Don’t Let the Bastards Grind You Down: The Handmaid’s Tale Series Review
“You are going to burn in hell you goddamn motherfucking bitch”
With those words, everything I wanted from the previous 9 episodes of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale came true. Finally, a character who deserved to be held accountable for their cruel, unforgivable deeds was met with the harsh truth by the eponymous handmaid, Offred (AKA June) — a slave in all but the title. Throughout the series, June and the rest of the handmaids are brainwashed through fear by their twisted pseudo-religious government into being painfully obedient. They do not have a voice; they cannot speak freely; they are merely objects serving a single purpose to their masters of the dystopian nation built from the ashes of the United States: conceiving and carrying a baby for their assigned household. Aside from that, they are disposable goods not even entitled to the same rights as the family pet.
The ten episode series does a phenomenal job in creating a burning frustration in the viewer, not only through graphically depicting the horrors faced by June and handmaids, but in contrasting their terrible circumstances with flashbacks to how life once was. In experiencing June’s previous life before the rise of Gilead, we are able to see what has been lost; what luxuries and basic human rights had once been taken for granted. You want June to scream at the lady of the household, Serena Joy, and her manipulative husband, Fred; to stand up for herself like you imagine you would. But you also understand why she doesn’t. June isn’t necessarily concerned about her own life, but must stay alive to get her kidnapped daughter out of Gilead as well. She can’t lash out without fear of punishment or even death because she has to protect her child she hasn’t seen in years, and a very good possibility exists that any misdeeds on her part will be taken out on her innocent daughter just to hurt June.
However (spoiler warning), June’s tactical self-preservation finally breaks in the tenth and final episode of the season when Serena Joy locks her in a car to watch as a prisoner as her daughter (Hannah) is paraded out just mere feet from her. Elisabeth Moss (June) is heartbreaking in this scene as June screams and bangs on the windows to be let out so she can just see her daughter for the first time since they were forcefully separated years ago. She wails Hannah’s name, begging helplessly with everything she has inside. This is her breaking point; this is when June decides she cannot live by these insane laws anymore. She sneers at Serena Joy when she enters the car again, calling her every foul name she can think of with nothing but hatred and pain in her voice. Never before has June let her true ferocity show in such a way. Serena Joy will not get the upper hand anymore, and neither will anyone else in Gilead.
This resolute June becomes even more evident when the handmaids are gathered and told they must stone one of their own — a psychologically fragile young handmaid named Janine who had recently given birth to a child she was forced to abandon. June isn’t the first handmaid to speak up in protest against the demented execution plan, but she is the first to physically refuse to participate, stepping forward and dropping her stone.
With this act, June becomes the leader of the rebellion. There is no going back and no way her action could be excused. She not only disobeyed orders, but made her own choice in a world where women (especially women of her status) aren’t allowed any such privileges. In saving a life of someone she loved with an act of resistance, she started what is sure to be a chain of events that comes to light in season 2.
As someone who does not easily get overly emotional while watching television shows or movies, I was floored over the way The Handmaid’s Tale challenged me. Perhaps it’s because I am someone who can relate to June, being a woman of the same age, background, and class. But I believe there’s more. I would venture that it would be hard for anyone — regardless of gender or experience — to not see what is so perverse in Gilead. There is not a viewer who could sit back after watching June read letters from other handmaids detailing the abduction of their children, the abuse they sustain, and begging for help from anyone and argue that their situations can’t be all that bad. Some rights and wrongs are universal.
This show blows away its source material by leaps and bounds in a way I’ve never seen before with a book-to-screen adaptation. It is a poignant and harrowing narrative that makes the viewer reevaluate that which they are fortunate enough to have, because others in the world — in their own country — are not afforded the same. It is a show more than worth your time.
The Handmaid’s Tale is available only on Hulu.