The first episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, which is an adaptation of Margaret Atwood novel of the same name, aired on Hulu Wednesday.
The novel and the show are about a dystopian future not very far off where the US has been taken over by the fundamentalist Christian government of Gilead that has taken away the rights of women. In this future, there is mass infertility so fertile women have been made to be “handmaids” for rich men to give them children. The show follows the story of handmade Offred, which is a name that she has been forced to take. I have never read the book but so far the show is making me want to change that.
The whole cast gives good performances. There is not much of Joseph Fiennes as Commander Fred Waterford in the first episode, but his commanding presence makes the audience notice
him when ever he is there. Yvonne Strahovski’s Serena Joy Waterford (the commander’s wife) also does a good job of showing the audience her emotions, even if they are unable to sympathize with her actions and or forgive her for her part in this new world. Samira Wiley gives the audience a good look at her character, Moira, before and after and show she survives her new situation.
The stand out of the supporting cast by far is Alexis Bledel who seems to be wanting to prove that she can do more then play Rory Gilmore. She plays Ofglen, another handmaiden, who for most the episode the audience is unsure of her character. She is there for a lot of the episode, but like Offred she is very limited by what she can say out loud most of the time. When she does finally get to same something real it is great.
As good as the supporting cast is it is, Elisabeth Moss as Offred that makes the show. It is her story and the camera often stays close to her face so that the audience can see subtle acting choices that Moss is making. The show takes advantage of the close up so that every twitch Offred makes about her surroundings making it very clear that this is her story.
Voice-over maybe a cliché, but there is a time for it and this is it. The plot and her roll in the society means that Offred cannot say what she actually means. The voice-over gives the audience the bridge between the Offred from before, how she often refers to the past, and the one they are watching. When she has to say the same greetings over and over again the insight is needed.
There are some scenes that really stuck with me. The opening is a good way to step up who Offred was before and how desperate she was to get away.The scenes where there would be a very modern thing in the middle of the dystopian situation is unnerving. Seeing the very familiar grocery store and underwire bra next to the puritan clothes made the fact that this is not the past apparent.
There is an interesting biblical allusion with the Rachel and Leah Center, who were sisters who were married to the same man (and fun fact I used to joke about this story a lot because my freshman roommate was named Leah).The Commander sees it as the handmaidens’ duty to become pregnant and forces them into a ritualized sex ceremony; the creepiness enhanced by his voice-over of the “Rachel and Leah” verses of The Old Testiment. It allows the scene to take a bit before showing the audience exactly what is happening, which just adds to the unsettling feeling.
Near the end of the episode there is also a great moment where the handmaidens are called to a gathering, where the audience gets to see how Offred is really feeling through her actions.
My personal favorite moment is the last line of the episode. I don’t want to spoil it, but I will say the line along with the music in the end credits literally made me shiver. I can’t wait to see what else this dark series has to offer.
The first three episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale are on Hulu now.