Things got a little strange in The Handmaid Tale‘s fifth episode, and in the land of Gilead, that’s saying something. Behind the veil (wings) of a tightly controlled environment, there are liberties being taken that would make Aunt Lydia’s face twitch. And oh, how we’d all love to see that.
As Offred and the Commander continue their secret Scrabble games, a Handmaid makes observations on slight shifts in mood and attitude. She flirts; he likes it; he lets her win; she likes it. Waterford hardly seems to realize the danger of their particular dance, and when he openly touches Offred during their next Ceremonial session, she panics, rushes to his office with anger; he accepts her chastising without question. Their match may indeed be heaven-made, but clearly the shared spirits affects Offred’s thinking. Impossibly, she (and we) almost forget for a moment the situation they’re all in. Over sharp banned magazine observations — “Models look insane … like they’re about to go extinct” — it’s impossible not to notice Offred’s societal commentary.
Swept back in a memory, the day she first met a married Luke, Offred and Moira share a similar magazine, joking about its contents as new love makes its first pangs known. Peppered through the hour, Offred’s bittersweet memories of the human connection defy the Commander’s edict that procreation — children — are what life is for. And, in a momentary market reunion with Ofglen — “OfSteven” she corrects — Offred discovers the horrifying depth of the new regime’s (and the Commander’s) commitment, sobs against a wall at his platitude: “Better never means better for everyone, it always means worse for some.”
The odd, indiscernible something between Nick and Offred takes on a new and strange significance when an ominous garden get-together between Handmaid and Wife leads to, what else? … a baby-making plot. Serena Joy’s gruff exterior belies something, and in her suggestion that the loyal chauffeur’s little swimmers might have better luck than the Commander’s (“What if he can’t?”), Serena is as close to warm as she’s ever been. A quick rendezvous is arranged, and oddly overseen in an unsettling, other-than-biblical manner (WTF, Serena?). Incredibly, the whole thing is just as awkward as the usual Ceremony.
In another twist on Ofglen’s (Ofsteven) book story, a spark — “Something inside her they couldn’t take away” — leads to the tentative turned gleeful joyride that leaves the body of a mangled soldier bloodied and squashed in the street, and Ofglen taken into custody. Pushed to her breaking point, it’s a little odd Ofglen didn’t wipe out as many of the enemy as she possibly could, but the madcap scene serves up a nuanced dichotomy … smiles and cheers change to gasps and covered mouths. Like Offred, we know we may never see Ofglen again, never know her terrible fate — unless a sharp eye recognizes something in a particular pair of dangling feet.
As one by one, cracks begin revealing, hope for something beyond the madness is tempered by small revelations. How long can so many secrets be kept? Each character steps outside regulations: the Commander’s position power isn’t enough; Serena Joy takes desperate measures; Offred and Nick risk everything for a forbidden connection, and any of their individual discretions put them all in danger. Gilead’s rule seems to benefit some more than others, creates a system of class where outward freedom is enviable. But in the microcosm of a single household, imposed imprisonment is evident in every corner, as is the collective desire to find escape.
Is Nick lying to Offred about being an Eye? This outright admission differs from the book, wherein his position is never really clear. So, he’s either a compromised Eye, or just saying that to help Offred keep in line, so to speak.
Offred has another — the best — reason to go on now, and it’s not love; it’s Mayday, the hope of resistance.
That last sex scene was damned hot.
Nina Simone, I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl
Kylie Minogue, Can’t Get You Out of My Head
Serena Joy, when Offred agrees to the Nick tryst: “Good. We’ll do it this afternoon after the shopping. May as well strike while the iron is hot.”
Offred responding to Serena Joy’s “Go lie down”: “You don’t just become pregnant 30 seconds after a man comes.”
Offred’s new partner: “You’re cute. You used to do yoga classes … I liked Anthropologie … Whatever they did to OfSteven isn’t gonna happen to me, understand?”
The Commander to Offred: “Every love story is a tragedy if you live long enough … We only wanted to make the world better.”
Offred to Nick: “Please don’t tell me what to do.”