Many secular critics are in a lather, fretting that the series somehow represents the near future. The story is set in an alternate present (Uber is even mentioned) when environmental pollution has devastated female fertility, and a war has caused Gilead, an oppressive theocratic dictatorship, to break off from the United States.
Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men”) stars as Offred, who is captured into this regime because she was proven to be fertile. Her husband was shot, and her daughter taken. Now she’s given over to a wealthy man and his barren wife as a “handmaid” — inspired by the story of Leah and Rachel in the Book of Genesis. Offred and her wealthy master (Joseph Fiennes) go through highly ritualized sex in hopes of producing offspring (which obviously does not please the wife, played by Yvonne Strahovski).
While the regime has Old Testament overtones (but no New Testament ones), it is emphatically not Catholic. True to Atwood’s novel — in which Quakers, Jews and Catholics are enemies of Gilead — a Catholic priest is seen hung in the first episode, along with others, including a gay man.
At a press event last summer, I asked executive producer Bruce Miller how faith was handled in the show. Here’s the exchange:
QUESTION: In the book Gilead is run under the auspices of a very specific form of biblical fundamentalism, and Quakers, Jews, Catholics are not welcome, not considered our friends at all. So, how do you deal with the religious aspects in the series?
BRUCE MILLER: Well, interestingly, in the book they’re dealt with in a very specific way. I mean, I don’t think they ever go to church once in the book. You know, it’s a society that’s based kind of in a perversion misreading of Old Testament laws and codes, but I don’t think — even Margaret Atwood said it isn’t — they aren’t Christians, the people who are running Gilead. You know, I think that we deal with it the same way they deal with it in the book. You know, in the pilot, in the next few episodes, they’re tearing churches down that are not — that are anything besides their sect. I think there are a lot of parallels between the book and certainly the TV show and life in Puritan times. And I would say that we use that as — or the writing staff has been using that as a big parallel. You know, this country gets a reputation for being a place where people came from religious freedom. The Puritans who came liked their religious freedom, but not anybody else’s. So, certainly, there were no other churches besides the Puritan church. And, so, the way that they dealt with outsiders is, I think, slightly nicer or slightly meaner than the people in Gilead. I think they branded Quakers on the forehead — didn’t they — with Qs and stuff like that, and sent them out of the state. So, I think we’re trying to harken back to that origin story for the — that Margaret used as the beginning for this book.
So, if any religious group gets a black eye in this, one supposes it’s the Puritans, and they’re not really around to complain.
Seems to me that the world has plenty of horrors these days perpetuated against women and girls about which high-profile Hulu series could be made — if one had the courage to risk upsetting political correctness.
Perhaps, it’s much easier to panic at imagined dangers than to portray real ones.
As Megan McArdle of Bloomberg.com sagely observes:
“The Handmaid’s Tale” is becoming less plausible a future with each passing year, no matter how hard feminists insist that there is only a brief and slippery slope between overturning Roe v. Wade and forcing women into state-sanctioned breeding programs.
With sexual content, violence and language, “The Handmaid’s Tale” is emphatically NOT for children, and if parents want to let high-schoolers watch it, I’d advise watching with them. It offers few new lessons beyond the power of mother love and the resilience of the human spirit — and you can get that without all the post-apocalyptic trappings and political messages.
Just look at Mary, the true handmaid of the Lord.
Image: Courtesy Hulu; Wikimedia Commons
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