The Handmaiden’s Tale is based on a book written in 1985 by Margaret Atwood. It’s based in a dystopian future where women have been stripped of all rights. The announcement of this show was the kick in the pants I needed to finally read the classic, and it honestly left me more than a little shaken. But to see why, let’s look at the new Hulu original show.
I appreciate the fact that The Handmaiden’s Tale opened on Offred’s backstory, rather than her life as a scarlet clad handmaiden. It gave the viewers and immediate understanding that her life had not always been this way, it should not be this way, and she had a family of her own once.
When her daughter was ripped from her arms by militia-like men clad in black, goosebumps ran down my arms. The Handmaiden’s Tale has a very gloomy style to it’s film. Both the book and film leave me feeling like it’s both a time far in the past, and one not too distant in the future as well. They may wear bonnets and gowns, but the ideas and words are current and modern.
“It isn’t running away they’re afraid of”
This line lets us know that it’s not just Offred who wants out, it is all handmaidens. An unspoken truth that they are miserable and unhappy. So much so, their very rooms are planned around it. Shatterproof glass to prevent both jumping out the window, but obtaining sharp glass to cut open veins. Death is a welcome embrace in comparison to their current lives.
“I kinda wanna tell her that I sincerely believe that Ofglen is a pious little shit with a broomstick up her ass”
Okay. I cackled at this. But it was an important moment as well. It showed us that Offred’s spirit was still intact under her white bonnet. And let’s be real, if anyone was going to play a “pious little shit”, Alexis Bledel was perfect casting. It’s not until nearly the end of the episode we discover the truth. That Ofglen has a heart, which is most obvious when she warns Offred of the Eye in her home.
The Grocery Store
We had not been told explicitly yet that the Handmaiden’s were not allowed to read, but the cues were all there. Only pictures on labels, no words. When the Handmaiden in the grocery store said “He’s on the news”, and was met with ghastly stares from the others, it was confirmed. How could she know about the news, if she was not allowed to read? She immediately clarified, but the fear was still in her eyes. This scene also showed us how everyday life was far from normal, oranges were suddenly a luxury and a sign that the war was going well in Florida. Wait, Florida? It appears that the US states are still going by their old names. Immediately after, Offred and Ofglen walk by the river, and that is an entirely different sort of moment.
Moyra / The Aunts
This is the first time we see Samira Wiley in her role as Moira, whom, as fans of the book know, is significant. This scene served three important purposes. It showed us the connection between Offred and ***, it showed us how the Aunts “trained” the handmaidens, and it showed us the brainwashing that it took to get to this place. “This will become ordinary” is by far the most terrifying line in the entire episode.
I’m going to lump the moment of Janine confessing the violence committed against her here, not because I liked it, but because it’s important. She was the victim of sexual violence, and the handmaiden’s are circled around her shaming her like Cersei in the streets. When Offred doesn’t immediately join in, Margaret Atwood makes an appearance as an Aunt who smacks her across the head. You do not have choices as a woman any longer. You obey, or you can deal with the consequences. Cleaning up toxic waste. Death.
This is the first time we see Janine outside of a flashback, and boy has she changed. From Janine’s pregnancy, to her twirling dance as the handmaiden’s beat the accused, she was among one of the most disturbing parts about this scene. The handmaiden’s are herded together like cattle, proded by men with guns. The Aunt comes in front of them, Hunger Games style, and introduces a man accused of raping a pregnant handmaiden, with whom the baby died. I think it’s the loss of a child that the really caused the Handmaiden’s rage. Consent is no longer the same concept it used to be, but a child is a symbol of freedom. They are then allowed to beat the man from whistle blow to whistle blow, and what’s left at the end is a mangled body.
The episode closed with the iconic line “I intend to survive”, and the original Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me”. That song has always had an eery sort of melody, but used in this context it’s purely terrifying.
I’d hate to call this my “Top 5” moments, because The Handmaiden’s Tale is not a happy story. But these were the top 5 moments that stuck with me. I am happy that Hulu appears to be sticking very close to the book, and intrigued to see what comes next.
What were your thoughts on the new Hulu original?
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Shannon has a degree in Sociology and Women's Studies from the University of Northern Colorado, where she composed her award winning and nationally presented senior thesis titled "Behind the Shield and Under the Sheets: Sex and Sexuality in a Live Action Role Playing Game"
If this is not a statement of her nerdy feminism, what more could there be?
Follow her bookiness on GoodReads www.goodreads.com/novel_shenanigans
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