We all love a good horror series, right? Hannibal, American Horror Story, The Exorcist; all are series that specifically cater to a horror-loving audience. But even non-horror series dip a toe into the genre every now and then.
Readers note: There are spoilers included in this discussion, even about the non-horror shows!.
Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, while not a horror series, is set in a dystopian future in which women are forbidden to read, and are completely subservient to men. Women are either wives/econowives, housekeepers, sex workers or are assigned to work in chemical waste dumps.
Due to the critically low fertility rate in America (now known as Gilead), there are also women determined to be fertile, referred to as handmaids, and our lead character of June/Offred is one of them.
Handmaids are assigned to a Commander and are expected to participate in a ritual involving sexual assault, in the hopes it will result in pregnancy. Their baby will be raised by the Commander and his wife, and the handmaid will then be assigned to a new household.
In a landscape such as this, horror is bound to unfold on a daily basis, especially when you put puritanical Christianity in the mix. Women who disobey in any way, shape or form are punished, often severely.
The opening episode of season 2 was titled June, and the first 15 minutes were almost unbearably horrific. During the season 1 finale, the handmaids refused to stone poor, bewildered Janine, and they were punished in an especially cruel and manipulative manner.
All of the handmaids were thrown in a van and taken to Fenway Field, where they were lined up on makeshift gallows. Even though I knew June, in particular, would not die, the way this scene was filmed had me on the edge of my seat, unsure of what would happen.
Kudos to the actresses playing the handmaids, because their fear felt so real that it was a hard scene to watch. As Kate Bush’s This Woman’s Work played, the camera lingered on their terrified, tearful faces, and I remember actually crying and feeling as if I was standing up on the gallows with them.
I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that this ended up being a very cruel ruse to remind these women that they were not in charge of their destinies. When they are back with Aunt Lydia, she doubles down on the punishment by burning them with a gas flame. There are many more scenes of cruelty and torture in this excellent, though harrowing series, but this particular episode has stayed with me.
Also featured in the second season was an episode titled Postpartum. A young girl named Eden was chosen to be Nick’s wife, and since he is in love with June, he doesn’t even care that Eden has fallen in love with one of the Guardians.
It doesn’t matter how Nick feels, though, because Eden and Isaac are caught trying to run away together, and are very publicly punished. The young couple is each placed in heavy chains at an indoor swimming pool and are admonished to repent for these scenes in front of spectators. But, they refuse to repent and are pushed into the pool to drown, unable to save themselves due to the weight of the chains.
This time, the viewer is put in the shoes of Eden and Isaac, but also of Serena (Yvonne Strahovski), who is beginning to have an awakening of sorts. She is starting to have a crisis of conscience about the society she actually helped to create.