“Better doesn’t mean better for everyone.” There are many striking things about The Handmaid’s Tale, but this quote sticks out more than them all. In our highly polarized society, it is surprising a politician has not come right out and said this while defending legislation like health care where there seems to be no good law that helps everyone in a fiscal way. Of course if any politician said that it would probably be a good way to not get reelected.
But that is a thing you can say in a totalitarian regime that is in control of the alternative timeline of The Handmaid’s Tale. It is a little unclear how he got here but flashbacks slowly put the puzzle pieces in place. At first this regime slaughtered Congress, blamed terrorists, and suspended the constitution temporary until it became permanent. Anchorage is now the capital and there are only two states left while there is still war going outside.
This unrest all started with a plague of infertility over the majority of women and much like the Biblical plagues, some religious types thought this was brought on by God punishing us for birth control and other immoral acts. And now this new world is being run by the Leaders of the Faithful who make the Westboro Baptist Church look like Sodom and Gomorrah in comparison. The abduct fertile women and turn them into sex slaves for Commanders whose wives cannot give birth resulting in maybe the creepiest sex scene you will ever see. But yet aside from being devotedly religious, these people seem to forget one of the Ten Commandments is Thou Shall Not Kill. And the whole thing about coveting your neighbor’s wife is mostly of broken by them too.
Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men) plays the titular character and narrator who is taken prisoner because she had just given birth so the Leaders of the Faithful know she is fertile. It is a little weird seeing Peggy Olsen in modern time except she is quickly outfitted in a handmaid’s garb which looks straight out of the Puritan’s collection, a muted red floor length dress with a “winged” white hat. The Leaders on the other hand are always dressed like they are heading to the opera. Moss’s Leaders are played by Joseph Fiennes (FlashForward), who utters that first line, and Yvonne Strahovski (Chuck) who is really good in this Stepfordian role.
But it is Moss who is great here. She always seems to have this dead behind the eyes stares as the life has been almost completely sucked out of her in the two short months she has been a Handmaid. And the camera always seems to be in a close up shot of that black stare. Juxtaposed her creepy blank stare to her very lively narration where she plots a way to get back to her son. Alexis Bledel (Sin City) shows up as a fellow Handmaid, they are not allowed to travel by themselves, with a secret which gets very dark by the third episode.
And just when the show starts getting too dark, there are moments of levity, a quick quip from Moss as narrator, a random game of Scrabble, and most notably a weird and random musical cue that closes out the second episode. Really, the weirder the show gets the more I enjoy it. It has been a rough start for Hulu since it has flipped over to their pay only tier, but The Handmaid’s Tale is finally a new show worth paying for their service.
The first three episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale are now able to stream on Hulu with new episodes premiering every Wednesday.