The Handmaid's Tale is an American television series created by Bruce Miller based on the 1985 novel of the same name by Canadian writer Margaret Atwood. It was ordered by streaming service Hulu with a straight-to-series order of 10 episodes, with the production beginning in late 2016.
The first three episodes of the series premiered on April 26, 2017, with the subsequent seven episodes added on a weekly basis every Wednesday. In May 2017, it was renewed for a second season to premiere in 2018.
In the near future, fertility rates collapse as a result of sexually transmitted diseases and environmental pollution. With this chaos in place, the totalitarian, Christian theonomic government of "Gilead" establishes rule in the former United States in the aftermath of a civil war. Society is organized by power-hungry leaders along a new, militarized, hierarchical regime of fanaticism and newly-created social classes, in which women are brutally subjugated, and by law are not allowed to work, own property, control money, or read. Worldwide infertility has resulted in the conscription of the few remaining fertile women in Gilead, called handmaids, according to an "extremist interpretation" of a Biblical account. They are assigned to the homes of the ruling elite, where they must submit to ritualized rape with their male masters in order to become pregnant and bear children for those men and their wives.
June Osborne, renamed Offred (Elisabeth Moss), is the Handmaid assigned to the home of Gileadan Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and his wife Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski). She is subject to the strictest rules and constant scrutiny; an improper word or deed on her part can lead to her execution. Offred, who is named after her male master like all Handmaids, can remember the "time before", when she was married with a daughter and had her own name and identity, but all she can safely do now is follow the rules of Gilead in the hope that she can someday live free and be reunited with her daughter. The Waterfords, key players in the rise of Gilead, have their own conflicts with the realities of the society they have helped create.
|No.||Title||Directed by||Teleplay by||Original release date|
|1||"Offred"||Reed Morano||Bruce Miller||April 26, 2017|
|A woman flees from a group of men with guns, but she is captured and separated from her young daughter; her husband is seemingly killed. This woman is known as Offred, a handmaid to Commander Fred Waterford. Offred goes grocery shopping with her companion Ofglen. On the way home, they pass by a wall of men who have been hanged for committing crimes (such as being gay, working in an abortion clinic, and being Catholic). In a flashback, various women are indoctrinated into their handmaid roles by Aunt Lydia, who tells them about declining birth rates and that they are "special", serving a Biblical purpose. Offred enters the room and notices Moira, a woman she knew from college. One of the women in the class, Janine, talks back to Lydia and is shocked with a cattle prod. Later, Janine is revealed to have been punished by having her right eye removed. In the present, Commander Waterford tries to impregnate Offred as she lies in the lap of his wife, Serena Joy. The next day, all the handmaids gather in an open field where Lydia announces a man has raped a pregnant handmaid. As punishment, the handmaids are allowed to beat the man to death. Offred hears from Janine that Moira is dead. On the way home, Ofglen tells Offred that she had a wife and son, and warns her there is an Eye (a secret spy) in her house. Through voiceover, Offred reveals her true name, June, and that she intends to survive to find her daughter.|
|2||"Birth Day"||Reed Morano||Bruce Miller||April 26, 2017|
|Offred and Ofglen go shopping and they reveal more personal information about themselves to each other. While they are walking, Offred and Ofglen see St. Paul Catholic Church, the local church they belonged to, being destroyed by the new régime. Ofglen tells Offred that the régime also bulldozed St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan to try to "erase" the fact that it ever existed; Offred asks how Ofglen knows this information and she reveals that she is part of a resistance against the government. Ofglen asks her to join, but Offred declines. Nick, Commander Waterford's driver, tells Offred that the Commander wants to see her alone later that night, which is forbidden. Nick also warns her “Don't get too close to [Ofglen]. It's dangerous.” Offred and other handmaids go to a home to witness the birth of Ofwarren's (formerly Janine's) child. In flashbacks, June remembers her own daughter Hannah's birth. During this time, healthy births were rare and a woman tried to kidnap Hannah but was arrested. Offred goes to the Commander's office unsure of what's going to happen, but he just wants to play Scrabble with her. She later goes back to her room and laughs with relief. The next day, Offred prepares to tell Ofglen what happened that night, but when she goes outside, it's a different woman who introduces herself as Ofglen.|
|3||"Late"||Reed Morano||Bruce Miller||April 26, 2017|
|In flashbacks, the rise of Gilead is detailed. June and all the other women at her office are fired because "it's the law now". June and Moira also learn that the government has frozen all women's bank accounts and that they can no longer own property. In the present, Serena takes Offred to see Ofwarren and the baby. Ofwarren tells Offred that her Commander is in love with her and that she has a "real" name for the child, "Charlotte". Offred fears Ofwarren is delusional and comments on her behavior to Serena. Nick drives Offred home and there is a black van waiting. Offred is interrogated by an Eye and Aunt Lydia about her knowledge of Ofglen. Offred eventually reveals she knew Ofglen was gay and quotes one of the Beatitudes from the Bible; for this Lydia shocks Offred with a cattle prod. Serena intervenes, yelling at them to stop due to her belief that Offred is pregnant. Nick goes to see Offred in her room to check up on her and they share an intimate moment. Offred later reveals to Serena that she's not pregnant, causing Serena to roughly drag her to her room and loudly order her not to come out. In a flashback, June and Moira attend a protest against the new laws that is suppressed by automatic gunfire and explosives. In the present, Ofglen and the Martha she's in a relationship with are charged with "gender treachery", with Ofglen receiving a lesser sentence because she can still bear children. The Martha is executed by hanging as Ofglen watches, sobbing and horrified. Later, Ofglen (now referred to by her "old" name, Emily) wakes up in a clinic having undergone female genital mutilation surgery as explained by Aunt Lydia.|
|4||"Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum"||Mike Barker||Leila Gerstein||May 3, 2017|
|Offred, who is banished to her room, goes into the closet where she finds the Latin phrase Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum scratched into the wall. Rita, the Commander's housekeeper, finds Offred lying in the closet, so Offred tells her she fainted. Believing she is ill, Serena has Offred sent to the hospital for a check-up. While examining Offred, the physician remarks that the Commander is sterile, because "most of those guys are". He offers to impregnate her, but she declines. In flashbacks, Aunt Lydia teaches the handmaids (including June and Moira) about the "Ceremony": when the Commander rapes a handmaid. Later, June lures Aunt Elizabeth into the bathroom saying a toilet has overflowed, and Moira threatens the Aunt with a shiv. June and Moira take her to the basement where Moira takes the Aunt's outfit and they tie her up. June and Moira begin their escape, hoping to leave via train to Boston, which has safehouses. When Moira is asking one of the guards for directions, June is approached by another guard who is suspicious of her being alone. Moira is able to get on the train, leaving June behind, though June gives her a smile letting her know it's okay. June is later punished by having her feet whipped. In the present, Commander Waterford has an unsuccessful Ceremony night with Offred. Later that night, the Commander and Offred have another game of Scrabble where she asks him about the Latin phrase; he tells her it means "Don't let the bastards grind you down". She also inquires about the previous Offred, in which he tells her that she committed suicide because life was unbearable. He makes it known that he doesn't want that to happen again and releases Offred from her solitary confinement.|
|5||"Faithful"||Mike Barker||Dorothy Fortenberry||May 10, 2017|
|Serena suggests to Offred that she have sex with Nick in case Commander Waterford is sterile. At the grocery store, Offred talks with the original Ofglen, now called Ofsteven, but she is quiet with her responses. During a Ceremony night with Waterford, he touches Offred's thigh, which she later tells him never to do again. Nick reveals to Offred that he is indeed an Eye. At an open-air market, Offred questions Ofsteven more about "Mayday", the resistance group. Ofsteven steals one of the guards' cars and proceeds to drive away; in the process, she deliberately kills a guard by running him over. She is caught and put into a van. Later that day, Serena leads Offred up to Nick's place where she waits by the door while they have Ceremony-like sex. Flashbacks detail Luke and June's first meeting and courtship. Offred decides to go back to Nick's place alone later that night, and the two share an intimate night together.|
|6||"A Woman's Place"||Floria Sigismondi||Wendy Straker Hauser||May 17, 2017|
|Mexican delegates visit the Commander's home in an effort to create partnerships in trade and see the effects of the Gilead cultural movement. The head of the Mexican delegation is a woman who questions Offred about her experience in Gilead. With great self-control, Offred tells them, "I have found happiness". After the meeting, Offred visits the Commander's office for their usual discussions where some tensions flare up between them. He asks her to kiss him "like you mean it". She kisses the Commander and then leaves, ferociously brushing her teeth afterwards. The handmaids are then taken to a party to honor Gilead and show the foreign delegates their success, including presenting the children of Gilead. Offred's friend remarks that the delegates are interested in fertile women as a commodity and source of trade between the two nations. The next day, as the delegates are leaving, Offred tells them the brutal truth about Gilead. She pleads for their help, but the Mexican ambassador claims that she cannot help Offred and explains her own country's dire situation. When Offred is left alone with the ambassador's assistant, he claims her husband is alive and that he can send a message to him. Flashbacks detail Serena and Fred's life before and during the beginnings of the Gilead movement. Serena is revealed to have been a conservative cultural activist during the "life before", with a passion and intelligence equal to that of her husband's (as well as a special fondness for movie popcorn). She even wrote a book about her beliefs, titled A Woman's Place, which contained the famous line "do not mistake a woman's meekness for weakness". However, after the takeover, she is shown to be completely shut out of the new government planning (to Fred's dismay). Rather symbolically, as she prepares to accept her new limited role in the society she helped create, a copy of her book is seen being thrown out in the trash.|
|7||"The Other Side"||Floria Sigismondi||Lynn Renee Maxcy||May 24, 2017|
|The episode chronicles the story of Luke after he is separated from his wife and daughter. Luke is shot by Gileadan guards and taken in an ambulance to be interrogated. He escapes when the ambulance gets into an accident and he takes some supplies with him. Evidence of the country's violent takeover is everywhere. After passing out from his wounds, he is awoken by a resistance group (viewed as "undesirables" by Gilead) who are traveling to Canada; these survivors included a Roman Catholic nun, an escaped handmaid, a homosexual man, and a daughter of a US army soldier. Initially reluctant, Luke joins them after one of the survivors, Zoe, shows him that Gileadan authorities hanged local townspeople from the rafters of their church for resisting. As they are boarding a boat, they are shot at by Gileadan guards, who kill several members of the group. Luke and one of the members, a mute blonde woman who was being trained as a handmaid, survive and flee. Flashbacks prior to Luke, June and their daughter Hannah being separated are detailed. June and Luke get help from Mr. Whitford, a man who knew June's mother. He drives them safely out of town and drops them off at a secluded cabin in the woods. Luke and June wait as Mr. Whitford gets documentation for them to escape to Canada. They are confronted by a hunter, who tells them Whitford has been caught and hanged. But the man says he can help them get over the border. Three years later, Luke and the mute blonde woman are living safely in "Little America", based in Toronto, Ontario. Missing person flyers are posted everywhere in the main administrative office. Luke receives the letter from June, which reads "I love you so much. Save Hannah."|
|8||"Jezebels"||Kate Dennis||Kira Snyder||May 31, 2017|
|Commander Waterford provides Offred with makeup and a dress as he is taking her out for the night. Nick drives them to Boston to an underground brothel where prostitutes known as "jezebels" work. Offred spots Moira working in the club and they briefly reunite. Nick trades drugs and pregnancy tests for alcohol with one of the brothel's Marthas. Offred goes to see Moira again, where she explains to Offred about how Quakers tried to help her escape, but were caught. Moira had the choice of either being sent to the colonies or one of the brothels. Moira tells Offred, "Forget about escaping. This is Gilead. No one gets out." Offred reveals to Moira that she knows Luke is alive. Flashbacks detail how Nick got involved with the Gilead movement and how he became an Eye after reporting a Commander for breaking protocol with his handmaids. There are other flashbacks to the suicide of the previous Offred, with Serena pointedly saying to her husband, "What did you think was going to happen?" In the present, after Nick drives Waterford and Offred home, he ends his relationship with Offred, which upsets and angers her. Offred receives a gift from Serena, a music box. The episode closes with the handmaid etching "You are not alone" into her closet wall.|
|9||"The Bridge"||Kate Dennis||Eric Tuchman||June 7, 2017|
|Ofwarren's daughter is presented to Commander Putnam and his wife, who rechristen the infant "Angela". Offred is worried about Ofwarren's mental state, though Aunt Lydia informs her that "she's tougher than you think". Ofwarren, now known as Ofdaniel, is taken to her new home. During her first Ceremony night with her new Commander, Ofdaniel forcefully stops it and sobs. At the market, Alma pulls Offred aside and lets her know she knows about the resistance group "Mayday". Alma tells her to retrieve a package from Jezebel's. Offred convinces Waterford to take her to Jezebel's again that very night. After Offred and Waterford have sex in their room, he presents Moira, believing a sexual attraction between the two was the reason Offred wanted to come back. Offred talks with Moira about having her retrieve the package from the bar, but she refuses, which angers Offred. Moira seems to have completely given up. Back at the house Offred is awoken by Serena, who takes her to a bridge where Ofdaniel is standing on the edge with Charlotte. Various Gileadan guards, the Putnams, Waterfords, and Aunt Lydia are also present. Ofdaniel loudly accuses Commander Putnam of lying to her and accuses him of having promised to leave his wife for her. Offred is able to convince Ofdaniel to give her the child, but Ofdaniel ultimately jumps into the water, attempting suicide. She is immediately retrieved by the guards and later lies comatose in a hospital with Aunt Lydia by her side, who calls her "stupid". Commander Putnam is later seen being led into a black van by guards, while Mrs. Putnam reminds Serena of the first Offred, saying that "men don't change". Serena is seen barging into Fred's empty office. At the market, Offred is given a package by the butcher, which is the one from Jezebels and sent by Moira herself. Offred hides the package in her bathroom. At the brothel, Moira kills one of her clients and takes his clothes, jubilantly driving off in his car.|
|10||"Night"||Kari Skogland||Bruce Miller||June 14, 2017|
|Serena learns about the trips to Jezebel's and strikes Offred in anger, then presents her with a pregnancy test, which reveals that she is indeed pregnant. Serena then directs her anger towards her husband, telling him about the pregnancy and that the child is not his. She also says he is weak and that God would never allow him to pass on that weakness. On learning the news himself, Nick shares a brief, tender moment with Offred. Serena and Offred make a trip to the house where Offred's daughter Hannah now lives; Offred can see her daughter through a gate. While Serena does not allow Offred to reveal herself to Hannah, she assures her that she is doing fine. Serena also warns Offred that as long as nothing bad happens to her child, then nothing bad will happen to Hannah. Offred furiously curses Serena in a breathless rant, only to be told to be quiet; yelling is not good for the baby. Fred participates in Commander Putnam’s trial: he himself is all for leniency but is told there have been too many instances of this kind of sin recently and an example has to be made. Mrs. Putnam herself has asked that her husband receive the harshest punishment possible, as she fears for his immortal soul. Ultimately, Putnam's hand is amputated. In the evening, Fred and Offred talk and he asks about the paternity of her child. She tells him that he is the father to which he replies "you do that so well." Later Fred is seen being quite gentle and conciliatory towards his wife. The package from Jezebel's is revealed to contain letters from women who have lost family members in the Gilead takeover. Later, a somewhat emotional Aunt Lydia gathers the handmaids for an execution: they are to stone someone who has endangered a child. The convict turns out to be Janine/Ofdaniel. The handmaids hesitate and Ofglen #2 is brutally beaten when she breaks rank and voices her angry refusal. The other women, beginning with Offred, ultimately drop their stones, each saying "I'm sorry, Aunt Lydia" (a phrase they were taught early in their indoctrination). Aunt Lydia frantically stops the guards from shooting all the handmaids, saying that the women are her responsibility. Nonetheless, she tells them all to go home, assuring them that there will be consequences. The next day two men come to get Offred, much to Fred and Serena's surprise and indignation, and Nick quietly urges her to trust him and go with them. After she has been taken Rita finds the letters Offred had hidden in the Waterfords' home. In a side story, Moira makes it to Canada and is reunited with Luke.|
A straight-to-series order by Hulu of The Handmaid's Tale was announced in April 2016, with Elisabeth Moss set to star. Based on the 1985 novel of the same name by Margaret Atwood, the series was created by Bruce Miller, who is also an executive producer with Daniel Wilson, Fran Sears, and Warren Littlefield. Atwood serves as consulting producer giving feedback on some of the areas where the series expands or modernizes the book,, and also had a small cameo role in the first episode. Moss is also a producer. In June 2016, Reed Morano was announced as director of the series. Samira Wiley, Max Minghella, and Ann Dowd joined the cast in July 2016. Joseph Fiennes, Madeline Brewer and Yvonne Strahovski were cast in August 2016, followed by O.T. Fagbenle and Amanda Brugel in September 2016. In October 2016, Ever Carradine joined the cast, and Alexis Bledel was added in January 2017.
Filming on the series took place in Toronto, Mississauga, Hamilton, and Cambridge, Ontario from September 2016 to February 2017. The first full trailer of the TV series was released by Hulu on YouTube on March 23, 2017. The series premiered on April 26, 2017.
On May 3, 2017, The Handmaid's Tale was renewed for a second season to premiere in 2018. Moss told the news media that the subsequent episodes will cover further developments in the story, filling in some of the unanswered questions and continuing the narrative already "finished" in the book. The second season will consist of 13 episodes and will begin filming in fall 2017. Alexis Bledel will return as a series regular. Showrunner Bruce Miller stated that he envisioned ten seasons of the show, stating "Well, you know, honestly, when I started, I tried to game out in my head what would ten seasons be like? If you hit a home run, you want energy to go around the bases, you want enough story to keep going, if you can hook the audience to care about these people enough that they’re actually crying at the finale.".
The first three episodes of the series premiered on April 26, 2017, with the subsequent seven episodes added on a weekly basis. In Canada, the series is broadcast by Bravo, beginning with the first two episodes premiering on April 30. In Scandinavia, the series is available on HBO Nordic. In the UK and Ireland, the series premiered on May 28, 2017 and airs every Sunday on Channel 4.
In New Zealand, the series was released on the subscription video on demand service Lightbox on June 8, 2017. In Australia, the series premiered on the TV channel SBS's video streaming service SBS on Demand on July 6, 2017.
The Handmaid's Tale has received acclaim from television critics. On Metacritic, it has a score of 92 out of 100 based on 40 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim". The season has a 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes with an average score of 8.94 out of 10 based on 82 reviews. The site's critical consensus is, "Haunting and vivid, The Handmaid's Tale is an endlessly engrossing adaptation of Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel that's anchored by a terrific central performance from Elisabeth Moss." Daniel Fienberg of The Hollywood Reporter called it "probably the spring's best new show and certainly its most important". Jen Chaney of Vulture gave it a highly positive review, and wrote that it is "A faithful adaptation of the book that also brings new layers to Atwood's totalitarian, sexist world of forced surrogate motherhood" and that "this series is meticulously paced, brutal, visually stunning, and so suspenseful from moment to moment that only at the end of each hour will you feel fully at liberty to exhale".
There was disagreement on what, if any, parallels could be drawn between the series (and by extension, the book it is based on) and American society following Donald Trump's and Mike Pence's election as President of the United States and Vice President of the United States, respectively.
||Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Drama Series||The Handmaid's Tale||Pending|
|Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series||Elisabeth Moss||Pending|
|Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series||Ann Dowd||Pending|
|Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series||Reed Morano for "Offred"||Pending|
|Kate Dennis for "The Bridge"||Pending|
|Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series||Bruce Miller for "Offred"||Pending|
|Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series||Alexis Bledel||Pending|
|Outstanding Casting for a Drama Series||Russell Scott, Sharon Bialy, Sherry Thomas||Pending|
|Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series (One Hour)||Colin Watkinson for "Offred"||Pending|
|Outstanding Period/Fantasy Costumes for a Series, Limited Series, or Movie||Russell Scott, Sharon Bialy, Sherry Thomas for "Offred"||Pending|
|Outstanding Production Design for a Narrative Contemporary or Fantasy Program (One Hour or More)||Julie Berghoff, Evan Webber, Sophie Neudorfer for "Offred"||Pending|
|Outstanding Special Visual Effects in a Supporting Role||Brendan Taylor, Stephen Lebed, Leo Bovell, Martin O'Brien, Winston Lee, Kelly Knauff, Zach Dembinski, Mike Suta, Cameron Kerr for "Birth Day"||Pending|
|TCA Awards||Program of the Year||The Handmaid's Tale||Won|
|Outstanding Achievement in Drama||Won|
|Outstanding New Program||Nominated|
|Individual Achievement in Drama||Elisabeth Moss||Nominated|
The first situates the Gilead regime's quest to control the means of reproduction in the context of an enormous fertility collapse, caused by the combination of environmental catastrophe and rampant S.T.D.s.
Now, in the era of the Trump administration, liberal TV watchers find a perverse sort of comfort in the horrific alternate reality of the Republic of Gilead, where a cabal of theonomist Christians have established a totalitarian state that forbids women to read, sets a secret police to watch their every move and deploys them as slave-concubines to childless elites.
A clear example of Atwood´s focus on the Reconstructionism of theonomy is his way of representing the death penalty.
They walk past a priest, doctor and gay man hanging dead from a wall in their Cambridge, Massachusetts, neighborhood along the river; they see St. Paul's Catholic Church where Offred was baptized, being torn down.
In the screen version, Offred and her friend Ofglen (Alexis Bledel) surreptitiously lament the demolition of St. Paul’s, their local church.
On their stroll they walk past the remains of St. Paul’s, a historic cathedral in Boston. Burned and bombed, it resembles the churches of Europe during WWII. Offred pauses to remember her daughter’s baptism, which took place there years prior, and Ofglen notes that Gileadean thugs were also successful in taking down St. Patrick’s cathedral in New York City. “They blew it up and dumped every stone in the Hudson River. They erased it.” Upon hearing this bit of news, Offred asks, “How do you know that? And how do you know there’s an Eye in my house?”
And before she can leave the room, Offred responds by quoting the Bible right back to her: “Blessed are those who suffer for the cause of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” That earns her what would have been a much more serious beating if Serena Joy hadn’t swooped in to stop them, yelling that Offred’s pregnant and telling them to leave.
The group has a plan to escape, but Luke won't go, refusing to leave his wife and daughter behind—until Zoe (Rosa Gilmore), one of the rebels, shows him a whole town that was hanged from the rafters of their church after trying to resist.
Finally, one of these guardian angels discreetly escorts him to a local church building, driving home the point of what’s at stake for those who attempt to survive and resist from within. This mass-hanging in the belly of a church is more than just the episode’s visual centerpiece: it’s a wake-up call, underscoring once and for all that Gilead isn’t a religious movement or a political revolution, it’s not something you can reason with or withstand on your own.
Following her great escape from Handmaid training, Moira is helped by a Quaker family.
Since we last saw the escapee, she made it to Boston, hooked up with some Quakers who had ties to the Femaleroad (ha!) that helped smuggle handmaids out of the country. She didn’t make it farther than an office park outside the city. “They shot the guys who helped me,” Moira sadly tells Offred, adding that because she was a “corrupting influence,” she was interrogated and then given a choice: the colonies or the jezebels.
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