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The Handmaid's Tale - Offred & Birth Day & Late - Reviews



The Handmaid’s Tale – the television series – was created by Bruce Miller for Hulu. Miller is also known for such other Canadian shows as Alphas, Eureka, and Men in Trees, as well as The 100 and ER. The first three episodes are directed by Reed Morano, whose other credits include Billions and Halt and Catch Fire. Her experience as a Cinematographer on shows like Vinyl and Looking clearly helped to hone her wonderful sense of composition. The show is beautifully shot, with great attention to detail, providing changing moods and tones for different timelines. I really like that Miller went out of his way to use a woman to give us that perspective on ‘how’ to look as well. Elisabeth Moss has already received some much deserved buzz for her performance as Offred. She thoroughly delivers on every level.

Beautifully shot and acted, this is also a very faithful adaptation of the novel by Margaret Atwood – at least in so far as I remember the novel! Admittedly, it has been some years since I read the novel, but it has stuck with me far more than the disappointing movie adaptation of 1990. In fact, just the first episode had me wanting to return to the novel for comparison. I even loved the title credits which made the A in Handmaid’s scarlet – and the A in Atwood. Because, of course, the story similarly persecutes women based on their sexuality as does Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story in The Scarlet Letter.

The story takes place in the “near” future, in a time of war. There has clearly been some sort of massive, nuclear battle. Environmental disaster seems to have been coming for some time, however, and women who can bear children have become a rarity. The society in which the main character – Offred – finds herself is a totalitarian theocracy. Even her name has been taken from her and her only identity is now tied to the man whose child she is expected to bear. Offred, of course, brilliantly combines the ritualistic “Of Fred” and also invokes “off red” – underscoring the negative connotation of red. Certainly, the women are dressed in red as a reflection of the connotations of red. Stop. Menstruation. Whore. And it contrasts brilliantly with the wives being dressed in green. The Marthas get no color because they aren’t even recognized by society.

The first episode begins in the middle of the action – at least in the middle of action if not “the” action of the present as we are supposed to be understanding the story. The story unfolds in a non-linear way, but I felt it was still quite easy to understand the story. I’ll be curious to see if people who haven’t read the book will feel the same – and just an fyi? The book is written in the same style. This non-linear storytelling helps to throw viewers into a state of some confusion and bewilderment – which underscores the horror of what is transpiring.

One of the things that the show has been criticized for is Offred’s internal monologue, however, Moss is great with this, and it is one of the best parts of the show as it allows us to see – or at least hear – how different Offred’s internal life is from her external one. I really love how sometimes the internal monologue simply segues into the external one, emphasizing how close to the surface Offred’s frustration is. The fact that she actually names herself at the end of the first episode, is actually a diversion from the novel in which we are lead to believe her name is June, but it’s not actually confirmed.

I absolutely loved Margaret Atwood’s cameo! I wasn’t expecting this, but it was the perfect cameo that underlines the symbolic meanings of the book and show. It’s actually more than gratuitous. When she steps up and slaps Offred to make her comply with shaming Janine (Madeline Brewer), it’s actually a nice reflection of her giving all women a slap to wake up to the reality of their existence. It’s terrifying to see how easily a group of society can be disenfranchised and then enslaved! Of course, it’s not entirely plausible that this extreme state would happen, but if women don’t stand up, they could easily lose their rights – particularly now, in the current political climate.

There are almost too many shocking rituals to discuss in this review. The Particicution is horrifying because it’s a way to release the built up tension of keeping an entire gender repressed and subjugated to essentially rape. It also makes the women culpable in the violence, further twisting their sense of self. In the novel, it is also clear that the man killed is not a rapist but a member of the resistance. And that makes it even more horrible that they are actually killing a man who is trying to help them.

The first episode really features Offred and the indignities that she must endure – and the tightrope she must walk, watched and disliked on every side. However, the rest of the cast are also fabulous. Alexis Bledel as Ofglen is fabulous. It’s possible we will see her again as being fertile, she may be reassigned even after her Martha is brutally executed in yet another horrendous scene. The show has definitely changed her role from the novel.

Yvonne Stahovski as Serena Joy is likewise fantastic in this role. She may appear to have more power than Offred, but she’s clearly just as repressed and trapped in this new world order. The ceremony is particularly hideous. However, the mirrored birth between Ofwarren and Naomi (Ever Carradine) is almost laughable – made more ridiculous by how seriously the wives take it.

Samira Wiley as Moira is terrific. I hope that we will discover that she’s not dead as crazy Janine/Ofwarren declares, but the indication is that her role will be primarily in the flashbacks. It’s still an important role that helps to tell the story before the new world order, but also provides hope and strength to Offred.

Ann Dowd as Aunt Lydia is deliciously horrible! She seems to border on the insane in her devotion to the new world order. Of course, in this world, she is one of the few women to wield any kind of power. It’s easy to imagine that she may have been jealous of these young, fertile women in her previous life and that helps to fuel her clearly sadistic delight in using her cattle prod on them and subjecting them to mental torture and servitude.

Finally, the Commander’s household also contains Max Minghella as Nick and Amanda Brugel as Rita the resident Martha. Both are as repressed as Offred, so their performances have been mainly muted up until this point. It’s a nice contrast for Brugel, however, when she and Serena Joy think that Offred is pregnant. Is she pleased because it means that she too will have a baby to care for? It would seem that the Handmaiden is sent away as soon as the baby is weaned – so perhaps, Martha is also looking forward to getting rid of Offred?

I’ve not said much about Joseph Fiennes as the Commander because we really haven’t seen him do much yet. He is meant to be a distant figure – this story is about the women, and really very much the story of Offred.

This is a terrific series. Well acted, shot, and written with echoes – perhaps most frightening – of an extreme conservatism that seems to be on the rise. Forgive me if this review is a little vague. The American and Canadian broadcast schedule – not to mention Hulu – are off kilter, so I’m trying not to spoil too much detail about the episodes! Look for me not to be able to maintain that going forward! There’s just too much great stuff happening in this show!

        If you aren't watching yet, you should be! And if you are watching, let me know your thoughts in the comments below! Most shocking moment for you so far? Favorite performance? Have you read the book? Does the show make you want to?


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