Hulu released the first three episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale yesterday. I published my review earlier this week, in which I praise the writing, directing, Elisabeth Moss’s stunning lead performance, etc., but I wanted to spotlight four moments from these episodes now that people have had a chance to see them. So spoilers coming up just as soon as I let you win at Scrabble…
There are tons of fantastic — and very difficult — moments sprinkled throughout these first three hours. These are just a few which have stuck with me since:
1. Offred and the others get vengeance on (just) one rapist.
The Handmaids have to endure a world of systemized, institutionalized rape, and they have to do it with blank expressions and dutiful tones of voice. But their masters cleverly provide an outlet for the rage that they understand these women must be swallowing by allowing them to periodically attack men convicted of crimes against Gilead. Now, when Aunt Lydia tells them that this man raped a handmaid, it’s farcical not only because men rape them all the time without punishment, but because it’s entirely possible this guy did nothing wrong at all by our societal standards — perhaps he and a Handmaid had consensual sex, which would be “rape” since she wasn’t his property — or he did something else to displease the masters, or he’s just a random guy they are using as a sacrifice to satiate the Handmaids’ bloodlust. Either way, it doesn’t matter, because the look on Offred’s face as she prepares to approach him makes clear how badly she needs to do this to someone — really, to everyone responsible for her current nightmarish circumstances — and the image of the women in their red dresses forming a murder circle around their victim is among the more remarkable ones of the series to date.
2. A Handmaid and a “mother” give birth at the same time.
I could just as easily cite one of the scenes where Waterford, Offred, and Serena Joy are all in the bed together, and the way that their physical positions are meant to create the illusion that Offred isn’t really there and has no role in this activity save for offering up a healthy womb. But even more stomach-churning is the way the show stages the sequence where Janine (or, as she’s called now, Ofwarren) goes through labor with the other Handmaids around her, while the wives of the masters play-acted a similar scene downstairs, and especially as Janine sits in the birthing chair and the wife who will be raising this baby sits right behind her, pretending to be the one physically giving birth. It’s all monstrously absurd, but of the many long pauses I needed to take while watching these episodes, the birthing scene required the longest pause.
3. “Don’t You Forget About Me”
As I’ve said, Moss’s narration is remarkable for how much emotion and personality it has even as she’s clearly trying to keep things buttoned down just to cope. One of the smarter things the show does is to keep drawing lines between her life as Offred and her life as June, which is recent and fresh enough for her to be able to make pop cultural comparisons to her situation (approaching Waterford’s office, she posits herself as a girl in a horror movie, which couldn’t be more accurate). After that Scrabble game, and her successful first mission as a spy for the resistance, she gets to let out emotion in a way we never see her do in the Gilead scenes, and her giddiness is so powerful and sustained that Simple Minds’ anthem from The Breakfast Club comes onto the soundtrack for a slow-motion strut out of the house the next day. It is startlingly funny — as enough of the series is to make the awful parts tolerable — and then leads to one more sick punchline when Offred discovers that Ofglen has been replaced by a new Ofglen. (Because, again, their “names” are just references to their masters, so whichever Handmaid that Glen has would be called that.) Offred gets cocky, and then the world slaps her down for it.
4. Every damn thing Alexis Bledel does in the closing scenes of the third episode.
Wow. Just wow. I’m not sure even the most die-hard Gilmore Girls fan thought Bledel had this in her. What she does as Ofglen watches her lover be executed by the authorities, and especially as Ofglen reacts to being mutilated as punishment for being a “gender traitor,” is so raw and so powerful it left me shaking. Great direction by Reed Morano, and the decision to show the final scene as a series of jump cuts of Ofglen struggling to absorb what’s been done to her only made it hit harder, but what’s going on in Bledel’s eyes and face is… something.
What did everybody think so far? Are you in it for the long haul with this show? And are you glad Hulu will give you a week’s break between the remaining episodes, or are you eager to absorb more emotional punishment as soon as possible?