I knew nothing of this book when I began hearing about this show on Hulu. Ever since The Hunger Games, anything described as "dystopian" generally tends to capture my interest, so when I heard about this show, I was intrigued. I signed back up for Hulu just so I could watch the show.
This show is based on a 1985 book written by Margaret Atwood, a Canadian author. The adaptation into this Hulu series centers around a woman, whose real name is June, but is called Offred ("Of-Fred," the man, her commander she is bound to, is named Fred). We aren't really told when this story is set, but given the scenery of the events leading up to the overthrow of the government, I assume it is present-day. There are several songs used on the soundtrack, several from the 80's and a few from other times periods. In this alternate present, we learn that the United States has been overthrown by some sort of right wing, religious group who have instituted marshall law and have taken over the day to day goings-on of all citizens left within the country. Women have been reduced to three categories: wives of high ranking "commanders" who are barren but wealthy, non-fertile Marthas who have become servants in the home, and the fertile women remaining are all handmaids. These handmaids serve as the baby-producers for the wealthy wives who can't seem to have children. In this present alternate universe, something has rendered the birth rate almost non-existent, with infertility and still-births at an all time high. These handmaids, while enslaved, are revered to a certain extent, as they have proven their ability to become pregnant and have children prior to the "revolution." In a terrible routine, they are forced to have intercourse with these men while their wives are holding them down, until they become pregnant, then after their babies are born, are to become to property of the couple while the handmaid is moved to another home or forced to do it again. (I find it hard to believe that a group so powerful and wealthy, that has the means to take over the entire country, would not simply use some form of medical insemination instead of basically allowing men to rape another woman in front of their wife, but I digress). The fourth and small, but powerful, group of women, the Aunts, are left to brainwash the handmaids, and if brainwashing doesn't work, they have their cattle prods in hand, ready to keep any resistor in line.
I have to admit, this show has my attention. Not because it could actually happen, but because the show is just really well done and I have to admit, I'm pretty intrigued to see what's going to happen.
Ok - first. If you are a Christian, this show is going to drive you bananas. We are led to believe that the group that has taken over the entire country, is some sort of Puritan-based, Bible-reciting, right-wing group of Godly believers. We haven't seen any of the leaders of the new government yet, only various men in black suits who drive black SUVs with the worst paint jobs I've ever seen. The woman in charge of keeping these women in line, called the Aunts, recite random verses from the Bible as they "encourage" these women to keep with the program. Gay people are called "gender traitors" and hung for their transgressions. Women are called sluts, whores and worse. They are told that they brought infertility on themselves by their loose sexual pasts. Somehow, this group not only took over the country, but redecorated all of the homes with furniture made in Amish country back in 1674, the same people who also happened to redesign their clothes. As I watched the sets changed, it reminded me of The Village, like somehow changing one's dress and furniture choices makes you innocent and pure. Clearly, this is not a Christianity I have anything to do with. One where the men are the leaders, women are merely slaves or procreators, and where any type of stain (or, "sin") on your life is grounds for hanging. Of course, it hasn't been said it's Christianity, or even what type of religious group it is, we just know that they recite the Bible and use it, literally, as a tool for their lifestyle, as well as legal prosecution and sentencing.
Secondly - financial resources and manpower needed by a religious organization to overthrow a government and take over every citizen in every city in the United States of America is so far beyond impossible. In every dystopian novel I read, I always wish they'd set these in a country the size of one of our states. To do this in America, one would need an army the half the size of the country. This could never happen. So, does it scare me? From that aspect, no. Try doing this in Texas and see how far you get.
What does scare me about this show is how they took over power. One day, all womens' credit cards were turned off and employers were made to fire them. No money, no way to make money, and completely dependent on the males for everything. Now this terrifies me. We are so far on the grid, so dependent on things like credit cards, electricity, etc, that it would be very easy for those things to be magically turned off one day and us all to be at each others' mercy. They tried to peacefully march before the revolution, and were gunned down in the streets by militia men with automatic weapons (yet another reminder of why the 2nd amendment matters so much, as it appears no one in this world had anything with which to defend themselves). Those people who tried to escape to Canada were chased and caught, their children were ripped from their arms to be raised by who knows who, the dads and husbands killed. and these mothers were put into slavery as nothing more than baby producers. Those who continued to be a part of the resistance are hanged, their bodies hung off the side of this big cement wall, as constant reminders for everyone to see. Women are forbidden to read. Trips to the grocery store don't include words, only symbols, on both the groceries and the money.
June, or "Offred," provides us a glimpse into society, both pre-revolution and post-revolution. Her actions fall in line to this new regime, but her thoughts, which we are privy to, offer us a glimpse into her personality and past as a book editor. She narrates this story, and she things she says are quick witted and intelligent, sharp and sarcastic. Her only intention is to survive this so she can see her daughter again, a small girl ripped from her arms by armed men. Elizabeth Moss (Madmen) has a big acting task, as the bulk of her screen time is spent with the camera dead in her face as she reacts non-verbally to most of the things around her. This could have been a very annoying character, but Elizabeth Moss gives her a submissive quality while still remaining her strong and intelligent persona.
This show is very much about women's rights. What spurs this revolution on is the decrease in fertility and the declining birthrate. There is one scene in which June gives birth, then follows the nurse to the nursery for her baby's first bath. She asks where all of the babies are? The nurse says, "It was a bad night, some of them ended up in intensive care and the rest are with God." One must ask, what would a country do to battle this? How far would they go to change that the population was in a rapid decline? But in this show, it isn't the government, it's this religious group, that is forcing these women into these positions.
Something I couldn't seem to get over, and found a bit hard to believe, is just how quickly these rich women went from living in an America where women were working and liberated to a country of puritan women and slave owners, without skipping a beat. In one scene, Offred's "mistress" (as they call the wives of their commanders) offers Offred a cookie, apparently a gesture that the other mistresses find inappropriate. "Don't spoil them!" one says, as if they are literally speaking of dogs. I mean, this revolution literally just happened. Like, in one minute these women were working together in an office, and the next minute, one is basically a sex slave owner of the other, having completely forgotten that these handmaids are also human beings. I find that part of all this very hard to swallow, that these wealthy wives so quickly fell in line with this way of living, as if they hadn't been raised in a forward thinking country as the US for their entire lives. And what of the rest of the world? We are supposed to believe that a superpower was taken over by sex slave owning, right wing religious nut group and no one else in the world seems to be doing anything about it? I guess I have to suspend disbelief to enjoy this show, at least, in some ways. In other ways, it's quite terrifying. Thinking of someone coming in with force, killing my husband, taking my children and forcing me into this life, literally kept me awake a little last night.
I think this is a show most of us would enjoy, if not for the idea of it, then the acting and the storyline. Well worth returning to Hulu for!