The Handmaid’s Tale: (S01E01) “Offred”

So, after waiting for what seemed like a very long time, Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s seminal dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale is finally here. It’s arrival is probably only slightly less anticipated than that of one of the all-too-rare babies in the story, not least of all as a warning about politicians getting involved in controlling women’s reproductive rights. In fact, the series is so opportune, I have to wonder how many virgins Hulu sacrificed to Kairos, who in Ancient Greece was basically the personification of auspicious timing. This is one of my all time favorite books. As a matter of fact, Margaret Atwood was the subject of my senior seminar in college. As a result, I feel like I am well prepared to write about the series, though I suspect that when my parents were writing very large tuition checks, this wasn’t quite what they had in mind for my future.
The Handmaid’s Tale tells the story of a woman called Offred who is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, formerly known as the United States of America. Please note that she is called Offred, but that is emphatically not her name. Names are very important in this story. We learn that her real name is June and she clings to it defiantly, as a symbol of the identity of which she has been systematically stripped.
The first episodes centers on two very different events in the life of a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. One is the monthly Ceremony, which is when a Commander attempts to impregnate a Handmaid in what is essentially ritualized rape. One of the worst parts is watching our protagonist Offred take the bath that is a required preparation for the Ceremony. She actually has to wash herself to be worthy of being raped. Did you notice the tag she has in her ear?
The other event is a charming thing call a Salvaging, where all Handmaid’s are involved in a Particicution. All the Handmaids are gathered and a man is brought out. He has raped a Handmaid, according to Aunt Lydia, and the Handmaid was pregnant and lost the baby. The Handmaids are allowed to kill him and they go after him like a school of piranha on a feeding frenzy. I guess kicking someone to death is a pretty good way to release a little stress? Maybe they should have Yoga for Handmaids classes. Like the Ceremony, it is a carefully prescribed and ritualized, which probably sums up life in the Republic of Gilead. On another note, what do think is a good plural noun for a group of Handmaids? I kind of like ‘a fruition of Handmaids,’ myself. Thoughts?
The story is interspersed with flashbacks, mostly to the time Offred spent at the Rachel and Leah Center, where Offred and the other young and fertile women are trained for their new role. There are also flashbacks to when Offred lived with her husband and daughter, but they are fewer; they are part of Offred’s real identity, and she isn’t going to give those memories up to viewers quite as freely.
The Handmaid’s Tale has had a lot to live up to. The novel is a modern classic and the mini-series itself has been creating buzz since it was first announced. It’s visually gorgeous; the carefully chosen muted colors palette help in creating the story’s oppressive atmosphere and the acting is top notch. The cast do an amazing job, especially considering that just about all the characters spend their time carefully concealing their emotions. I’m very much looking forward to the rest of the series.

Other things:
– In the very old fashioned kitchen, did you notice the stand mixer in the background?
– In the book, the Commanders’ Wives wear blue. In the series, they changed that to green. Any thoughts why?
– Margaret Atwood has a cameo appearance, in the scene where Janine talks about being raped

Choice quotes:
“A priest, a doctor, and a gay man. I think I heard that joke once. This wasn’t the punchline.”

“Blessed are the meek. They always left out the part about inheriting the Earth.”

“May God bless your endeavor and bring forth his miracle.”