Set in a dystopian future America where an overwhelming majority have succumbed to a rampant infertility crisis, a great number of fertile women are forced to serve as “handmaids” to the country’s commanders and their wives, undergoing ritualistic rape in order to provide the ruling couples with children – a precious commodity. Taken away from her partner (presumed dead) and young daughter, Offred/June (Elisabeth Moss) serves as a handmaid for Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and his wife Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) and, with the help of a few select allies, attempts to find out what happened to her daughter and to survive in this oppressive fundamentalist theocratic dictatorship.
As you might expect in a high quality drama production such as this, performances are great across the board, with Emmy-nominated Elisabeth Moss as the obvious standout. While she may begin somewhat submissive, given the harsh, unforgiving position she finds herself in, it doesn’t take long for us to see the determination in her eyes and by the end of the first episode, we clearly see that sense of rebellion and her determination to hold on to her own identity and to get back to her family. As the series goes on, she becomes more proactive, starting to “play the game” by devising a plan to escape her situation, attempting to deceive the commander and to get her own way. But in addition, there are plenty of times when times get noticably tough and Moss is excellent at showing her character’s inner turmoil, losing hope in the dire circumstances and showing genuine heartfelt emotion with her performance.
As for the rest of the cast, Joseph Fiennes is effectively devilish, sly and smooth talking as Commander Waterford and Yvonne Strahovski delivers a layered turn as his wife Serena Joy, sometimes appearing as another potential prisoner of the oppressive regime, showing a definite vulnerable side, but also showing herself to be incredibly vindictive and harsh. Samira Wiley, Alexis Bledel and Madeline Brewer also shine as fellow victim handmaids and Ann Dowd, also rightfully Emmy-nominated, often steals so many scenes as the ice-cold matron Aunt Lydia; she is a truly memorable antagonist as she is capable of overseeing truly horrific acts without remorse but she is also very protective and often appears as though she cares about the handmaids and displays a wide range of conflicting emotions throughout the series.
The story of The Handmaid’s Tale is certainly unique and there are certain moments when it can seem strangely, eerily close to real life. For me, the standout episode is the one in which, through a flashback, we see how the “handmaid experiment” started to take shape, how it began with the suspension of civil rights and liberties, with females being denied the right to work or to earn money and the outlawing of homosexuality , or “gender treachery”, leading to a mass demonstration that ends in a horrific mass shooting. Given the policies of certain world leaders in this day and age, this text could be seen as a scary foretelling of our future and the sociopolitical message of The Handmaid’s Tale is increasingly striking and relevant. Especially when Canada’s the best place to escape all the persecution . . .
Though not without a few unavoidable dips in pacing and general interest, the series is consistent and, even at its technically least interesting, it’s never boring and there’s enough drama and intrigue to sustain viewer interest throughout, especially since there are plenty of bold, shocking moments such as the aforementioned mass shooting and someone grim developments that take place in “The Red Centre”, the induction training location for the handmaids. There’s also a gripping development regarding the handmaid slave trade with other countries that unfortunately only really lasts for one episode. The series production design is also of the highest quality, especially those scenes that take place in the bitter winter, the costumes are unique, and the series has an overall appealing visual style.
Under His Eye.