The news, 99 percent great, came early last month: Hulu renewed “The Handmaid’s Tale,” its excellent adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s classic dystopian novel, for a second season.
The decision marked an endorsement of the series, which depicts a U.S. ruled by fundamentalist dictators who enslave the few fertile women left as the procreation surrogates of an elite, scripture-twisting patriarchy.
The one-percent not-so-great part of the announcement: Forget about a quick resolution to TV’s most intense and harrowing drama, which can be difficult to watch at times, but impossible to ignore.
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No spoiler alert necessary to declare there’s no fairy tale ending in store for “The Handmaid’s Tale,” even as the show caps its first season Wednesday with faint glimmers of hope breaking through the grimness.
The story of “handmaids” forced to persist and driven to resist, no doubt, delivers extra impact at time when many feel women are under siege, as evidenced by the massive post-inauguration marches. The knit pink hats defiantly donned by protesters stand in vibrant contrast to the Puritanical white bonnets foisted upon the handmaids.
While Atwood’s 1985 book taps age-old fears, the Hulu adaptation succeeds by employing the strong acting and bold storytelling that characterizes what some call TV’s current golden age.
Elisabeth Moss, a veteran of golden-ager “Mad Men,” stars as June – or, as she’s called in her handmaid life, “Offred,” as in “Of Fred,” after the moneyed “commander” she serves. Moss infuses humanity into a character dehumanized by ritualized rape in the name of repopulating the country, ravaged by self-inflicted environmental disaster, and rechristened Gilead.
The brutal action and June’s poignant backstory unfold slowly amid a bleak landscape. “The Eye,” the Big Brother-like spying apparatus that permeates Gilead, is everywhere. So are signs of death, through executions (at “The Wall”) and wrenching handmaid suicides.
June has much to live for: the slim chance of being reunited with the young daughter and husband from whom she was torn. She’s learning to play the system – and Fred – as she grits her way through disgust and tries to separate allies from the complicit. But nothing is as it seems in Gilead.
What’s certain is that “The Handmaid’s Tale” packs the power to grip an audience, however long it takes to reach the bitter end.