
Offred: “She looked invincible”
Another stellar episode, one that bridges the past and present in such a tangible way through Offred(a.k.a June)’s memories. I can’t get enough of the series, especially the acting and the heavy themes presented with such grace. It’s all around a fascinating show, coming around at just the right time in North America certainly.
Next episode is “A Woman’s Place” and I can only begin to imagine what we’ll see go down.