The Handmaid's Tale: Faithful

“It should be with someone that we trust.”

Faithfulness is to be steadfast in affection or allegiance; loyal. But loyalty is a rare commodity in a society based so heavily on distrust.

Each of these characters has a proscribed role in Gilead. Fred is a Commander and head of the household. Serena Joy is his wife and hopefully mother. Nick is both driver and Eye. Offred is Serena's surrogate. During the course of the episode, we see each of them betray their obligations as they struggle to maintain faithfulness to a higher calling – themselves.

Fred, the Commander, states that he wanted to make a better world. The not so subtle implication is that this new world would be better for him and others like him. Is it? One could infer from his choice of words that he didn't succeed. Regardless, we know that he is unhappy. Fred is unable or unwilling to connect with his wife in any meaningful way.  Yet, he craves this connection so much that he flouts the rules for nightly Scrabble games and the stray looks and touches with Offred during the Ceremony despite whatever he may tell himself about lust and good marketing. After the suicide of the previous Offred he's also aware that in order to maintain this connection his Handmaid may need more than what the rules would normally supply. The fact he believes beauty magazines to be the answer does not negate his awareness of the problem.

That awareness does not extend to Serena Joy. She is given the semblance of power and the appearance of freedom, but she is just as trapped as Offred. Lest we forget, all women have lost the right to work, have money, and own property. I believe Serena's desperation for a baby stems not from her sense of obligation but out of both her sincere longing for a child of her own and a desire to have some purpose in this new world. Serena risks her position and possibly her life in arranging for Offred to be with Nick, just for the chance of a child.

Nick is a host of complications. As an Eye, it is his duty to report any infractions within the Waterford household, but he not only witnesses Offred break multiple rules, he also facilitates the Commander's forbidden Scrabble games. It's easy to write off the former as a product of his growing attraction to Offred as is his agreeing to Serena Joy's request that he have sex with Offred. It is not, however, a reason to assist the Commander. Does he hold his obligations to the Waterfords above those to Gilead? He has certainly proven more loyal to Offred than to either Gilead or the Waterfords.

Which brings us to Offred. In the flashback, we discover that she has always been a rule breaker. As June she knowingly begins a relationship with a married man and has few qualms about asking him to leave his wife, to which Luke immediately agrees. Under normal circumstances, their behavior would be considered despicable, but we've already seen their devotion to each other and witnessed Luke sacrifice his life for June and their daughter. In this case, is following their hearts an act of fidelity?

In the present, Offred has one objective – to survive long enough to be reunited with her daughter. She soon learns, as do all the others, that survival is not enough. One has to live as well, and in order to do that one has to be true, or faithful as it were, to oneself. In the beginning, we see her fear and spurn a connection with the Commander, but by the end of the episode, we see her risk everything to have one with Nick. It wasn't Offred that went to Nick's room it was June, and it was the most hopeful moment we've seen thus far.

4.5 out of 5 beauty magazines.

Parting Thoughts:

Moira is responsible for introducing Luke and June. Did we know that before?

How does one become a wife? Were they wives before Gilead was created? If so, how will wives be chosen in the future?

Serena says that Offred’s time at the Waterford’s is limited. How much time are Handmaids given before being sent to the Colonies?

The new Ofglen offers to look after Offred. I trust her about as far as I could throw her.

This is the second episode where Offred gives silent approval for another Handmaid to seek escape. Although, Emily’s escape will be figurative rather than literal.  I'm sorry to see her go.

And how pray tell, is Offred supposed to get in touch with Mayday?


Offred: “What have I learned, after 34 games? I learned that he likes it when I flirt. And I like it when he lets me win. We’re a match made in heaven.”

Offred: “Ten ways to know how he feels about you. Number one, he brings you small gifts.  Check."

Luke: “This one.”
Moira: “No that’s a very interesting choice.”
Luke: “Yeah, because you look… You look invincible.”

Rita: “Don’t you have somewhere to be?”
Nick: “No.”
Rita: “Must be nice.”

Offred: “Ten ways to know how he feels about you. Number two, he keeps finding ways to accidentally run into you.”

Luke: “It’s just that you two are very close, and you’re both very attractive, and in my experience, these things sometimes happen.”
June: “In your experience as a lesbian?”
Luke: “Alright, forget it.”
June: “Or your experience as a college girl?”
Luke: “I retract the question.”

Offred:  "We had choices then."

Commander: “Better never means better for everyone. It always means worse for some."

Shari loves sci-fi, fantasy, supernatural, and anything with a cape.


Billie Doux said...

I thought the contrasts and parallels were really interesting. We saw a "normal" relationship in flashback, June meeting Luke, the two of them having lunch, the progression to a romantic assignation at the Hyatt. In the present, of course, June must have sex with Nick because Serena Joy wants it. Until the end, when June chose to begin a romantic and dangerous affair with Nick. In the flashback, she tells Luke that she likes to be on top. In the end, with Nick, she's also on top.

Emily's choice to essentially commit suicide, despite the fact that her Commander's Wife is clearly sympathetic toward her, really upset me. I mean, I did get it. Those few moments when Emily stole the car and fought back were like the graffiti -- a message to the other Handmaids. June got the message.

It's sort of fascinating that Fred thinks June would want a fashion magazine. It says everything about how he sees women, as does his reveal that he knows about Emily's operation, and was probably one of the men who decided it would happen. Fred doesn't believe in love. He believes that women should be "left in peace" to fulfill their "biological imperative." Even though I agree that Fred isn't happy, it also felt to me like he'd just been revealed as totally evil. No wonder June threw up.

Shari Houtman said...

I don't think I understood until this episode how complicit Fred was in the creation of Gilead. Up till now, I thought he was a part of the machine the way everyone else was. You're right, he is evil. His punishment is that despite all he did to make his world better, he's still miserable. The problem is the number of lives he's destroyed in the process.

Mallena said...

Speaking of wives, the book talks about "econowives" for lowly men, which sounds like they were all they could afford. Atwood doesn't give enough details about her world, which made the book a frustrating read, sometimes. I assume that the daughters of high rank would marry the sons of their peers. Also, I think I remember that the Handmaids are given three tries with different men to conceive, before they are discarded. I love that the show is filling in some of the blanks from the novel.

Shari Houtman said...

I read the book but it was decades ago. My biggest take away was how it all started. The freezing of the bank accounts and all property going to the closest male relative. I think it was because in the age of ATM cards it felt like it could really happen. I'm definitely due for a re-read.

magritte said...

I was initially thrown by the casting of the Commander, but over time I began to change my view. It's a long time since I've read the book, but my recollection was of an older, much less charismatic, almost pathetic figure trapped by his own device. Joseph Fiennes brings a sinister sexiness to the role. He's much nastier, more powerful and dangerous. It works.