The Handmaid’s Tale (Season 1) TV Series Review
Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Yvonne Strahovski, Max Minghella
Adapted from Margaret Atwood’s novel by the same name, The Handmaid’s Tale is a series of speculative fiction that shows what would happen if women’s rights are taken away. A religious cult seizes the US government through a fake terrorist attack and holds power. In a world where most of the women are sterile, they take the fertile ones and assign them to be “handmaids” to provide children for the upper-class, using The Old Testament as their ultimatum. These handmaids are concubines—brainwashed, tortured, and led to believe that they have no other purpose but to serve as the child’s vessel for the Commanders and their wives.
First off, the storytelling is fantastic. It adapts the book very faithfully for about the first three episodes, and goes off tangent in some just to explore other character’s subplots and possible narratives. The main focus of the story is the protagonist, Offred, but not only does the show give an interesting character study on the handmaid’s rights and feminism, but it also exhibits the perspective of the so-called “antagonists”—the Commanders, their wives, and the other religious fanatics who shaped the world—and why they believe what they believe. The acting is undoubtedly great. Elizabeth Moss is the symbol of hope in this otherwise failing world, and she has a couple of outstanding performances in some of the episodes. Other honorable mentions are Madeline Brewer (Janine) who gives an impeccable amount of sympathy and empathy to her character, and Yvonne Strahovsky (Serena Joy) who for me is the most interesting character in the show because she’s the greyest; others may see her as wholly evil but dig a little deep into her character and she turns into one of the most complex personalities I have seen in TV.
The pacing is done well for the first four to five episodes, gets a little bit rocky in the sixth to eighth ones, but brings it back up again with the final two (and in my opinion) best episodes in the show. It does get tied up in some fillers and red herrings, and I believe that that one episode where it focused on an entirely different subplot for the whole of the hour is unnecessary, but on the moments where the show shines, it shines indeed. I love how the series uses a science fiction concept (industrial pollution leading to infertility) and translates that into a message about mankind (rights and feminism). I appreciated how it didn’t need to use fast-paced action and loud and expensive CGI to tell its story. It only needed a realistic concept, a decently written script, a great score, and of course, fantastic performances. Among the episodes of the first season, my personal favorites were Offred (1.1), The Bridge (1.9), and Night (1.10).
The Handmaid’s Tale is brilliant. I was apprehensive at first, but the adaptation from page-to-screen is done well, adhering to the main plot with some minor changes to address some of the more ambiguous subplots in the book. The production is excellent, the muted red of the dress symbolizing the subtle but rising theme of feminism throughout the entire series. This show surpassed my expectations and the release is very timely and relevant. Entertaining and compelling, but terrifying at the same time. A dystopian future that has traces of the historical past. The Handmaid’s Tale is not a show to pass on.