That Hulu's adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale is excellent is not a secret; it dominated the Emmys, winning eight, including Outstanding Actress in a Drama for its star, Elisabeth Moss, and the prestigious Outstanding Drama prize (the first time a streaming service has won in the Emmys' most important category). So we fans are not in some niche cult, desperately trying to convince others to watch our show. Yet because of The Handmaid's Tale's transgressive material — which mirrors the current sense of dread evoked by the Trump presidency's contentious relationship with the rights of people of color, immigrants, Muslims, and women — watching the show's first season was an arduous pleasure. No, we do not live in Gilead, the show's fictional world, but it does feel like some of our lawmakers may aspire to, and that doesn't feel good at all.
So why watch this damn thing if it's just dystopia porn for the Trump era? Sure, there are The Handmaid's Tale's merits: high-quality storytelling, its stunning direction, and its moving, intelligent performances. And for those of us who love Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel, it's exciting to see her world rendered.
Honestly, though, those qualities wouldn't be enough if the show didn't also offer hope. Watching The Handmaid's Tale, there are constant reminders that American resistance is alive, well, and loud — and not an underground whisper network, as it is in Gilead. Frankly, it's a relief!
More important than showing that we're not actually living in a fascist state, though, is The Handmaid's Tale's representations of dissent. In the figures of June (Moss); her best friend, Moira (Samira Wiley), who in the season finale escapes to Canada, which in the show (and perhaps in real life) seems like heaven; and June's husband, Luke (O.T. Fagbenle), who is already in Ontario, we can see the beginnings of the end of Gilead, which, as book readers know, will fall at some point. And then there's the resistance among the handmaids themselves, who find levers to be defiant in large (June's departure in the season finale's cliffhanger) and small ways (their silent, collective refusal to stone to death one of their own, also in the finale). To quote June, "They should have never given us uniforms if they didn't want us to be an army." The Handmaid's Tale is not a downer; it's edifying, thrilling, and necessary. —Kate Aurthur