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Welcome to the Handmaid’s Diaries – an informal live-time series as Mary and Blake watch The Handmaid’s Tale. Today we’re discussing episodes 1.01 “Offred”, 1.02 “Birth Day”, and 1.03 “Late”.
Mary and I finally caved and subscribed to HULU with the sole purpose of watching The Handmaid’s Tale. Being who I am and how I make my living, I can’t help but want to talk about it in some form. Thus, this series. I will be updating this series each time we watch another episode or two and give you my impressions of this extremely compelling show.
Having said that, let me come out and say it right now – this show is impressive. In every way. The direction under Reed Morano’s guiding hand is the big stand out for me. She’s patient with the camera, exceptional with her blocking, and she seems to know how and when to push specific emotion as it’s needed. Whether its a lingering shot on Offred sitting in her window sill, all the handmaids offering their help to a fellow handmaid who just gave birth, or the incredible one shot of Offglen riding away in van with a hanging in the background. Morano gets it.
Morano’s skill shouldn’t be a surprise because she has directed some of the best television in the business right now — including one of my favorite episodes of Halt and Catch Fire, and Billions. But most importantly, each shot is very intentional and it is gorgeous. Like, some of the most graceful use of light and color I have ever seen. Which, also shouldn’t be a surprise because Morano’s career has mainly been filled with credits as a cinematographer so she knows how to manipulate a scene.
Showrunner Bruce Miller also serves as an asset here too, as he garnered experience in the world of ER, and shows like The 4400, Alphas (working under one of my other favorite writers Ira Steven Behr) and the post apocalyptic show, The 100. In other words, he knows how to build vibrant worlds and use that mythology to his benefit. That mythology, at least so far, is probably the most valuable asset — aside from the terrific cast — of The Handmaid’s Tale.
As a viewer, you’re thrown into this world. There’s no backstory. There’s no crawl. You’re just expected to keep up and run frantically with an unknown couple as the title card drops. It’s as if the world has been operating without you the whole time, and you’re just injected into this one moment in history. I have no clue what the hell “under his eye” means, or why there’s an epidemic of babies not being born. I just know that its happening, and its a real textured culture that I’m genuinely interested in discovering as I traverse the streets with Offred.
Why are people hanging? Who the hell are “The Eyes?”, why is there an upper class of women, what is the conflict that’s ongoing, what was the terrorist attack, why is the capital in Anchorage, who are the rebels, why are there rebels, what’s the deal with the driver, why is the commander’s wife (played excellently by Yvonne Strahovski) so hostile to Offred — the questions are endless. But while that’s a great hook for me, I know those are all contextual mysteries that can be easily answered in flashbacks, or through some economically used exposition. The real reason I’m staying so far is the relationship that was quickly established and upended between Offred and Ofglen.
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These two women, both mothers, one that worked at a book publishing company and one that is a self proclaimed “rug munching gender traitor”, is interesting. Yes, Aunt Lydia (played by the national treasure that is Ann Dowd) is scary and tapped at the very least, but Offred and Oflgen quickly establish that there is humanity to this world. They’re not all automatons who have been completely brainwashed into obedience. I want to see how they navigate that.
The other main factor into why I am staying – this show is terrifying. Not horrifying. Terrifying.
Of course, if you’re a fan, you know that it’s not full of jump scares, obscene gore, or paranormal activity. The show, so far, is terrifying because of the human condition. People will go to extreme lengths in either direction to survive, thrive, and/or succeed by whatever means they deem necessary. I could say that The Handmaid’s Tale is, in fact, a cautionary tale of what could be, and that it may not be all that far off from where we are today.
I mean, to think about it is terrifying in an of itself – one day women can have bank accounts and property, and the next day? Nope. Against the law. That is the truly terrifying part about the story. Can people really fall victim to that? How? WOULD people really do that? I’d like to think that we wouldn’t travel down that path as a nation, but given the right circumstances – who knows? I mean, 9/11 happened and congress did ratify the constitutionally questionable (at best) Patriot Act, so it shows what fear can do to an already vulnerable base of people. Which is why getting into Offred’s head is vital to how the story is told. We need to see a bit of sanity in an already questionable (at best) world.
Normally, I am extremely anti- voiceover. Anyone who has listened to my podcast, Outlander Cast, knows this. But, Miller knows when to use it properly, when to let the story tell you what you need, and when to let the acting do the talking. Having said that, Miller’s use of the VO is important because Offred’s (who we’ve come to know as June) voiceovers provide color in ways that we wouldn’t otherwise get. So if one is going to use it, it better enlighten me, or the story in a very specific way that can’t be given to me in any other interesting avenue.
Being privy to Offred’s inner thoughts helps illuminate the story on a level that gives a chance to relate to this insane world, so we can understand her laughter after letting her commander win the totally odd game of Scrabble, eating half a macaroon, the terror of getting her period, or when she expects to die before she enters the drawing room just like it was a cheap horror movie. “Justin, are you down there?” Or, the best use of the voiceover when Offlgen is replaced with a new person at the end of episode two, we truly feel the same way as Offred – “fuck.”
Speaking of Ofglen – let’s talk about Alexis Bledel’s performance in the third episode. She doesn’t utter a single word, and, yet, I feel her every emotion to a tee. It was a master work in eye expression and body acting. But all of the terror, acting, voiceovers, and world building culminate in a stunning one shot of the Martha being hung as Ofglen is driven away. This is my biggest takeaway from the entire first three episodes, and it is one I will never forget. Of course, there is another aspect I also like of Bledel, and that it’s a meta commentary on the actress herself. It’s easy to just see her as Rory Gilmore, the fun loving, fast talking girl who has dorky boyfriends and goes to Yale. But Ofglen is the complete opposite of that – in every way – and Bledel is perfect in it.
So that’s it for now, I’m already wayyyy to deep and I hate the fact that I have to wait 6 more hours to watch the next episode as my kids torture me by not falling asleep fast enough.
Mary & Blake certified: A