The Latest Handmaid's Tale Is About Taking What You Can When There's Nothing Left

The latest episode of The Handmaid's Tale deals with answering one important question: How does someone cope with having no power? When everything is taken away, how do you keep from falling apart? For Offred, Ofglen and dozens of other handmaids in Gilead, it's about taking whatever you can. Because when you have nothing, every little victory becomes something.

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In the first episode of the season, Offred/June (Elisabeth Moss) proclaimed that she was going to survive, and the latest episode, "Faithful", dives into exactly how she's doing that. It opens on Offred and the commander (Joseph Fiennes) playing their 35th game of Scrabble, showing that a lot of time has passed since their secret meetings began. At first, it seems like Offred's developed feelings for the commander — she lays comfortably on the ground with her dress hiked up past her knee, and smiles when the commander lets her read a fashion magazine. But, every time the commander looks away, Offred's disgust peeks through. She knows, deep down, it's an illusion, that any semblance of connection is on his terms. But she's taking what she can, to survive everything else in her life. Like, for example, being told to sleep with Nick (Max Minghella).

In a really tense chat between Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) and Offred, the wife reveals that her husband might be sterile and so she should sleep with Nick, his driver, to increase her chances of getting pregnant. Both of these women recognise that they cannot stop The Ceremony, and they know Offred's position is in real danger if she doesn't give them a child. Rather than ignore the problem, Serena Joy is trying to work her way around it (it's yet another example of hypocrisy, proving Gilead isn't nearly as pure as it pretends to be). Offred knows the benefits outweigh the risks, mainly because saying no to Mrs Waterford could get her shipped to the Colonies, so she and Nick have awkward sex... with the commander's wife looming in the background.

This clearly affects Offred, as she sees it as her first real moment of cheating on Luke, her presumably dead husband. There are a lot of reasons why she might see this as a moment of unfaithfulness, even though she's been sleeping with the commander for months: It could be that she sees it as a choice instead of being forced; maybe she's attracted to Nick; or maybe she even views it as cheating on the commander, reminding her of how she slept with Luke when he was married to someone else, which we see in flashback. But I think the final moment of their lovemaking says it all, when Offred grabs Nick's arm as he's climaxing. She was scared about allowing herself to feel for a moment, and after she did, she worried about how that could hurt her in the future.

But again, if there's any lesson to be taken from this episode, it's about finding moments of triumph in times of turmoil. Take Ofglen, for example. We learn in this episode that she's back and now called Ofsteven. The rebellion, which is called Mayday, has abandoned her, and her forced circumcision has clearly taken its toll. After Offred reaches out to her in a moment of compassion, she reveals her true name, Emily, and makes a decision to take something for herself — namely, going for a drive. It's a rare moment of joy and elation, which the handmaids all share with her. Offred sees Emily as "invincible", something Luke called June when they first met. Sadly, it's only temporary, after Emily runs over an Eye and is taken away.

This moment, combined with the previous revelation that the commander was totally cool with circumcising Emily, embolden Offred to take more chances. She confronts Nick about being an Eye, then later visits his room to have sex. It's a heavily erotic scene where we see Offred reclaiming her sexuality and enjoying her body, at least for the limited time she can. It reminded me a lot of scenes between Daenerys and Khal Drogo in the first season of Game of Thrones, when she started asserting dominance in the bedroom. Offred knows taking this chance could destroy her life, and it may have serious repercussions in future episodes. But when your back's against the wall, sometimes you just have to reach out and touch someone.

Assorted Musings:

  • The commander's a dick, and I knew I was right not to trust Joseph Fiennes' deceptively kind face. First, he tried to aggressively screw her, in full view of his wife, then admitted that he sanctioned Emily's circumcision. And that speech he gave to Offred about how a better world will always be worse for some people, without even caring about who those worse-off people were, sent shivers up my spine.
  • I really loved that confrontation between Offred and the new Ofglen, when new Ofglen revealed that she's grateful for her new life and doesn't want Offred to take it away from her. It was interesting to see Gilead's caste system from the perspective of someone who tolerates her sexual slavery solely because it's better than where she was before. Still, if there's anything we learned from Commander Dick, just because something is better for you doesn't mean it is for everybody else.
  • I have so many questions about having Tinder on this show, namely because it dates the show to modern times. That means America at the time was advanced enough to have access to internet, Wi-Fi and mobile data, yet the Gilead takeover happened without anyone being the wiser to what this group of religious fanatics were doing. I'm still not over this.

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