Harvey Milk was right when he said, “You gotta give ’em hope.” In a world where The Handmaid’s Tale seems more possible than ever, you can hardly blame the series for granting its audience mercies that the source material would not. When a world this dehumanizing is so frighteningly recognizable, the struggles of its characters are that much more relatable.
It means we not only want to believe Offred could catch a break, we need her to, especially since Serena Joy has found out about her husband’s adultery in the episode Night. There is only one thing that could save Offred now, and when wife and forced mistress discover that Offred has finally conceived, there is as much pleasure as pain in it. Offred knows she will have to give up her child to be warped by a marriage that has long since transformed from one of love to that of convenience. It’s even more bitter when she recalls her first pregnancy pre-Gilead, and how it cemented the loving bond between her and her husband Luke.
Offred’s current pregnancy is the answer to Serena Joy’s most desperate, fervent prayers, but the impending arrival brings more opportunities to bitterly divide her and her husband. So when she sees how it brings out such loving tenderness between Offred and Nick, maybe that is why Serena turns what should be a kindness into such an appalling act of sadism. She insists on bringing Offred to see Hannah, the daughter that was literally ripped from her arms, then forces Offred to remain in the car while she speaks to Hannah, who remains ignorant of the fact that her mother is only twenty feet away. There are truly no limits to how desperately those who willingly cage themselves will try to keep others caged as well.
Rather than breaking her, this makes Offred more committed to fighting the power, especially when she learns just what is in the package the resistance is so desperately trying to smuggle out. It is a weapon, but of a different sort. It’s the writings of so many women who were also caught and enslaved by Gilead. They are all writing, all reaching out, all desperately hoping that someone will hear their stories and take action. So it’s hardly a suprise when Offred discovers that not only has Janine recovered, but now Aunt Lydia, once again proving as vicious as she is maternal, expects the rest of the handmaids to stone her to death.
This is an order they’ve clearly obeyed before, but it’s always different when you’re asked to harm someone you consider your own. It prompts one of the show’s most satisfying moments, as Offred and the other handmaids all disobey orders and drop their stones. Their journey back home, where they’re shot to look like a badass army, with June leading them, is a far more touching display of solidarity than a previous effort in the episode Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum. Offred knows such disobedience will have consequences, and sure enough, they do come for her. But are they here to condemn, or save her? Nick tells her to go with them, and to trust him. Can she? She has little choice, and we leave Offred the same way the book does, with her in the dark, unsure of her fate. It also has the added benefit of both Serena and the Commander being forced to witness the child they both want walk out the door.
Thankfully, there is no ambiguity in Moira fate. She manages to escape to Canada, but the freedom she finds is at first more baffling and numbing than uplifting. It’s only when she discovers that Luke has come to help her that the emotions she’s been forced to suppress finally burst forth in tears, and she becomes truly free.
However, the power of this moement is somewhat lessened by what has become the show’s biggest blind spot: race. While women make up a majority of the writers on The Handmaid’s Tale, none of them are women of color. This explains many of the show’s choices, particularly in the case of Moira. Once again, she gets no flashbacks of her own, and the series seems to fail to see any irony in the fact that a black woman who was enslaved and used for various sexual purposes is forced to flee to freedom in Canada. Others have already pointed out that if such an extremist group were to take over, previous divisions, including racial ones, “would become far more deeply entrenched, not less.” Others have pointed out that it has primarily been women of color who have been the most affected by the many issues The Handmaid’s Tale brings to the forefront, and not just in the distant past. Now that the show has been renewed for a second season, hopefully this can be rectified. To the show’s credit, Moira is far more than the usual sassy black friend stereotype, but she deserves to have her story told as frankly and completely as Offred’s has been. But now that the show has been renewed for another season, it means the series will get a second chance to rectify its only major weakness. Hopefully The Handmaid’s Tale will take advantage of the opportunity. Praise be.