The Handmaid’s Tale episode 5, Faithful, mercifully withdraws from the physical agonies, but only to delve further into the mind games of Gilead.
Episode 5 of The Handmaid’s Tale, entitled “Faithful”, plays an awful lot like a game of chess or, if you will, Scrabble. Though she won’t discover a newfound courage in herself until the end of the episode on screen, the murmurings of this transformation bubble throughout the episode as she navigates the complex, manipulating, and secretive world she’s found herself trapped in. Beginning with the most pertinent news item from last week: Scrabble with Commander Waterford.
It’s deliberately deceptive, the way the series sets you up to almost, almost feel some sympathy for Waterford, if only momentarily. He lets June win a grand total of 34 games, and offers her an old “Beautify” magazine to read — something forbidden elsewhere. In this scene, at least, you might almost believe he was just another pawn of something greater, someone who didn’t really believe in how things had turned out.
The Handmaid’s Tale — “Faithful” — Episode 105 — Serena Joy makes Offred a surprising proposition. Offred remembers the unconventional beginnings of her relationship with her husband. Offred (Elisabeth Moss) and Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes), shown. (Photo by: George Kraychyk/Hulu)
Everything in Episode 5 plays against flashbacks of when June first met, dated, and fell in love with her husband, Luke. We learn first that they met because of bold Moira, who dragged him into their conversation while in line at a food truck. We’ll later get pictures of their dates — all playful, sweet, and totally normal until we realize Luke was married while he was dating June. It’s the first good, long look we’ve gotten at the man June loves, and the flashbacks deliberately show us only what we need to understand why.
While gardening with Serena Joy, she proposes to June that Waterford may be infertile and that another method might be used. They decide she will sleep with Nick that night in secret after her trip to get groceries, a trip that becomes more jarring than expected when June finds out the former Ofglen, named Emily, is back. Emily namedrops the may Day resistance, but reveals she has no information anymore.
The Handmaid’s Tale — “Faithful” Episode 105 — Serena Joy makes Offred a surprising proposition. Offred remembers the unconventional beginnings of her relationship with her husband. Ofglen (Alexis Bledel), shown. (Photo by: George Kraychyk/Hulu)
I can’t breeze by the reveal that June is going to sleep with Nick, even if at this point it seems just about par for the course in a world ruled so tightly by who gets to have sex with who. But their awkward, illicit encounter in Nick’s apartment is punctuated constantly by more flashbacks to Luke and June, who feels she is truly cheating on Luke for the first time. Her passion for him is set directly against the meaninglessness of what Nick is doing to her, and the aftereffects manifest via her finally snapping at Serena Joy … at least, what qualifies for snapping at someone in Gilead.
But it’s another hard day in the life of a handmaid, as June has the Ritual tonight as well and Waterford isn’t playing nice. He’s decided to up the ante by touching her lustfully during the act, a choice she can’t fight in the moment but which June sternly reprimands him for later when she goes to his office. It’s here that we get a far better picture of how absolutely cruel this man is, even if he disguises it in condescending kindness toward June. He confirms that Emily was subject to genital mutilation, and denies that love exists in the world at all — referring to what June calls love as only lust. She leaves after this bitter exchange:
"“We only wanted to make the world better.”“Better.”“Better never means better for everyone.”"
The Handmaid’s Tale — “Faithful” — Episode 105 — Serena Joy makes Offred a surprising proposition. Offred remembers the unconventional beginnings of her relationship with her husband. Janine (Madeline Brewer), left and Offred (Elisabeth Moss), right, shown. (Photo by: George Kraychyk/Hulu)
June will not let us end an episode in despair, even after she meets Nick in the kitchen afterward and he tells her that he’s an Eye (jury’s out on whether that’s true or not, though). At a subsequent grocery excursion, Emily gives June her name and reiterates the call to find the May Day Resistance before hopping into a car opportunistically and using it to circle the market before running a guy over. She’s promptly arrested but she makes her point to June. “She looked invincible,” June decides, echoing Luke’s words for her from their first encounter.
It’s enough to make her want some choices of her own. And June has very, very few. But she finds exactly one place and way to assert her will. That’s through Nick, so she makes her way up to his apartment that night for another sexual encounter — this time, with passion, if not joy.