The Handmaid’s Tale (2017) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2018.

Review refers to the first season.

Subject

Modernized from the novel.

Commentary

There are attempts to preserve the literary aspects of the original, but the style and plot gradually depart from that template. The Mexican trade delegation in episode 6 is the first major departure: There is explicit talk of how Gilead has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions and of global warming wreaking havoc.

This was made in and for the Trump presidency. In episode 6, Fred Waterford—whose identity is a topic of speculation in the book’s epilogue—talks about upcoming terrorist attacks in a movie theater like a /pol/-trained neo-Nazi and his tradwife. She is a capable co-conspirator who helps author the laws of Gilead yet is surprised to find they apply to her. This sort of timeliness caused the show to win its Emmys, including the first streaming “best drama”.

Reading the show as a warning to its time, the implication is that somebody as regressive as Mike Pence, as venomous as Stephen Miller and as grim as Steve Bannon conquered all democratic institutions and all other resistance in one presidential term. However, the takeover appears to have happened just as suddenly as in the original, plunging a modern society with Uber and pervasive third-wave feminism directly into Atwood’s dystopia in a violent false-flag coup d’état.

This is not a Ziblatt-Levitsky scenario of democracy eroding from within through short-termist loyalty. Climate change, though it is acknowledged, does not seem to have been a real driver either. Coloured and homosexual characters are even more common than they were in the novel, further emphasizing progress made since the 1980s while pretending this diversity adds no resilience.

The writers had plenty of room to treat this weakness. They chose to fail. Episode 7 seeks another new territory, a generic apocalyptic picaresque about the protagonist’s lost husband, presumed dead in the book. Episode 9 goes from there into soap-opera spycraft. Episode 10 adds a feel-good girl-power twist to the novel’s ending, a mismatched heroism to signal that the show is on the viewer’s side against tyranny. Atwood is better than that. Having run out of novel to steal from, and unable to emulate the original, the writers strand themselves.

fiction moving picture series