Blessed be the fruit. May the lord open.
Some of you may recognise those words from the television series “The Handmaid’s Tale”. TW and I have been watching it via SBS On Demand and, just watched the last episode. It had such an impact that I thought I’d put my impressions out there. This is by no means an episode-by-episode run down, but I should put in a spoiler alert here as I’m going to inevitably give away parts of the story.
To begin with, it’s intense. GOT is intense, but this is different. Yes, there’s violence and although short lived, it is graphic. But that’s not where it draws it’s intensity from. The story is brimming over with unjust, immoral, hypocritical and generally poor treatment of the Handmaids. Doesn’t sound like much of a draw card on it’s own does it? Put it together with a plausible synopsis, strong acting and superb character development and you have winner. But I’m getting ahead of myself so let’s paint the picture first.
Based on the novel by Margaret Atwood, the story appears to be set in the present day and takes place in the country of Gilead. Gilead is made up of several former states of the United States of America, although it’s not made clear how many. Christian fundamentalists calling themselves the Sons of Jacob staged a violent coup, killing the president and most of congress and blaming it on terrorists. They quickly filled the power vacuum, taking control of the country using a fundamentalist/old testament based government. Set against the backdrop of declining world fertility rates, these modern day crusaders have taken it upon themselves to rectify the declining population figures through their own new world order.
It started slowly. First, women were prevented from holding bank accounts or working, holding positions of power, they were not allowed to read, or drive. Any women who are still fertile are rounded up and trained to be Handmaids, who are assigned to a family as slave surrogates for rich white women who are unable to bear children. Submitting themselves to the “Ceremony” each month, the girls are raped by the man of the house in the hope they become pregnant. If they do have a child, all they can look forward to is giving the child up and then being assigned to another family where it will begin again.
You’re constantly questioning how humans can treat each other like this and repeatedly sickened by the indifferent attitudes of the wives towards the handmaids until they become pregnant. Even then, they’re treated like animals.
Anyone who defies the system, or tries to flee is punished or killed. Punishments include removing an eye or a hand. Execution is by public hanging where the bodies are left as a reminder to others. Spies are everywhere and there is no hope for the Handmaids. The rest of the world is unaware of their fate, or otherwise indifferent. It’s a horrifying concept, but there’s enough hope in the story to keep you interested. I reinforce that it is intense. TW and I had to balance this intensity out by watching an episode of Red Dwarf after each session, otherwise it would leave us both with a restless sensation.
One of the things that stands out about the story is that, although fantasy, it’s not as far-fetched as you may initially imagine. I have met fundamentalist christians who share many of the beliefs portrayed in the show, chiefly the position of women as stay at home child-bearers. Even as recently as last month, it has become public knowledge of how men of the church counselled victims of domestic violence to stand by their men and be true to the bible. I’m not saying this is our future, but the plausibility of the situation is one of the things that makes this show so good. The leap isn’t that great. But it’s still messed up.
I’ve left out a lot of detail as I don’t want to spoil it for those of you who haven’t watched it yet. If you’re looking for a series to occupy yourself with I highly recommend The Handmaid’s Tale. You might just need a stiff drink afterwards.
Blessed be the fruit. May the lord open.