The first season of The Handmaid’s Tale quietly premiered on Hulu just under a year ago and quickly built an enthralled viewing audience. The show eventually earned a number of awards at events such as The Golden Globes, The Peabodys, and even The Emmys. Its uncompromising view of a dystopian future where the United States has been overthrown by religious zealots has proven to be haunting and honestly, very unsettling.
The show sticks with you because it covers a whole lot of very heavy subjects like human rights, sexual freedom, the place of religion in society, and even rape. These are obviously sensitive subjects, but The Handmaid’s Tale forces you to examine them. And for good reason: it’s an important show that is beautiful to look at and covers these touchy subjects with honesty and grace.
With that being said, a whole lot took place in the first season of the show, so we’re here to help you out. Here is EVERYTHING you’ll need to know about season 1 of The Handmaid’s Tale.
The Handmaid’s Tale follows the journey of Offred as she navigates her way through the insane world of a recently overthrown US government. In its place is the Gilead (an organization run by very unpleasant religious types).
The Handmaid’s Tale takes place primarily in New England in an estate ran by The Commander Fred Waterford and his equally unpleasant wife, Serena Joy. Offred’s place within the home is to act as a surrogate mother of sorts to the child of The Commander and Serena, but with a twist: the vast majority of women have become unable the bare children, so the new government of the US has decided to round up all of the fertile women left in the country and use them to bare children those high up within society. It is not pleasant.
Offred (or as she was known as before June) and her fellow handmaids are essentially treated like cattle and only seem to serve as vessels for procreation in the eyes of their new government. They are even required to wear red dresses to identify them as Handmaids at a glance whenever they are in public. On top of that, when running chores for their respective houses, they must always travel in pairs. This is presented as a requirement for their safety but serves functionally as a way to keep all handmaids in check by the threat of the other handmaids they travel with reporting them if they step out of line.
If you’re getting some 1984 vibes here, then that just means you’re paying attention. Good job. This stuff is scary.
Now that you’ve got a good grasp on what the show is about, let’s dive into what Offred has to deal with in the first season. First off, Offred DOES NOT drink the kool-aid that this new vision of America wants her to. She is forced into the life of a Handmaid, but still keeps the hope of reuniting with her daughter Hannah some day. Though she believes her husband to be dead, this drives her and allows her to endure the unwanted sexual rituals she is forced to go through with The Commander and Serena on a monthly basis.
These rituals are very unsettling and force Handmaids like Offred to lay between the Commander and Serena during sex. Serena is not allowed to engage in any sexual acts herself, as it’s shown that American society now views sex purely as a means of procreation. Serena grows to hate Offred for this and the tension between the two characters is intense. This is only made worse by the fact that The Commander appears to sterile, locking the characters in a cycle is disappointment and bitterness that Offred always seems to get the worst end of.
Offred eventually runs into people from her past like Moira (a close friend of hers since her college days) and others stuck in her situation of servitude like Ofglen (the neighboring handmaid). Ofglen (or Emily) is later revealed to be part of a resistance group called Mayday and is eventually imprisoned and punished for her defiant acts, while Offred eventually finds out that her old friend, Moira is working in a brothel at the service of men like her Commander Fred.
Meanwhile, Offred eventually develops a romantic relationship with the personal driver of the Waterford’s, Nick. He is initially presented as a potential sympathizer to the resistance but eventually admits to Offred that he is an “Eye” (or a spy) for the Gilead.
Around the midpoint of the season, Mexican trade delegates come to visit the home of the Waterford’s and Offred takes the opportunity to let them know what life is really like under the Gilead. They let her know that they cannot help her, but one of them lets Offred know that he has confirmation that her husband is still alive and living in Canada. Offred then sends a message to her husband through this Mexican delegate saying “I love you so much. Save Hannah (their daughter).” This reignites hope in Offred and she becomes more determined than ever to find a way out.
After this, The Commander gives Offred makeup and a dress and tells her that they are taking a special trip somewhere, which ends up being a brothel, the same brothel where her old friend Moira now works. Once there it is obvious that Moira has lost all hope of escaping and ends up serving as no use to Offred’s newly reignited rebellious cause. Later, Moira has a change of heart and escapes the brothel and reunites with Offred’s husband Luke in Canada.
Eventually, Serena learns of their secret trips to this brothel and demands that Offred take a pregnancy test. The test comes up positive. It’s most likely that the child is Nick’s, the Waterford’s driver, as Fred Waterford (The Commander) is assumed sterile. Serena is angry with her husband but ultimately decides to have Offred keep the baby. She then drives Offred to the location of her daughter Hannah as a threat saying that she will be kept safe as long as this new child is safe.
The season ends with Offred being taken away by a black car driven by soldiers of the Gilead. Offred is scared, but Nick says to trust him and just go with the men. Not given much of a choice, she does.
Now, while all of this is happening in what is presented as present day, there are several flashbacks throughout the season to something called the “Red Center” where handmaids are trained in their new duties to society (being sex slaves for the upper class).
This Red Center is run by a vile woman that goes by the name Aunt Lydia. Through these flashbacks, we learn about Offred’s connections to several other handmaids that we see in the present. We also learn how brutal the Gilead really is, showing us that they frequently take the body parts of people who disobey them.
We also see flashbacks of how Offred’s husband ended up escaping to Canada as well as glimpses of how normal life was before the Gilead took over. It’s heartbreaking, it’s beautiful and most important of all, it’s memorable. Even if you don’t want to remember the more unpleasant parts of the show. Long story short, we cannot recommend The Handmaid’s Tale enough.
The Handmaid’s Tale premiere Wednesdays on Hulu, SBS Thursdays at 8:30PM in Australia, and returns May 20 in the UK on Channel 4. As always, be sure to check back at FANDOM for more.