The Handmaid’s Tale, Ep. 1 Recap and Review – ‘Offred’
This review was written by our guest writer Raven Night. When she’s not working on set being a badass lady of all trades, she is sewing up a storm and embracing her favorite characters. You can follow her on Instagram or her Facebook page.
Last night was the Los Angeles premiere of the wildly anticipated Hulu show, The Handmaid’s Tale. The series is based on the 1985 dystopian novel of the same name by Margaret Atwood. The screening was of the first of the 10-episode series starring Elisabeth Moss, Samira Wiley, and Yvonne Strahovski.
The episode opened with Elisabeth Moss as Offred as she tried to escape a yet-unknown group with her husband and her young daughter. Amid the grim New England scenery, Offred is caught, her husband executed, and her daughter ripped from her arms to, as of yet, not be seen again. As the story jumps between the recent past and the present, it begins to paint two very different worlds, one that seems familiar, and one that is very reminiscent of a cult. It is not cult, though, but the new totalitarian regime that has taken over the United States. In this dystopian present there has been a significant decline in fertility to the point where a female marked as fertile is brainwashed and trained as a “handmaid” to stand in for the barren wives of those in power. Now trapped in this new world, Offred is trained as a handmaiden and is doing her best to survive in a society fraught with paranoia and harsh punishments for those who do not fall in line. Offred outwardly keeps the pious exterior while flashbacks and an internal monologue reveal her true thoughts and motivations, finding her daughter.
There were a lot of things to remark on in this episode. The soundtrack was extremely well done in both the score and the almost sarcastic use of classic songs at times. The score as well as the cinematography does a great job of incorporating an almost-1984 style of tension, with the constant paranoia of execution due to an improper move or comment. The use of Offred’s inner monologue as a voiceover is both a powerful contrast as well as a nice interjection of humor at others. It gives the audience a chance to fully experience the duality of Offred’s character while allowing her to maintain her pious mask. However, the thing that stood out the most was the use of the color in the cinematography. There were a handful of scenes that were absolutely visually stunning. The scene where the rapist is ripped apart and those few memories of Offred’s daughter are shown in bright colors with stark contrasts to create a glaring juxtaposition to scenes such as Offred’s first “ceremony” and her more mundane flashbacks to her pre-handmaid memories, which are to be taken as more “normal”.
The series hits at a very poignant time where women’s issues are a national discussion. With so many of our lawmakers looking to defund Planned Parenthood, dismissing rape, and doing their best to make women’s health care harder to access, it’s not so much of a stretch to imagine a totalitarian regime where rape has been institutionalized as normal and accepted for those in power. “Power” being the operative word, as using and abusing the handmaids is only allowed to men in important positions in the community. When a non-designated man rapes a handmaid, he is ritualistically beaten to death by the other handmaids. However, those in power essentially own their handmaids, to the point where the girls are literally renamed based on the man they are there to serve and service (Offred’s name comes from her master’s name, Fred. She is renamed Of-Fred).
Another national conversation that this episode touched on is that of sexuality and sexual preference. So far, two handmaids have been introduced as lesbians, but their sexual preference is being overridden for their usefulness as handmaids. The episode has also shown what can happen on the other end of that when Offred and Ofglen, Offred’s handmaid companion (since the girls are required to travel in pairs), walk by those who have been executed. The hoods on the dead men show their transgressions, and we see one who’s marked transgression is that he was gay. It will be interesting to see where they go with this update from the original story as the episodes unfold.
The first three episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale are available now on Hulu, with subsequent episodes releasing every Wednesday. (The real question is do I have the patience to wait out the series or will I go buy the book and binge it?)