The Handmaid’s Tale is set in a dystopian future unlike those we are used to seeing. There aren’t any flying cars or amazing technology that you’d assume to see here. There is nothing but solid regression, simplifying life back to its roots. In fact, it appears that everything has gone backwards in the worst possible way.
In this world, referred to as Gilead, those that have the biological equipment to bear children are put through training at the Red Centre, are cloaked in their red uniforms and white bonnets, and are cast out to couples to help them reproduce. Creating a baby is the handmaid’s one and only task. To step out of line means cruel punishment and often death. And by God does it get brutal – we’re talking the amputation of limbs including the surgical removal of an arm which was a hard scene to watch.
Once you accept the absurdist world of Gilead (formerly the United States of America), which to be honest might take a couple of episodes, it really hooks you in. The interlinking stories of all these characters are subtly drawn out through flashbacks which are done so tastefully that you keep wanting more. Why did the evil fundamentalist folk get so darn evil? Why don’t these handmaids just stand up and get out?
And more than anything else, what is the worth of living in a world like this? The questions make its audience re-think their own morals and values. Is it the possibility of reuniting with the love that you thought you had lost? Or is it the hope that things will change?
Episode 1 (‘Offred’) starts the process of contextualising how we got to a place such as Gilead. It also helps us to understand why the protagonist, Offred (given name, played by the remarkable Elisabeth Moss), would even bother living in such suffering. As the stories unfold, her life is mapped out with all its highs and lows, revealing just enough to whet the audience’s palate.
As told in the Special Features content of the DVD release, Moss found it to be the perfect challenge to display such emotion in situations where she was unable to publicly show her true feelings. It is no wonder she achieved Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series at the 2017 Emmy Awards (amongst the four Emmy’s awarded to The Handmaid’s Tale that year).
There is so much depth of meaning in this season that you could write a thesis on all the themes it draws on. Feminism, religion, LGBTQI issues, class, crime and even refugees are represented. It all seems so very relevant to the movements happening across the free world now. Time’s Up and #MeToo, marriage equality, refugee status, and gun laws make the possibility of this story coming true scary and plausible. At least that is what writer, Margaret Atwood, will lead us to believe.
Atwood originally published the novel that this series is based on in 1985. Also interviewed in the DVD Special Features, she discusses how her book was digested amongst its readers and how audiences are responding to the television series.
The DVD release of Season 1 contains two short special features, one ‘From Script to Screen: The Salvaging’ and the other, ‘Hope in Gilead’. These are great to check out after watching the season. It exemplifies the thought and attention that goes in to the most impactful scenes. Re/watching The Handmaid’s Tale also really revs you up for the second season which will grace its audiences on April 25. And if the rumours are true, the show is going to get even more grim.
Review Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Handmaid’s Tale Season One is now available on DVD.