I'm definitely late to this party, but it is one of those pieces of fiction that has stuck with me over the last couple of months. See the trailer here.
Perhaps the most successful component of The Handmaid's Tale is the introduction to the world of Gilead. Gilead is the fundamentalist republic which has displaced that United States government. When we are first introduced to the world of The Handmaid's Tale is alien and strange. The expressions are meaningless to us, the clothes are foreign or unfamiliar, and the culture is almost unrecognizable. Of course, it's not foreign completely, the place is still recognizable as North America, the language is American English, but there's something deeply wrong. The best part of the entire series, in my opinion, are the flashbacks.
Our main character, June/Offred, played by Elizabeth Moss, often reflects on her time before she was assigned to be Commander Waterford's handmaid. Handmaids, for those who haven't watched the show or read the novel, are fertile women assigned to the elite families in order to produce children. Human fertility has plummeted and the number of successful live births has decreased significantly. Therefore controlling fertile women is seen as critical for the survival of humanity. June's life in the near-future over the course of several episodes illustrates how everyday life was undermined by the slow crisis and created the condition for radical social transformation and oppression.
Two flashbacks in particular stand out. The first I wish to call out is when June gives birth to her daughter, Hannah. The hospital is surrounded by dozens of people praying for the mother's going into the maternity ward and for the newborns within. The maternity ward feels more like an abandoned wing of the hospital. June goes with a nurse and her child to a vacant nursery. All of the other children have died or worsened over night. Perhaps more significantly, the nurse is the first character chronologically, as far as I can remember, to use the religious extremists expressions "Under His eye," and "Blessed is the fruit." It seems natural but it disturbing knowing where such believe inevitably will lead.
The second flashback takes place at a future date from the one discussed above. The interim government passes a law that bars women from work and transfers ownership of their bank accounts to men in their lives (husbands, fathers, what have you). June and her friend Moira (Samira Wiley) join a group to protest this radical changes. The protest turns violent in a dramatic scene where the religious authorities open fire upon them.
Another call out I will make for the show is the story of Ofglen, played by Alexis Bledel. Her appearance in the show is comparatively brief, but does a great deal to show the reach of the world and its darker elements. While I think the "Canada as utopia" trope is a bit heavy-handed I liked all of the elements of Americans trying to seek refuge, or figure their lives out in Toronto is pretty compelling.
The show is ultimately about women, their bodies, and control. Sex is often used in the show to demonstrate some point about those three elements. Those scenes can be long and uncomfortable, but I believe that's the point. The viewer is suppose to confront the scenes and deal with it.
Though I should spend more time on it I'll briefly say that the show is stunningly beautiful. The cinematography is very powerful and captures the colour and mood of the world perfectly. In many ways the world is desaturated of colour, but not to the extent that it is rendered lifeless, merely stark. The music and sound design are appropriately ominous and foreboding at the right moments and guides you appropriately through the story. The performances are very strong, particularly from Yvonne Strahovski and Ann Dowd.
I would recommend The Handmaid's Tale, but I would have the caveat that the show is quite violent, including sexual violence of many different kinds. This is a world where women are explicitly objects. That their autonomy, rights and reproduction are the exclusive domain of powerful men. This review does not encapsulate the show, but if at all interested I would recommend giving the pilot a watch.