Megan McLachlan offers a spoiler-free review of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
For more than 30 years, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale served as the book women read with a light on (or if they’re like Joey Tribbianni, maybe they stick it in the freezer when they’re not reading it). And now the Hulu series with the same title brings the dystopian novel to life, if recent political events haven’t already done so.
The series follows the same plot of the 1985 dystopian novel where women have no rights and infertility is rampant due to environmental contamination. Elisabeth Moss plays Offred (meaning “Of Fred,” or being owned by Fred), who’s on her second rotation as a handmaid assigned to a Christian-fundamentalist totalitarian (Joseph Fiennes) she’s supposed to breed with because his wife Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) can’t. Offred isn’t allowed to read, write, or even have conversations with other handmaids about anything other than the weather.
Elisabeth Moss’s narration should be applauded, as TV and movie narration is one of the trickiest devices to nail down, and this series does it exceptionally. Her voice is almost like a whisper at times, like she’s reading her lines and hoping not to be heard. Samira Wiley is also pretty perfect as Moira, the touchstone every woman would want to have in this bleak future. Even though she’s yet again playing someone imprisoned (ala Poussey on Orange is the New Black), this character feels fresh and entirely new. The cast is exceptional, with everyone producing some of their best work, including Strahovski, whose Serena Joy may be one of the most complicated characters that this series hopes to flesh out a bit more compared to the book. And while Gilmore Girl comparisons will follow Alexis Bledel for the rest of her career, in her role as Ofglen, any trace of fresh-faced Rory is gone, as the actress conveys exhaustion and complete devastation.
Director Reed Morano directed the first three episodes, and with her cinematography background, she utilizes light in beautiful ways. The whole series seems to have a thing gloss over it that makes it seem like the Republic of Gilead is just a terrible dream that, at any moment, Offred is going to wake up from.
In some ways, this series is reminiscent of The Walking Dead, only existing in a more literary canon. With Handmaid, there’s little exploration of how or why all of this is happening (let’s hope Hulu doesn’t do a Fear the Handmaid’s Tale), and the zombies walking around would love use of some brains. Just as Dead has gone on for many seasons, the possibilities of expanding the Handmaid story beyond the book are also endless, and showrunner Bruce Miller is already talking about Season 2, for good reason. Given the relevancy, maybe this series will serve as the live-action cautionary tale we need.