Over the course of The Handmaid’s Tale’s first four episodes, we’ve heard whispers of a mysterious, forbidden resistance group trying to overthrow Gilead’s repressive government. But, it’s not until the fifth episode, somewhat ironically titled “Faithful,” that we learn the group’s name: Mayday. Still, that’s about all we learn about the big-scale resistance movement. The rest of the hour is about a much smaller rebellion — only in Gilead, even the smallest subversions are a big fucking deal.
Spoilers for the fifth episode of The Handmaid’s Tale below.
The biggest rebellion of the hour comes from Ofglen, who now goes by Ofsteven, and whose real name is Emily. After her horrible mutilation and the execution of her lover at the end of the third episode, she’s been reassigned, and Mayday has cut her out because she’s, sadly, a liability. Pretty much everything has been taken from her, and she seems understandably numb to the world. That is, until she sees an unattended car at an outdoor market. Alexis Bledel, who has been doing amazing work on The Handmaid’s Tale, really sells her character’s next move. It’s instinctive — she hops behind the wheel, not so much trying to escape as just trying to go, to reclaim something.
Though we may see Bledel again in Season 2, she confirmed that this was her last appearance in the first season, and it’s a hell of a way to go. Emily may very well be killed stealing a car and running down a member of The Eyes, but as Offred notes in her voiceover, she’s “invincible.”
Offred’s rebellion isn’t as violent as Emily’s, but it’s just as meaningful. She didn’t impale Serena Joy with a pair of easily purloined garden sheers, but she did something because she wanted to. And, in Gilead, that can mean death.
The fifth episode’s use of flashbacks is interesting, as it ties the choice Offred makes at the end of the episode with another transgression she made in the past. Luke, her husband, was married when they met. Their affair was a violation of societal norms (though if Gilead teaches us anything, it’s that maybe societal norms shouldn’t be gospel) and Offred and Luke’s romance was a rebellion, of sorts. Something beautiful came from it — love, marriage, and child — but that all happened because of something they weren’t supposed to do.
Offred wasn’t supposed to fuck Nick. Not only is any sort of sex aside from the intercourse with Commander Fred that takes place during “The Ceremony” verboten, but Nick says he’s a member of The Eyes. That should be a major, major red flag for her, but Offred is determined to be “invincible” herself for a moment. She definitely doesn’t want to be raped by the Commander, and she didn’t want to have impersonal, scheming sex with Nick in an attempt to impregnate her. She wanted to have choices, the type that she recalled having before Commander Fred made the world “a better place.”
Even though The Handmaid’s Tale is deliberately juxtaposing illicit sex scenes with Luke and Nick, those two relationships are clearly not on the same level. But, that kernel of similarity, of choice and doing the so-called wrong thing because it feels right, goes a long way in Gilead.
If the first four episodes were about Offred finding the determination to survive, the fifth signaled her determination to rebel.
New episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale come out every Wednesday on Hulu.