The Handmaid's Tale: Offred
April 26, 2017 9:19 AM - Season 1, Episode 1 - Subscribe

Offred, one the few fertile women known as Handmaids in the oppressive Republic of Gilead, struggles to survive as a reproductive surrogate for a powerful Commander and his resentful wife.
posted by Fizz (57 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Just finished watching the first episode. I think this is going to be a deeply thought-provoking and engaging television watching experience.

I particularly like the way it has been filmed. Those close up shots of Elizabeth Moss make her performance so intense and claustrophobic. The entire first episode is actually filled with lots of zoomed in cinematography. It's a very heavy and personal tone.
posted by Fizz at 9:30 AM on April 26, 2017 [5 favorites]

Agreed. The material is horrifying and the directing & filming definitely seem to be enhancing the source text. I'm trying not to binge watch the first three episodes so I can let the horror of each one ripen nicely. I liked that about old-school TV.
posted by janell at 10:30 AM on April 26, 2017 [2 favorites]


Everyone is so well cast. And the visuals of all those red habits and white caps were fantastic.

And the slap! I could tell that was Atwood from her shadow!

I loved that she revealed an important piece of information in her very last line. It's something that's never said outright in the novel, and it's such an effective way of showing that this telling of the story will reveal more than what's in the book.
posted by mochapickle at 10:50 AM on April 26, 2017 [5 favorites]

That last line floored me. My husband (who hasn't read the book) didn't get why. It had me in tears. I love that they still found a way to surprise us. She has a name.
posted by web-goddess at 3:19 PM on April 26, 2017 [19 favorites]

Yeah this is a serious achievement. Having just read the novel back in November, it's fresh on my mind. I think they've done an amazing job - almost every moment is deeply uncomfortable to watch. Even two or three seconds of chatting about oranges quickly becomes horrible when someone over shares themselves probably into serious shit.

I agree with everything said above about the shooting choices. So many thoughts I don't even know where to start.
posted by absalom at 3:53 PM on April 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Looking forward to seeing the rest of the series. Very interested in what elements they'll add on in addition to what's shown in the movie.

Elisabeth Moss is great. A Faye Dunaway role is a big one to fill by Yvonne Strahovski but it seems like she's up to the task.

I wonder what (if any) reaction there'll be from the right/those that this tale is trying to warn against.
posted by porpoise at 4:04 PM on April 26, 2017

I can't imagine binge watching this. After one episode, I need to decompress and heal.
posted by meese at 6:33 PM on April 26, 2017 [5 favorites]

Watching now-- "this will feel ordinary". Shivers.
posted by travertina at 6:53 PM on April 26, 2017 [15 favorites]

This was so good. Really intense, really scary, but amazingly well-done.

I remember the flashbacks in the book being a bit detached. Which makes sense, because the character of Offred/June is detached as a coping mechanism. But it meant they didn't necessarily have as strong an emotional impact as they might have. You definitely can't say that about the show. Confession: I fast-forwarded through the opening scene because I knew what would happen and couldn't bear to watch it. What a way to start.
posted by lunasol at 7:00 PM on April 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

I fast-forwarded that part, too!
posted by mochapickle at 7:17 PM on April 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

I also can't stop thinking about the ritualized execution of the rapist. It was shocking to see all the women so gleefully join in, but it actually makes sense - they can turn all their rage at this extreme partiarchal dystopia (in which they themselves are raped on a regular basis) onto one person. It's pressure valve and the powers that be must know that.
posted by lunasol at 8:06 PM on April 26, 2017 [11 favorites]

I also can't stop thinking about the ritualized execution of the rapist

Yeah, it was a nice touch, and reminded me of 1984's 10-minutes hate as well. Given the biblical nature of Gilead, I thought stoning would have been appropriate.

My memories of the book are dim, I haven't read it since it came out in the 80s, so my comments are based on setting it as a film. The costuming is great. I didn't like the opening -- a car chase, really? My choice would have been to open with everyday life, so that it appears we're seeing a terrible colony, then after the sex scene, slowly start giving the back story. The exposition feels a little forced.

So far, the acting is pretty good. I found the closing theme a bit jarring. I get the irony of the lyrics, but the do-wop music was so different in style to everything else, it felt odd.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 8:18 PM on April 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

It's everything I hoped and dreamed. And I am grateful for little things like the Margaret Atwood cameo and the closing song, because this is so bleak that gallows humor is better than none at all.

Thoughts on show only v. book included discussion? Without specifics, things escalated quickly here compared to the timing of certain events in the book, considering there are still 9 more episodes to go. I also missed Offred/June's horrifyingly clinical narration of the ceremony, although omitting it for the show makes sense - here‚Äč her constant running commentary disappears as we see her willing herself not to think about or react to what is happening.
posted by Flannery Culp at 9:39 PM on April 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

This book is (for a number of not relevant reasons) super duper important to me, and I am super duper picky/snobby/wary of book-to-tv adaptations anyway, so I've been utterly on edge about this and how it would turn out.

It's phenomenal. I both cannot bear and cannot wait to see more.

The scenes in the Red Centre always felt the most unreal/fictional dystopian-y to me in the book, and were always the one part that, for me, while they totally worked thematically/allegorically/etc, were always on the verge of shattering my suspension of disbelief because they just seemed a step too far.

In this adaptation, however, they've managed to make those scenes feel so viscerally wrong, yet also feel incredibly banal and real and POSSIBLE...the repurposed gymnasium, June in her street clothes, the ever-present threat of violence that you know can become real arbitrarily and at any moment.
Chilling. Fantastic. Horrible.

Re: the Salvaging. That scene comes MUCH later in the book (and plays out quite differently) and I'm curious about the decision to frontload it here, and change a few crucial things. I (shockingly, for a tv adaptation) actually trust that the creators had a solid reason for making the choice, so I'd be interested to hear why they did it....
posted by Dorinda at 9:46 PM on April 26, 2017 [5 favorites]

Was that a Margret Atwood cameo during the shaming circle scene? Slapping Janine?
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 11:04 PM on April 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

Typing as I watch. I kinda hate that Elisabeth Moss is Offred, because she's part of a dangerous religion herself, but she's also an excellent actress. The facial acting in the first fifteen minutes is fantastic. "This will become ordinary." I'm hugging my dog now. That aquarium scene was so well shot. "Whose fault was it?" Ugh, chilling. Oh, the Ceremony was actually tastefully done. Awful, but palatable, and I think the female audience deserved that. It was gross, of course, but not porny. I'm oddly thankful for that. There's only so much awfulness I can take. Samira Wiley, though. Even though the Handmaidens in the book are white white white, for reasons, Samira Wiley is a treasure. Janine is so heartbreakingly broken. The Salvaging made my skin crawl. Janine looked so blissful. That made me so physically uncomfortable. I can't remember, was Ofglen I gay in the book? And did we ever learn Offred's name in the book? I lent my copy out to a friend months ago, so I can't check. And oh, that song for the ending credits is perfect.
posted by Ruki at 11:49 PM on April 26, 2017

There is one line in the book where Ofglen is accused of "gender treachery", but nothing about her personal history.
posted by Flannery Culp at 4:47 AM on April 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

It's isn't just Moss's face acting in close up that's amazing, her voiceover work is also incredible. Tiny shifts in tone that convey so much meaning and attitude. The combo of the voiceover played against the closeup face, giving all sides at once.
posted by dnash at 5:22 AM on April 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

YES, the scenes at the Red Center were so horrifyingly plausible. And Moss's performance was so amazing. She's sitting there, just cringing in terror and confusion. And the way she's looking at Janine when she's mouthing off and sort of leaning away from her. Like she's afraid that she'll be punished with her just because she happens to be sitting next to her. And I also liked that bit as a sort of rebuke to people who judge the handmaids for not fighting back. Guess what, Janine DID fight back the only way she could and she got her fucking eye ripped out. For just smarting off. EYE RIPPED OUT. FOR SNICKERING.

I was hyperventilating and crying during the scene where June's daughter was ripped away from her while they both screamed and she begged them not to take her. Worst nightmare shit right there.

This show is SO well-done and perfect. The book has haunted me for 20 years. Now I have the show. ...Hooray?

(Also, I probably shouldn't have watched all three episodes in one sitting but it happened.)
posted by Aquifer at 7:00 AM on April 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

I had to pause and get up and walk around a bit in the middle of this episode. It's gorgeous and dreamlike and brutal and really crafts and amazing world. I can't imagine watching this without having read the book -- it would have been shocking not knowing where all of this was going.

I am glad that episodes are going to be released weekly after this. I watched all three last night and that was ... too much.
posted by darksong at 7:01 AM on April 27, 2017

My husband is vaguely familiar with the story but hasn't read the book or seen the movie, and I was intensely impacted by both when I was 19 years old, so we are watching this from a weird juxtaposition of perspectives, including that I am almost unbearably tense watching it.

I am incredibly impressed with the writing-acting-directing combination, at least in the first episode, because they've done an amazing job portraying the physical tension of trapped women. In the Red Center, on the street, in the house, every woman (the Marthas and Serena Joy included) has that tension around her eyes and in her neck tendons.

I think I was too young originally to really get that the clock was running out, but the scene in Loaves and Fishes when Offred and Ofglen are talking to the younger handmaids (whose excitement level suggests they don't really remember Before) and they both look so much older and you realize their chances of conceiving are pretty slim, between the stress and age/toxin exposure.

We started to watch the second episode, but I caved and asked to watch something lighter, like The Americans.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:50 AM on April 27, 2017 [11 favorites]

Well done all around.

There's no way I'm watching more than one of these at a time.
posted by vibrotronica at 10:31 AM on April 27, 2017 [6 favorites]

This is really good so far--I'm enjoying it about on a level with or possibly even a little more than the movie, and a bit more than the book. I'm curious to see what they do differently with the story and how much more harrowing it might get.

I've also learned that I am a terrible person, though, because right before the Salvaging with Aunt Lydia, this was all I could think of.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 2:11 PM on April 27, 2017

That was the hardest thing to sit through I've watched in awhile. Every little detail was just so perfectly considered and horrifying.

Definitely count me in the group of people who are not binging this.
posted by mordax at 10:59 PM on April 27, 2017

I love how unmade-up all of the women are, especially with so many of them filmed in extreme close-ups. No make-up, no jewelry, even for the commanders' wives. Uncovered hair is pulled back. Women are not ornamental in Gilead; they only serve their limited purpose. It unites the classes of women in a way, the same way that shared look between Serena Joy and June when the men went into their meeting put them briefly on the same side.

I really like the careful choices the production made both to represent the book and to build the world.
posted by gladly at 10:52 AM on April 28, 2017 [10 favorites]

I marvel at the detail. The back of Offred's bedroom door has holes where a hook once was.
posted by mochapickle at 11:31 AM on April 28, 2017 [12 favorites]

The Handmaid's don't have shoelaces. Chilling.
posted by cooker girl at 12:52 PM on April 28, 2017 [8 favorites]

Hey guys who have watched this already: what age is the age you would let a teenager watch this? I'm trying to figure out if letting my teenager watch this with me as a dire warning is the best or worst idea.
posted by corb at 6:11 PM on April 28, 2017

It's not an easy show & it's not going to get any easier as we go. Only you know your kid & what they can process.
posted by scalefree at 7:17 PM on April 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm trying to figure out if letting my teenager watch this with me as a dire warning is the best or worst idea.

One of my closest friends asked me if she should watch it, and all I could think to compare it to was Jessica Jones, but worse. So my advice is, whatever your feelings were there, assume this is cranked up a few notches in intensity and discussions you will need to have afterward.
posted by mordax at 7:21 PM on April 28, 2017

Yeah, corb, I'm wondering if maybe it's best to watch the whole season first and then decide because you know your kid the best. I read it at 15 and it was probably the most shaping thing I've ever read, and I say this 25+ years later.

I'm not sure if you've read the book yet... If you have, I'd probably ask if they want to read the book and then, if it's resonating with them, ask them if they'd like to watch the series.
posted by mochapickle at 7:32 PM on April 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh, and the detail thing... Offred's bathroom has no mirror.
posted by mochapickle at 7:33 PM on April 28, 2017 [5 favorites]

How old is your teenager, corb? Like, 13-14, eh...maybe not. A mature 15 year old...maybe. 16-17, yes. I was 17 when I read the book and that was the right age for me. I was not only mature enough to handle the material, but sort of aware of the world around me enough to really understand it and how frighteningly plausible it was.
posted by Aquifer at 10:02 PM on April 29, 2017

The book was assigned to my daughter's 11th grade honors English class just this past fall. She was 16, the same age I was when I read it (again, assigned reading in high school). So if she's around that age, and has been reading books of a similar level, I say let her read it first before watching it with her. The book was really hard to get through because it's terrifying. The show is like one gut punch after another for the entire length of the episode. It's harder, for sure.
posted by cooker girl at 8:34 AM on April 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have started but not finished the book. Should I finish it before beginning the show?
posted by Monochrome at 7:21 PM on April 30, 2017

Wow, this was amazingly done. It's been long enough since I read the book that I didn't know how much of June's internal monologue was taken directly from it, but it's surely in Atwood's voice, fiercely intelligent with a mordant edge to it.
posted by whir at 8:44 PM on April 30, 2017

Hey there, Monochome. I think you should wrap up the book.

Without giving any spoilers, in the first three episodes, the series follows the book closely but also rounds out the universe with more details, so it's fascinating to compare the book with how the show's creators have chosen to expand on it.
posted by mochapickle at 9:34 PM on April 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

This was really raw. I haven't read the book in many years, so I am holding off rereading.

I'm curious about the rapist -- I wonder how they define rape, because I would not be sure that he didn't have consensual sex with a handmaid, which is rape aka property theft and then when she was tasered for it she miscarried, or the miscarriage was a lie. (Particicution! Ugh.)

The set design in the store was excellent, though I wonder why the milk was allowed to have numbers on it.
posted by jeather at 7:48 AM on May 1, 2017

I think the book suggests that it's possible that they just made up the crimes entirely sometimes because it served their purposes. This man could have been a spy, or could have stolen something, or could have been smuggling in books from the outside, or could have spoken out against the wrong person.

But what's a tiny lie when it helps Aunt Lydia. It directly helps her by convincing the women that:

- Men are to be feared (so they don't interact with men or seek aid from them)
- It convinces the women that there are more pregnancies than there actually are (so they have hope and purpose, making them easier for Aunt Lydia to manage)
- Aunt Lydia is protecting them (so they build trust in Aunt Lydia alone)

It also helps the women blow off some steam, so they don't direct violence elsewhere.

Most importantly, it makes them all complicit. They know that this is wrong, but they're all part of it. It works the same way the chanting and fingerpointing at the Red Center did.
posted by mochapickle at 8:13 AM on May 1, 2017 [13 favorites]

My initial reaction to this was that I didn't think I could watch anymore of it. It's reassuring to see so many others note that it was a hard watch and requires some digestion and space between viewings.
posted by jeoc at 5:20 PM on May 1, 2017

I watched it and I was sick to my stomach the entire time. I love the book, or rather, I loved the book when I read it first 15 years ago, before November when it became a blaring warning horn rather than a near miss.

I thought the show was fantastic. I'm going to need to steel myself before every goddamn episode.

(My daughter has the same stuffed animal June's daughter carries in the woods. I almost started hyperventilating right from the beginning).
posted by lydhre at 7:28 PM on May 2, 2017

I don't remember if this was in the book or not, but one thing I found really chilling was the way they are clearly slowly removing the ability to read from women. All the cans in the store have no words, the other handmaid is hastily trying to assure that she hasn't read the news, and most tellingly, even the Bible is in a locked box.
posted by corb at 11:54 AM on May 3, 2017 [13 favorites]

I wonder how they define rape

All the things mochapickle says, but I also believe you've hit the nail on the head with the 'definition' of rape. The Handmaids are raped ritually, so part of Aunt Lydia's job is to differentiate their experience from the concept of rape. She's re-defining (or narrowing the definition of) rape so that when they're piously restrained and raped during the Ceremony, that experience is normalized, the people involved are absolved, and the Handmaids disassociate themselves from the concept and personae of rape, rapists, and the raped.

The Salvaging is such a perfect storm of oppression, it is utterly disgusting and plausible.
posted by carsonb at 1:19 PM on May 3, 2017 [8 favorites]

That's an interesting point: when something is ritualised, it becomes acceptable, or "good". That's why circumcision (male and female) is controversial, rather than universally condemned, or child brides. While the women are technically being raped, they're trained to see it as a type of religious ceremony with named roles and a kind of miraculous result.

Who designed this ritual? A man or a woman? And how many iterations did it take to find a way that was suitably traditional-seeming?

The Salvaging is such a perfect storm of oppression, it is utterly disgusting and plausible.

The plausibility of the whole story is the scariest thing about it.
posted by tracicle at 1:42 AM on May 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm late but wanted to say I'm very impressed with the first episode. A bit confused about how much they front-loaded though; the Ceremony, the Salvaging. Those were delayed much further in the movie and I think also in the book. It makes me curious what the plan is for the full season, if they're already going to start injecting new story this first year.

My favorite line was "I don't need oranges. I need to scream." Moss' delivery on that was phenomenal.
posted by Nelson at 10:59 AM on May 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

they're trained to see it as a type of religious ceremony with named roles and a kind of miraculous result.

Another thing that I was thinking about was Serena Joy's involvement. Can you call a woman a cuckold? How did she learn her role in the ritual? How was she trained to accept the forcible rape of another woman? To coddle it in her lap and grip it by the wrists? Offred/June and the Handmaids all have the 'benefit' of psychological and physical torture to reconcile themselves to the act, but what has brought Serena Joy to this point, to her role in the ritual her life has become?
posted by carsonb at 8:09 AM on May 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

odinsdream, I really like this headcannon. And it goes well with the character's backstory in the book: she was a televangelist, which seems roughly equivalent in the 80s to being a Fox News anchor today.

This, though:

But capitalism turns out to be actually totally compatible with theocratic fascism.

This is the thing that I think is hardest to reconcile about this dystopia, because it doesn't actually seem like it is still a capitalist system. Also, women are the engines of American consumer capitalism, especially younger women (ie, young adults, mothers), so it seems like keeping any of them from having jobs would completely destroy our current iteration of capitalism.
posted by lunasol at 12:30 PM on May 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

So I'm a little late to the party. My wife started watching without me, and now I'm catching up. There are some quibbles I have with the world of Gilead, but they're kind of missing the point, so I won't bother sharing them here. I do have one question, though. What exactly is the point of the Wife class? If they're infertile women, why aren't they just cast aside? I understand there's a class privilege, but Gilead isn't the type of place that would take it easy on women for sentimental reasons. Wouldn't it be more likely that they just banished them to the Colonies or killed them or whatever? Then, instead of having a separate Handmaid class, they would just arrange marriages of proven fertile women (current handmaids) to Commanders? It would be economically more feasible (this is related to one of my other quibbles), and more ideologically consistent?

And if there are going to be Wives in the future, how does one get to be a Wife? Class won't matter, because all children will be the offspring of Commanders and Handmaids. So what will distinguish a Wife from a Handmaid in the generation that's currently being birthed by Handmaids? Will there even be Wives at that point, or will the distinction blur? And if that's the case, then why not just get rid of the Wives now like I suggested before?

Yes, I realize these are questions that only men would ask. But I really am curious.

Elisabeth Moss really is a wonderful actress.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:43 AM on May 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

they would just arrange marriages of proven fertile women (current handmaids) to Commanders

a) There's not enough handmaids to go around, so they need to be shared between multiple Commanders (and, one assumes, the Commander class is getting larger but not more fertile all the time) for genetic reasons and also so all the Commanders get their baby reward
b) which makes the handmaids, already substandard goods, used-up sluts
c) and not good pious trophy wives to run the households and, nominally, attend to the rest of their husband's sexual needs.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:00 AM on May 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I think it's about the good ol' fashioned virgin-whore dynamic, with a class sheen (as so often is the case). A lot of the Handmaids would otherwise be unsuitable as Wives for powerful men - like June who tried to run away, Emily who is a lesbian, or Janine who is a "loose woman." (ugh) But these powerful men need someone to run the household, be their "helpmeets."

As for future generations - that's an interesting question, and one that I've never thought about. I would imagine that the wives would be drawn from the class of girls raised by the powerful men and Wives, since the narrative about them is so strongly that they are the Wives' children. I could see a situation where girls actually didn't want to be fertile, because that would doom them to being a Handmaiden instead of a Wife.

In the books there are also "econowives," the wives of poorer men, and I'm not really sure how they figure into this whole system.
posted by lunasol at 12:51 PM on May 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

I think there's been one offhand comment about econowives so far, we haven't gotten to the real denouement about them yet, though I'm sure it's coming.

There was a scene, and now I can't remember if it was the first or second episode, but Offred walks or is driven past a school-type-place and there are a bunch of little girls lining up outside in what I thought were pale pink (the light was weird, it didn't seem quite white) long dresses and a shower-cap-type bonnet rather than a wingy habit hat. And I couldn't remember if the book tells us what the plan is for girls.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:19 PM on May 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

I would think you would need wives to maintain the sheen of "normality" against the insanity of what is actually happening. Plus, the wives would be "chosen" by the men so are just as much property as the handmaidens but personal rather than communal.

and now I need to go and have a shower after typing that.
posted by fullerine at 2:17 PM on May 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Superficial observation but Volvo 240's go forever, also but they're pretty stable and it bugged me that it seemed like it was just driven of the road, just don't swerve for bunnies when racing to escape from evil authoritarian thugs.
posted by sammyo at 11:35 AM on May 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'll see your superficial observation and raise you one: why was their capture dependent on Luke swerving in the first place? Does Gilead not understand how to set up a roadblock? They're in rural New England; there simply aren't that many places they could be driving. And chances are they're not the first people to think about driving north to Canada. If the Gileadeers had any foresight, they'd establish regular checkpoints on roads like these. But then, Gilead doesn't seem like a very well-run regime.
posted by kevinbelt at 3:24 PM on May 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

As long as we are doing superficial observations, can I just note all the fail in the depiction of the Arlington T station a bit later in the series? Starting with the fact that the Arlington station isn't actually in Arlington, but instead is directly outside the Boston Public Library, which makes the entire bit of dialog about "getting to Boston" completely meaningless? Not to mention the scenic design which, ok, they were filming in some location, but painting the pillars green should not have been that hard. So much of the art direction is so spot on, it was exceptionally jarring to have this be so far off where it needed to be (and which Google would have solved in about fifteen seconds) that it impacted everything that came afterwards for me.
posted by anastasiav at 9:03 AM on May 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Just started watching this pretty much having just read the book for the first time. I don't know if I agree with some of the characterization and the order of sequences, but tv shows are now considered to be their own thing anyway. I do like that they flesh out some of the events in the book more. I think my biggest complaint is that they seemed to age down everyone in the household except for Offered and Rita. Not sure if that was a decision to have younger/more attractive actors be in the show, but it seemed unnecessary. Also, the world seems to less strict? The handmaids seem to be able to touch and talk much more freely.

Overall it's a very well done show. Every episode is very impactful.

I'm only through episode 3. Will Cora show up?
posted by numaner at 7:53 PM on May 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

I know I'm late here, but I figured that the New England roads were ridiculously icy since public services seem to have dropped off. The roads seem in bad condition, period.
posted by frecklefaerie at 1:35 PM on April 30, 2018

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