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Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum, Bitches

By Mia Abrahams

 

It’s been a weird week (I know, we say that every week), but the political maelstrom that’s been swirling feels extra crazy: FBI director's getting fired, Russia, global computer hacking, potential obstruction of justice, and you know, the whole climate change thing is still happening.

Needless to say my growing anxiety is *not* being helped by watching Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale. You’ve very likely either experiencing the same anxiety by watching the show or having everyone in your workplace whisper “OMG did you see last night’s ep?” or, in my case, having a coworker greet me in a meeting with “Under his eye”.

Quick *spoiler-free* recap, The Handmaid’s Tale is a novel by Queen of Feminist Dystopian Fiction (they still have a monarchy in Canada, technically) Margaret Atwood. Its narrator, June, aka Offred (of Fred, as she belongs to her commander) (Elisabeth Moss)  is navigating a future dystopia, Gilead, where due to unexplained mass infertility, women have been stripped of all rights and the world has been remade under a new religious order. Now, women are either wives to the ruling commanders, a Martha (household maids), or a Handmaid, women assigned to the ruling families to bear children for them. Anyone else—lesbians, rebels, people who don’t fit into the new world order—is hung or “sent to the colonies” to clean nuclear waste (a place I am thankful we have yet to see in the show).

Dystopian fiction is not new, and The Handmaid’s Tale has been around since 1985, so what is it about this show that feels like essential, vital, very-2017 viewing? Well, for a start, instead of the book’s Reagan-era 1980s setting, we get a millennial update (e.g. June pre-Gilead is on Tinder).  

The thing that is most scary to me about this show is seen in the flashbacks. The end of democracy/civilization as we know it is not a huge alien ship hovering over the White House, it isn’t a crazy nuclear explosion, or some sort of erupting war. It happens gradually (insert frog in a pot of boiling water metaphor here). Someone refuses to serve you coffee in a Brooklyn cafe and calls you a “slut”; a protest (that looked a hell of a lot like the Women’s March) turns violent; June, her husband, and best friend drink wine and complain about the craziness going on; the government shuts down over an alleged “terrorist attack”. Democracy is dismantled piece-by-piece, brick-by-brick, until one day you wake up to find yourself basically a walking uterus in a red dress.

I’m exaggerating, but not really. What’s truly frightening is that we watch the America represented in The Handmaid’s Tale fall apart and see what remains in the newly formed Gilead, and then when the episode ends, we switch over to any one of the thousand news channels that are playing the crazy reality show that is United States of Trump and Pence, and the parallels are eerie. Alternative facts? Fake news? Loyalty to your leader above all? Defunding women’s healthcare? These sound way too much like Margaret Atwood plot points than I’m comfortable with. When Offred confronts her commander about another Handmaid’s terrible abuse, he tells her: “Better never means better for everyone. It always means worse for some.” And if that doesn’t sound like the Republican healthcare plan...

The show is also really visually stunning, and incredibly well acted. The highly saturated red of the Handmaid’s cloaks stand out against everything: the blinding white of a doctor’s office; the blue of their mistresses’ dresses; the black vans that constantly drive past them, carrying prisoners or commanders, or something worse. I’m not winning any critic awards by saying: damn, Elisabeth Moss is a good actor. So is Samira Wiley, as Moira (best known for her devastating role on Orange is the New Black— seriously, though, so not over that storyline). But I am also blown away by Alexis Bledel, who plays Ofglen, another Handmaid, and whose tragic arc completely removes any preconceptions I had about the ability of Bledel to step out of her Rory Gilmore shoes (which, like, would have been Lorelei's anyway, you know they loved to share clothes).

Another thought I have when I watch the show: Would my anxiety be so nail-bitingly high if I was watching this under a Clinton presidency?

Are you watching? What are your thoughts/feelings/anxieties?

Blessed be the fruit y’all.

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