Resistance comes in many forms. This is a central message of this week’s THE HANDMAID’S TALE and the show at large. Whether it’s violence from behind the wheel of a car or a forbidden sexual act, every small or large act of defiance feels earth shatteringly rebellious. Hand in hand with that is the anxiety that surround these rebellions and this show. Every action has its consequence, as we see over and over again, but “Faith” begs the question: is it worth it?
More than any episode so far, “Faith” takes a looks at the men in Offred’s life. Her games with Commander Waterford are becoming more frequent and more flirty. It even begins to seem that Offred has an ounce of control in the relationship. Of course, it’s mostly an illusion, but she’s slowly realizing how to use his desire. It becomes too close to comfort, though, when he touches her leg during the ceremony. In this world, a small gesture like that means the world. It means he has real desire for her as a person, not just a vessel. It means that if Serena were to find out, Offred could be sent away to the colonies.
The second man with an increased presence is Nick, the driver. In a bending of the rules on all of their parts, Serena implores Nick to sleep with Offred, so she can become pregnant. The event itself is passionless, uncomfortable, and barely consensual, as Offred had no other choice. Serena stands watching as Nick takes Offred, in a way that makes everyone, including Serena want to avert their eyes.
These stale and harmful sexual encounters seem even more so when we flash back to Offred’s relationship with her husband Luke. We find out in this episode that it started as an affair; Luke was married before he met June. The two flirt, chemistry more than apparent, and incredibly refreshing compared to the stale movements of the present. When they do eventually have sex, it’s shot in a way that couldn’t be more opposite than the bleak ceremonies. Especially given that June stops him part way through, and says she likes to be on top. It’s a simple request, barely even a request, just a fact about what she prefers, but in the larger context of the world of The Handmaid’s Tale it feels like an earth-moving feat. Her being on top and having sex for her own enjoyment is nothing short of otherworldly at this point.
Speaking to the utter demonization of women’s sexuality, the artist formerly known as Ofglen is back in Gilead, only now she is Ofsteven. She’s weaker now, literally broken by the state. Offred tries to connect to her, to get more information of the resistance. It’s heartbreaking to see Offred’s need for connection, for someone to lead her, only to see the anguish in Ofsteven. When she speaks with the commander later, she finds out what they did to her, and is literally sickened by it. It paints both the commander in the least flattering light, despite their games and their flirting, he is someone who would mutilate a woman to stop her from feeling love or pleasure. Furthermore, she finds out that Nick is an Eye as well, making him both complicit in the atrocities of Gilead, as well as betraying them by sleeping with Offred. Both of the men in her life are part of the ugly system that hurt Ofsteven, and both of them desire her.
Luckily, there is more to inspire rebellion against them. They may have taken so much away from Ofsteven, but they didn’t take away her sense of resistance. When they are at an outside market, Ofsteven sees a driver get out of a car, and without a second’s hesitation, she runs toward it and gets in the driver’s seat. The handmaids watch in awe and a touch of fear as Ofsteven drives around, with no direction. It almost seems harmless, like a joyride of necessity, but then she takes the car back to where she found it, and sees the cops closing in on her. She rams them. One of the bodies cracks and bleeds, and it is extraordinarily satisfying. Ofsteven gets taken away of course, but that death she inflicted causes a wave through the handmaids and the audience. She did that.
That drive was enough to inspire Offred. With and idea of the upcoming May Day and how resistance would play into that, she goes home, and goes up to Nick’s room above the garage, where they had that unfortunate sexual encounter. The encounter they have this time is the opposite, Offred completely in control, disrobing herself and Nick, and he acquiesces to every move she makes, in awe. It has echoes of June and Luke sleeping together, in the fact that both parties are clearly getting pleasure out of it. The moment when they are in Nick’s bed and Offred switches their positions is a powerful one. Every sexual encounter we’ve seen in Gilead is harsh and lead by the man, but when Offred physically and mentally controls this man, who she knows is an eye and dangerous, she controls so much more. It feels like power.
Season 1, Episode 5 (S01E05)
The Handmaid’s Tale airs Wednesday on Hulu
Raina spends most of her time watching television and trying to find the perfect bagel and lox, because she likes being emotionally distraught.
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Raina Deerwater | Contributor