'Better never means better for everyone. It always means worse for some.'
What a week it’s been — since we last touched in with this terrifying vision of the not-so-distant future, we’ve learned The Handmaid’s Tale has been renewed for a second season. Are you excited by the prospect of more Gilead? I’m waiting to see where this first installment leaves off before I decide. We’ve already seen the show expand the world of Margaret Atwood’s novel well, but it hasn’t gone beyond that framework yet.
With that aside out of the way, let’s get into this season’s fifth hour, which starts off with a much cozier looking game of Scrabble. Offred’s shoes are off, she’s sitting on the floor with a drink, and the Commander is wearing a T-shirt instead of his spiffy suit. By her count, they’ve played 34 games by this point, and she’s picked up more and more about him over the course of them: including that he likes it when she flirts with him, and she likes when he lets her win. A match made in heaven. This time, though, he also has something else for her — a fashion magazine, all of which were supposed to be destroyed for the many reasons that now make them illegal (women aren’t supposed to read, and those articles are bound to be about sex and career advice and choosing clothes for yourself that aren’t mandated by a rigid caste system!). “Some of us have an appreciation for the old things,” he tells her, smiling, as he hands it over and says that while they’re most definitely not allowed, she can look through it while with him. She flips through the pages, remembering how she’d read magazines like these at the airport, when she got her hair highlighted. “Now the models all look insane, like zoo animals unaware they’re about to go extinct,” she thinks to herself. There’s a quiz in there: 10 ways to tell how he feels about you. One example? He brings you small gifts. Check!
Another way to tell if he’s into you: if the guy just casually hangs around places you’re sitting with no real reason to be there. Yep, we see you Nick, loitering in the kitchen. That’s interrupted by Serena Joy, who wants to have a private conversation with Offred outside (while gardening — which was a passion of Book Version Serena Joy’s, too). It’s not that she’s found out about Scrabble or the magazine, or is keeping her busy until a van of Eyes come to take her away. She just has a request. A proposal, of sorts. Offred still isn’t pregnant, and just like the doctor suggested last week, maybe the Commander just isn’t able to make it happen. So, Serena Joy whispers, maybe there’s another way — another man who can offer up his “services.” And she’s got just the guy: Nick, who has apparently already agreed. Offred agrees — but really, does she have much of a choice here?
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They decide to set it up for that same afternoon because why waste time, but beforehand, Offred has the day’s shopping to do — and it’s at the market that she sees Ofglen again (scratch that, the woman formerly known as Rory Gilmore Emily is actually Ofsteven now) wearing her handmaid robes and checking out produce like it’s business as usual. In hushed tones, they catch up quickly — she’s fine but can’t tell her anything about Nick because now she’s too dangerous to be part of the resistance, which we learn is called Mayday.
Before she can ask more questions, the new Ofglen interrupts, and they can’t speak any further. On the walk home, that woman warns Offred not to mess this up for her. “This isn’t messed up?” Offred wonders, and the new Ofglen gives Offred a lesson in perspective — where June had a nice apartment and a penchant for Anthropologie in her old life, this Ofglen had a drug addiction, which she prostituted herself to support. Here, though, she’s clean, she has a safe place to sleep, and people are nice to her, so it’s not the same level of hell for her that it is for others, and she doesn’t want what happened to Ofsteven to happen to her.