The relevance of The Handmaid's Tale isn't lost on anyone. And the television adaptation of Margaret Atwood's famous dystopian novel is here to remind us, to quote the book: Don't let the bastards grind you down.
The series premieres Wednesday on Hulu and tells the story of Offred (Elisabeth Moss), a designated Handmaid in the totalitarian Republic of Gilead.
The series is a poignant adaptation of Atwood's story, deftly building upon the world the author created with freshness, yet retaining many of the same scorching scenes and resilient characters.
Gilead used to be the United States before a plague of infertility and pollution wreaked havoc. Religious extremists, dubbed the Sons of Jacob, launched a revolution by killing most of Congress and suspending the Constitution. They stripped women of all rights with hopes of regaining some semblance of control and to repopulate the country. Women were sorted into roles depending on usefulness: blue-draped Wives to wealthy men, green-clad Marthas as housekeepers and red-robed Handmaids to produce children.
Offred (literally, Of-Fred) is a Handmaid to Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and her sole purpose is to bear his child. She was taught her duties alongside other kidnapped women of childbearing age in the Rachel and Leah Center, a nod to the biblical story of two women who gave their handmaids to their shared husband when they couldn't get pregnant.
Atwood wrote this story in 1984, but her tale about a distant future feels all too contemporary. Both the novel and the show include environmental crisis, fighting for women's equality and reproductive rights, violent protests and Americans fleeing to Canada. Offred's story is terrifying, heartbreaking and a slap in the face during such a divisive time in our nation's history.
Hulu's Handmaid's Tale, like the novel, is told through the eyes and voice of Offred (formerly, June), frequently jumping through flashbacks of better times with her husband and daughter, Hannah, and with college friend Moira (Samira Wiley).
Other flashbacks tell the story of how the country fell apart. Infertility and an uptick in miscarriages sent shock waves through the population. People panicked, others protested. The government fell apart because people weren't awake. Nobody thought this could happen here.
The Handmaid's Tale does right by lifting scenes straight from the novel. Reading the ceremony scene where Offred is raped by the Commander as part of her duty to produce a child is excruciatingly uncomfortable. Watching it on screen, with a soft opera and Offred's blunt narration playing in the background, is even more chilling. Only Offred could break the tension of a scheduled rape in the name of God by saying in her head, "I wish he would just hurry the hell up."
The series exceeds expectations by expanding on Atwood's dystopian not-too-distant future by adding subtle yet powerful details.
All LGBTQ people are labeled "gender traitors" and are put to death, as are any doctors who performed abortions and disagreeing religious. The concept of being treated like cattle runs rampant through the first three episodes. The Aunts — those who train the Handmaids — exert punishment with electric cattle prods, and each Handmaid is "tagged" with a metal clip on her ear, marking her as a member of the breeding herd.
The icing on top of this red and white cake is the diversity of its emotions. One minute you'll want to cry in anguish and the next you'll want to scream in rage. Uneasy outings with Offred's walking companion Ofglen (Alexis Bledel), whose secrets are deep and dangerous, are often punctuated by absurd pop music and Offred thinking, "I don't need oranges, I need to scream."
The world of The Handmaid's Tale is one of paranoia and piety. Hulu's newest series brings that fear of the future to life with a glimpse of a place that's not too far off.
Contact Chelsea Tatham at [email protected] Follow @chelseatatahm.