The Handmaid's Tale tells the kind of story that curls up in the pit of your stomach, settles into a gnarled knot, and stays for a long, long while. Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel is as visceral as it is personal, sharp and cynical and nonchalant when it tells us that few are as brave under pressure as we all like to think we could be.
Atwood's dystopian vision of a United States buckling under fundamentalist, Puritan-adjacent rule is a stark and bitter warning, one that's been called eerily relevant since it was published more than 30 years ago. And now Hulu has brought it to life with a remarkable depiction of all the banal horrors that make the world of The Handmaid’s Tale so incredibly chilling, not to mention a fantastic anchoring performance from Elisabeth Moss as Offred (a.k.a. June).
The new series — created by Bruce Miller, with its first three episodes expertly directed by Reed Morano — is difficult and important television. The pilot episode (“Offred”) is one of the best I've ever seen. But I'm glad the first three episodes were released at once, allowing viewers to fully immerse themselves in Offred’s world, painful though it might be.
There's already so much to talk about. But I'd like to start off by looking at how Miller and his team have approached Atwood's source material. Often a book-to-screen adaptation will take pains to be as literal as possible, but this one takes pains to avoid it. I reread the book after watching the Handmaid’s Tale pilot and was surprised to realize that the first episode contains moments that don't crop up until way further in the story — like that crucial, brutal Scavenging of a man who allegedly raped a Handmaid.