The Handmaid’s Tale: “Faithful” Recap


By: Karen Valenzuela (@VictoriaNoir89)

Things have definitely progressed between Offred and the Commander on The Handmaid’s Tale since they started playing Scrabble together. Offred tells us they’ve played 34 games so far. And she’s almost flaunting her newfound bit of freedom, her leg out of her skirt, swirling a glass of alcohol as she chats with Fred over the Scrabble board. Commander Hypocrite takes a fashion magazine out of his desk drawer and hands it to his nervous Handmaid. They were all supposed to have been destroyed, but apparently he kept it, amongst other things nobody else has the privilege of enjoying. He studies her creepily as she reads it, while she finds an article called “Ten Ways To Tell How He Feels About You.” Needless to say, the first one fits Fred to a T.

We’re whisked into a flashback of June’s first meeting with Luke. Moira and June are waiting for their lunch at a food truck as Moira makes fun of June while playing with her Tinder app. She swipes left quite a bit (Moira – a woman after my own Tinder heart), much to June’s chagrin, and then makes her friend show her the picture she’s using for her profile. Moira grabs a guy who’s waiting for his food (Luke) and asks him to help her pick a better profile photo for the app. He scans through her pictures looking for a better one, makes a definite impression on both June and Moira, then hurries off with his hot dogs. A lot of flirtation for a married man.

We can assume June swiped right on Luke.

Back at the Waterford house, Offred muses about Nick as he enters the kitchen where she’s eating. She thinks back to that article a bit cheekily, noting Nick’s apparent interest in her. But then Serena Joy struts into the kitchen and coolly asks Offred to help her outside. As she helps Serena care for her garden, she wonders if her mistress found out about any number of not allowed things she’s enjoyed lately. “Any way you slice it, I lose a hand,” Narrator Offred muses (pun intended?). She also imagines murdering Serena with the garden shears she’s using. But the tide turns when Serena tells her about her plan. She thinks her husband might be sterile (Whoa whoa, men can’t be sterile! Women are barren and that’s that!) and the walls she’s built around her crumble just a bit as she tells Offred there could be another way… Another man. Serena is unsettled as she tells Offred that Nick has agreed to do it. In fact, she seems unsettled throughout the entire scene. However, it doesn’t seem the idea of shoving her Handmaid’s body into the arms of another man is what unsettles her; instead, you wonder just how afraid she is of being caught. “May as well strike while the iron is hot” is probably one of the most dehumanizing things she could’ve possibly said to Offred in that moment…and she says it without blinking. There might be an inkling of sympathy in her face after, maybe, but it’s more of a dem’s da breaks I need that baby kind of sympathy.

When Offred goes shopping that afternoon, she sees that Ofglen is back – now called Ofstephen. We learn that she’s been deemed too dangerous by the underground resistance group to be among their ranks, so she can’t answer any of Offred’s questions anymore. (Imagine having everything stripped from you, and then being kicked out of the fight against the bastards who did it to you. BRUTAL.) But Ofstephen does call the resistance MAYDAY – later, we learn this is French for “help me.” New Ofglen interrupts and drags Offred away. As they walk home together, we learn that new Ofglen is not the pious little shit we thought. She stops Offred and tells her not to “ruin this” for her. She paints June’s life before Gilead as a privileged tableau, a bed of roses – yoga, her man probably liked to cook, “had yourself a Nordstrom’s card, right?” And then she tells her what hers was like before Gilead, and it sounds like hell. She was homeless and a drug addict, and she sold her body to buy drugs and food. She’s clean and has a roof over her head now, and she wants Offred to stop doing things that put her position in jeopardy. It’s jarringly unexpected from the woman who seemed so pious at first, to say the least.

After the shopping, Serena sneaks Offred out of the house, through the gate, and to the small house on the Waterford property where Nick lives. We flashback to a lunch date between June and Luke. They’re flirting like mad, and they both admit they’ve never told anyone they meet for lunch – that includes Luke’s wife…yikes. They joke about where they’d meet to have sex, you know…if they were going to. Ha ha. If. Right. All lolz, this conversation.

And then the next scene is way less lolz, because Serena leads Offred inside. Without the prayer that usually accompanies the Ceremony, Offred and Nick have sex on his bed while Serena stands on the other side of the room. It. Is. SO. UNCOMFORTABLE. And absolutely mortifying. Serena literally just stands off to the side while it happens. The episode intertwines the discomfort and grossness of this situation with June and Luke’s coupling in a hotel room – which is playful and way more normal. It underscores Offred’s narrated fear that she’s betraying Luke by doing this with Nick, where she hasn’t felt that way with the Commander. (Notable: Offred spots a gun on Nick’s dresser. Hmmm!)

When they get back into the house, Serena makes sure the coast is clear, then tells her to lie down, asking her if she feels any different. Understandably, Offred snaps. Basically like, bitch excuse me you just pimped me out don’t ask me how I damn feel I’m not pregnant the second sex is over do you not know basic biology STEP OFF. She’s immediately repentant – or at least afraid that Serena is going to tear her head from her body for her blatant defiance. But Serena merely cups Offred’s belly in her hands, chants what sounds like a scripture from the Bible perhaps, and then orders Offred to go lie down. You can tell she isn’t happy about Offred’s offensive response, but that maybe-baby is Offred’s Get Out Of Jail Free card, it seems.

That night, the Ceremony happens. The Commander breaches the wall of impersonality and emotional separation that typically pervades the Ceremony, not just making eye contact with her, but looking at her with lust and touching her. That’s not supposed to be a thing that happens between the Commander and the Handmaid. Though it’s unclear if Serena Joy is aware of what’s happening, as she’s looking away, Offred is terrified that she might’ve felt or seen what occurred. Later, she goes to the Commander’s office and berates him for his behavior. While she has a lot to lose (Like her hands, for instance? An eye maybe?), he has nothing to lose. And it’s clear he knows this as his behavior is quite cavalier when he addresses the issue with Offred – almost like he isn’t putting her in grave danger or something. He attempts to placate her with the magazine, offering to let her read it, obviously completely unaware of how condescendingly he’s treating her, like she’s some sort of pet to appease with a treat. He even shakes it tantalizingly in front of her the way I do a carrot when I want my dog to follow me inside.

Offred tells the Commander that women used to have choices. His response: “Now you have respect. You have protection. You can fulfill your biological destinies in peace.” It’s hard to tell if the Commander truly believes what he’s touting. Does he really think this way of life that strips women of choice, of individuality, of personhood outside of what their wombs can/can’t do, really makes women’s lives better? He just might. And no matter how many times you, as a woman, hear someone say something like that, it’s incredibly debasing. It really is. “Children! What else is there to live for?” Fred asks. Her response – “love” – gets a scoff out of him. He doesn’t think love is real. The Commander goes further, telling Offred about “Ofglen who used to live next door,” how her unnatural urges must have felt like love, after which he releases a string of homophobic shit, then ends it with, “We’re not without compassion,” because they let her live. Offred asks him what they did to Ofglen. He doesn’t have to use the words for Offred to understand; instead, he teasingly hints at the forced genital mutilation they put Ofglen through as though it isn’t incredibly horrific. “We only wanted to make the world better,” the Commander explains as she starts to leave. “Better never means better for everyone. It always means worse for some.” (For the record, this is what tyrants have used for generations to validate subjugating people. It’s a lie. How much better is the Commander’s life that he has to secretly play Scrabble in his little office with his Handmaid to feel something? Even his life is crap.)

Offred leaves his office and rushes to the kitchen to throw up in the sink. Nick appears out from the shadows and she asks him if he’s an Eye. He doesn’t answer her, telling her to go to bed. “Don’t tell me what to do.” (YES, OFFRED!) He tries to switch the subject, apologizing for earlier, telling her he couldn’t tell Serena no when she asked him. But Offred pushes, begs him even, to answer. And he tells her he is an Eye. (Crap.) Then we’re treated to a short flashback of June and Luke saying they love each other for the first time.

Offred, new Ofglen, and the other Handmaids are out shopping at the Gilead version of a farmer’s market when Offred spots Ofstephen again. Ignoring Ofglen’s warning from last time, she recruits another Handmaid to distract Ofglen and hastens to Ofstephen’s side to talk again. Even if Ofstephen can’t help MAYDAY anymore, she insists Offred still can. We learn that MAYDAY is fighting the Republic. Ofstephen tells Offred her real name: Emily. Before Offred can tell Emily her own name, Ofglen pulls her away again. That’s when all hell breaks loose. Emily spots a car pull up and a Wife and her driver climb out of it. She runs to the car, gets in the driver’s seat, and peels off. She drives in circles around the group as guards/Eyes chase after her, trying to stop her, Handmaids looking on in various stages of awe, pride, glee, shock. A Handmaid is driving, after all. And then Emily is cornered. She backs up and hits one of her pursuers, then meets an encouraging, teary-eyed Offred’s gaze, before running the car right over the guy’s body – essentially what amounts to a double tap with a car. It’s downright gruesome and shocking – the sound might be the worst part. And yet, there’s such a wildness and freedom in it. They finally break the window of the car and drag Emily out, throwing her into an Eye van. Needless to say, I’m pretty sure we won’t see her again. (Farewell, Alexis Bledel…probably. You were inspiring and seriously powerful.)

My name is Emily.

Offred seems as though she’s in a haze as she walks into the Waterford home. Even as Serena calls her in to give her a bit of a pep talk after the incident at the market – one about how “some women can’t handle the requirements of their position,” one that seems to say know your position and stay there if you know what’s good for you – Offred seems almost defiant in the way she smiles and says “Yes, Mrs. Waterford.” I say this a lot, but it bears repeating: Serena Joy is not stupid. She hasn’t let her guard down even a little. And the way she says “You’re a smart girl” isn’t just an attempt to condescend to someone who’s basically the same age as her. She means it. She knows Offred is smart. And she knows the urge to rebel can’t be too far down inside of this woman. Basically, it’s her way of saying Offred, you better not because it will not go well for you.

Interesting blocking. Why is Serena sitting in this scene while Offred stands? Hmm…

But Emily’s stunt has definitely awoken something inside of Offred. Narrator Offred talks about how Emily looked invincible in that moment. It’s a testament to human resilience that even after everything that woman went through, she was still able to hold onto a part of herself. They couldn’t extinguish all of her. Heartened and emboldened, Offred marches right out of her room, down the hall, out of the back door, and goes straight to Nick’s house. When he lets her inside, they undress all the way before they have passionate sex. They have actual sex, the way couples did before the Republic of Gilead took the individuality out of that, too. The episode ends with credits rolling to the saucy, audacious sound of Nina Simone singing “I Want a Little Sugar In My Bowl.” Delicious.

Both Commander Fred Waterford and Serena Joy are prime examples of authority figures deciding they’re above the law…at least, insofar as Serena Joy can be considered an authority figure in a society that despises female individuality and independence. It’s against the law to pimp your Handmaid out to another man, but her suffering, her situation, makes her feel validated in breaking the law. She needs this. Surely the law doesn’t take precedence over her needs. Fred, on the other hand, would have anyone else picked up by the black Eye van in a hot second if he caught them hoarding fashion magazines and other outlawed little pleasures, but it’s perfectly fine for him to have his own stash. Of course burning the country’s fashion and beauty magazines is for the good of the country! It’s what’s best for everyone!! But, c’mon, you can’t really expect him to do without these things. On the Excusable Hypocrisy scale, Serena Joy beats her husband out; desperation for autonomy and/or connection feels much more understandable than privilege, though neither character is excused for their behavior.

A few choice moments in the episode: Alma tells Janine she really shouldn’t talk about her daughter out in public, and with A+ delivery Janine goes, “…Hater.” And her response to Emily’s stealing the car was perfect – giggling and waving at her as she drives by. I’m liking Janine as a character more every episode. She’s fascinating and almost funny. (Can I say that about this show?)

Ofstephen (Ofglen/Emily) and the Wife of her Commander have an interesting scene together. It seems the Wife has been pretending to be sick each month to put off the Ceremony on purpose, apparently out of sympathy. Not only has Gilead taken pleasure out of the sexual act for Ofstephen, they’ve inserted unbearable pain in its place. It’s a new dichotomy between Wife and Handmaid. There’s an element of defiance in the Wife’s actions, but also humanity. And yet you still want to yell, WOMAN UP AND HELP HER GET OUT IF YOU FEEL THAT BAD.

Emily/Ofstephen stealing a car and then running over one of those bastards with it was viscerally gruesome, horrid even. The violence of it is sudden and shocking. And as much as I’ll sound like a psychopath admitting this, it was incredibly satisfying. After what Gilead has done to her – subjugating her person and body, treating her sexuality as a crime, killing her lover slowly and horrendously in front of her, then forcing genital mutilation on her – she deserves this moment of primal revenge, this release, this rebellion. (Murder is quite the rebellion, isn’t it?) It is a powerful scene, and it’s incredibly bittersweet as we’re pretty certain that Emily’s viable womb won’t be saving her this time.

What’s next? Hulu will release a new episode of The Handmaid’s Tale on Wednesday! Let us know how you liked this episode in the comments.

Oh, and…Happy Mother’s Day…

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