YMMV / The Handmaid's Tale

For the Book

  • Fridge Logic: The majority of the men in this society are a) armed and b) do not expect to have a chance at a woman — read: any legal sexual outlet whatsoever — unless they're really, really lucky because those government-run brothels are only for the high-ranking members of the government and foreign officials. Gilead shouldn't have lasted seven weeks, let alone seven years.
    • It's mentioned that some soldiers are hanged for "gender treachery" (i.e. turning to homosexual sex, probably due to this), but that just means a revolt should have been even likelier.
    • In addition, there's never any hint of action from the rest of the world regarding this-considering that any non-white, non-male, non-... whatever denomination of Christianity Gilead practices individual is either persecuted or executed, there must be some outcry from the rest of the world. At the very least, the UN would be giving the Republic of Gilead major sanctions for human rights violations. In the TV adaptation, Commander Waterford does mention sanctions against Gilead by the European Union.
      • The pilot explicitly mentions lower status men being assigned wives and more to the point, the show jetissons the white supremacist element of the series, meaning that the supply of women of all races are presumably available to the men of Gilead so there is no real shortage; whereas in the books, where minority women were either killed off or exiled.
    • Fridge Logic is easily explained by having an Unreliable Narrator and the fact that it's highly implied throughout the book that the Republic is lying about almost everything to maintain some sort of semblance of function.
    • Odds are good that there's a lot of unreported rape and harassment of Marthas going on, that the Marthas don't report because they know they'd be blamed for their own assaults.
      • There's also the Fridge Brilliance that this isn't a functional society but a Nazi-esque reactionary one, that we eventually learn blows up within a generation. It still doesn't mean there's not a massive amount of pain, horror, and anger before it collapses. Fascist, but Inefficient indeed.
  • Harsher in Hindsight:
    • The Handmaid's Tale was, of course, written as an incredibly Anvilicious social commentary on Christian fundamentalism. But the horrible thing is that there are real-life political figures of some influence who actually advocate things far too close to Gilead for comfort—As latterly proved by William S. Lind, advisor and speechwriter to presidential candidate Gary Hart, originator of the "Cultural Marxism" meme, and later a major "Alt-Right" figure who has been seen with Donald Trump. In 2014, he published Victoria, a manifesto-cum-survivalist novel which seems almost to be cribbing details of its plot right out of Atwood's story: From the entire US Government killed in a suspicious-looking terrorist attack and far-right militiamen taking over to liberal professors massacred, traditional dress codes enforced, women banned from the public sphere and feminists literally re-educated to become war brides and/or condemned to sexual slavery as punishment for their sins. Unlike Atwood, however, Lind considers the resulting society a desirable utopia, and consequently portrays the fundamentalist militiamen as unadulterated heroes, with their victims being vile villains who deserve all they get and more. It's even down to really specific details—he, like Gilead, supports death by hanging.
    • Not to mention that, though Atwood focuses on Christian fundamentalism, the themes have already happened for women in some countries such as Iran, which regressed from its more liberal ideas decades ago when taken over by religious (Muslim) fundamentalists. See Nightmare Fuel.
    • Researchers have known for at least 20 years (e.g. British Medical Journal, 1992 "Evidence for decreasing quality of semen during past 50 years") that sperm counts are dropping. The issue has been intermittently in the public eye since then, with environmental pollutants named as a possible contributor (obesity and inactivity are known contributors).
    • On the flipside, women have recently started to cosplay as Handmaids as political protest.
  • Padding: The repetition and lengthy atmospheric descriptions can seem like this, particularly to readers already familiar with the genre.
  • Sci-Fi Ghetto: Margaret Atwood insists the book is Speculative Fiction, but not Science Fiction. "Science fiction has monsters and spaceships; speculative fiction could really happen." The book won the first Arthur C. Clarke award in 1987.
    • There are signs that Atwood's mellowed since then and the book is taught in University literature courses at least in Canada, France and the Netherlands.
  • Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped: Religious fundamentalism can be just as oppressive as other forms of tyranny, and women deserve to be treated as equals.
  • Values Dissonance: If Luke cheated on his wife when he met June (as opposed to the two having separated and decided to divorce and him already moving on) while there's nothing odd in the 20th and 21st centuries about portraying a woman pursuing her own desires by sleeping with a married man as positive (though it is not without its own negative implications), it's not common for feminist works not to condemn a man who cheats on his wife or partner; as June is the narrator of the story, the text naturally has nothing negative to say about Luke's treatment of his first wife, thus portraying cheating on a woman as perfectly acceptable.

For the Series

  • Alternate Character Interpretation: Is Ofglen really part of La Résistance, or is she just another Handmaid who cracked under the pressure and is acting out a spy fantasy to stay sane?
  • Awesome Music:
    • The remix of Heart of Glass by Blondie that plays during the protest scene early in the first season. It amps up the tension of the scene from unsettling to utterly terrifying, especially given the progression of that particular episode, which shows the gradual transformation of America into Gilead.
    • The ethereal cover of "For What It's Worth" in the Season 2 teaser.
  • Broken Base: The show getting a second season. After its tremendous acclaim, many are happy to be getting more of it, but there are also those worried that the show already used up the events of the novel and the crew may not be able to sustain the quality level without that template. Plus, the necessity of actually revealing Offred's fate which completely goes against the book's deliberately ambiguous ending.
  • Crosses the Line Twice: Emily ending her joyride by backing into a soldier and leaving him injured in the street: disturbing if still cathartic. Her then running over his prone body again and causing his head to explode like a ripe melon to everyone's disgust: hilarious.
  • Ensemble Darkhorse: Moira, Emily, and Janine are all very well-loved by the fandom. Especially impressive in Janine's case, since her original book incarnation wasn't very popular at all.
  • Narm Charm: The slow-motion walk of Offred and the other Handmaids at the end of "Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum" as Offred internally declares, "We are handmaids". Self-affirming while also cheesy.
  • One-Scene Wonder: Marisa Tomei as an unnamed Wife who was sent to the Colonies for having an affair and strikes up an unlikely friendship with Emily, at least until it turns out Emily was actually setting her up for a long, painful death.
  • She Really Can Act: Even die hard Gilmore Girls fans have been critical of Alexis Bledel's portrayal of Rory Gilmore and her acting in general. Her performance as Ofglen in The Handmaid's Tale however has been universally praised.
  • Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped:
    • When oppressors like Aunt Lydia, Serena Joy, and even Commander Waterford show semblance of empathy or kindness, it's hollow in the long-run.
    • The consequences of misogyny owe a lot to men and the Female Misogynists that perpetuate it. Women who participate in the men's world of oppression, like Aunt Lydia and Serena Joy, end up hurting themselves along with the women who didn't participate in the oppression in the first place.
    • Patriarchy and fundamentalist extremism hurt men as well. In addition to this, they create thorny power imbalances. Even if Fred Waterford is unhappy, he still has the power to exploit Offred and has less repercussion for his actions. Also, no matter how much Nick is hurt by Gilead and might be a good guy, Offred calls out on his obliviousness of his power as an Eye, thus why it's depicted as hollow when he reveals his full name to Offred because at least he's allowed to keep a significant part of his identity, unlike a handmaid.
    • Tyranny doesn't happen all at once. It happens by those in power introducing small changes that people accept as normal until it's too late, or slowly boiling the proverbial frog.
  • Squick:
    • Some of what constitutes Fetish Fuel for the Commanders can enter this territory, like when we see a fellow in an elevator, licking a Handmaid's hand stump. Rule 34, indeed.
    • Season 2 actually lets us see the much talked about Colonies, where prisoners are subjected to dangerous radiation levels. This includes a closeup of a woman tearing off her diseased fingernail.