Bleats

The Writer Who Brought You The Heaviest Episode Of The Handmaid's Tale Is Begging You Not To Give Up On The Show

After an episode so brutal it came with a content warning, plenty of people are wondering why they put themselves through this every week – so one of the show's writers is promising that it's worth it.

The Handmaid’s Tale is one of the most beautifully acted and shot dramas on TV, but it’s not exactly relaxing viewing.

When it’s not having its characters mutilated, lynched, tortured, imprisoned, physically violated, emotionally brutalised, or led inexorably down the road from the world we recognise towards the horrors of Gilead in sickening flashbacks, it’s building towards the next grim revelation.

So when an episode of this show needs an extra content warning, as last week’s episode ‘The Last Ceremony’ did, you know you’re going to need extras of whatever your coping substance of choice is.

And they weren’t kidding. The episode showcased the considerable range of Elisabeth Moss’s cry-acting, as her character June (AKA Offred) endured horror after horror: a false labour that forced her to confront her impending separation from her unborn child and the brief relief that it would be delayed, a violent rape at the hands of the Waterfords (as opposed to, you know, the grimly ritualised monthly rape the handmaids are subjected to), and an agonisingly short reunion with her daughter Hannah.

Whether it was the protracted, unflinching assault scene, the wrenching (and coincidentally ripped from the headlines) mother-and-child separation, or the one-two gut punch of both, even the viewers who have stuck with the show through everything so far are struggling.

The writer credited with the episode, Yahlin Chang, gets it. She knows it was brutal, potentially triggering, and even more emotional than originally intended, given the events on the US-Mexican border this week.

“I do worry about people not wanting to watch because this was a very hard episode to watch,” Chang told the Washington Post.

She insists that it’s worth sticking with it, though.

“I have to say episodes 11 through 13 are just unbelievable. There’s just this ramp-up adrenaline, momentous, amazing feeling,” she said. “Especially the next episode right after this one, it’s incredible. One of the best episodes of television ever.”

OK, lady – but ‘The Last Ceremony’ was also incredible TV, lady, and that didn’t make it any easier to watch.

“I think people will really enjoy the next episode. . . . It’s really compelling what’s coming up next. Please don’t stop watching.”

Look, “enjoy” is more promising – I definitely enjoyed watching Emily stomp on her dying Commander’s crotch at the beginning of the most recent episode.

Chang promises “amazing triumphs” as well as “huge upsets” in the final three episodes. Hopefully those triumphs and upsets are enough to get us through the parts that are, well, hugely upsetting.

As vital as this show is to help us fear and frame the horrors of reality, we could all use even a fictional win right now.

The Handmaid's Tale Is As Grim As Game Of Thrones, But For Way Better Reasons

The Handmaid's Tale is hard to watch – but so are all your other favourite shows, and they're not nearly as useful or cathartic.

Depending on who your friends are, you might have seen a fair few posts crowding your feed in the last few days, along the lines of “Handmaid’s Tale… Oof.”

One of last year’s biggest TV successes just came roaring back – and by roaring, I mean pumping full-blast dystopian grimness straight into your face like a fire hose.

So why are we doing this to ourselves?

In the very first few minutes of the second season, we watch dozens of enslaved women face the prospect of their own imminent execution, pissing themselves and whimpering helplessly through leather muzzles. We watch families being shredded through a slow, deliberate thicket of bigoted bureaucratic cruelties, and a queer (white) man who’s been lynched, and the aftermath of massacres, and satisfaction and joy on the faces of people doing incredibly evil things.

What we see in The Handmaid’s Tale are not scenes of dystopian fantasy. They are the lived experience of plenty of women and families in the world right now and in living memory: people living under the rule of fundamentalists with guns, parents being torn away from their children in public places.

And everyone with a uterus, regardless what other privileges they have, knows they’re potentially at the mercy of a society where reproductive rights go to hell in such a spectacular way.

How good is reading the news every day in 2018?

Some people seem to be watching as much as a duty as for entertainment – like the men who want to better understand the ever-present hum of worry that your body will suddenly no longer be your own to control, and what that might look like overlaid on the fabric of their current realities.

Some are women who seem to just want to actively remind themselves not to get comfortable.

But also, there’s a perverse satisfaction in seeing the show draw a clear line between the relatively minor shifts to the status quo in the flashbacks and the nightmarish religious-fundamentalist dystopia where even white, educated, middle-class cis women aren’t safe from persecution.

Women are told so often that we’re making a big noise about nothing – we have not been believed when we report abuse or harassment, been shouted down with manipulated statistics when we point out pay gaps, and met with shrugs or mockery when we say something makes us uncomfortable. Women of colour, poor women, and queer and gender-diverse folks, of course, are listened to even less. (While it’s not great about casting or representing POCs,  the show is careful to illustrate how the queer and POC characters it does have are instantly more on their guard in the flashbacks than the white, straight main character, June, is.)

And so there’s something satisfying about having a hit TV show that illustrates pointedly exactly how f**ked up the subjugation of women is; that shows, in beautifully rendered extremes, that oppression is just a question of degrees. How wide is the gap between being judged for not taking your husband’s name, and being given a man’s name instead of your own? Between being forced to get pregnant, and being forced to stay that way once you are?

It’s like the show is pointing to creeping restrictions on abortion, on Mike Pence saying he refuses to be alone with women, on the hoops women have to jump through to just be safe – and saying, “See? Do you see, now?”

Recommended viewing suggestion.

All that said: if the show wasn’t good, it’d just be traumatic feminist misery porn for middle-class white ladies. Women – most women, anyway – do not need to be convinced with thinly veiled allegories about religious politicians, or told endless stories about women and queer people suffering under patriarchy. There’s a metric tonne of that in the news, and our lives, every damn day.

But the viciousness is so beautifully, precisely calibrated that it resonates with everyone. The cinematography is gorgeous. Elisabeth Moss’ performance – often in scenes where she’s experiencing unbelievable levels of terror or emotional and physical pain and yet cannot scream – is one of the most detailed and compelling on any screen right now. 

It’s a spy thriller, a domestic drama, and, as June wanders through the shell of an old newspaper office, as compelling a look at the end of a civilisation as The Walking Dead. It’s often devastating, but you can’t look away – and if you’re going to sit through death and misery, this is a lot more useful than Game Of Thrones, and probably still less miserable.

Bryan Cranston's Refreshingly Not-Terrible Reaction To #TimesUp Shows That He Is The One Who Gets It

Support isn't just about what you pin to your nice suit.

Bryan Cranston took home an Olivier Award last night for his performance in a West End stage adaptation of the classic film Network.

You may know his character, Howard Beale, as The I’m Mad As Hell And I’m Not Going To Take This Any More Guy.

This guy gets it.

Before he won, though, he gave a red carpet interview that made headlines for what’s actually a pretty basic idea.

Asked about the black and white Time’s Up pin on the lapel of his sharp rust-brown tux, he said: ‘Because time’s up. The idea that older white men are controlling the world and having free rein is over.”

See? He gets it.

This is an improvement on the lip service being paid to the #TimesUp movement by men wearing pins on the red carpet and, say, refusing to disavow Woody Allen, or not knowing how to talk about it.

It’s an improvement on genuine, enthusiastic support that talks about women’s strength and their suffering without actually talking about who’s been making them suffer.

It’s a hell of an improvement on saying nothing.

Cranston, in referencing the fact that it was older white guys who had not just most of the power but also an absolutely wild amount of freedom to behave as they wished with minimal consequences, acknowledged that the problem is (say it with me now!) a systemic power imbalance.

Harassment, rape and abusive behaviour aren’t just a thing men (and everyone) need to choose not to do (though that sure as f**k would help), and Time’s Up isn’t just about raising awareness of how common those abuses are.

It’s also about upending the systems that give them so much power over other people – people who aren’t white and aren’t men and aren’t rich – that they can get away with abuse. 

Or put another way: women (and survivors in general) are as mad as hell, and we’re not going to take this any more.

“With every person that is brought to the [public’s] attention, and the aggressors – whether sexually or power oppressors – when they fall, we have the opportunity to rebuild on a foundation of mutual respect,” Cranston went on.

Count ‘em off: that’s understanding of the movement, an acknowledgement of his own privilege, and recognition of how positive the goals of Time’s Up are without making it sound like a vague, feel-good ribbon campaign.

Now, how bloody hard was that? 

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