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Week by Week TV: The Handmaid’s Tale Episode 5

Offred is one of the few fertile women in what was once America. As a handmaid, her only function is to bear children. Based on the novel of the same name by Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale has now come to our screens in the UK – Sundays at 9pm on Channel 4. 

This is a continuing series review. Click to read the review of Episodes 1 & 2Episode 3 and Episode 4.

Well, wasn’t it a good ‘un this time? We were treated to some backstory on June and Luke, before things all went wrong, and this was spliced with *ahem* appropriate scenes from the present day. There was a change in things with the Commander, and Ofglen returned too! Where to begin?


I want to start with the Commander. Joseph Fiennes does a wonderful job of playing this character, and he has some great moments this week. He began by giving Offred the gift of reading a magazine after their Scrabble game, the article in which was used to great effect throughout the episode. And Offred tells us that they’ve played 30-something games now, so it’s becoming normality. They’re less shy, they flirt a little. But he crosses a line when he enjoys the Ceremony a little too much, and Offred confronts him. The Commander has some poignant lines in this scene: about women fulfilling their “biological destiny,” because, “what else is there to live for?” And then this: “Love was never anything more than lust with a good marketing campaign.” And that’s when we find out that it was the Commander who orchestrated Ofglen’s punishment a couple of episodes ago. Whoa. Big whoa.

On the topic of Ofglen (who is now called Ofsteven), she came back with a bang this week. And despite Ofglen 2.0’s determination for Offred not to socialise with her, they still manage to steal a few moments together to talk. (As a side note, we see a new perspective on life as a Handmaid in Ofglen 2.0, because she likes being one, feeling that it’s a step up from her old life, and that’s a very interesting new angle to play with.) Ofglen 1.0/Ofsteven/Emily, whatever you want to call her, gave us some tantalising intel on Mayday… tantalising because that’s pretty much all we know at this point, the name. But I’m sure we’ve not heard the last of them. Whether we’ve heard the last of her remains to be seen, but I’m doubtful as to whether she can come back from killing like that. I so badly wanted her to just drive away and take the car and never be seen again. Either way though, she did look pretty invincible.

But onto the good stuff. We had some really interesting things happening this week with Offred’s relationships with men – I’ve already mentioned the developments with the Commander. We saw how she and Luke met way back when (which was adorable) and then we saw them on a date. There was a hint of something there, that perhaps Luke was with someone else, but this wasn’t confirmed until later on when she asked him if he’d leave his wife.

We also see the first time they spent the night together, and this is cleverly cut against scenes between Offred and Nick, after Serena Joy suggested they sleep together in case it’s the Commander who can’t produce children … this begs the question, does Serena Joy care more about having a child than her own husband? But I’ll let you answer that one for yourselves.

Now, we all know that Offred and Nick have had a considerable amount of sexual tension between them for a while, so maybe it was only a matter of time, but there was something that didn’t quite sit right with me here. When Serena Joy took Offred to Nick’s house, she told us that this time, it felt like she was cheating on Luke, presumably because this was moving beyond the bounds of duty and just simply doing what she can to survive in this world. Offred and Nick then shared one of their most open moments in the kitchen, where Offred was vulnerable, and he admitted to being an Eye. And while this is a clear development of trust, I was struck by the fact all feelings of unfaithfulness were now decidedly forgotten when she went back to Nick’s place that night; without question, going beyond the bounds of duty. That seemed like a pretty big leap in not a lot of time.

That said, the episode was no less enjoyable. Elisabeth Moss continues to impress with her heartfelt and intimate portrayal of Offred, and it’s all fantastically written. I’m interested to see where things go now between Offred and Nick, and how long it will take before someone notices something between them. And what Serena Joy’s next ploy will be if Offred remains childless. And where things go with the Commander. I just love this show!

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