The Handmaid’s Tale: Season 1/ Episode 1 “Offred” [Series Premiere] – Overview/ Review (with Spoilers)

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Being that Young Adult novels have come to dominate visual media dealing with a post-war period, it is a bit refreshing that those under 25 play little to no role in the series. Women who have experienced life instead are the focus and how they are dealing with a world which sent back women’s right at least a century.

The Introduction

In an undisclosed year, those who are conservative, as in taking the world back to how things were where men were the heads of the household and women didn’t rise above being domestic, have taken over The United States of America. It isn’t clear if this was by an election or war, but the way things are in no way benefits women. They now are wives, hand maiden’s, and their value comes from whether they can get pregnant or not. Something which has become an increasingly rare ability amongst the populace thanks to how toxic the Earth has become.

Enter Offred, originally known as June (Elisabeth Moss). She is one of the newest handmaids, just captured within the last few months as she was trying to escape with her husband Luke (O-T Fagbenle), and daughter Hannah (Jordana Blake), to Canada. But, she wasn’t fast enough, nor was her husband. So now she awaits a commander to impregnate her and deals with a world in which distrust quells rebellions.

But as for the lives of men and how they are affected? Well, we are given a limited viewpoint. When it comes to people of color, women included, we are in short supply. Moira (Samira Wiley) and Rita (Amanda Brugel), are the only two women of color we meet with speaking roles. As for men? There has yet to be one who isn’t white so, I’ll leave it at that.

Highlights

Moss Makes An Excellent Lead – Especially Her Internal Dialog

My knowledge of Moss and her abilities comes solely from Mad Men. To me, while I recognize her talent, she doesn’t necessarily attach herself to productions I take an interest in. However, there is something to be said about her ability to connect with an audience without any tricks at her disposal.

What I mean by that is, June maybe in a sympathetic situation, but Moss plays her with the type of strength where she doesn’t try to lean on victim appeal. What Moss’ focus is on you getting to know the character as a complete person. She is not someone to pity, but perhaps find strength in. For even though you know hers is hanging on but a few strings, here she is enduring. Sometimes with a tear here and there, but never with cowering, bawling, and theatrics.

You Get A Real Sense of How Bad Things Are

Within an episode, it may not be fully established how the war began or, to a certain degree, who the major players are, but you are given an idea of how bad things are for certain people. If you are queer, then your rights are taken away. For queer women, you are given the distinction of being a unwoman. For those who support abortion, they get hanged. For priests who possibly who don’t preach the same faith as the majority, they get hanged. Also, when it comes to justice, it is mob justice. There is no court system, so it seems, you are found guilty of anything, such as rape, and then you will be beaten until your judge decides enough damage has been done. Of which would be enough to cause death.

Though, again, it is this sense of distrust and the state of women which is the most interesting. Never knowing who is a spy, part of what is called The Eye, not having anyone to vent to out of fears of seeming like a rebel, can you imagine the frustration? It makes the scene where the rapist is being beaten the hell out of perhaps the one time any of these women were allowed to freely express their emotions. For there is no fear of snitches or men giving them glances noting that they must humble themselves. They can yell, scream, even dance, as this woman Janine (Madeline Brewer) does, without any fear of punishment.

Ann Dowd

Ann Dowd to me is one of the type of actresses who appear in so many programs but because no one has given her that lead role, she is but a familiar face in a new character. Yet, like Moss, there is this demand she gets and deserves when she is on screen. There is this presence, whether she is yelling, being violent, or not, that you can’t turn from since she… I guess the best way to put it is that she hooks you by grabbing you by the collar, getting your direct attention, and from there you can’t turn away since you feel on edge a bit. At least speaking on her role as Aunt Lydia.

Low Points

Serious lack of racial diversity in speaking roles

I should note, in no show am I expecting a Noah’s Ark type of race quota of two Desi, two Black, two latinxs, and etc. However, it is always weird that, when it comes to speaking roles, there is usually only one race that gets prominence, of which Black folk usually are the majority who fill such roles. Which I find to be a problem if only because, as bad as things are for white women, and we see how much they affect queer people, there is this strong desire to know how bad it is for people of color in general. Did the clock solely dial back for women, or racially have things dialed back too?

Overall: Positive (Watch It)

I have no doubts about this show whatsoever. The Handmaid’s Tale uses a method of storytelling and writing where you don’t necessarily feel that the whole world revolves around the lead. Each character seems written strong enough to take over the reigns and that seems like such a rare thing nowadays. Also, being that the show isn’t focused on teenagers or young adults, there is this feeling that love triangles and the drama which comes with that won’t be taking on a major focus. Instead, we are going to get character development, world building, and the type of stuff which often feels neglected. At least in terms of the programs I often watch.

But, what keeps this from being recommended is because the show seems, based off the pilot, to only focus on a small sect of who is affected by all this change. And while it isn’t clear what part of the US the show takes place, the lack of diversity is blaring and worrisome. If only from the perspective of someone who’d like to see what is happening with the various different kinds of people who make up America.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Regarding your comments about lack of diversity…
    In the novel upon which this TV series is based, the government has a White-Supremacist agenda – Jews, Blacks and other people of colour are executed.
    All of the main characters in the novel were Caucasian.
    Also, the novel was written in the first person from June’s point of view, so naturally it offered a limited perspective on this world.

    The TV series offers much more diversity than the novel by removing the racist policies of this future government and having certain characters played by people of colour or mixed race actors (Moira, Luke, Hannah and Nick are white in the novel)

    Normally I would be OK with these kind of changes as it affords more opportunities for actors of colour. But the increased diversity in this TV series has the effect of making the government of “The Handmaid’s Tale” look less evil… and antagonists like Commander Fred Waterford and Aunt Lydia end up coming across as less bigoted, since they are merely misogynists who want to subjugate women – and are no longer racists who serve a regime that wants to wipe out all people of colour.

    • Good to know. Definitely brings a new perspective to things. I wondered why the decision was made though? To change that aspect of the book. Granted, TV is on a diversity kick but since this show takes place in the past and present, they could have led up to the genocide.

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