Film

TV Review: The Handmaid’s Tale Is Chillingly Powerful

 

Photograph courtesy of Hulu

So, let’s get this out of the way. This review contains heavy spoilers. If you haven’t finished the season yet, you may want to read this later.

Last week’s finale of The Handmaid’s Tale was true to the novel’s form, meaning the audience was left with a cliffhanger that could be interpreted a number of ways. Margaret Atwood’s novel of the same name left readers with an open-ended final chapter but gave them a bit of hopeful closure with an epilogue set 200 years in the future. The question for Hulu’s newest hit show: if the first season ended like the novel did, what will happen in Season 2?

The episode opens with a flashback of Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) greeting the girls after they’ve been captured by Gilead’s soldiers by calling them sluts. She forces the women to stare at the ground and fold their hands, and when June (before she becomes Offred) disobeys, Aunt Lydia shocks her and forces her to apologize. The two experience a reversal of power (months later) in one of the final scenes of the finale.

After discovering that Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) has been having an affair with their handmaid, Offred (Elizabeth Moss), Serena Joy Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski) confronts Offred and forces her to take a pregnancy test (something that is only available on the black market). When it’s revealed that Offred is pregnant (with Nick’s child), Mrs. Waterford’s obsession is finally tangible: a child. However, Offred’s affair with the Commander had been nothing but a way to get to Jezebel and learn more about the resistance known as Mayday. The mysterious package Moira (Samira Wiley) smuggled out of Jezebel for Offred turned out to be dozens of letters of handmaids who are ready to join the resistance.

Photograph courtesy of Hulu

Offred tells Nick (Max Minghella) of her pregnancy over breakfast, and Nick’s reaction gives Offred what she needs: hope. He kneels before her and places his hand on her belly. It is likely that this pregnancy is not wanted by either of them, but Nick is comforted by the fact that this baby was made by two people who truly care for one another. Offred may not have Hannah, and she may not have ever wanted to be pregnant under these circumstances, but it is not Commander Waterford who will father this child. Nick and Offred’s relationship is more companionship than romance, but they have kept each other safe throughout the show.

Photograph courtesy of Hulu

The show’s flashbacks attempt to offer a glimpse of humanity for every female character (yes, even Aunt Lydia). Women are subservient in every way in Gilead, even if they hold power. Mrs. Waterford is occasionally portrayed as a sympathetic character whose ability to mother children was cruelly taken away from her. However, in the finale, any sympathy the audience feels for her is replaced with a gasp of hatred and disgust. Knowing that Offred holds power while being pregnant, Mrs. Waterford takes her to an unknown building and leaves her in the car. She returns moments later on the stoop with Offred’s daughter, Hannah, while Offred can only beat on the windows and scream. Her ultimatum to Offred is simple: keep her unborn child safe and she will do the same for Hannah. Offred is consumed with white hot rage, and for the first time, she spews that hate on the person who deserves it most.

Photograph courtesy of Hulu

The audience sees Moira escape Jezebel in a guard’s uniform and van in the previous episode,  and she heads as far north as a tank of gas can take her. Finding shelter from the harsh winter winds in a garage, she wipes the snow away from a truck’s license plate to reveal “Ontario”. A refugee of GIlead, she is given money, provisions, and assigned a caseworker: Luke (O.T. Fagbenle). The two embrace in tears, knowing Offred is still a prisoner.

Back in town, the bell rings for a public stoning and the handmaids are forced to gather in the square and pick up a rock, as they’ve done so many times before. This time, the accused is Jeanine (Madeline Brewer), who had stolen her daughter back and attempted suicide. In a final act of rebellion (and a nod to the opening scene of the episode), Aunt Lydia bellows her orders to the handmaids to put Jeanine to death, but Offred drops her stone and simply says “Sorry, Aunt Lydia.” Every girl follows suit, leaving Aunt Lydia powerless and unable to discipline the masses.

Photograph courtesy of Hulu

The season’s final moments show Offred being taken away by the black van with Nick reassuring her it will be okay. Neither Commander nor Mrs. Waterford know why Offred is being taken away, but there is some sick satisfaction in knowing that Mrs. Waterford is losing her power over Offred, even for a moment. As the van doors close, sealing her in, Offred can’t help but smile a little at the morbid uncertainty of what will happen next.

As rumors and theories about Season 2 run wild on the internet, one thing has been confirmed: Margaret Atwood will be heavily involved in writing and producing the next season. The first season of The Handmaid’s Tale proved to be as powerful and as relevant as when it was written during Reagan’s presidency (surely now is even a more terrifying time). Atwood will have complete freedom to construct Offred’s fate as she likes, but hopefully one thing will remain: eventually, Gilead will crumble, and those who hold power will meet a terrible fate.

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