The Handmaid’s Tale captivates audiences from the first episode
June 4, 2017
Based on the popular classic novel by Margaret Atwood, “The Handmaid’s Tale”, a Hulu original show, follows the story of a woman in the 21st century who experiences the loss of freedom and choice as her modern society degrades into one of intolerance and strict religion. After a currently unknown catastrophes weakens the U.S. government, Christian extremists take advantage of the weakened government and assume control. Offred, named as such for her owner Fred, is one of the few fertile women left in the country, and because of this, she is taken by the government to be a handmaid, or surrogate, for barren couples. The story switches focus between the past and the present, showing the degradation of society and how the United States came to become a totalitarian and religion-based government. Despite the slow plot, he show, with a captivating setting, political undertext, and multifarious characters make the show a must watch for feminists, political enthusiasts, and people who just want to watch and intelligent, but fascinating story.
The well-planned setting was the selling point for the show. With an extremely realistic portrayal of events, the story makes you believe that this could happen in the real world. Set in the 21st century rather than 1985 (when Atwood wrote the story), the government implements beliefs and ideas bearing a strong resemblance to present-day extremist Christian far-right groups. Based heavily on a rigid interpretation of the Bible, the theocratic government subdues and marginalizes women, who are supposedly meant for birthing babies and homemaking only. This backwards thinking, combined with a large following and a country in turmoil, allows the extremists to take over the nation. From then on, we see how the lives and mindsets of men and women change. After the change, women, brainwashed into believing in the rigid values encouraged by the government, live in subordination and do not challenge the men.The men, on the other hand, are brasher and more confident with this new power given to them. It was captivating, but also terrifying to see how this change was so easy.
I was initially reeled in to the show by the intriguing dystopian setting, which unlike many T.V. shows in the past, was very well executed. However, after the first two episodes, it starts to get a bit repetitive, as the show first tries to set the scene and explain the factors at play before delving into anything. Soon after the first few episodes, the story picks up and gets a bit more interesting. The audience is able to piece together the history after the first episode, so it would be better if the show spent less time on describing how the past plays out, and started adding more elements to the plot, to speed things along. The show clearly has political undercurrents and deeper meanings, but it focuses so much on politics to the point that it starts to bore the audience due to the lack of plot in the beginning.
This show, which is now up to the sixth episode, is definitely character-driven, focusing more on the characters rather than the plot so far. Almost all of the characters are three-dimensional, showing a different side of their personalities, making the audience question their motives. For example, Offred’s owner’s wife, or her mistress, Serena, seemed harsh and distant, until later on, where she began to warm up to Offred. We are tricked into believing that she is actually kind -however, later, she does a complete 180 and becomes a stone cold abuser. Even after these shifts in personality, we are still left wondering whether Serena is an evil and abusive villain or just a woman who desperately wants a child.
The show has been gaining a ton of popularity, not just for its expert characterization and captivating setting, but also the fact that it relates heavily to the politics and ideas in real life. Although the book was written 32 years ago and the show was ordered for Hulu long before the 2016 election, the show manages to astound viewers with how relevant it is to today’s politics relating to women’s rights and religion. The show is based on a foundation of sexism, extremism, and bigotry, and how the women in the show struggle to fight against it. The underlying themes of reproductive rights and religion makes it a show to watch just for its political subtext.
It has these political subtexts, but it doesn’t seem like it is forcing it onto the audience. The hidden messages are subtle and shown in different ways.
It also relates to everyday struggles. Women can relate to Offred, who has been struggling past obstacle after obstacle, trying to keep her rebelliousness and still stay afloat. Like Offred, women face customized challenges that men don’t based solely on gender. Issues, although not as extreme as in the show, like the wage gap, harassment, work opportunities, and day to day sexism are common in today’s world. Even more eerie is the fact that some of the values that are expressed in the show are almost exactly parallel to values held by white nationalists, Christian extremists, and jihadist terrorists. In reality, there are many religions and societies that do indeed follow many of these harsh rules, such as places like Yemen and Afghanistan.
The show, despite its slow beginning, has a captivating and relevant portrayal of a United States with a society of strict religion and bigotry. This show is definitely not for the light hearted, as it tackles heavy topics and has some graphic imagery. I would recommend this show to people who are interested in a captivating and hard-hitting show about women’s rights and politics.