The Handmaid’s Tale Recap: Episode 5, ‘Faithful’


Love in the time of Gilead

There is a lot to digest here, so let’s just drive right it. The Handmaid’s Tale is beginning to loosen its hold on Offred. At least, that’s what appears to be happening with the first five minutes. We see her playing scrabble with the commander again, and both sit casually in their respective chairs. That tells us that this is no longer an activity to be feared – it’s now something that Offred looks forward to. ‘Faithful’ is full of surprises, like when he offers her a magazine to read. Magazines in Gilead were, unsurprisingly, outlawed and destroyed. In many ways ‘Faithful’ is The Handmaid’s Tale of another other drama with a love triangle.  Offred uses a magazine quiz to test if the commander or Nick (or both) have feelings for her.

In a surprising, yet desperate move, Serena reaches out to Offred to with a scheme to get her pregnant. Despite her clueless, she knows very well what is going on, and admits that it might by the commander who is sterile. She wants to set Offred up with Nick, which goes back to our little love triangle idea. When it does happen, Serena stands watch in the background. The pressure and threat sap all potential romance out of the situation. This particular story feels somewhat forced, as there is enough drama going around in The Handmaid’s Tale that it is not necessary.

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Arguably the bigger development in the return of Ofglen, who is now Ofsteve. After her little rendezvous with the eyes, she is no longer welcome in the inner circle of handmaids. We also learn that the new Ofglen is perfectly happy with her current situation, having been a drug addict in a previous life. The Handmaid’s Tale is always interesting when it goes into the backstories of its characters, even if it’s just  a quick couple of sentences. It makes it clear that this situation is different for everyone, and as the commander will famously, “better never means better for everyone.” The idea of better is subjective.

Through more flashbacks we learn how Luke and June met, and we witness their early courtship. It’s made clear that Luke is married, and that he is cheating on his wife with June. At one of their lunch dates, four little girls can be seen playing outside, all dressed in red. It’s a rather chilling juxtaposition, one that is meant to remind us what lies ahead. There is enough meat here to have an entire season of what led up to Gilead. We also get to see their relationship go from hypothetical to reality, as they joke about getting a hotel room and then finally do. ‘Faithful’ is very much about love, a concept that doesn’t exist in Gilead.

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During the ceremony, the commander gets particularly frisky while Serea isn’t looking, which causes Offred to storm into his office at night. The dynamic temporarily flips in her favor because of it, and it’s here that we learn about the commander’s ideas on love and society. Yes, despite his love of scrabble, the commander is very much a believer. He talks about what was done to Ofsteve  as if it were not only the right thing to do, but also as if it wasn’t all that big a deal.

It’s afterwards that we learn that Nick is the eye, though the odds were always pointing that way. He tells Offred outright in one of the most tense conversations that The Handmaid’s Tale has ever had. He doesn’t have to do that, so why would he? The easiest answer is that he has actual feelings for her.

“Faithful’ works because it doesn’t pander, nor does it fall into easy traps.”

We catch a few glimpses of Ofsteve this episode. We see her at a much nicer household, with a  wife that takes pity on her. We see her again at the market, in which she tells Offred about Mayday, a clandestine organization intent on fighting back. And then she impulsively steals a car and runs over a guard. It’s a shocking moment, and one that likely ensures that Ofsteve won’t be afforded anywhere near the same level of freedom a second time. Directly afterwards, Serena tries to connect with her in typical patronizing fashion. Offred’s eyes glance over at a pair of gardening shears.

What isn’t so surprising is that Offred chooses to strike up an affair with Nick. It’s a defiant gesture that shows that love can still exist in a world that insists it cannot. ‘Faithful’ works because it doesn’t pander, nor does it fall into easy traps. There is the slightest hint here that love could be the key to the revolution, and that may be worth an eye roll. We’ll have to see how The Handmaid’s Tale handles it, but for now it has proven that it knows what it’s doing.