The Handmaid's Tale Episode 5 Recap: (Un)Faithful

Photo: Courtesy of Hulu.
"Faithful" is all about relationships, but more importantly, it's about power. Which makes sense, because ultimately, relationships are about power. In a good relationship, the power is shared equally between the two parties involved. In a bad relationship, one person holds all the power, doling out little moments of illusory self-determination as one would dog treats.
The episode begins with Offred on the ground, knees showing, enjoying a crackling fire and a tumbler of Scotch. The Commander is relaxed, in a black t-shirt. They seem pretty comfy together.
They are also hard-core flirting.
"What have I learned after 34 games?" Offred's voiceover muses. "I've learned that he likes it when I flirt, and I like it when he lets me win. We're a match made in heaven."
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But that doesn't mean she's let her guard down. As she so wisely points out, he is a hook and she is an open eye. Just because they could fit together doesn't mean it's pleasant.
And now he has a present for her! How thoughtful. Or...not. It's a copy of a magazine called Beautify, which looks like a sad rip-off of Glamour. Magazines? Makeup? Is this a trap?
"It's not allowed," Offred says. "It is with me," he replies.
Okay, then. Offred hesitates but eventually cracks the pages open, the look on her face telegraphing equal parts reverence and disgust. He's enjoying this way too much — it's a total power trip. But she's enjoying it, too. She has power over him, in a way she didn't before.
(It's really hard to remember that Joseph Fiennes plays an evil fanatic rapist when he laughs like that.)
In a flashback, June and Moira are swiping left while waiting at a hot dog food truck. Convinced that June is not getting responses because of her profile pic, Moira enlists a bystander for objective insight. That bystander is Luke. He is MARRIED — and not to June.
He truly commits to this task, picking out a picture for June, in which she looks "invincible." GREAT pickup line, Luke. A + for wokeness.
Back in the present, Offred eats her breakfast, oatmeal, with a side of Thirst Trap Nick. (Those two need to stop eye-fucking in public. It's not subtle.) Serena Joy interrupts this visual tryst — she wants help outside. Personally, I would not go near that woman when she's holding garden shears. But Offred has no choice, so she follows her out, only to get a Very Surprising Request: Serene Joy actually wants her to sleep with Nick.
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Not for fun, of course, because nothing in this show is for fun; for babies. Serena Joy acknowledges that her husband is probably sterile, and she wants a kid. This is her way to get one. For Offred, this is a way to not get sent to the Colonies. Win-win! The time is set for later that afternoon.
While shopping, Offred runs into Ofglen in the produce aisle. (Her name is Ofsteven now.) Offred presses her for info about Nick, but Ofsteven(glen) seems understandably reluctant to share after what she's been through. "I'm too dangerous to be part of it." It is Mayday, which is apparently what the resistance is called.
(Side note: I find it hilarious that no matter how bad things get, people still don't want to hear updates about your baby. I'm talking to you, Ofwarren.)
Photo: Courtesy of Hulu.
New Ofglen interrupts them. Later, she confronts Offred in a major "check your privilege" kind of way. "I'm not going to let you mess this up for me," she tells her. Offred is confused, because, let's be real, this is all pretty messed up.
I would like to frame this monologue: "You're cute. You used to do yoga classes? Spinning or something? Before? And your man liked to cook? You guys had a first floor walkup down Back Bay. With a garden. Had yourself a Nordstrom's card, right?" (Offred's response to this, "I liked Anthropologie," is great!) "I used to get fucked behind a dumpster just so I could buy a six of Oxy and a Happy Meal. I'm clean now. I got a safe place to sleep every night and people who are nice to me. And I want to keep it that way."
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In our rush to freak out about this new ugly world, we forget that for some, it might actually seem better. But more on that later. Right now, it's Nick O'Clock. Offred is conflicted. On the one hand, this could be her salvation. On the other, is she cheating on Luke? It's not like she's immune to Nick's charms. (But Luke is dead. Right?)
A flashback reveals that June was once the other woman. And Luke, woke bae Luke, is a cheater who lies to his wife about having lunch at his desk, and instead rents a hotel room to have sex.
It's incredible to me that there can be more troubling moments than the monthly ceremony, but this definitely counts. Compared to Luke and June's delightfully awkward encounter, it seems even more bleak. The show masterfully contrasts the two scenes: In the first, Serena Joy, stands guard while Offred pulls up her skirt, submitting to yet another man. In the second, June takes control, telling Luke that she likes to be on top.
Make. The. Creaking. Stop.
Mercifully, it ends. "How do you feel?" Serena Joy asks. Offred, compelled to give her an anatomy lesson, spits back: "You don't just feel pregnant 30 seconds after a man cums."
I have been assuming that all wives are awful, given the experience of Serena Joy and Mrs. Putnam. But Ofsteven(glen)'s mistress seems almost nice. She offers to suddenly come down with the flu so as to avoid the ceremony this month. It's a nice gesture, but it only reinforces the gloomy reality that this new system is not temporary. "You can't be sick every month," Ofsteven(glen) whispers. There's no escaping it.
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Not for Offred, who has to go through a second ceremony that same night. It gets weird when the Commander forgets that he's supposed to be frigid, and starts feeling her up, in plain view of his wife.
Later, Offred confronts him about it. "Don't you ever do that again," she huffs.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is a bad relationship. One person holds all the power, and doles it out as they please. Nothing makes that more obvious than his apology, which is basically him trying to appease her with small gifts. Does she want a drink? Something to read? All of this is in his power to give. But all it does is remind her that these are illusions, being dangled so she forgets that he holds all the power. She can't request them. They can only be offered.
(In another moment of control, the Commander tells her about what happened to Ofglen: "We helped her, we saved her. We had a doctor take care of the problem. It's such a small problem, truth be told.")
Eventually, she leaves, but not before the Commander delivers the a line that gets at the crux of this show: "We only wanted to make the world better."
Better? Pretty sure that's not the case, sir.
Echoing Ofglen's check your privilege moment from earlier, he answers: "Better never means better for everyone. And it always means worse for some."
Those words literally make Offred throw up. Thirst Trap Nick walks in on her, because this poor woman just can't catch a break. Is she sick? I don't know, Nick, are you an Eye?
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He is. But he's a sensitive, complicated Eye. ("I couldn't say no when Mrs. Waterford asked me. I'm sorry.") Elisabeth Moss' performance here is stellar. She manages to look terrified, playful, flirty, and furious, all in one facial expression.
Photo: Courtesy of Hulu.
Back in the past, June confronts Luke about their relationship. "I want you to leave your wife," she says. His reaction? Okay, done. This is a good relationship. Power is shared, passed back and forth. (Is it bad that this makes me forgive him for being a dirty cheater?)
In Gilead, the world may have gone to shit, but there are still outdoor farmer's markets. Offred slyly sidles up to Ofsteven(glen), and tells her she knows what they did to her. She, in turn, tells Offred that Mayday could use her help. After some confusion about what to call Ofgsteven(glen), now that she's been owned by multiple men, she has a moment of clarity: "My name is Emily. Who are you?"
It's fitting that those are her last words. Because Emily knows who she is. She is a hero; a hero who steals a car and drives around the market. Machine guns be damned! This girl is ready to fly. (By the way, a woman driving remains a very real form of protest. Just take Saudi Arabia, where women have been banned from getting behind the wheel since 1957.)
She's not Ofglen or Ofsteven anymore. The look on Emily's face here proves that. She is free; she is inspiring; she is powerful. As her final act, she severs a man's head with her wheels. And then she's dragged off. I don't see her surviving this one — let's have a minute of silence for Emily.
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Back at home, Offred reflects on her friend's act of rebellion. "She looked invincible," she thinks, a callback to Luke's comment from the day they met. The human spirit is indomitable. You can curb it, you can trample it, but it's really, really hard to break it.
Offred is ready for her own June moment. She slips out under cover of darkness and heads over to the garage, where Thirst Trap Nick lives. Without a word, the two fall into bed.
Guys, this sex scene is * insert a million fire emojis here. * Finally, a real consensual one. Sure, June (because meek Offred is nowhere to be seen in this scene) is still prisoner to this brutal system. Her situation hasn't changed, and this isn't a good relationship. Technically, she still has no power. But the second she gets on top, we know she's in control — even if it's just for now.
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