People work themselves into a lather over a lot of TV shows, but if there’s one series where the hype is all warranted it’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Put simply, it’s the best TV series of the past few years – and that’s not hyperbole.
Stark and uncompromising, it’s a haunting look at what, in the current political climate, isn’t that far-fetched a set of circumstances. In the upcoming second season, we go off-book, with the story continuing beyond the events depicted in Margaret Atwood’s original novel.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s rewind and recap the story so far…
America as we know it is no more
A group of religious fundamentalists has overthrown the US government and instituted an autocratic society called Gilead in which women have been relegated to the possessions of their husbands. The ruling class are known as Commanders, and their Wives have neither power nor property of their own.
Gilead revolves around the conception of children
Due to a fertility crisis, the birth of healthy babies is the number one priority. Since many of the Wives cannot conceive (either because they are barren or their husbands are infertile, not that anyone would suggest the latter), fertile women called Handmaids are allocated to Commanders in the hope that they may bear children for their family… by being subjected to what is essentially state-sanctioned rape.
The Waterfords have been trying to get pregnant for some time
The Handmaid’s Tale focuses on a Handmaid called Offred (Elisabeth Moss). Her real name is June, but she is referred to as the property Of Fred, her Commander, Fred Waterford (Jospeh Fiennes). She’s not the Waterfords’ first Handmaid – a previous one scratched “Don’t let the bastards grind you down” (in Latin) into her bedroom wall, but then hanged herself. Likely as a result, Offred has enjoyed the leniency of the Commander. As well as inviting her to play Scrabble with him and allowing her to read magazines in his office, he also took her to Gilead’s illicit brothel/hotel for sex that didn’t involve his Wife, Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski), holding her down by the wrists.
Offred is with child…
Whether it was due to her regular sex with the Commander or, more likely, her affair with the Waterfords’ driver, Nick (Max Minghella) – initially arranged by Serena Joy as a way to get a bun in Offred’s oven – Offred fell pregnant. Blessed be!
…but she’s been taken from the Waterfords
In the final moments of season one, Offred was bundled into the back of a black van and driven away from the Waterfords’ house. Is Offred going to be made to pay for her defiance of Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd), one of the women responsible for the training and discipline of the Handmaids, in refusing to stone Janine (Madeline Brewer), the Handmaid who “kidnapped” the baby she bore? Or has Nick, who is an Eye (part of Gilead’s secret police) but also maybe a member of the resistance, organised for her to be taken to safety?
Offred’s actual family are kept from her
Before the revolution, June was married to Luke (OT Fagbenle), and together they were raising their daughter, Hannah (Jordana Blake). Unbeknown to Offred, Luke has escaped to Canada, but Hannah is still living in Gilead – something Offred is aware of because Serena Joy took her to see her daughter. Well, Serena let Offred see Hannah through a car window and promised Hannah would be safe as long as Offred’s unborn baby was, too.
And her friends have a habit of disappearing, too
Offred’s best friend from pre-Gilead times, Moira (Samira Wiley), wound up in the Red Centre, the Handmaid training facility, alongside Offred, but staged a daring escape. Eventually captured, Moira was sent instead to work at the brothel, where she reunited with Offred, who inspired her to make another bid for freedom. This time, Moira made it across the border and met up with Luke. Meanwhile, Offred’s shopping partner Ofglen (Alexis Bledel) was removed from her Commander’s house and charged with “gender treachery” following an affair with a Martha, one of the non-fertile women put to work in other ways for the Commanders. While the Martha in question was hanged – in front of her – Ofglen was subjected to the lesser punishment of genital mutilation.
The Handmaid’s Tale 2 airs on SBS and SBS On Demand 8.30pm, from Thursday April 26. #HandmaidsTale
Catch up on The Handmaid’s Tale and binge season one on SBS On Demand now!