Episode 5: Faithful

In this week’s episode, some time has passed. Offred has, at this point, played 34 games of Scrabble with the Commander, and is feeling comfortable enough with him to share something approaching real opinions. He gives her a gift—a fashion magazine a la Cosmopolitan—and although she says it is not allowed, he says, “It is with me.”

Offred—hereafter referred to as “June” in flashbacks for the purposes of these summaries—recalls when she first met Luke. She and Moira are waiting at a hot dog stand, looking through Tinder, and lamenting the string of bad dates June has been on. Moira takes June’s phone and says the problem is her profile picture. She goes up to a stranger—Luke—and asks his opinion. He ends up searching through photos to find one he thinks should be her profile picture. In it, he says, she looks invincible.

In the present, Mrs. Waterford takes Offred into the garden and suggests that the Commander might be sterile. She asks Offred if she would be willing to try with another man—specifically Nick, the driver. He has already agreed. Offred dutifully notes that it is forbidden, but agrees. Mrs. Waterford says that they will do it after the shopping.

While shopping, Offred sees that Ofglen is back—except now she is called Ofsteven. Offred talks to her, and Ofsteven says she doesn’t know anything anymore—she is too dangerous to be part of “Mayday”, which we learn is the name of the underground organization resisting the current government. On their way home, the new Ofglen confronts Offred and warns her not to talk so much to Ofsteven again. Apparently, before the current regime, the new Ofglen had to prostitute herself in order to eat. Her new master and mistress are kind, she has a roof over her head, and she does not want to lose that.

After shopping, Mrs. Waterford sneaks Offred into Nick’s apartment, and they have very awkward, quiet, impersonal sex while Mrs. Waterford stands by. At one point, Offred grabs Nick’s elbow, but apart from that, nothing passes between them. Offred returns to the house and Mrs. Waterford prays over her womb.

Before Offred has sex with Nick, however, she reflects that it feels like cheating on Luke, although the Ceremonies don’t feel that way. She remembers lunch with Luke, Before–shortly after they first met at the hot dog stand. They talk about how they haven’t told Moira or Annie (Luke’s wife) that they are hanging out, and note that they haven’t done anything wrong. As soon as the idea comes up, however, they begin laughing about where they would go to sleep together. What starts as a joke turns into a real conversation—where would they go? They do end up having sex. June says she prefers to be on top—an option she doesn’t have during her “ceremonies” in the present day. They say they’re only doing this one time, but we know that is not true.

We see a small clip of Ofsteven’s life with her new family, and learn that her mistress is kind and tries to spare her the Ceremony as much as possible. She says she is ill, but Ofsteven wisely replies, “you can’t be ill every month.” Even so, we see that the wives are not all entirely heartless.

At that night’s Ceremony at the Waterford residence, the Commander touches Offred’s thigh and looks at her in a way that he should not be looking at a Handmaid, and she is afraid. Afterward, she visits his office and tells him to never do it again, and we learn a bit of the Commander’s philosophy. He understands that Before, women had a choice, but he feels that now they are free to fulfill their “biological destiny.” He doesn’t believe that there is anything to live for except children, and when Offred suggests that love is worth living for, we learn that he believes love is nothing more than lust and a successful marketing campaign. He says that “better never means better for everyone; it always means worse for some.” When she suggests that he has not felt love, he threatens to send her to “the colonies,” and she asks what they did to Ofglen. When she learns the truth, she leaves immediately—no Scrabble game tonight.

Nick finds her throwing up in the kitchen sink, ostensibly in reaction to the news of Ofglen’s (Ofsteven’s) mutilation. He asks if she is sick, and she asks if he is an Eye. At first, he evades the question. He apologizes to her for agreeing to Mrs. Waterford’s request. She again asks him if he is an Eye, and he says he is—but it’s unclear whether he is being truthful. Perhaps he is just saying he is an Eye so that he can get her to behave in a way that will keep her safe. She is clearly upset and feeling reckless, but at his word she goes to bed.

In a flashback, June asks Luke to leave his wife, and he says okay. She is surprised, but he asks what else he would do—he is in love with her. We now understand why she was called “adulterer” in a previous episode, when they whipped her feet for running away.

At shopping, Offred approaches Ofsteven and says she knows what they did to her. Ofsteven says that Offred can find Mayday, and introduces herself as Melanie. Before Offred can share her real name in return, the new Ofglen arrives and steers her away. Ofsteven then steals a car, takes a joyride around the block, and runs over an Eye before she is hauled away. That night, Offred sneaks into Nick’s apartment and they have real sex—kissing, orgasms, and she is on top, how she likes. Even the strictest of rules, roles, and hierarchies can’t prevent people from following their impulses.

This episode continues the pattern of revealing just a little bit more of each character’s humanity through contradictory words and actions. The Commander allows and encourages reading, needs a personal connection in order to complete the Ceremony, but denies the existence of love. Mrs. Waterford believes in the system enough to have and use a Handmaid, but acknowledges the possibility that a man could be sterile. Nick once again appears to have sympathy for Offred, but that doesn’t prevent him from trying to keep her within her role–except when it does. Though the restrictions of the role each is put in are rigid, the characters themselves are complex and confusing (and confused).

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