The nation fell fast and right under everyone’s noses. There were warnings, of course, but they were hard to hear over the noise generated by partisan rancor, bully-pulpit politics and the sound of red herrings being tossed around when things got really hot.
And to be fair, it’s not as if people were paying that close of attention. In fact a large percentage of the electorate never even bothered to vote. But that apathy turned to concern once they saw their new government ripping children away from their mothers and sending them to parts unknown. Then there were the militarized borders, travel bans, a state-sponsored war against journalists, newsroom killings, men abolishing women’s reproductive rights and the rest of the free world’s dismay and outrage over the fall of a once-great democracy.
The bleak future of America depicted in the Season 2 run of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which ends Wednesday, couldn’t have cut any closer to the bone in 2018 without sawing us all clean in half.
The Hulu drama, based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, was widely described as “dystopian” when it debuted last year. However, prescient may be a more accurate description for the series’ Season 2 run.
Week after week “The Handmaid’s Tale” managed to mirror present-day headlines with a chilling accuracy, especially for a show written and shot months in advance. And it didn’t stop there. Since the drama is set in the police state of Gilead (formerly America), where gays, Muslims, willful women and anyone else deemed a threat to totalitarian rule are lynched in public, it showed what Zero Tolerance policy, alienating Canada or targeting the free press might look like post-resistance. Let’s just say as bad as things seem now, Season 2 was there to show us how bottomless the bottom really is.
If “The Handmaid’s Tale” wasn’t such a smart and gracefully executed series, it might have been too disturbing to watch our fictional demise just two steps ahead of our actual demise. Like Season 1, the Elisabeth Moss-led production continued to be as shocking as it is subtle, as topical as it is timeless. But this time around it drilled down deeper on its portrayal of a society gone mad, reflecting the tumble into darkness through the experiences and emotions of people who aren’t us — but could be if we’re not careful or at least aware.
The show’s main character, June (Moss), was a working professional in Boston who knew the state of the union was bad, but like many, assumed all would be OK. The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice, right? But that bend doesn’t happen soon enough for June, whose child is taken from her before she’s sent into servitude as a breeder by Gilead. Now she must speak in state-mandated religious vernacular, which includes skin-crawling greetings such as “Blessed be The Fruit” and “May the Lord Open.” She longs for the days when she was free to drink over-priced coffee, Snapchat about nothing and argue why feminism no longer matters with her activist mom.
Like all great science fiction or futuristic thrillers, “The Handmaid’s Tale” turns our worst fears into watercooler moments and binge-worthy stretches hunkered down at home. June’s subtle slide from working 9-to-5 each day and tucking her daughter into bed at night — to becoming a prisoner in a country she no longer recognizes as her own — is a particularly powerful way to connect the far-fetched with the probable.
But as this season comes to a close, it’s the show’s knack for foreshadowing recent news events that will no doubt follow it to the Emmy nominations. “The Handmaid’s Tale” is likely to garner a high number of Emmy nods for the second time in a row (it won best drama last year) when nominations are announced Thursday.
One of the show’s more heartbreaking foreshadowings of current events came on June 28, when a gunman walked into the Capital Gazette newspaper in Maryland and killed five people. The war of words against the press from the White House, its propaganda arm Fox News and congressmen who’ve advocated violence against noncompliant reporters was weaponized. The gunmen’s motives were reportedly personal, but in such a hostile climate, he must have felt emboldened.