The Handmaid’s Tale (S01E05) “Faithful”

We’re now halfway through the first season, and this week we learn a lot about some of the characters. Offred and the Commander now have a routine, and the episode opens with a Scrabble game where we see Offred lounging comfortably and drinking bourbon. The Commander has a gift for her, a women’s magazine. Really? You have a room full of books and you offer her something with articles on makeup and fashion? And, as we see, an article on “10 Ways to Tell How He Feels About You.”

Flashback to “When Luke Met June.” It was a meet cute-worthy of any rom-com involving food trucks and Tinder profiles, and soon they are meeting for lunch. But it’s just lunch, they insist, because Luke is married. Until one day it isn’t, unless by “lunch at a food truck” you really mean “sex at the Hyatt.”

Ofglen has returned, only now she’s Ofsteven. Offred manages to have a few words with her before Ofglen 2.0 draws her away. Ofglen 2.0 rips Offred a new one on the way home, telling her that her new life is far better than her old one, which mainly consisted of getting screwed behind dumpsters for enough money to support her drug habit. Really, if you think about it, not much has changed for Ofglen 2.0. Sex has always been a commodity for her, only now she trades it for a comfortable home and life instead of drugs.

Serena Joy, not convinced that her husband can father a child, despite the Gileadian official policy that states a lack of fertility is never a man’s problem, has arranged for some extracurricular Ceremonies. She takes Offred to Nick’s room and stays while they have sex that’s almost as impersonal as the Ceremony.

Ofsteven is sitting in the yard throwing a ball for a dog. Aww, people still have pets! Somehow, that makes me feel just an iota better about Gilead. (What? Don’t judge me!). Her Commander’s Wife comes out and suggests that she isn’t feeling well and how would Ofsteven feel if they skipped the Ceremony that month? Interesting. I was under the impression that the Handmaids were almost universally despised by the Wives. This seems incredibly kind. Must be the influence of the dog.

At the Waterfords’ house, the Commander has started to enjoy the Ceremony a bit too much. When Offred goes to his study that night, she is obviously angry, as well she should be, because if Serena Joy had seen the Commander caressing Offred’s thigh, it would have been Offred who paid the price. And now we see that what has seemed like kindness is really just a less malevolent type of sexism. He believes that having babies is women’s sole purpose, their “biological destinies,” as he calls it. He doesn’t believe in love; that’s just a dressed up way of continuing the human race. He obliquely refers to the nature of Ofsteven’s punishment and Offred figures out what he means, what they did to her friend. She leaves, and vomits into the kitchen sink. Stress, or could this be a symptom of pregnancy? (Side note: pot filler faucet! We had one in our old house, and God, do I miss it!)

June and Luke are in bed, and she asks him to leave his wife. He tells her he loves her and agrees. And here, I think, is where we see how differently the characters view sex and love in this episode. Ofglen 2.0 views sex as a marketable good. The Commander views it as the means to procreate, though his hand on Offred’s thigh suggests that men, at least, are allowed to enjoy the process. Offred views sex as a part of love, and really, she has a very vested interest in that being true. If love is a made up thing, as the Commander says it is, then June and Luke broke up his marriage for the sake of common or garden horniness, which, let’s face it, is a lot less noble a reason for ending a marriage than true love.

At a flower market, Ofsteven and Offred have what I think will be a final conversation. Ofsteven then steals a car and drives around, even taking out one of the Eyes in particularly gory fashion before being arrested and taken away. Well, at least she went out swinging; but am I the only one who was dissatisfied by the scene? I couldn’t figure out why she drove around the marketplace in circles, instead of just making a break for it? And why didn’t she take out more of the Eyes? A Mercedes is a hell of a weapon.

Offred is in Nick’s room, and they are having hot, sweaty, naked, decidedly not Ceremony sex while Nina Simone sings ‘I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl.’ Yes, well, don’t we all?

Other things:

-Heavy flower-death symbolism featured heavily in this episode, both the dead flowers in S.J.’s garden – hydrangeas, I think, though I’m not an expert – and the lilies later in the episode, a flower associated with death. On another note, that painting of the lilies S.J. was working on was really not at all bad. Well, you don’t have to read to paint a picture.
– S.J. smokes cigarettes. I would have thought that cigarettes would have been banned, for women, at least. Or does it not matter if you’re a Wife who is infertile and therefore disposable? Thoughts?
– In Nick’s room, we see a turntable and books. So he can read and listen to music? Do men of any rank get those privileges?

Choice quotes:

“You don’t just feel pregnant 30 seconds after a man comes!”

“Love isn’t real. It was never anything more than lust with a good marketing campaign.”

“Better never means better for everyone. It always means worse for some.”