I watched Handmaid’s Tale this week, the latest in the “adult” themed shows on Hulu this last week, and I found some interesting political and philosophical themes in the show’s universe, as well as some glaringly obvious problems with the show. Here is Paul Davis Radio’s Handmaid’s Tale Review.
Entertainment Review: Buyer Beware
Before I go much further, I must point out that this show has its share of dystopian activities portrayed in it. While not on the same level as Game of Thrones, Handmaid’s Tale has violence, nudity, and sexual themes throughout. Unlike certain shows where you can easily skip certain scenes or episodes and get something mildly clean, The Handmaid’s Tale is rooted in a universe where sex and reproduction is the basis of every current problem, so you can’t really avoid the sex and still understand what the show is about.
While the universe Hadmaid’s Tale portrays is brutal, gritty, and stark, the actors do a great job of also showing the beauty of the people who truly wrestle with God. Memorable moments are watching the pain that pushes the main antagonist couple, Commander and Mrs. Waterford (Played by Ralph Fiennes and Yvonne Strahovski), watching the change in the group of Handmaids that leads them to refuse an order to kill their friend.
There are many gritty moments, and many moments of beauty, but do not watch this without a discerning eye and heart.
Issues with Handmaid’s Tale
I noticed several issues with the universe that Margaret Atwood created for the novel, and they really stick out in a movie format.
Setting the Scene
The main plot of Handmaid’s Tale is one of a religious cult gaining complete and total control of most of the United States. The show covers New England and mentions several other east coast cities. The only mention of a country west of the Mississippi is saying that the capital of the United States is in Anchorage, AK and the flag has only two stars.
The antagonists in the show are a group of Christian fundamentalists who call themselves the “Sons of Jacob.” Besides an obsession with family, reproductive issue, power, and “traditional” values, there are no religious identifiers that show who is a Son of Jacob.
- Puritan Revival – Atwood must have created this show by asking what would happen if the worst of Puritan culture was able to gain a revival in its original foothold (New England) and take control of the entire United States from there. New England has been one of the least likely areas in the US to create a powerful Christian cult over the last five decades, because of how proudly and profoundly secular they are. Although the show tries to show the transition from secular place in the eyes of the main character and her best friend (a lesbian), there are many cultural leaps necessary to believe that suddenly the majority of people in Boston would support the Sons of Jacob regime.
- What about the LDS? As a westerner, I have to think that the very scenario Atwood brings up (mass sterility and barrenness) would likely have a natural antidote in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. If you are not familiar with the teachings of Mormonism, for this review, the important thing to realize is that the Mormon scriptures and teaching integrate family as an important part of faith. Getting married and having kids is key to entry in the Celestial Kingdom, and for this reason, Mormons currently have an average of 3.5 children per couple, as opposed to 2.3 children per couple in Evangelical and Catholic families (Source: Deseret News) So, if you are going to have a dystopian world based on the need to have more kids, it is a major mistake to overlook a religious group that effectively controls at least 4 western states and has such high fertility numbers.
- The Quaker/Puritan Divide – If you are not familiar with history, you may not know where Atwood pulls some of her source material from, including the mentioning of a Quaker underground railroad to Canada. The Quaker/Puritan divide was a significant part of American history and through the last appeals of one Quaker preacher, Mary Dyer, this divide resulted in the end of religious death penalties in the 13 colonies. This was an interesting theme woven throughout the series.
- Deseret – I asked earlier about what happens to the fertile families in Mormon areas, but I also wonder how the Sons of Jacob could seize power of the vast resources of the western United States, including significant nuclear arsenals located in Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, and the Dakotas. These areas have large amounts of self-sufficient individuals, experience dealing with religious friction and fractions, and an already strong centralized religious structure in the form of the LDS Church. While Atwood just relegates the flyover states to “the colonies” where people are sent to die, there is a glaring gap in addressing a major historical and political issue. Does the western states succeed after the decapitation of the Federal government and set up their own counter country that still holds to the Bill of RIghts and the Constitution? Are they supporting the government in exile in Alaska?
These are some of the issues that I saw were missed in Hulu’s Handmaid’s Tale. Have you watched it? Do you refuse to watch it? What are some of your thoughts?