THE HANDMAID'S TALE
HULU's The Handmaid's Tale is in its second season and is actually getting better.
The first season paralleled the book by Margaret Atwood. It's the near future in the USA (now called Gilead) and a group of men have taken over the government. When the novel came out in 1985, there was a right-wing resurgence in the US under President Reagan, but, happily for the creators of The Handmaid's Tale, the political climate in the book resonates even more in the Trump era. Gilead is in the grip of a misogynist government that is fundamentalist Christian with an antediluvian justice system and pro-environmental policies, kind of like being a pro-business, anti-law enforcement, fundamentalist pornography-star bedding, gun-toting US government - impossible, right?
Season 2 of The Handmaid's Tale explores a new dynamic: how to survive in a society that looks upon you, at best, as a means to an end, that is, a baby machine and, at its worse, sees you as expendable. There are scenes of 'unwomen' cleaning up fields of nuclear waste that came from a recent war or the mishaps in a nuclear plant. These 'unwomen,' are the dregs of the new world order - feminists, nuns, professional women, lesbians - all those women who refuse to subjugate themselves to the power of the men.
Bruce Miller created the show. His previous hit was being involved in the TV series ER in the early 2000s. There have been a variety of directors, but the style of the series has been consistent: it has the look of a Dickens' novel, that is, it harkens back to a late 19th/early 20th century look of tudor- style houses and functional, concrete public spaces.
Much of the show's success can be attributed to Elisabeth Moss, playing the lead character, June Osborne whose name is changed to Offred (Of Fred, her master/commander). Moss can project grudging obedience better than any actor on the planet. Her role as Peggy Olson in Mad Men gave her training in the art of being suppressed. With every episode, Moss gives us something new to marvel at; she never accepts her station in Gilead and in every look and gesture we see her fierce refusal to give up the struggle to be a woman, a human being.
Moss carries this series on her broad, capable shoulders, but the rest of the cast provides ample support. Joseph Fiennes as Commander Fred Waterford is the embodiment of the supercilious man of God who routinely rapes Moss' Handmaid in a ritual that the powers that be call the 'ceremony.' Yvonne Strahovski is Waterford's infertile wife who was a conservative icon (much like those blonde attractive TV personalities much favored on Fox News) in the old world, but must now play the dutiful wife who has to hold down the handmaid Offred while her husband 'impregnates' her (so they hope). Ann Dowd is truly scary as Aunt Lydia, a woman in charge of the handmaids' education and subsequent performance as a handmaid. Her solicitous torture of unruly or disobedient handmaids is a case study of how to make over human beings into donkeys, offering the carrot and, if repulsed, the stick. And there is no better example of this method's success than the character of Janine/Ofwarren played by Madeline Brewer. When she refuses to conform, her right eye is removed; when this doesn't force her to behave, she is sent to clean-up nuclear waste as an unwoman.
You may be reluctant to watch a series that seems so far removed from our world, but then I suggest you think about what has happened since we elected a President with the self-control of a spoiled child. The most incredible things are said and done by him and his minions and there is barely a raised eyebrow in Congress or among those who run this country. Greed, sycophancy, nepotism, self-dealing, mendacity, prostitution (yes, that's what it is when you pay or are paid for sex even if the payment is nominally for an agreement of confidentiality), racism - the list is as long as it is incredible - and now this may become the new normal. And if that happens, can Gilead or something like it, be far behind?