The Handmaid’s Tale in the Modern Eye
Hulu’s adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale brings to life Margaret Atwood’s book of the same name. A highly acclaimed series, The Handmaid’s Tale features a dystopian world set a few years from our current time period. The show places us in front of a caricature of our own world: a place where democracy is abolished and everything that could go wrong becomes a reality.
Timeless Issues in the Cyclical Nature of History
History repeats itself and The Handmaid’s Tale seems to prove this by focusing on timeless issues. The show explores a variety of topics: power and politics, religion versus science, the threat of global warming, and the importance of gender equality and women’s rights. It reminds us that these issues have been around and will be around regardless of time period.
Power and Politics
Politics impacts our government, national security, the way we live, and our country’s unity. It’s so deeply embedded in both our society and Gilead, the society in The Handmaid’s Tale. Despite this, Gilead features a totalitarian theocratic government that differs from the democratic American government we uphold.
“We only wanted to make the world better. Better never means better for everyone. It always means worse for some.” 1 ―Commander Waterford
Andrew Heywood’s Politics defines politics in relation to many factors, such as “the exercise of power, the science of government, the making of collective decisions, the allocation of scarce resources, the practice of deception and manipulation, and so on.” 2 Heywood states that politics can be power, “the ability to achieve a desired outcome, through whatever means,” and can also revolve around “oppression and subjugation.” 3 These definitions present the relationship of politics and power as something inevitable to a society’s government. This is apparent in The Handmaid’s Tale as power and politics are integral to Gilead. In the show, a religious group known as The Sons of Jacob rises to power. Led by Commander Fred Waterford and his wife, Serena Joy, the Sons of Jacob attack the White House, Judicial Courts, and Congress. They overthrow the American government and establish Gilead as the new government. Power becomes a key feature in the construction of Gilead’s politics. For instance, under Gilead’s law, women are prohibited from reading and writing. This law exhibits how Gilead’s leaders use politics as a way to abuse power and control its people, especially the women.
Politics is a multifaceted issue. From the perspective of Gilead’s supporters, everyone who is against the regime are either conspirators or betrayers. Thus, people known as Eyes work as a secret police force to eliminate Gilead’s enemies. These enemies face brutal punishments that range from amputation, mutilation, and execution. Even people of high-ranking positions become oppressed and subjugated to cruel treatment. In “The Word,” Serena Joy and the other Wives approach the Council, a group of Commanders who tends to Gilead’s political affairs, in hopes of amending the law. She proposes that both genders should be given the right of literacy and breaks Gilead’s law when she begins reading from the Bible. Consequently, the tip of Serena’s pinky finger is later amputated as punishment for reading. These events illustrate how Gilead’s leaders abuse their power, showing how their politics support a cycle of oppression and fear.
Season one of The Handmaid’s Tale premiered soon after Trump won the 2016 presidential election. Since then, viewers have drawn political connections between America and Gilead. For example, current events at the United States and Mexico border are similar to the “forced separation of children from their mothers in Gilead.” 4 In addition to this, extremely conservative politicians who are anti-abortion have aimed to shut down Planned Parenthood, a non-profit organization that provides health care. The events of defunding Planned Parenthood would “punish women and hit people with low incomes, people living in rural communities, and people of color the hardest.” 5 This reflects the lack of power women and minorities have under Gilead’s law. These connections between our reality and Gilead draw attention to the possibility that our politics could become corrupted in a similar matter. Furthermore, the shocking depiction of power and politics in The Handmaid’s Tale encourages us to be more politically aware.
Reed Morano who directed episodes in season one felt that recent political events coincided with one of Moira’s line in the show: “We didn’t look up from our phones until it was too late.” To Morano, this line of dialogue reflected “America in many ways” as it seemed we were too distracted to recognize what could happen if Trump became president. 6 All of a sudden, corruption and chaos felt possible in our own government and world. Although President Trump is not as radically religious as the politicians in The Handmaid’s Tale, many people felt uneasy or fearful with this new shift in power.
Religion Versus Science
Science appears to be abolished in Gilead. Instead, religion controls the nation. The Handmaid’s Tale zeroes in on the misuse of religion and how this affects human society. In an interview, Samira Wiley who plays Moira in the show said that “people can feel a slave to their religion, or get so caught up in the rules they lose sight of the overall picture.” 7 Wiley’s comment captures how religion negatively influenced Gilead’s leaders. In the show, the Wives and Commanders are bound by their religious beliefs to the point where they justify crime with religion and turn a blind eye to evil. For instance, in “Postpartum” in season two, Eden is executed after being sentenced for infidelity—a violation of Exodus 20:14. She is given the chance to be pardoned if she renounces all her sins and asks God for mercy. However, her reluctance to do so results in her death. Gilead’s justification for Eden’s execution relies heavily on religion. They execute her in God’s name and believe that doing so is in His will. Religion overshadows Gilead and leaves little room for logical reasoning.
The misuse of religion and absence of science is apparent in The Handmaid’s Tale. Fertility is interpreted as a biological purpose gifted from God. The Ceremony, an event where the Commander of the household rapes a Handmaid to impregnate her, presents human reproduction as a biblical process. Through the viewpoint of Offred—whose real name is June—we learn that the Ceremony is based on Genesis 30:1 from the Bible. The word “infertile” is banned and women who cannot produce children are dubbed as “Unwoman.” Science and knowledge are pushed aside. Teachers are stripped of their jobs. There is no science in the world of Gilead.
Similar to the society in The Handmaid’s Tale, religion and politics seem to be connected in our world. A Pew Research Center analysis found that “God or the divine is mentioned at least once in each of the 50 state constitutions and nearly 200 times overall.” 8 The presence of religion in our society has further been shown through President Trump’s beliefs. During Trump’s 2016 campaign, Trump “pledged to defend religious liberty, stand up for unborn life and appoint conservative jurists to the Supreme Court and federal appeals court.” 9 At a glimpse, Trump’s support of religion, pro-life, and conservative officials seem to mirror Gilead. The main difference between our politics and Gilead’s, however, is that we do not become enslaved by our religious beliefs nor do we cast aside science. Instead, religion has become a way for our society to hold onto morality and hope. Thus, even though religion and politics in our world share a connection like the government in The Handmaid’s Tale, the dynamic is significantly different. The Handmaid’s Tale blows the function of religion in politics out of proportion and turns it into something that overshadows morality rather than upholds it.
While The Handmaid’s Tale presents the two as opposite ends, science and religion does not entirely cancel each other out. Everywhere we look today, science is relevant and very much present. It is because of science and technological advancements that we live the way we do. Our methods of transportation, communication, and basic living has in one way or another been affected by science and technology. According to Elaine Howard Ecklund and Christopher P. Scheitle, science plays a huge role in society and “religious leaders [who] want to see their communities not just survive but thrive” need to “learn how to incorporate science and scientists into their faith communities.” 10 Gilead fails to uphold this mixture of science and religion and instead introduces a world where this balance does not exist. It’s a world that we aren’t familiar with; one that does not exactly resemble our own. But the more we look at it, the more Gilead reverberates with warnings to what our world could become had our government not separated church from state or supported technological advancements and scientific research. The Handmaid’s Tale takes two important aspects of human life that we are all too familiar with only to exaggerate the conflicts of this dichotomy.
The Rise of Global Warming
Global warming plays a huge role in The Handmaid’s Tale. With the declining birth rate in correlation to the amount of pollution present, Gilead is formed to resolve both these problems. The creation of the colonies becomes one of the ways that Gilead targets the environmental issues.
In “Unwomen,” we are given the first glimpse of the colonies and its function as a work camp to combat pollution. The episode takes us through Ofglen’s experiences. Ofglen—whose real name is “Emily”—works in the field at the colonies. Here, the land is practically uninhabitable. The Aunts who stand guard wear oxygen masks to protect themselves from the dangerous fumes, while the Unwomen are forced to clean up the waste with little to no protection. Death is inevitable for these women as they will slowly and painfully succumb to the colonies’ severe conditions. These environmental problems shape Gilead to what it is. With such extreme environmental conditions, Gilead retaliates with an even more extreme solution.
The issue of global warming in The Handmaid’s Tale is relevant to environmental problems in our world. Climate change, melting icebergs, and rising sea levels are all advancing at a continuous rate. Scientists have acknowledged that “today’s warming is primarily caused by humans putting too much carbon in the atmosphere.” 11 The Handmaid’s Tale brings this component to life and exaggerates it to the extreme. Although the leaders of Gilead are depicted as corrupt, they feel responsible to do whatever it takes to correct the damage humans have done to Earth.
Likewise, we acknowledge the damage we’ve done to the environment and have taken steps to correct it. Agencies and organizations like National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and National Geographic have brought awareness to our environmental issues. There has also been action to confront these problems under the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement is a global effort that “brings all nations into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, with enhanced support to assist developing countries to do so.” 12 This agreement signifies a universal acknowledgement to the environmental issues affecting us, unifying humankind together against global warming and climate change. However, under Trump’s presidency, the United States withdrew from the Paris Agreement in June 2017. The United States’ withdrawal caused national concern over the country’s role in fighting global warming. These events made the environmental crisis in The Handmaid’s Tale appear as a possible future to our own world. The show makes the reality of an environmental deficit more tangible and threatening, showing us what could happen should we fail to take control now.
Gender Equality and Women’s Rights
Throughout history, fighting oppression has been an ongoing battle for so many women across various cultures and communities. Gender equality and women’s rights are a crucial aspect of our community and nation. It brings people together, spreads love, and encourages equality for all.
In The Handmaid’s Tale, there is no gender equality let alone basic human rights. Women are stripped of autonomy and agency. They are reduced to their biological purpose of human reproduction. We see men rise to power in elite positions, while women are forced to adopt stereotypical feminine roles. There are the Wives who overlook the Marthas—the faction in charge of house duties, such as preparing meals—and the Handmaids who are raped every month to produce children for the Wives and Commanders. The women in Gilead have no rights. They are prohibited from reading, writing, and holding positions in the government. Failure to uphold Gilead’s law results in severe consequences of physical abuse. The Handmaid’s Tale takes us into a society where stereotypical gender roles are exaggerated. There is no equality and the patriarchy reigns supreme.
In our world, The Handmaid’s Tale has become an avenue for women to find empowerment, a voice, and a sense of unity. Kari Skogland, one of the directors for The Handmaid’s Tale, stated that the show “is absolutely inextricably linked to the #MeToo movement.” 13 This movement has brought survivors of sexual assault together, giving them a voice and reminding them that they are not alone. Through this movement, survivors become empowered while simultaneously showcasing the widespread problem of sexual assault and harassment. In The Handmaid’s Tale, the Handmaids take part in their own #MeToo movement. The movement is set in motion after June retrieves a package for Mayday, the resistance force in opposition of Gilead, in “The Bridge.” The package is filled with letters written by Handmaids. These letters tell their stories of abuse in Gilead. Nick gives the letters to Luke who in turn releases it to the public in “Smart Power.” These events cause the public to protest against Gilead, resulting in the end of Gilead’s negotiations with Canada. The letters parallel the same effect of the #MeToo movement by providing survivors a voice and forming a unified stance against sexual violence. It demonstrates the strength of survivors and how their stories are continuously changing the world for the better.
The show has allowed women to come together in protest against sexual violence. Recent allegations of Judge Brett Kavanaugh committing sexual assault against Doctor Christine Blasey Ford in the past caused outrage among the public. In response to this, women found their voice through The Handmaid’s Tale. These women dressed in Handmaid attire and silently lined up outside the hearing room where a group of senators questioned Kavanaugh. 14 The Handmaid outfit became a symbol and sign of protest against those who threaten women’s rights. Similarly, in “Night,” the Handmaids collectively rebel against Aunt Lydia’s command of stoning Janine, a fellow Handmaid, to death. Instead, they one by one drop their stones and eventually march home together. In this moment, the Handmaid outfit unifies them. They realize they aren’t alone and become empowered through their connection to one another. The episode ends with a voiceover of June that reiterates this sense of female empowerment in relation to the Handmaid’s outfit:
“They should never have given us uniforms if they didn’t want us to be an army.” 15 ―June
The Handmaid’s Tale not only presents us with problems in gender equality and women’s rights but pushes us to confront these problems in our world. The show introduces us to a world that lacks democracy and equality. Yet, at the same time, it depicts the resilience and power of women. Through The Handmaid’s Tale, we are reminded of the importance of fighting for gender equality and women’s rights.
Dystopia is defined as an imagined world where typically everything has gone rotten and downright bad. A cautionary tale, on the other hand, is a story that warns others of certain dangers. The Handmaid’s Tale is just that: a cautionary tale of a dystopian world. It creates the message of how terrifying reality can be and warns us of human society’s flaws. Moreover, it focuses on issues in our world in a satirical, extreme way. The end result is increased attention to these issues and social attraction to the show. Margaret Atwood, who authored The Handmaid’s Tale, “believes that the Trump presidency has helped fuel the show’s success.” 16 Likewise, Samira Wiley who plays Moira in the television series said that the “show parallels what’s going on in our world right now” and that “our entire society is acting out of fear.” 17 The Handmaid’s Tale ultimately reflects modern issues in politics, religion, the environment, and human rights. As a result, many people have come to relate the show to our world.
But why use something so horrifying and shocking to make a statement? Showrunner Bruce Miller believes that The Handmaid’s Tale is “graphic about things that are happening just out of our sight” and that bringing “them into our sight [he thinks] is a general good.” 18 The Handmaid’s Tale creates shock and captures people’s attention. Even years later from the original publication of the novel, the recent television adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale brings back this message: we can be better and we must be better.
It’s also important to note that The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t only relevant to the modern age and the 1980’s era but also to humankind for many years to come. Perhaps, The Handmaid’s Tale doesn’t resonate solely with us in this current time period. It’s relevant to all humans, regardless of generation. Elisabeth Moss—who plays June in the show—believes that even though The Handmaid’s Tale “was written in 1985 and it was relevant then” that “it would have been relevant for women in 1700s America, and it would have been relevant for many, many other countries over many years.” 19 Similar to how history is cyclical and repetitive, humans tend to look towards the past and carry it to the future. The Handmaid’s Tale becomes something that connects us to the era before us and the many generations to come, allowing us to realize that we’re not too different from each other. We’re all human and we all share the same problems.
- “Faithful.” The Handmaid’s Tale, season 1, episode 5, 10 May 2017. Hulu, www.hulu.com/watch/ebae93e6-dd44-40e7-9c2f-57177a4e31f3 ↩
- Heywood, Andrew. Politics. 4th Edition ed., Red Globe Press, 2014, 2. ↩
- Ibid., 10. ↩
- Zaragoza, Alex. “‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Is Way Too Real – and Watching It Has Become Masochistic.” The Daily Beast, 3 July 2018, www.thedailybeast.com/the-handmaids-tale-is-way-too-real-and-watching-it-has-become-masochistic. ↩
- Parenthood, Planned. “‘Defunding’ Planned Parenthood Defined.” I Stand with Planned Parenthood, Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc. and Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Inc., www.istandwithpp.org/defund-defined. ↩
- Utichi, Joe. “How ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Became The Year’s Most Politically-Charged Show.” Deadline Hollywood, 9 Aug. 2017, deadline.com/2017/08/the-handmaids-tale-elisabeth-moss-reed-morano-emmys-interview-1202144439/. ↩
- Combemale, Leslie. “The Handmaid’s Tale’s Samira Wiley Talks Religion, Love, and Season 2.” Motion Picture Association of America, 23 Apr. 2018, www.mpaa.org/2018/04/the-handmaids-tales-samira-wiley-talks-religion-love-and-season-2/. ↩
- Sandstrom, Aleksandra. “God or the Divine Is Referenced in Every State Constitution.” Pew Research Center, 17 Aug. 2017, www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/08/17/god-or-the-divine-is-referenced-in-every-state-constitution/. ↩
- Thiessen, Marc A. “Trump Might Be the Most pro-Religion President Ever.” The Des Moines Register, 29 Mar. 2018, www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/2018/03/29/trump-pro-religion-president-christian-conservatives/470261002/. ↩
- Ecklund, Elaine Howard and Christopher P. Scheitle. Religion vs. Science: What Religious People Really Think. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018, 3. ↩
- “How Do We Know That Humans Are the Major Cause of Global Warming?” Union of Concerned Scientists, 1 Aug. 2017, www.ucsusa.org/global-warming/science-and-impacts/science/human-contribution-to-gw-faq.html#.XB0B_y-ZP6Y. ↩
- “The Paris Agreement.” United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement. ↩
- Malkin, Marc. “How ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ Costumes Became a Symbol of the Resistance.” Variety, 25 Sept. 2018, variety.com/2018/tv/news/handmaids-tale-costumes-protests-resistance-metoo-1202954906/. ↩
- Haslett, Cheyenne. “‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Protesters Target Kavanaugh.” ABC News, ABC News Internet Ventures, 4 Sept. 2018, abcnews.go.com/Politics/handmaids-tale-protesters-target-kavanaugh/story?id=57592706. ↩
- “Night.” The Handmaid’s Tale, season 1, episode 10, 14 June 2017. Hulu, www.hulu.com/watch/39c08515-b833-4245-b482-3a057b072505 ↩
- Evans, Morgan M. “‘Handmaid’s Tale’ Author Margaret Atwood Says Hulu Show Is Made to ‘Reflect’ Trump-Era Reality.” Fox News, 14 Apr. 2018, www.foxnews.com/entertainment/handmaids-tale-author-margaret-atwood-says-hulu-show-is-made-to-reflect-trump-era-reality. ↩
- Combemale, Leslie. “The Handmaid’s Tale’s Samira Wiley Talks Religion, Love, and Season 2.” ↩
- Villarreal, Yvonne. “We Talked to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Showrunner Bruce Miller about That Season 2 Finale.” Los Angeles Times, 11 July 2018, www.latimes.com/entertainment/tv/la-et-st-handmaids-tale-season-2-finale-bruce-miller-20180711-story.html. ↩
- Utichi, Joe. “How ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Became The Year’s Most Politically-Charged Show.” ↩
What do you think? Leave a comment.
A good essay. The discussion of the relationship of religion and science is insightful.
Season two finale annoyed me so much I don’t know if I’ll watch series 3.
I usually enjoy this show and I’m not one to complain about it. However, this episode was too much. June acting out and no one caring (she slapped Waterford and joked about imagining a Commander in a woodchipper, or something to that effect.) The quiet walking-on-eggshells and 1984 feel is gone. But I got over that thinking that maybe this is inevitable; people can only go so far before they start unravelling and acting out regardless of consequences.
But then the whole thing with Serena! I know she has her fans, but personally I hate Serena and think she’s just as bad as Fred. She physically and verbally abuses June, she bullies her and she holds her down to be raped and orchaestrated the system in which she is raped making her, in my mind, a rapist. Fred also abuses June, bullies and rapes her. However, for some reason they’ve decided that a female misogynist is sympathetic compared to a male one. Fred gets ominous music while poor Serena who lost half a finger (surely the ost brutal thing to happen to a woman in Gilead) gets soaring violins and a her (stolen) baby named after her.
I came upstairs and told my hubby (who has been taking refuge out of the room while I’ve watched Handmaid’s Tale) that the depressing program has Jumped The Shark. Elizabeth Moss looked awesome as the last minute previewed Handmaid’s Tale III: June and the Women Strike Back. But I wasn’t convinced by her sudden decision to give the baby to Emily and her asking her to call her Nicole.
I managed to avoid spoilers during series 2, aside from a comment made by one of my American Facebook friends a few months ago. She said of the finale: “They separated them?!” I was expecting someone to say to June that the baby couldn’t go with her at the last minute. Babies cry and can’t be relied on to be quiet – June and Luke had to drug Hannah when they were trying to flee hidden in the trunk of someone’s car.
I thought at first Emily stabbing Aunt Lydia was a dream sequence. When I realised it wasn’t I expected Guardians to rush into the room and cart her off back to the colonies. I didn’t believe that Dr weird guy would be willing to participate in a scheme to smuggle her out of Gilead. I could see him helping June perhaps, but not a Handmaid with a history of being a “gender traitor”, stealing a car, squashing a guardian’s head with it, then coming back from the Colonies to knife the Aunt in charge (Lydia seems to be the most powerful Aunt, at least in the district.) I’m fairly certain Lydia will live to see series 3. In what condition remains to be seen. She may end up embittered over one of her girls turning on her and enraged by disabilities caused by Emily’s attack.
I also didn’t believe the other wives suddenly daring to ask the commanders for their girls to be able to read the Bible. And why wasn’t Serena’s speech longer for her to make her case? For a minute I thought Martin Luther’s name was mentioned,not Goethe’s. I thought bringing up Luther and the desire for each person to be able to understand and read the word of God would have been very challenging for the Commanders.
You make a pretty good point about how terrible Serena can be! You’d think that as a woman Serena would understand the monstrosities that June endures but Serena doesn’t. I’m hoping that the Waterford’s will realize how evil they’ve been and get what they deserve in the next season.
The ending really didn’t work for me. I get June doesn’t want to leave Hannah but she’s pissed off Waterford and helped in the abduction of a baby from Gilead.
Fantastic piece. Edge of the seat series. If season three starts with June being back in that house I will scream and scream until I’m sick.I was hoping that Nick was going to shoot Fred..And yes, great music.
I’m super interested in what’s going to happen between Nick and Fred this next season. Fingers crossed that Nick will be okay! If June does end back up in the Waterford’s house, it’d be too redundant for me so hopefully season three takes it in a different direction.
The show looks amazing, has brilliant acting and directing but I’m wondering how they can keep the show going without becoming repetitive.
The problem with that ending of s2 is June cannot escape from Gilead if the series wants to continue. However that makes it, what, three almost escapes this season? I’m not sure how many times they can keep using the hope of escape as a plot point.
I was thinking the same. If June escaped it would be problematic for the series to continue, unless they wanted to concentrate on her efforts to bring down Gilead from over the border. So it looks like June is going to go badass and try to bring down Gilead from the inside (and rescue Hannah, I presume.) I can’t help thinking what is she going to bring down Gilead with? She has no weapons and no army.
I’d imagine that June’s efforts to rescue Hannah would form the core of Series 3 although I think the braver thing would have been to bring June’s story to an end this series (happy ending or otherwise) and introduce another main protagonist for the next series. Part of me thought that was the point of bringing in Commander Lawrence – introduce him in order to shift focus away from June and the Waterfords and towards Emily and the many stories she could tell.
If anything, having Emily has the focus when Gilead finally starts to fall apart at the seams would have made sense. Unlike June, who has Hannah and Nick, Emily didn’t have anything or anyone to keep her in Gilead, after survival her aim would be to get to Canada in order to be reunited with her wife and child, seeing her try to achieve that would have been an interesting prism through which to view Gilead’s near inevitable descent into chaos and the varied responses of leaders like Lawrence to developments.
I feel the same exact way about how June seems to keep escaping only to end up back with the Waterford’s! It does give off a message that Gilead seems inescapable I suppose.
Hands down the best series I’ve watched … ever! I know this series has had a lot of criticism from people, but I have loved every single episode. There hasn’t been one episode that I haven’t loved! I’m disappointed it’s over (what else am i going to watch on a sunday now?!) but I can’t wait until next year!!!
Try Sharp Objects…
Season two should’ve ended with them killing Fred.
I wasn’t won over by the past season.
Of course the show needs something like these moments to leaven the grimness. But these parts are often really heavy handed, which jars so much because it’s out of keeping with the subtlety of much of the show’s best elements.
There’s lots that very good still. But I think it’s been a frustrating series in a lot of ways, in that new directions have been raised then backed away from, with the show preferring to retread the same ground. Next year will have to move the focus beyond the Waterford house at least.
Whitford’s is perhaps the first really interesting male character for the show. But so far I don’t buy that he’s a good guy. He seemed to take great pleasure in sneering at and humiliating Emily last episode.
He was testing her. She passed.
I thought about that but it doesn’t make all that much sense as an explanation.
Is he supposed to be checking whether she’s actually pious and so might report him if he reveals he’s not a Gilead loyalist? If so then why give her beer? And if his intentions are good then he didn’t need the barbs about her kid and her clitoris having been removed. Even in the final episode he is tormenting her in the car ride and she’s understandably terrified- why not just tell her what’s happening at that point unless he’s enjoying toying with her?
It may be that things take a different turn next series, but here it looked like this was all written mainly so that the audience would assume he’s evil before the big reveal. If so then it’s a rare bit of sloppy writing.
I’m hoping that the next season will explore more than just the Waterford’s household, too! I feel like the past two seasons really focused on June being held captive in that house so it’ll be refreshing to get a shift in the storyline.
I also agree with you about Whiteford being the first interesting male character. He really stands out from the other men in the show even though we don’t really learn too much about him. Hopefully season three expands more on his character and function in the plot.
Sounds like an extraordinary programme. The very best to it!
I loved every atmospheric second of this show. Looking forward to season three.
Have to admit, adjusting to the pace of the series was difficult after a diet of fast paced modernity. What I’m enjoying, having missed loads, is like any great Soap you can just dip in and pick it up again pretty much straight off.
Hopefully in Series 3 Bradley Whitford’s Joseph will be seen to be part of a developing network of resistance by existing members of the regime. Grass roots change beginning perhaps? There are people like Nick too who do have a lot of freedom and see a lot which could be used against corrupt commanders.
I thought it was a terrific series until the very end. What can she do dressed as a Handmaid with no contacts except back at the house where no one will welcome her? Had she escaped, she could have prepared herself to go back into battle with Gilead. Of course I understand the feeling that she would feel if I got to freedom I’d never come back but still to fight a whole nation with nothing seems a little far fetched…….I will watch the next series though 🙂 or should that be 🙁
I thought we were going to get a happy ending there -and it would have been a good one – but I guess the necessity of Season 3 intervened.
Unless June becomes a vengeful ‘terrorist’ I do not know where they can go from here…
Hard-going show, but a good one.
At last an uplifting ending after all the misery…
Now we will see if June goes ‘Rambo’ on Gilead’s collective arses…
I thought that was pretty great. And my credulity was a little stretched by June staying behind, but they did an ok job of motivating it. My only issue with the ending is “call her Nicole”. So cheesy and predictable. Make it her middle name. Don’t cast Holly aside like that.
From about halfway through this series I have been feeling like the writers are uncomfortable with their characters and the narratives they should occupying. The humanisation of Serena has felt odd and out of place, so has the introduction of a rescuer commander and a post-mortem rebel personality for Eden. The only two evolutions that have felt natural is the descent in to violence Emily has been experiencing, and the favouritism Aunt Lydia now shows towards certain girls. It’s like when the book stopped dictating the script, the writers couldn’t help themselves and just had to add some traditional character profiles. The lone anti-hero good guy among the bad guys (Whitford), the mean woman who is changed by loving a child (Serena), the cartoon villian (Fred), the mouse who wasn’t so mousy after all (Eden), the spunky female lead who won’t be told (June). It cheapens the story, in the previous season for example June was able to play Fred. The necessity of it added to the atmosphere and the sense of claustrophobia around her character, but now she’s telling him off and slapping him, it must feel good to write those scenes for her but by it just doesn’t fit in or feel right. Same thing with Serena and Fred, she used to play him like a puppet and he was pathetic and a bit dim, now he’s Lex Luther and she’s fragile and compulsive. It’s like they couldn’t just let her be evil, they had to give her a heart and a tragic back story. And they couldn’t just let Fred be a moral vaccuum who craves power and (pathetically) affection, they had to make him evil. Same thing with Emily and Janine, their descent in to madness couldn’t just be that, it had to end in individual triumphs.
The writing of season 2 doesn’t fit with last season because you can feel the writers discomfort with how the characters were set up.
I think that Ralph Fiennes portrayal of Freds descent into drunkeness and ever increasing violence is great. So many fine actors in this series, I hope that the tv.company doesn’t waste their talents by spinning it out for too long..
I have a dark feeling this show could end up going the way of Dexter where there’s only one way things can end for the main character but the writers don’t want to do it.
Beautiful show they make showing reality for women today. Man oppress woman and he keep her under thumb, and this show remind people of how evil can be. This happening to your neighbour today.
Props to all the actors of this amazing show. Great coverage of it as well.
The first half or so of season 2 suffered in my book from a lack of forward motion and too many flashbacks of stuff we’d already seen; yes, Gilead is bad, pre-Gilead was better, we get it already. Some of the early episodes could have been shuffled around without any great loss to the narrative. But things picked up markedly with the episode with the sick child and the smuggled-in Martha. Season 1 was lean and mean, with the only padding being in the episode where Luke escapes to Canada; hopefully season 3 will be the final season and a stripped-down machine, carrying no baggage and designed with one aim in mind: the fall of Gilead.
The book on which the series is based is poor. The shortcomings of the show are unsurprising.
That’s just your opinion though. It’s generally considered a great classic.
Why did June make a point of telling Emily that Holly should be called Nicole?
It seems such a central theme to the series, your real name vs the one the state imposes on you, the suppression of the handmaids’ names and tuning them into the commanders’ belongings, the way the servants are collectively Marthas, Hanna renamed Agnes etc.
I can’t see why June would give up on the name she gave her daughter
I was confused about why June would do that, too! Serena did catch them leaving the Waterford’s house in the season two finale and could have stopped them. Serena’s decision to let go of June’s baby was done in an act of love. June might have changed Holly’s name to Nicole to acknowledge this.
The first series was written by a renowned author and was 9/10, the second by tv screen writers and was 5/10.
It’s a shame the drop in writing and therefore believability was so large.
I will watch series three only if it is definitely the final series.
I feel the same way about the show’s writing when I compare the two seasons together. Hopefully season three wraps everything up well!
I’m still hoping that Theresa May will deal with the EU like June deals with Gilead. Changes her mind and goes back in.
I gave up on episode 8 of this series as it just drained me emotionally. However I had to find out what happened and am glad I finished it off. Continues to drain me but next time I might have a mid-series break just to get some respite.
In my humble opinion, the terrifying but extraordinary novel, first published here in 1986 (though I could swear I was in my twenties and not thirties when I first read it – I seem to have grown up with it..) – didn’t ‘translate’ that well into the 1st TV series, let alone the 2nd. Margaret Atwood’s voice, and subtlety of thought, has – to me – been pretty absent. The novel has just been appropriated by a writer of ‘thrillers’, and was pretty well perfect in its original form in terms of its importance to all of us.
I adored the book and feel both series have the voice of Atwood loud and clear.
Film or TV adaptations don’t diminish any book, even if one doesn’t like the adaptation, but they can bring a book to a wider audience.
Yes – I absolutely agree with your last comment in that they CAN bring a book to a wider audience, but personally, I can’t see too many people bothering to read it after these TV adaptations. I too ‘adored’ the novel, and have recently bought a new copy.. And I still believe that the only way that ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ will be remembered is as yet another violent – albeit very different – thriller. Which is a great shame.
After a very promising start the series, for me, fell away. A lot of false starts, such as her escape, then the bombing right, the night at the abandoned house for her to only end up back at Freds being compliant, looking a bit moody and for it all to start again. It felt like mini series within a series itself, all ending in exactly the same way. The lack of progress within each failed attempt to break away was what bothered me. It was like with every failed attempt the clock was just reset, not change in attitude, no overall chance in character dynamic with Freds wife lurching from luke warm to ice cold without any obvious balance in between.
Then the ending…dear lord what an anticlimax. When the show proved once and for all that it had sold out, to be listed alongside the many other US tv shows that simply stop being made when they stop making money, rather than to tell or complete a story.
You bring up a lot of good points. I can totally see how each failed attempt to escape showed a lack of progress. It kind of gives off the vibe that Gilead is inescapable and unstoppable – as if everything June attempted to do was futile. I’m hoping season three actually shows Gilead falling apart or at least some sort of progress!
Booth, I see this criticism a lot, but I’m not sure the actual criticism meets credulity. A woman who has just given birth and is emotionally attached to her daughter (after suffering years of extreme psychological and physical abuse) isn’t going to be just an automatic gun-toting badass that defies the patriarchy, oppression and reality by fighting to the death. She’s more likely going to be compliant to save her daughter(s) and remain close to the child she can possibly escape with in future. It’s actually more Hollywood to go down the critics route that June would just be defiant openly and get herself drowned/hanged as a heretic. All these cries that ‘it’s not realistic’ seem horribly misguided. It is totally realistic that a new mother might think of her baby above herself, might feign meekness and obedience in order to fulfill the promise to the child that she won’t grow up in Gilead. June working on Serena with constant allusions to the future Nicole might have was the kind of resistance Offred has put up since episode 1 (and the novel). She isn’t always kicking and screaming, but she is desperately scheming.
I don’t think anyone is saying it’s not realistic for those things to happen. It’s the way they happen in the second series. The first for me worked well.
I think your missingFirmAndUnfair’s point, or I’m reading something into what they are saying that isn’t there.
Go take a look at the catalogue of great/classic movies where the enemy/oppressors are an authoritarian state. The echoes and repercussions of such behaviour are not short lived. The actions and process of rebellion, defiance and passive resistance are not quick simple things. THT seems to swing wildly and without coherency on this. Authoritarian states may be run by “lunatics” but they aren’t amnesiacs, stupid or actually mad, and usually they are very smart at manipulation and repression by mass consent even if their ideas are stupid and misguided if not downright evil. The same with those who suffer under that rule. Things don’t happen suddenly and with no foreshadowing, but they do in THT season 2. Some of it works and is understandable but too much of it falls short on the initial promise. Too much cop out and not enough meat and grist.
This seems to be like the sci-fi novel Revolt in 2100 by Robert A. Heinlein
Nothing happened. Yet again. Won’t be watching series 3.
This is an inspired piece! Very thorough and well written, there is a lot of research and hard work here and it definitely shows. I loved the novel and although I have yet to watch the show it excites me to know they created one and that it’s giving a voice to so many women while simultaneously pointing out the flaws in today’s culture.
Thank you so much! I loved the novel, too, and was super excited when I first heard about the show. I agree with you about how the show impacts today’s culture and hope that it continues to do so!
I actually haven’t been able to watch much of this show because I studied the book a number of times and found the messages present so terrible and valid – such a great story, but boy hard to read/watch and not feel overwhelmed by the state of the real world!
I know how you feel! I always took breaks in between watching episodes since the content was pretty dark. The story is most definitely overwhelming but I like how it addresses and draws attention to multiple societal issues.
When I read the book, I was amazed at how accurate Margaret Atwood had written down key issues in a society. From global warming to human rights, it is something that should never be taken lightly and Atwood managed to bring attention to what can go wrong if not taken care of, before it’s too late.
I felt the same way about the book! That’s actually one of the reasons why I found the story interesting.
I question whether they needed to do season 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale at all as the original novel left Offred’s tale in the hands of the future; ambiguous as to whether she escaped or not. She becomes a myth and a legend for the future but with the second season we are removed from this wistful hope. However in comparison to the books, the tv show provides Offred as more practical in her rebellion through her actions. As opposed to the book when her survival relies heavily on her psyche.
I get what you mean. I originally thought the same thing about them continuing the show for another season. At the time I first thought that it was just American television desperate to continue their programming for the sake of fame and money, which is the case with a lot of American shows that continue on for wayyy too long. But since seeing the second season I’ve come to realize that perhaps we’re a bit too far gone for the open ending. It makes me think of how Jordan Peele changed the ending of “Get Out” because Trump won the presidential election. He realized that we already understand that the world is dark and scary but we need to know that we can work to better it and things can end okay if we try to make it so.
I became so emotional after reading about this film. I will have to find it and watch. I can’t wait…
Just re-read your essay. There are good points you make about politics.
Ok, you had me at global warming. Book added to reading list. TV show added to watching list.