Based on the dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale follows Offred (real name June Osborn) who is forced to become a Handmaid in Gilead, which is the name of the new Republic that governs the USA after the President is assassinated. Overnight, women lose their status and aren’t allowed to have jobs, bank accounts, or own property, and women that speak out are sent to the colonies, similar to Russian gulags to work and die. For those that don’t know, there are still countries where women aren’t allowed to such things that the western world takes for granted, and it’s only in the last 40 years that women have been allowed to own property in some countries.
Handmaids were women who were of childbearing age, and who were forced to bear children for the commanders of Gilead. Each month a ceremony was performed where the Handmaid was effectively raped each month until she became pregnant. The series follows June’s life before Gilead and her life under Gilead rules, her thoughts, and fears. The idea was to rebuild a moral society, yet we see brothels still exist and commanders within Gilead having affairs. The Handmaids are watched constantly and were punished if they were out of line with cattle prods. It’s pretty gruesome to say the least to see people with double standards trying to make out torture is acceptable.
Then we see the wives of the commanders who are equally to blame by enabling the behavior. They crave having a child as it brings with it status, but they loathe their husbands having sex with a Handmaid and generally treat them badly. It makes you think how can a fellow female allow another to be raped in front of them?
Watching the series can make you shudder at what could come to pass, for the rights and liberties most of us take for granted could be easily taken away as they are depicted in the series. What irks me is that the characters knew changes were getting worse so why didn’t they leave as soon as they could instead of leaving to the last minute and making a run for the Canadian border?
The series is set in Massachusetts and it’s where I used to live and this makes the show seem very real. Same sex marriages are frowned upon and gay people have to hide their relationships, and that is still the case in some countries and even states within the USA where same sex marriages are frowned upon. If anything, the show highlights the liberties that the current generation has taken for granted. There is a theme of feminism throughout where women look out for one another and try to empower, but you have many who prefer an easy life and who give in and join Gilead such as the Aunt Lydia, who oversees all the Handmaids.
There are so many themes that the show highlights, mainly the hypocrisy in society and that behind closed doors we really don’t know what others really think or believe. The first season was an excellent opening to a world where we can see the flaws and wrong doings, but it goes a step too far when an eye is taken out or a hand is removed as punishment. There are also public hanging walls and people are also stoned to death for being traitors, and you ask is this real justice? Instead of a moral society it is indeed backwards, where women are not allowed to read. Of course those who can can’t unknow what they can do, and how is that an advancement of society by suppressing women?
The show has been nominated for various awards and has won several so far, and the second season has begun with a daring escape. June has been our heroine, by helping Mayday and supporting the other Handmaids, but now her will seems to falter. She is freed to an extent, and is protected as she is now with child, but still she defies her protectors and tries to find her child Hannah. Basically we all know if she tries she will be caught as there is no way she could sneak in (if she knew where she was) and take her across the border to Canada.
There are several irritating flaws in the most recent episodes where Omar one of the helpers takes her back to his home when the safe house is compromised. Rather than wait and see what other plans Mayday can come up with, June forces him to take her with him, which is so much riskier. I also got a little bored when June ranted on about being cooped up in the old Boston Globe building; I mean surely that’s better than being kept as a virtual sex slave? She has a chance of freedom yet she doesn’t cooperate most of the time when her helpers come to her aid, asking questions and delaying them. It’s annoying and June is no longer a heroine in my eyes.
She is recaptured and I think we’ll see her thinking back to her couple of months of freedom and realizing it wasn’t that bad having to hide out in an old office. I can see scenes where they will ask her who helped her, and once she has given birth it’s likely she’ll be sent to the colonies anyhow. Her impatience has ruined her escape in my eyes.We then discover it was her carelessness and impatience that led to the death of Omar (hanging), the child was taken away from the parents and the wife was forced to become a Handmaid. If only June had not been selfish and waited in the barn as she was told. At this point Aunt Lydia was right, it was her fault and she is to blame for what happened to those who tried to help her.
Meanwhile, we see her husband Luke and her friend Moira trying to adjust to their lives in Canada. What we can see here is even in freedom, the mental scars linger. I feel from watching the series, what we should take from it is that liberties should not be taken for granted, and if things are going pear shaped, then do something about it before it’s too late. Many people left for Canada as soon as they could, and here we see those who were too busy with their lives to take notice of the freedoms they enjoyed being taken away. Either fight for them and maybe die, or leave as soon as you can and cut your losses, as freedom and freedom of thought is priceless.
Season two is slightly annoying because June was so close to escaping and she messed it up. We know Serena doesn’t like her and once the baby is born she is no longer protected. I would have liked to have seen her escape and Gilead fall in trying to find her. The feminist theme is troubling as Serena hits her Martha Rita just because she can to take out her frustrations on her. Is that empowering women at all? Aren’t women supposed to stick together? The cover story is that June was kidnapped by terrorists, and is indicative of a sign of the times when we know politicians create stories that save their face and that the public will accept. Perhaps we aren’t that far off the regime of Gilead or is that just how humanity is evolving?