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 first episode of The Handmaid’s Tale allows audiences to dive head first into the Republic of Gilead, a dystopian dictatorship set in the United States. This is where we meet Offred (Elisabeth Moss), one of the few fertile women known as Handmaids. Taken forcibly from her family and given a new name, Offred becomes a reproductive surrogate to The Commander (Joseph Fiennes) and his resentful wife, Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski). In this oppressive society, women are objects and seen only for their bodies. Even the Handmaid’s names make them objects of their masters: Offred being “of Fred” until another Handmaid takes her place one day. It’s a horrific reality, that is only made more horrific by the current state of our very own government.
The Handmaid’s Tale doesn’t let up off the gas in episode one. It pushes its characters and the audiences as far as it can. Showing Offred being stripped of her individuality and showing fans “The Ceremony,” a sadistic ritual where Offred is forced to have sex with The Commander while Serena Joy watches. The world is horrific with no light at the end of the tunnel. Straying slightly from Atwood’s original source material, The Handmaid’s Tale makes present day even more gruesome by showing Offred’s life before Gilead. When she was just June.
From the first episode alone, Elisabeth Moss solidifies an Emmy Award win. She’s no stranger to important feminist icons. Her work as Peggy Olson in Mad Men allowed viewers to see the struggles of a powerful, bright woman in an ad agency world dominated by men. With Mad Men fans got to see Moss take on a woman’s past. In The Handmaid’s Tale, Moss takes on a character that could be our future. What is most remarkable about episode one is the way Moss delivers her voiceover. A majority of The Handmaid’s Tale, particularly episode one, is told through Moss’ voiceover. It takes a true powerhouse actress to entice audiences with mostly voiceover and facial expressions. From The Ceremony scene to Offred’s powerful monologue at the end when she reveals her real name, Moss strikes a powerful cord.
“Someone is watching. Here, someone is always watching. Nothing can change. It all has to look the same. Because I intend to survive, for her. Her name is Hannah. My husband was Luke. My name is June.”
The ending of Orange is the New Black last season left a hole in many fans hearts. It was heartbreaking to watch Samira Wiley leave the show, but she’s found her next great role. Wiley’s work in The Handmaid’s Tale opposite Moss brings together two powerhouse actresses in all the right ways. Between their work in present day and flashbacks, Wiley and Moss have a bond that is electric on screen. In just one episode, Wiley sucks audiences into her next great character. She may not be Poussey anymore, but Moira isn’t that far away. She’s kind, but the world around her has hardened her.
By the end of the first episode, Offred learns that Moira tried to escape and was sent to the Colonies, a toxic area “unwomen” are sent to. We haven’t known these characters for long at this point, but the loss pays a toll on Offred and the audience. Only a special actress can make us feel for character we’ve only known for an hour, but Wiley does just that.
After years of playing the studious Rory Gilmore on Gilmore Girls, Alexis Bledel has shed her alter ego and become one of the shining stars of The Handmaid’s Tale. In episode one alone, Bledel proves she’s no longer the little girl running around Stars Hollow. Episode one is the perfect first look at Bledel away from a character that has basically been her other half. Presented as simply another Handmaid, by the time episode one draws closed, she’s become a radical confidant for Offred. Like Offred, Ofglen remembers her life before Gilead. She struggles to hold onto the memories of her wife and son before everything crumbled around her. While episode one of The Handmaid’s Tale doesn’t give Bledel much of a shining moment, it’s the start of a great character arc.
While all the performances in The Handmaid’s Tale episode one are strong, it’s the direction by Reed Morano that gives Moss a run for her money. Responsibly for the outstanding cinematography in Beyoncé’s Lemonade, Morano proves how powerful she is behind the camera. Her direction knows no bounds. With her work on The Handmaid’s Tale, Morano is well on her way to an Emmy nomination when the time comes. She helps place audiences into the center of Gilead and the heads of our characters. A true feat for any director to accomplish.
The Handmaid’s Tale is just getting started with episode one, “Offred.” Providing audiences with a swift dive into the world they will inhabit for ten episodes, the show doesn’t let up off the gas. However, when it does give Offred and the audience a chance to exhale, we realize just how traumatic this world is. The silent moments when Offred is alone with the memories of her family carry the most weight. We’re left to examine everything that is happening in not just The Handmaid’s Tale, but our own world. If “Offred” is any indication, The Handmaid’s Tale will only get better from here.
The Handmaid’s Tale is currently streaming on Hulu.