Monochrome, dystopian, brooding, nerve jangling and complex, frightening and thought provoking – Handmaiden’s Tale, Season 3, Episode 1 is upon us tonight!
It’s safe to say that I am frothing with anticipation for the first episode. The TV series adaption (Produced by streaming service Hulu) of Margaret Atwood’s brilliant 1980s novel is an adrenaline stirring, tense and complex vision of a nightmarish potential modern-day reality.
If you haven’t seen it, I’ll freely warn you now – it’s not everyone’s cup of tea and it’s not for the faint hearted. The key theme of the series, and novel, is of a brutally repressive patriarchal totalitarian society. It is set in the fictitious country of Gilead, which, as Season 1 revealed, was formerly the United States of America as we currently know that mighty country.
The great American democracy has been overthrown and now a cable of far-right, misogynistic, religious fanatics have taken a stranglehold on power. Women are heavily repressed, to varying degrees, that reflect their affiliation at the time of the military coup and their perceived ‘moral/social standing.’
A plague has rendered much of the world’s (Gilead included) population infertile. However, some fertile women remain with the ruling cable decreeing that these women are exempt from slave labour and are classified as ‘Handmaidens’ – they wear a uniform, red in colour, which is very reminiscent of a nun’s habit with a veil that must be worn at all times while in public.
The depiction of patriachal oppression in this series has always reminded me in a powerful and chilling way, of the repression experienced by women raised and subjugated in some current fundamentalist Islamic cultures/societies. In my opinion there are numerous parallels – I will leave you to make up your mind how deliberate this is – and to my mind, this series serves as a very powerful depiction of what it is probably like to be an Islamic woman in some fundamentalist middle eastern societies.
Anyhow, on a brighter note! Handmaiden’s Tale is definitely not a story of complete doom and gloom! The good central characters fight back, with the main character, Handmaid June Osborne (referred to in Gilead as Offred) representing the very essence of resilience, stubborn defiance, incredible survival instincts and the hugely motivating power of maternal love.
June is an amazing inspiring character. She fights to retain her spirit. She fights for survival. She uses her intelligence to form alliances and to manipulate her captors. She falls in love and falls pregnant with a man that she actually loves (don’t judge her infidelity too harshly, she’s living in hell), rather than the brutal man who is designated to breed with her. At the core of her resistance is her drive to be reunited with her first child who is also captive in Gilead and her husband who managed to escape safely to Canada (still a fully functioning democracy).
By using her wits and by inspiring by her example, June finds a growing collection of allies. Season 2 ended with these allies arranging a sudden dramatic escape attempt for June and her newborn baby. An attempt that for all intents and purposes was successful, only for June to have a last-minute change of heart, resulting in a cliff-hanger season ending – June mysteriously elects to return to Gilead instead of crossing the border. I can’t wait to discover her motives – I suspect there is a counter-coup brewing in Season 3 with June poised to go full-Rambo! Strap yourselves in, I have a feeling that Season 3 is about to get fiery.
Note – I should point out that not all male characters in HMT are repressive and evil. Also, while there is a very strong theme of female solidarity, some female characters do actively contribute the repression of their fellow women in Gilead society. There are fascinating layers of complexity in this series and many thought-provoking ideas that resonate with day-to-day life.