Handmaid’s Tale: An Overview of S1: E1-E4

The Hulu Original multi-episode series, The Handmaid’s Tale premiered April 26 on the streaming service, with new episodes on Wednesdays and is an adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopic novel of the same name.

Under his eye, there are spoilers ahead…

Episode 1: Offred

Episode 2: Birth Day

Episode 3: Late

Episode 4: Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum

As a person raised in the Good Book, I am familiar with Gilead, a name that refers to a place in modern-day Jordan, where the Tribes of Abraham camped out, a place where God and angels not only led, but manifest, blessed and killed for their people. This connection to a bloody, holy place sets the tone for what America has become in such a short time. Now known as Gilead, an alternative government has risen from the ashes of a failed democracy, while a religious, fear-based fervor has come across the nation gradually. The Handmaid’s Tale begins in the past and jumps to the future, which is a trope both the book and the television series employ. Our protagonist, Offred (renamed such because she is “of” Fred, her Commander) and her family attempt a foiled escape from America to Canada and are caught by state soldiers. They kill her husband, take her child, and send Offred to a reconditioning Center, where she meets other women forced into servitude to the commanding class. This is the new normal and for audiences, Offred becomes our moral center in a twisted new world.

As the government slowly deteriorates, we find that the country has become a parody of itself. There is widespread sterility and women have been delegated as either Wives, Handmaids ,”Aunts” or Marthas. Infertile women of the higher class (or fertile women married to infertile men) are the Madonnas; wives of the Commanders, powerful in their own houses, but always second class citizens. The Handmaids are the Whores–revered because they are fertile and able to get pregnant, yet reviled because of the sexual nature of a job they are forced to do. The Aunts are soldiers who work to break the lower classes, including the Marthas, who are cooks and domestic workers. The women of the lowest classes are brainwashed, beaten and berated until they become compliant.

In Gilead, rape and murder are normalized. Homosexuality is a death sentence. Women cannot own property, they cannot hold regular jobs. Men hold all power and wield it with a violent hand. For Offred, this means trusting no one and being suspicious of everyone in order to find her daughter again. All of the female relationships in this series are complex–The Handmaids are trained to inform on one another, all female friendships are meant to subvert. Not only that, but it seems impossible and foolish to trust any of the men in this story. Men are meant to subjugate and to rule over the women, for their own protection, of course. In Gilead, the purpose of women is to procreate. This means that gay women, such as Moira and Ofglen, are considered gender traitors, and, if they are unable to reproduce, are either shipped off to “the colonies” or killed. The only power women hold are over their wombs, which do not ever belong to them any longer, but to the state.

In all honesty, there are some very graphic scenes in this show that make it difficult to watch. If you are triggered by rape or violence against women, this is going to be a hard sell because in The Handmaid’s Tale, that is normal life under the new regime. Still, audiences can see that the strength of women will not be denied. There is a resistance brewing and, although it is still a vague concept, we know that there are women who are willing to fight against the injustices of Gilead. Only half way through this series, we see that the women, although silent, are not weak. There is power in unification, and, if the women of all factions–the Wives, Marthas, Aunts and Handmaids–can come together, they may just be able to change the world.

Don’t let the bastards get you down, ladies.

C. Diva

Fighting facism over on Twitter and Tumblr.