Handmaid’s Tale Episode 5 Explained in Detail

Of all the episodes so far of season one’s Handmaid’s Tale, this is the episode that most closely follows the tember and the tone of the book so far in my opinion. The underlying fear. The electric discord of this society and it’s crazy class based lopsidedness. But oh, oh, how I am taking issue with things. Not insignificant things, no not at all. I have issues. Believe you me. But we’ll get to my issues soon enough. For now? Let’s away on our overview and discussion of episode 5 of the Handmaid’s tale… then we’ll get to the deep dive discussions and explanations.

Handmaid’s Tale Episode 5 Overview

The episode kicks off with Offred and the Commander flirting while finishing up a game of Scrabble. Apparently the Commander likes it when Offred flirts. And Offred likes it when the Commander lets her win.

So wait… our modern dystopian super hero likes it when her Commander throws games… let’s her win? Trust me, we are going to put a pin in that one and get back to this. But I understand that the creators of this episodic version of the book are wanting to make it messy. They want to make the bad guys good and the good guys bad… at least a little. They want to show this society in a huge mess of grays. But really? Ofglen likes it when the Commander throws games? Pin, it, to the way, with a steak knife. We’ll get back to it already! Gosh! I told you once! hahaha.

“You fit into me like a fishhook in my eye.”

But here we have the penultimate turn of the book (the second to last? Let me try again…) Here we have the ultimate turn of the book, the truly most exciting reveal for Ofglen. The magazines. The Commander hands her a magazine and allows her to read them in his presence. Right? Remember, reading is forbidden. Writing will get their hand cut off. And here is one of the founders of the Republic allowing Offred to read in his presence. And in the book, the Commander adored watching her read.

June’s Flash Back Affair

Look, I’m shocked that they decided to keep the affair from the book. I assumed they’d discard it and make Offred’s life lily white. But they chose to sully our beloved character just as Margaret Atwood did. So we see in a flashback the moment when June meets Luke. And we see that relationship go from a meeting in the park, to secret conversations over lunch, to an affair at a nearby hotel. Right? And it ends with June telling Luke that she wants him to leave his wife. The home wrecker. How is our hero a home wrecker? But I think Margaret Atwood’s point here is that it doesn’t matter how good our heroine is. It doesn’t matter if she is a slut. Or a home wrecker. Illiterate. Or a murderer. June doesn’t deserve to be treated the way this new Republic is treating her. That she is innately valuable, and that she has inalienable rights.

But our own recent government experiments have proven to us our rights are anything but inalienable.

The Handmaiden’s M’aidez

Offred finds Ofglen née Ofsteven again at the market. And Ofglen lets her know that it is too dangerous for the Mayday organization to use her anymore. And Offred just wants to know what Mayday is. On another trip later in the episode Offred chats again with Ofsteven and she lets Offred know that her actual name is Emily. That it is too dangerous for her to join Mayday again, but that Offred can. That Offred has a lot to offer to the resistance.

And the next thing we know? Ofglen née Ofsteven née Emily is getting in a car that was left unlocked and she was driving around the block. “What is she doing?!” “She’s driving.” And driving she is. Eventually she knocks down a security guard and the drives over his head, splattering it like a watermelon. Fulltilt is what you call that. Emily has made her own path, and has decided, even though she can’t support Mayday anymore she’s going to take one of them with her.

Offred’s New Firtility Program

“Why does this time feel like I’m cheating on Luke?” says Offred as she is heading in with Serena to perform some sort of hybrid, watered down/amped up, version of the Ceremony. But think about this for a second… you probably didn’t even give it a second thought that Serena stood in the room while it happened. I was like, oh, good, she’s not holding her hands! Hahaha. But, the Ceremony is supposed to recreate the perfection of the marriage bed. The Commander is supposed to be making love to his wife. But what is this thing? I can’t even make sense of it. Serena admits that Commander Waterford is sterile. She admits that the Republic is one big ritualistic lie in her adoption of this bastardized ritual.

Regardless, Serena asked Nick to impregnate her Handmaiden. Nick couldn’t say no. Serena then asked Offred to be impregnated by the driver… she too couldn’t say no. Although it’s dangerous beyond all reckoning. And so we have a new Offred fertility program. I’m just surprised that it’s taken us until ep5 to get here. Then later, the Commander and company perform the ritual – the real one this time, aka, the really ineffective one – again, and the Commander touches Offred and Offred freaks out. She’s concerned that she will be caught and sent away.

Later, when the Commander and Offred meet and talk and Offred tells him the risks she puts her through he offers to let her read. Offred says no, but as the Commander is flipping through the magazines he begins to wax eloquent.

“No woman was pretty enough, young enough, so full of problems”
“But we had choices.”
“Now you have respect, you have protection, you can fulfill your biological destinies in peace. You know, children. What else is there to live for?”
“Love?!”
“Love isn’t real, it isn’t anything more than lust, lust with a marketing campaign.”

This is the world we are dealing with here. A world where the founding fathers don’t believe that love is real. A world where everything is broken down into it’s most rudimentary and utilitarian parts. This is a recreation of Nazi Germany. “Every love story is a tragedy if you wait long enough.”

Offred’s New One Woman Spy Program

So the big change and the big development from ep5 is that Offred has taken on Ofglen’s place in the Mayday resistance movement. Obviously not completely yet. But she is actively now trying to get intel. Thus her heading into Nick’s room at the end of the show. She got Nick to admit he is a member of the Eye… and therefore a valid target for Mayday with interesting information. So between her late night Scrabble games with the Commander and her trists with Nick, she should be the new leader of Mayday in no time flight. If she could only figure out how to get into the front door of the organization that is.

Problems with Episode 5 of The Handmaid’s Tale

I started the ep overview with my complaint that Ofglen loves it when the Commander throws the game. Seriously? I have massive issues with this. Ofglen is a smart woman, and a writer to boot. She should be able to kick the Commander’s ass at will. Just saying. Worse yet, doesn’t it hint at her own emotional attachment if she likes it when he lets her win? And not only that, but shouldn’t she have the pride and self esteem to not accept a win from anyone, let alone the leader of this awful, horror-filled Republic?

I have a better example of this problem being played out though. Ok, so this is going to sound really really stupid. But, I’m going to say it anyway. We know from June’s affair with Luke, and their time at the Hyatt, or wherever, that June likes to be on top. So we know a tell of Offred’s at this point. And when Offred headed to Nick’s room I just kept saying to myself… but not on top. Not on top. Because that then implies that she is there for the fun, the emotional connection. We also know that she said, “why does this feel like an affair”, when she went in to do that pseudo-ceremony with Nick originally. So we know that she is getting owned here somewhat by the new Republic. We know that she thinks the women in the magazines are animals that don’t know they are about to go extinct. Etc. Offred is losing herself to this new reality. It’s the only explanation that I can come up with.

No? What’s your take on this latest episode?

Interested in reading all of my Handmaiden’s Tale episode recaps so far? You got it – I will update them here as I write them:
Episode 1 – Offred
Episode 2 – Birth Day
Episode 3 – Late
Episode 4 – Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum
Episode 5 – Faithful
Episode 6 – A Woman’s Place
Episode 7 – The Other Side
Episode 8 – Jezebels
Episode 9 – The Bridge
Episode 10 – Night
Season 1 Deconstruction

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3 Responses

  1. Ally

    Don’t agree with your last interpretation. In my opinion, Offred is finally claiming her power. She feels empowered by seeing Offglen (btw you mix up the names a few times in this review) take agency over her life. Offred sleeping with Nick at the end, with her on top, is her reclaiming her sexuality, acting on her own desire. Up until this point, everything she has done has been at the order of someone else. Part of the patriarchy of Gilead is that it denies the sexuality and desire of women. Love is something that doesn’t exist, sex is purely for reproduction and is not really enjoyed by commander, handmaiden or wife. Allowing Offred to be on top, while having very illegal, very risky sex with an Eye, no less, demonstrates that Offred is not afraid anymore and ready to take back her agency.

    Reply
    • Taylor Holmes

      First, thanks. Think I found my screw up (which was frighteningly consistent throughout the first quarter of this write up! Haha.) with the names. I write too fast.

      Which brings me to your critique. That is a good point. I knew that Ofglen had inspired Offred to act. To take back and reclaim her on will again. So far she has hidden behind the idea that she might see her daughter again (which, will happen soon enough I am sure. I should drop in a predictions para, since we are at the half way point… wait one… I’ll be back. Ok back.) and that has motivated her to stay alive. But I agree she is taking back her will and fighting back.

      And I guess, you might be right about the sex. Her own willfull choice and moral license. But man, I started writing thinking you were right… but I just don’t know. That’s shady! Hahahah. But, I’ll just give you the point and assume you are right. Hahaha

      Reply

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