‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 1 Review: An Outstanding First Season Filled With Emmy Worthy Performances

Photo Credit: Hulu

During televisions long history there have been several shows that have been so timely it’s scary. All in the Family discussed politics in the 1970s, Homeland deals with our greatest fears with terrorism, but there is something eerily timely about The Handmaid’s Tale and the conversation it’s exploring.

Set in a near dystopian future, a woman becomes a slave forced to make babies in a fundamentalist theocratic dictatorship. Based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 bestselling novel of the same name, Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale gives us a gripping portrait of a not-so-distant future and becomes arguably one of the greatest series of 2017.

The Handmaid’s Tale gave us some of the best performances by actresses this entire TV season. From Elisabeth Moss’ triumphant return to a stunning, breathtaking performance from Alexis Bledel, this series utilized its greatest strengths effortlessly. Episode after episode, the series gives us storylines that make us think and examine a path we hope we never end up on. Coupled with an incredible score, powerful direction and Emmy Award worthy performances, The Handmaid’s Tale comes in as the best new series this season.

Overall Impressions

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By episode two of season one, it became pretty clear The Handmaid’s Tale would push the bounds of Margaret Atwood’s novel. And by episode three, we knew this was a different kind of drama. Hulu delivers its first major hit as it has all the right players in its corner. The music, the direction and the actors go above and beyond in every episode in order to immerse audiences into the extreme world of Gilead. What’s more amazing is the show acts as a sort of wake up call. If by minute one of the first episode you aren’t thinking about our current political climate, you aren’t watching The Handmaid’s Tale properly.

While the show thrives on fear and making audiences examine their own lives, the performances in The Handmaid’s Tale are something truly worth recognizing. Elisabeth Moss leads the entire cast with such tenacity, it’s hard to peel your eyes away from her. While we thought Peggy Olson and Mad Men would define Moss, Offred/June proves that Moss’ career is just getting started. Alongside every phenomenal actor assembled for The Handmaid’s Tale, Moss gives a chilling performance episode after episode.

Each episode is beautifully crafted and a work of art, but the biggest impression from the season is left by Alexis Bledel. Rory Gilmore no more, Bledel is one of the biggest surprises from the series. In just a few episodes she transforms herself into the character of Ofglen and it’s a sight to behold. While The Handmaid’s Tale thrives overall, it’s Bledel’s performance that solidifies this season as one of the greats.

What Worked

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The Past and Present Storylines: Something that’s added to The Handmaid’s Tale TV adaptation is the past storylines. We get to experience the early days of Gilead and even before. While this isn’t in the original novel, it adds to the heightened anxiety in the world we’re watching. The Handmaid’s Tale delivers on the past and present storyline structure and hopefully ti continues to develop in season 2.

Elisabeth Moss as Offred: The iconic role of Offred from the novel are big shoes to uphold, but Moss does so effortlessly. There’s no one else we could imagine leading this series and being the protagonist in this story. With each episode, Moss defies her previous performance and that’s astounding in itself. She’s the leader this show deserves and we’re in awe of the work she’s done and what’s ahead.

The Female Villains: While the patriarchy and the male characters in The Handmaid’s Tale are the biggest adversaries for Offred and The Handmaids, it’s the female villains on the series that became one of the biggest surprises in season one. Serena Joy and Aunt Lydia are so eery and chilling, it’s hard not to cringe when they walk in the room, however what makes them the best villains on TV is they have their weak moments where you see their humanity. Yvonne Strahovski and Ann Dowd bring their A-game as they portray these vastly complex characters.

What Didn’t Work

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Male Centered Episodes: The Handmaid’s Tale has a near perfect first season, but our one flaw with it is the male centered episodes. While Nick and Luke are two very important characters in Offred/June’s story, we had a hard time enjoying the episode that centered around them. The Handmaid’s Tale thrives on the fear that hits our hearts when male characters enter a scene, so it’s weird that we center on two of them for an entire episode. We wish these episode were also spaced out and not back to back.

What We Wanted More Of

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Alexis Bledel as Ofglen: 4 episodes. That’s all we got of Bledel as Ofglen this season and we just wanted more of her. In every episode she starred in she stole the show as she delivered performances that went above and beyond our expectations. While we’ll always think of her as Rory Gilmore, her work on The Handmaid’s Tale allows us to see how far her career will go. We’re so thankful she’s going to be a series regular in season 2 because we need more Ofglen ruling Gilead.

Moira and June’s Friendship: Moira and Offred/June are the definition of friendship goals. Even the end of the world as we know it can’t separate them and that’s just a beautiful thing. While Offred is stuck in Gilead, she insist Moira try to escape and she eventually does. Moss and Wiley bring this friendship to life perfectly as they become one of our new favorite friendships on screen and off. We wish we could’ve seen more of them together this season, but we know it’s hopefully right around the corner.

What We Wanted Less Of

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Honestly, there’s nothing we wanted less of. The very nature of The Handmaid’s Tale is to make you uncomfortable as an audience so you take a hard look around. This show can’t pull away and make anything less graphic or easier to watch because then it wouldn’t work. There’s nothing we want less of because then it wouldn’t be The Handmaid’s Tale.

Favorite Episode

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Late (1×03): One of the hardest episodes to digest, this episode is also the strongest hour of the series to date. A lot of why this episode is standout hinges on Alexis Bledel’s wordless performance when Ofglen is taken and is standing trial for gender identity. Bledel commands this episode with such ease, it’s an Emmy worthy performance from beginning to end for the young actress. Elsewhere in the episode, we also get a remarkable glimpse at pre-Gilead.

Least Favorite Episode

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The Other Side (1×07): While we adore Luke and June’s relationship, this episode is one of the slower episodes in the freshman season. Offred isn’t seen much in the episode because we focus on Luke’s struggle to survive. Eventually we learn that Luke made it to Canada and is safely living there. It’s just hard to love an episode where everything works out for the male character, when our female characters are struggling every day in Gilead.

Season Finale Impressions

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The season finale of The Handmaid’s Tale is probably the second best episode in the entire season. Each character comes out swinging in an episode that thrives off the fear present in Gilead and the hope that there’s something outside the United States. Something that can save all these people. While there’s hope, there’s also horror.

The Handmaid’s Tale finale offers something Atwood’s original novel didn’t: a cliffhanger. As the episode draws to a close, June is handcuffed and taken away. She’s pregnant. She’s standing up to authority. And she’s shared a tender moment with Nick. And, now she’s ready to fight back. In the novel, we have the peace that the book is ending, you never know what becomes of Offred or Moira or Ofglen, but the show offers us more. We get a cliffhanger and the hope that this nightmare will end.

“Night” pushes our characters towards a breaking point, but gives us some hope going into season two. While we’re unsure of what the future for Offred and everyone else on The Handmaid’s Tale holds, this finale continues to uphold our thought that this series is one of the best new shows of 2017.

Season Two Speculations

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As we wrap season one of The Handmaid’s Tale, there are a lot of directions season two can head in. For starters, Offred is apparently pregnant and being hauled off by “The Eyes.” Meanwhile, Ofglen is nowhere to be found, Moira and Luke have been reunited in Canada and Offred’s daughter is just around the corner. There’s a lot of loose ends that will be explored in season two and we’re so excited to see how the season gets started.

Our hope for season two is that Offred continues to defy authority and help those trying to rebel. These were some of the best scenes from season one and we’d love to see more of rebellious Offred. She’s just getting started. With Moira and Luke reunited, I’m sure they’re going to try to find someway to rescue June and their daughter from Gilead and I hope that plan starts to take shape. There’s also the matter of Offred seemingly being pregnant and Nick being the real father. I’m sorry, but there’s no way this is going to stay a secret forever. I’m waiting for The Commander to loose it eventually.

Wherever season two goes, we’ll gladly follow. The Handmaid’s Tale has introduced so many interesting characters we want to see all their stories. I want to know what Aunt Lydia was up to before Gilead so badly. I hope the backstories continue to get explored and we learn more about the world outside Gilead.

What were your thoughts on The Handmaid’s Tale season 1? Sound off in the comments below!

Nora

Editorial Writer

Resident Sassenach and Little Mix fanatic. Constantly falling in love with fictional characters. Massive Walking Dead fan. Wish I could split my time between Stars Hollow, Dillon & Tree Hill. Twitter: @noradominick

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