In 1985, Margaret Atwood.The Handmaid’s Tale felt futuristic and dystopian. But with Hulu’s upcoming adaptation, The Republic of Gilead feels all-too-real: Women and minorities are being persecuted—the latter allowed to exist only as wives, prostitutes or “handmaids,” surrogates for the barren wives of powerful militant leaders.
Given our current political climate, it reads like a wake-up call as much as an engrossing work of entertainment.
In the first episode, protagonist Offred (Elisabeth Moss) sees three bodies strung up, a lesson to those who would dare defy the new world order. They are marked by by symbols: A fish, a baby, a pink triangle.
“A priest, a doctor, a gay man,” Offred remarks. “I think I heard that joke once. This wasn’t the punchline.”
The Sons of Jacob don’t approve of homosexuality, or any other “radical” notions outside their fundamentalist Biblical determination. There is no questioning authority, and people are put into categories that they can never escape. Offred’s only relief after seeing these bodies is knowing her best friend, Moira (Samira Wiley), is not among them.
Actually Offred hasn’t seen Moira, whose identity as both a feminist and a lesbian is relayed in flashback, since she was sent out on assignment as a handmaiden.
It’s in the flashbacks, when Offred was “June” and happily married with a young daughter, that we see how quickly the world changed under the Sons of Jacob: They removed women from their jobs, seized their homes and businesses, and allotted their bank accounts and possessions to their husbands or male next of kin. Offred/June and Moira are incensed by the ludicrousness of it all, and Moira half-jokingly takes it out on June’s husband, Luke, calling him “the fucking problem.”
“Christ. You’re so fucking patronizing,” she tells Luke. “‘My wife?’ She doesn’t belong to you. She isn’t your property and she doesn’t need you to take care of her. That’s where this comes from. You want to take care of us because we’re weak, right? Because we’re less than… I’ll take care of your money; I’ll take care of your body. You really got a fucking problem, you know that?”
Luke pauses before responding: “Should I just go in the kitchen and cut my dick off?”
They laugh it off while they still can. Only days later, Moira and June are at a rally that turns increasingly violent, forcing them to hide inside of a cafe while people are being murdered in the streets. Juxtaposed with with their being rounded up to become schooled on their new sets of rules as handmaidens at The Red Center, June whispers to Moira from her bunk bed, asking what happened to her girlfriend, Odette.
“She was rounded up in one of the dyke purges. She was reclassified as an un-woman,” Moira says quietly. “Sent to the Colony.” The Colony is where perpetrators go to die, if they aren’t being used as public examples like the priest, the doctor and the gay man.
“Moira isn’t up there,” Offred says upon seeing the bodies, “and that gives me hope.”
She soon learns that another handmaid, her assigned walking companion Ofglen (Alexis Bledel), is also a lesbian when she reveals that she had a wife and a son who escaped to Canada. She wasn’t so lucky, and it’s not lot long after this revelation that Ofglen disappears.
Despite rumors that Moira has been sent to the Colony, Offred keeps hope that her best friend is still alive, even though conditions for the living are less that desirable.
“No matter what happens, I’ll be right here,” Moira tells June in a flashback. “You and me, just like always.”
It’s not just the lesbian characters that make The Handmaid’s Tale the queerest new series this year, as well as one of the most feminist pieces of art in ages: In this world, women are stripped of any autonomy, of any dignity. They are Othered.
Handmaids are forced to participate in ceremonies in which they are effectively raped by their commanders, while the wives watch, hoping the twisted menage a trois will end in pregnancy.
And despite the hopelessness the women feel in The Handmaid’s Tale, we see a revolution fomenting, and they (furious, determined and woke) are destined to be a part of it. If Atwood’s novel is used as a roadmap, the good news is the future is female, and queer AF.
The Handmaid’s Tale premieres April 26 on Hulu.