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The Last Episode of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Is Here, but Don’t Let That Stop You from Watching Season One – Again or for the First Time
June 14, 2017  | By David Hinckley

One of the gems of current television, The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu, wraps up its first season with an ending that’s appropriately menacing and yet reassuringly cryptic.

The 10th and final episode of the first season becomes available Wednesday (6/14) on the streaming service. A second season has been ordered, so it will come as no surprise that the show isn’t wrapping up its complex and troubling matters quite yet.

That’s not a bad thing because much remains to be explored in the story of Offred (Elisabeth Moss) and her sister “handmaids” in a world where women are brutally subjugated in the name of merciless Old Testament-style patriarchy.

The show is set in Gilead, a mutation of the old United States that is run by hard-core religious fundamentalists.

Under this new order, women are not allowed to own property, control money, work or read. At least they aren’t summarily executed, which is what happens to those who happen to be gay. Or Catholic. Or anything else of which the fundamentalists don’t approve.

This new civilization has an environmental problem, though. Contamination from warfare has left most women infertile, meaning the few who can still bear children become the property of the ruling class, which uses them as broodmares, er, that is, handmaids.

All handmaids are named for their masters. So Moss’s character, who used to be named June, is now “Of Fred,” or Offred because she belongs to Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes).

Unsurprisingly, Offred’s predecessor committed suicide, which might seem preferable to living under the jealous tyranny of Fred’s wife Serena (Yvonne Strahovski, below right). But Offred has a daughter who was taken from her, and she is determined to do what’s necessary to stay alive until they can be reunited.

It’s a bleak picture. But following the storyline in the 1985 book by Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale also tracks the slow, halting, dangerous and steel-hearted rise of resistance.

Offred and her fellow handmaidens must talk in furtive whispers, always aware there could be spies, and that punishment for any dissent is harsh.

The sadistic mistress of the handmaidens, Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd), carries a cattle prod and no reluctance to use it.

The handmaidens really only have one card to play: that without them, the ruling class will have no future generations. Offred and the others understand they must use that card judiciously, and they repeatedly submit to humiliation, deprivation, and indignity. Small wonder many of their psyches are as fragile as the future of their civilization.

Yet in the final episode, a voiceover from Offred summarizes the one ray of light from the whole first season. Referring to the simple Pilgrim-style outfits all handmaidens must wear, she muses, “They should never have given us uniforms if they didn’t want us to be an army.”

Don’t go into the final episode expecting this army to deliver any knockouts. Victory here is fleeting reminders that hope can survive in the darkest of dungeons.

We don’t leave the season knowing where anyone will go next, and that includes many of the surprisingly conflicted souls in the ruling elite.

That’s one reason The Handmaid’s Tale has been so engaging. We can’t know for sure in many cases who will do what if this hypocritical society ever must answer for the evil it perpetrates in the name of God.  

For those arriving late to this party, watch The Handmaid’s Tale from the beginning. It’s not always easy. It’s always worth it.

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