The Handmaid’s Tale: Introducing Offred’s World

This post includes spoilers for “Offred” (Season 1, Episode 1) and “Birth Day” (Season 1, Episode 2 )of The Handmaid’s Tale.

As I mentioned last month, I’ll be blogging my thoughts about this show. New episodes air on iTunes five days after they do on Hulu, so this series will be published about a week after each episode is released unless or until iTunes changes this schedule.

The first link above provides excellent plot summaries, so I’m going to use this post to focus on my analysis and reaction to what has happened to Offred so far.

“Offred” 

The opening scene of the first episode made me blink back tears. June – the woman we now know as Offred who is wearing the white bonnet in the image above-  attempted to escape what was formerly known as the United States with her husband and their young daughter. There was so much emotion packed into that scene: terror; love; hope; fear. I was so pleased with how it was put together. It was the best possible introduction to the characters and the totalitarian regime that had suddenly taken over that country.

What I found most interesting about this episode was how smooth the transitions were between Offred’s attempt to flee the country, the time she spent being brainwashed in the Red Center, and her repetitive but still frightening days as a handmaiden who has just moved onto her second placement.

Every setting was terrifying for a different reason. Watching her scream as her daughter was ripped out of her arms was heartbreaking. I couldn’t help but to wonder if the TV show would mirror what happened in the book when it came to the daughter’s fate. This is one of the biggest questions I carried with me through the first two episodes. I really hope it is at least somewhat answered in this season, although I won’t say anything else about it until I know where this storyline leads.

What stuck out to me the most about the Red Center was how effective The Aunts were at forcing the handmaidens to obey. Let me put it to you this way:  there are plenty of ways to hurt someone that will in no way affect their chances of getting pregnant in the future. As Offred and the other handmaidens are only prized for their reproductive capabilities, everything else doesn’t matter so much. I am very glad that these scenes weren’t shown to the audience outright. Seeing the characters react to the aftermath of them was more than enough.

The Ceremony was brutal as well. The book described it in much fuzzier terms, but what happened to the handmaidens each week was rape. This had been something that bothered me about the original plot, so I was glad to see it clarified for the small screen.

“Birth Day”

While both of these episodes do have independent story arcs, I strongly recommend watching them as closely together as possible because of how well they introduce the audience to the most important parts of this world. Gilead has a beautiful and mostly peaceful facade, but the things that happen behind closed doors in it are sickening.

For example: what do you do with all of the repressed anger that handmaidens carry with them? All of them were and are being abused. They are not allowed to defend themselves or protect themselves from future harm.

The Salvaging itself was shot nicely, but I would have loved to see more character and plot development happening before Offred and the other handmaids were told that the bound man before them had raped a pregnant handmaid and caused her to miscarry her child. The audience knew why they were viciously beating him, but they knew nothing else about what was going on there.

This scene happened much later in the book. It’s the only thing I’d change about the beginning of this show because new fans won’t know why it’s so significant to the plot. I can’t say anything else without possibly giving away spoilers if the show decides to follow the same plot as the original story.

With that being said, “Birth Day” also contained my favourite scene in this series. As I mentioned earlier, June/Offred gave birth to a daughter several years before the Republic of Gilead was formed. At the time, newborns were being diagnosed with serious birth defects at an alarming rate…if they were born alive at all. Out of all of the women giving birth in the hospital ward that day, June was the only person whose baby was perfectly healthy.

The nurse’s response to the birth was a strange one. Was the fact that she said “Praise Be!” a hint that she was a supporter of the religious movement that eventually brought about this dystopia? I doubt June noticed that phrase at the time, but once she was indoctrinated into using it that memory must have haunted her.

I am hoping to see more hints like this in future episodes. It was tantalizing to say the least.

How about you? What did you think of the first two episodes of this series? Are you excited that it’s already been renewed for season 2? Come let me know on Twitter.

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