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TV Series Review

Gilead is dying.

That may be a surprise to the guys in charge. After all, Gilead replaced the godless government of the United States, installing in its stead a strict theocracy. This section of the New World is now God's country, its laws drawn straight from the Old Testament. Or so its rulers say.

Alas, God still withholds favor. Pregnancies are rare. Viable children are rarer still. The environmental catastrophe that accompanied the revolution has rendered huge swaths of the earth barren and the human population infertile. And that makes the few proven remaining fertile women particularly desirable.

Offred is one such a baby-bearing handmaid in the land of Gilead. She used to belong to the rich and powerful Waterford family, and her name means, literally, "of Fred," as in Commander Fred Waterford. But she currently resides with one of Gilead’s creators, the unsuspecting Commander Lawrence. Either way, she lives to breed.

And so she has. By the second season, she carries and births the child of Nick, the Waterford's chauffer. And by Season 3, Offred has successfully helped a close friend to escape across the border, with the promise that she’ll take Offred’s baby to a safer place. A place like the one she remembers.

You see, there was a time when Offred was simply called June and had a husband of her own. And a daughter. She remembers an age in which women weren't owned, but could be owners—masters of their own fate and able to buy property and drive cars and read and even choose their own mate.

Perhaps it wasn't a perfect time. But since the birth of her new baby, she’s determined to find her daughter a better, freer place to grow up. A place where she can play Scrabble without fear of losing a hand.

Hulu's Much-Praised, Problematic Prestige Show

Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale, based on the landmark dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood, gives us a world that is indeed worse for some—particularly if you're a woman. Atwood's story damns a certain kind of demeaning Christian fundamentalism, even though the vast majority of Christians would find this world horrific and repulsive.

Atwood herself refutes the idea that her Tale is anti-Christian. In an interview for The New York Times, she said that the theo-political powers in her Gilead destroyed other Christian sects (Catholics and the Baptists, specifically), while other Christian groups are running a sort of underground railroad. "So the book is not 'antireligion,'" she says. "It is against the use of religion as a front for tyranny; which is a different thing altogether." And now in its third season, we begin to see more positive portrayals of people of faith—even if their own faith may depart, in certain critical instances, from Christian orthodoxy.

Still, the story certainly could stoke anti-religious sentiments, and it's unquestionably meant to serve as a cautionary tale of the perils of religious fundamentalism. Its overtly "Christian" characters are the story's most evil and, often, the most debauched. As such, The Handmaid's Tale has the power to shock and offend.

But even if we set aside The Handmaid's Tale's spiritual trappings, Hulu's much-lauded series still has problems aplenty.

A Bleak World Indeed

Sex is absolutely central to this story, and, especially early on, we saw a lot of it: the awkward breeding rituals involving a man mating with someone while his wife stands right there. The illicit encounters that handmaids have with secret paramours, filled with nudity and sexual movements. Even in a society where fidelity and sexual purity is supposedly prized, infidelity is prolific and sometimes encouraged (in a desperate effort to create new children). Homosexual relationships are a serious concern for the powers of Gilead, but often flourish anyway. Genital mutilation is verbally referenced and, we hear, committed. Brothels, technically illegal but officially tolerated, are frequented.

Gilead can be a violent place, too. The leadership justifies its strict, sometimes horrific punishments using Scripture: Minor infractions might cost handmaids hands, eyes or other body parts. One unfortunate young woman spends most of the series with scar tissue covering one of her eye sockets. But we see violence elsewhere, too. People die, sometimes in pretty terrible ways. And as rebellion burbles under Gilead’s bleak surface, the violence will likely grow.

The Handmaid's Tale is a troubling story, one that casts Christians in Satan's role and freely shows us the sins in which he revels.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

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Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Aug. 14, 2019: "Mayday"
Aug. 7, 2019: "Sacrifice"
July 31, 2019: "Liars"
July 24, 2019: "Witness"
July 17, 2019: "Heroic"
July 10, 2019: "Unfit"
July 3, 2019: "Under His Eye"
June 26, 2019: "Household"
June 5, 2019: "Night"
July 10, 2018: "The Word"
The Handmaid's Tale: May 16, 2018 "Seeds"
The Handmaid's Tale: May 10, 2017 "Faithful"



Readability Age Range



Elisabeth Moss as Offred/June; Yvonne Strahovski as Serena Joy; Alexis Bledel as Ofglen/Emily; O-T Fagbenle as Luke; Max Minghella as Nick; Amanda Brugel as Rita; Joseph Fiennes as The Commander; Samira Wiley as Moira; Jordana Blake as Hannah; Sydney Sweeney as Eden; Bradley Whitford as The Architect; Ashleigh LaThrop as Ofmatthew; Ann Dowd as Aunt Lydia; Joseph Fiennes as Fred Waterford; Julie Dretzin as Eleanor Lawrence; Christopher Meloni as Commander Winslow; Elizabeth Reaser as Olivia Winslow






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On Video

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