by Sabrina Rickert ’19
“The Handmaid’s Tale,” in its second season on Hulu and based on the 1985 novel by acclaimed author Margaret Atwood, is set in a dystopian future where women have lost almost all their rights and freedoms. After the U.S. president is assassinated, a fundamentalist Christian group quickly takes control and vows to restore order. In the society now named the Republic of Gilead, women are burdened by harsh restrictions, including the prohibition of reading.
Both the novel and the TV series show this terrible world through the perspective of Offred, which is not her real name but rather conveys that she belongs to a commander whose first name is Fred, (so she is of Fred). Offred belongs to a class of handmaids, who are women taken away from their families and forced to have children for privileged families.
Offred’s real name is June, and her name is not the only thing taken away from her. As the religious fanatics took power to create a sexist and homophobic totalitarian society, June was separated from her husband when they try to escape to Canada. The government soon finds her and her daughter, and June becomes a handmaid and never sees her husband or child again.
The strength of the Hulu series is that it convinces viewers that Gilead could exist in reality. The acting is stellar, especially the way Elizabeth Moss depicts Offred’s growing resistance to her circumstances as well as Joseph Fiennes’ believable corruption as Commander Waterford. Season 2 begins with June’s pregnancy, which is rare in a society of increasing infertility. She has been whisked away in a van, not knowing whether she will live or die. The tension doesn’t let up in subsequent episodes.
What is scary about “The Handsmaid’s Tale” is that Atwood’s novel, written more than 30 years ago, doesn’t seem beyond the realm of possibility. One day women are living their normal lives and then there is a crisis, and suddenly there is the excuse to take away people’s basic human rights. That’s why it’s such a great TV series–it shows a possible reality if we do not resist oppressive forces.