'The Handmaid's Tale' Left Us With These Pressing Questions
Hulu's recent release of "The Handmaid's Tale," the story of one women named Offred and her life while living under the oppressive, fundamentalist rule of the Republic of Gilead, has unnerved viewers everywhere.
Now, "The Handmaid's Tale" was originally released as a book in 1985 by Margaret Atwood, and it was later adapted on screen in the 1990s. So if you've been exposed to either of those before, you may already know the answers to these questions.
But if you're a noob like me, and Hulu's adaptation — starring Elisabeth Moss (who plays Offred) and Alexis Bledel (who plays Ofglen) — is your ACTUAL first exposure to this story, you're probably overflowing with a million different questions and not enough answers.
As more episodes are released weekly, here are 8 pressing questions we hope to have answered by the end of the first season.
WARNING: SPOILERS FOR EPISODES ONE THROUGH THREE AHEAD. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
1. How does this religious group define rape?
In the second episode, we see all of the handmaids taken to a secluded area of a forest for a "particicution," a type of "Salvaging" (read: execution). Aunt Lydia announces to the girls that a man has been convicted of raping a handmaid and that the girls are allowed to do whatever they wish to the man until Aunt Lydia blows a whistle.
Horrified, the girls form a circle around the man and savagely beat the man until he's dead.
This begs the question, how does this fundamentalist group define rape? Though the circumstances of this particular unnamed man's rape are unclear, perhaps the Republic of Gilead only classifies non-consensual sex with someone other than a handmaid's commander as rape?
Also, how does the Republic determine fault? Though the man in the particicution is considered at fault for rape, Aunt Lydia encourages the girls at the Red Center to blame Janine (played by Madeline Brewer) when she confesses her own story of sexual assault.
Regardless, it's clear Gilead's definition of rape requires something more than just non-consensual sex (which is unsurprising, given their treatment of women as property).
It's also arguable the handmaids themselves are raped by their commanders, as they're essentially not allowed to give explicit consent to sex or surrogacy at all.
2. How do the mistresses handle the fact that their husbands are having sex with other women?
In the first three episodes, it becomes clearer and clearer that Mrs. Waterford (played by Yvonne Strahovski) secretly resents the facts that 1) she's unable to get pregnant and 2) her husband has to have sex with another woman for her to have a child.
At the end of the day, the mistresses themselves have been indoctrinated into these beliefs for some time. It's likely they recognize the direness of their infertility combined with the need to reproduce.
However, if Mrs. Waterford's uncomfortable disposition during Offred's ceremony is any indication, she's definitely not happy.
This also calls into question the purpose of the mistresses at all. If the only valued purpose of women in Gilead is to produce and raise children and to serve their husbands, how did the mistresses come to the positions they are in if they aren't fertile?
3. If fertility is such a highly valued gift from God, why are the handmaids treated so poorly?
When the girls are with Aunt Lydia in a flashback at The Red Center, Aunt Lydia preaches to the handmaids how great of a gift their fertility is from God.
However, throughout the first three episodes, we see Offred and the other handmaids treated incredibly poorly — like servants. But why is that if these women are supposedly so highly valued for their fertility?
One explanation may be that the Republic of Gilead assumes these women are fertile (through whatever means they use to decide that), but perhaps this "class" of women is not deemed worthy until they physically get pregnant.
A possible example of this idea played out occurs in episode three. When it's discovered Offred is three days late for her period, Mrs. Waterford's treatment of Offred drastically improves. She even saves Offred during her punishment for not revealing information about Ofglen.
But in one of the last scenes we see in episode three, Offred is forced to tell Mrs. Waterford she got her period, and the mistress then banishes Offred to her room indefinitely.
4. What's the idea behind the positioning of the commander, the mistress and the handmaid during "the ceremony"?
In episode one, the time comes for Offred's "ceremony," or the time where the commander (played by Joseph Fiennes) will have sex with her, with the mistress in the room as well.
Offred is positioned on the end of the bed, with her head in the mistress' lap, while the commander thrusts into her from the end of the bed.
The commander is clearly in a position of power, whereas the handmaid is treated as a mere tool through which to give something to the mistress, who will eventually raise the child herself.
It's possible this positioning gives viewers some insight into how Gilead may differentiate each person's role and subsequent worth.
5. Why does this religious sect blame the handmaids if they're unable to get pregnant immediately?
This particular question comes with a few sub-questions.
First, as mentioned earlier, if the handmaids' fertility is a gift from God, and God makes no mistakes, what is Gilead's reason for blaming the handmaid, should she not conceive after a single "ceremony"?
Second, one could also ask why the man isn't also blamed for the inability to conceive, given that men play an equal part in fertilization.
Because the Republic of Gilead allows men more power and control, and because they consider it a woman's "duty" to conceive and carry a child, this sect likely sees an inability to conceive as an inability of a woman to carry out her duty.
6. What exactly does "redemption" entail?
Toward the end of episode three, we see Ofglen and her partner Martha convicted of being "gender traitors" (the Gilead term for homosexual).
While Martha is sentenced to be hanged, Ofglen is sentenced to "redemption," as she is still a fertile woman. After watching her partner literally hanged before her eyes, Ofglen then wakes up in a hospital bed to find her vulva bandaged.
Following a chat with Aunt Lydia, we learn Ofglen's genitals had been mutilated. (It's likely they removed her clitoris.)
But is there anything else that comes along with redemption? Does Gilead believe a woman's clitoris is the source of her "desire"?
If we assume other members of the community are eligible for "redemption" for other reasons (i.e. they break a different law, but are also fertile and, therefore, redeemable), it's possible something more may be required for Ofglen to be redeemed.
7. What's going on with relationships between the commanders and the handmaids?
In the second episode, we're given (frankly unsurprising) clues that the commanders may not be the most pure, infallible men.
Following the birth of her child, Janine reveals to Offred that her commander wants to run away with her and leave his mistress behind.
However, we later learn that Offred's commander requested to meet with her alone later that night — something we're repeatedly told is forbidden in Gilead.
When the time for the meeting comes, Offred's commander invites her into his office, and as the two talk, he asks to play Scrabble with her. The commander then offers to play again with Offred once he returns from his trip.
This leads everyone to question why? Are Janine's claims true? Are the commanders corrupt, lusting after fertile women instead of their infertile mistresses? Are these tests for the handmaids?
8. Can we trust Nick, the driver?
When we're first introduced to Nick, the Waterford's driver, at the start of season one, he seems to be a bit of an ally for Offred, though he lurks about suspiciously at times.
Later, when Ofglen informs Offred that there's an "eye" (secret police for the Republic of Gilead) in her house, all signs point to Nick. But Nick later confides in Offred to stay away from Ofglen, claiming she's very dangerous.
But given Ofglen's current situation, it seems likely Nick might be more dangerous than she is. In the last episode, we see some strong sexual tension build up between Nick and Offred, as he comes to check on her after she's hit with a cattle prod multiple times during her punishment.
However, Nick leaves abruptly with a slight smirk on his face before anything happens, continuing to leave his intentions unclear.
Watch "The Handmaid's Tale" on Hulu as we hopefully uncover more answers to the thousands of questions we have. New episodes are released every Wednesday.