binge-watched the first fourteen episodes of HULU's THE HANDMAID'S TALE and that was a huge mistake. Not to say that HULU's take on MARGARET ATWOOD's classic, dystopian novel is a waste of time. I say this because the series is a tense, unrelenting, nightmarish drama that will leave you wondering if a fringe element of fundamentalist brown shirts really have what it takes to turn our democracy into totalitarian theocracy.
I've only recently fallen prey to the phenomenon of binge watching, and everything that I've watched and reviewed thus far has been rather escapist from CBS ALL ACCESS's STAR TREK DISCOVERY to NETFLIX's LOST IN SPACE and YOUTUBE RED's COBRA KAI. In the space of five to ten hours, a whole season goes down smoothly and you found yourself enjoying your time aboard the U.S.S. DISCOVERY or the dojo. With HANDMAID'S TALE, you find yourself trapped in the veil of the oppressive REPUBLIC OF GILEAD, which has taken over the United States and has reduced women to mere property. In this regime, women are not allowed to handle money, own property, work or read. Due to environmental catastrophe and sexually transmitted diseases there has been a sharp decline in human reproduction and as a result, fertile women are now enslaved into a caste of society known as "handmaids", who are ordered to bear children for the leaders of GILEAD. The handmaid OFFRED (ELISABETH MOSS), formerly known as JUNE OSBORNE in better days, serves as our lens into this toxic milieu. Under the orders of GILEAD and her immediate overseer, the beastly AUNT LYDIA (ANN DOWD), OFFRED is sent to the home of COMMANDER FRED WATERFORD (JOSEPH FIENNES) and his wife SERENA JOY (YVONNE STRAHOVSKI) to bear a child through a strange sexual ritual involving a fully clothed OFFRED resting her head on the lap of a fully clothed SERINA JOY while the COMMANDER rapes her. The rules in the WATERFORD home are oppressive and SERENA JOY's contempt for OFFRED makes it all the more stifling. Helping matters are RITA (AMANDA BRUGEL) from a caste of older, infertile women who serves as domestics known as a "Marthas" and NICK (MAX MINGHELLA) - a driver for COMMANDER WATERFORD who acts as an "eye" for GILEAD, reporting on the goings on of the COMMANDER and his household.
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The stark, oppressive world that OFFRED inhabits is broken up by flashbacks to her life as JUNE OSBORNE, wife to LUCAS BANKOLE (O.T. FAGBENLE) and mother to their daughter HANNAH. With the rise of GILEAD and the fact that this is LUCAS' second marriage, JUNE is marked as a adulteress and their daughter is seen as illegitimate. LUCAS is considered still married to his first wife. The opening of the series, shows the family attempting to escape to Canada until they are ambushed by GILEAD troopers. LUCAS is believed to be dead, and mother and daughter are separated. JUNE is taken to the Red Center to be conditioned as a handmaid where she meets her college buddy MOIRA (SAMIRA WILEY) who manages to escape before being sent to a family. There is no escape from this new world. Disobedience costs you an eye. Reading costs you a finger or a hand. Homosexuality is "sex treachery" and is punishable by hanging. Other crimes reduce women to being "Unwomen" serving out the rest of their lives cleaning up radioactive waste in what are referred to as "The Colonies"
As you may have gathered, I like my entertainment a little more on the escapist side. In a time when many argue that the TRUMP presidency has normalized fascism and racism, and as the #metoo movement has picked up considerable steam, THE HANDMAID'S TALE doesn't provide the kind of escapism that I tend to go for, but the series has me where it wants me - hooked. I haven't been waiting for a new episode this anxiously since BATTLESTAR GALACTICA was on their air. While I'm a little late to the game, I'm all caught up with the series so far and here is what I've got to say about some of performances and moments throughout the series that have kept me coming back for more. WARNING: There are spoilers ahead!
FFRED/JUNE OSBORNE is the lens through which we are watching this never ending nightmare unfold and actress ELISABETH MOSS gives a nuanced performance that walks the line between subservience and spunk. She may be playing along with what is expected of her by GILEAD but the fight in the woman's eyes cannot be denied. Perhaps carrying a baby for the WATERFORDs gives her just enough leverage to reunite with her daughter HANNAH and find a way out of GILEAD.
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n an age where people are taking to the streets to support women's rights or to prove that black lives matter, the scene where THE REPUBLIC OF GILEAD flexes it's muscle for the first time and sprays a street full of protesters with bullets is truly a horrifying. As a BLONDIE fan, it's made even more horrifying by a maudlin, string-quartet version of HEART OF GLASS in a minor key. We couldn't think of better accompaniment for the collapse of our democracy. Sure we saw it coming when JUNE and MOIRA's credit cards no longer worked and JUNE, along with every female employee at the publishing house she worked for was let go because of the new government. Boy, this GILEAD really creeps up on you!
his woman is every Catholic school survivor's nightmare. I would call her the DARTH VADER of the piece, but there is some trace of humanity that comes through, despite the cattle prod and willingness to go along with GILEAD. You see it in her interactions with the handmaids, especially OFWARREN. This bitch ripped that girl's eye out yet comes off as motherly toward her. ANN DOWD's chilling performance has already earned her an EMMY. Of all of the characters we've seen, we have no idea what her life was like pre-GILEAD. An episode that addresses that would truly be something to see.
his is the one character with a crazier story arc than OFFRED. When we first meet JANINE (MADELINE BREWER) she is thrown into the Red Center and spits out a contemptuous "fuck you" to AUNT LYDIA. She is rewarded with a good cattle prodding and her right eye getting ripped out. Throughout the series, she mentally deteriorates into a childlike state. Perhaps it's this craziness that has allowed this character to survive, even if that means working her life away in the radioactive wastelands of The Colonies. BREWER's manic performance walks the thin line between comic relief and tragedy.
he doe-eyed OFGLEN is introduced to us as OFFRED's shopping partner. In a society like GILEAD, doe-eyes equal piety but we learn that OFGLEN (ALEXIS BLEDEL) was once a University Professor in Cellular Biology with a wife and a son. It's her fertility that spares her from being hanged for being gay or serving out a life sentence in the colonies for being a professor. In the second episode, she is arrested for sex-treachery for carrying on a relationship with a Martha. The Martha is hanged while OFGLEN is given a clitorectomy and renamed OFSTEVEN. As OFSTEVEN, she snaps from the pressure of this society and gets into the driver seat of a security car and drives erratically in a plaza area, killing a GILEAD soldier. For the infraction, OFGLEN is sentenced to carry out the rest of her days in The Colonies.
ILEAD is a theocractic boys club, but one of it's architects was a woman. Yes, SERENA JOY (YVONNE STRAHOVSKI) - the wife of COMMANDER WATERFORD - in the days before GILEAD, was a writer and speaker on the order of ANN COULTER who encouraged women to learn their place and embrace their God-given imperative to bear children, especially given the crisis that has led to the drop in human fertility. Now, she is being strangled and stifled by a society that she helped create. She was a writer who is now, not allowed to read or write and making matters worse is the presence of OFFRED and her resentment toward her. Ensuring that OFFRED abides by her rules, SERENA JOY dangles the well-being of JUNE's daughter HANNAH over her head. STRAHOVSKI's portrayal gives SERENA some humanity, if humanity came equipped with fangs and claws.
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t's all about the women in THE HANDMAID'S TALE. Despite, our story being set in a dreaded patriarchy, the male characters prove less engaging. COMMANDER FRED WATERFORD (JOSEPH FIENNES) was a founding father of GILEAD, yet all we learn of his character is that those who make the rules don't have to follow them. He's taken a keen interest in OFFRED outside of reproductive matters. The two of them play Scrabble in his man cave which is off limits SERENA JOY. Despite games of Scrabble as foreplay and no lack of enthusiasm on the part of COMMANDER WATERFORD, OFFRED is having trouble conceiving because of the fact that in GILEAD, there is no such thing as a sterile man.
n pre-GILEAD times, NICK BLAINE (MAX MINGHELLA) was a ne'er-do-well drifter going from job to job and town to town until he was talked into joining the SONS OF JACOB - the group responsible for the formation of THE REPUBLIC OF GILEAD. After the takeover, he has become an EYE, observing and reporting on all that goes on in the house of WATERFORD to GILEAD while serving as WATERFORD's driver. He is also the expressionless love interest for OFFRED. With encouragement from SERENA JOY, NICK sires the child that OFFRED will carry for the WATERFORDS. It is also NICK who helps engineer OFFRED's escape from the WATERFORDS into the safety of Canada. Unfortunately she is captured by GILEAD forces on an isolated airstrip and returned to the WATERFORDS.
n one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the series, A Mexican trade delegate visits the house of COMMANDER WATERFORD to get a first hand look at the progress that GILEAD has made in society and to strike a trade deal. The female delegate has questions regarding the society of handmaids. At first OFFRED lies to her, but later in the episode comes clean about the brutality of GILEAD and her enslavement. The delegate is horrified but can do nothing, given the desperate state of her own country and it's problems with fertility. OFFRED counters that by saying "You're country is dying. Mine is already dead." The delegate walks away shaken and OFFRED crumbles in defeat, but the assistant to the delegate offers to bring a message to her husband LUCAS, who is alive in Canada. Yes, OFFRED/JUNE's husband survived the ambush at the show's beginning and escaped to Canada, but not without bloody incident.
ur first glimmer of hope that GILEAD is not insurmountable comes from OFFRED/JUNE's college friend MOIRA (SAMIRA WILEY) who executes a clever escape from the Red Center by overpowering an Aunt and taking her clothes. She and JUNE walk away briskly from the confines of the Red Center and see the changes that have been made to the world they once knew. Dressed as an Aunt, MOIRA walks over to some GILEAD soldiers to ask questions about the arrival of the train, but it arrives in seconds. In that time, more GILEAD soldiers approach JUNE, wondering why she is alone, MOIRA boards the train headed for Boston, while JUNE is marched back to the Red Center. Later in season one, We learn that MOIRA never made it out of GILEAD, but was instead sterilized and became a "Jezebel" - a caste of "illegitimate women" who work as prostitutes and entertainers for the jollies of the commanders and their guests. We learn this when COMMANDER WATERFORD takes OFFRED to a SONS OF JACOB-styled brothel. It's here that OFFRED and MOIRA have their reunion. Later, at the brothel, MOIRA kills her client, takes his clothes and makes her escape to Canada where she joins OFFRED/JUNE's husband LUCAS.
or the crime of kidnapping her child for the PUTNAM family, OFWARREN/OFDANIEL/JANINE is sentenced to death by stoning by her fellow handmaids. In a world where hope is fleeting, we get a true sense of unity among the handmaids who each drop their stones as a show of solidarity and spare JANINE's life. Of course this infuriates AUNT LYDIA. In a rage, she sends them home but promises that there will be consequences. Despite AUNT LYDIA's threat, the handmaids swagger home with their heads held high.
or their insubordination in not stoning JANINE, the handmaids are rounded up in black vans and driven to an empty FENWAY PARK with a menacing gallows set up in the middle of the field. Overwhelmed by the presence of GILEAD troopers, they are forced onto the gallows and the ropes are placed around their necks. Facing the end of their lives, the handmaids scream despite their gagged mouths. The intense scene is made even more disturbing by the placement of KATE BUSH's piano ballad THE WOMAN'S WORK. When the signal is given to drop the platform, nothing happens. Out of the darkness emerges AUNT LYDIA, quoting scripture and reminding the ladies who's boss.
espite the stress of nearly being hanged, OFFRED finally becomes pregnant as AUNT LYDIA and her team discover after the handmaids are taken to a detention center. OFFRED is seperated from the other handmaids and endures a regimen of feeding and torture at the hands of AUNT LYDIA. During a check up, the WATERFORDS pay her a visit and give her clean clothes. In one of her boots is a key used to access a door leading to a trucking bay. It's where NICK picks her up and helps her to escape. Due to security, OFFFRED will have to cool her heels someplace hidden. That place is the former home of the BOSTON GLOBE where she burns her uniform, cuts out the tag from her ear and laments over the lives taken in a bloody assault at THE GLOBE. OFFRED's escape allows us to see the world beyond the WATERFORD's dimly lit home, which includes "Econowives" - the wives of the lower class. If we've learned anything, we know of GILEAD's wide reach. It's only of time before OFFRED is seized and brought back to the clutches of AUNT LYDIA and the WATERFORDS.
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