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Series / The Handmaid's Tale

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"Sterile. That's a forbidden word. There is no such thing as a sterile man anymore. There's only women who are fruitful and women who are barren."

"You can't change anything about this. It's going to end the same no matter you do what so there's no point trying to be tough or brave. Brave isn't any part of this. Everybody breaks."
Nick Blaine

A 2017 Hulu TV series based upon the novel The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.

20 Minutes into the Future, the world is suffering from a population crisis. All pregnancies have a one in five chance of surviving. In the midst of this crisis, the United States of America has been taken over by an extremist Christian regime and is now the nation of Gilead. All women are now second-class citizens. If anyone is caught breaking the laws by an Eye — such as a woman reading anything at all, or committing "gender treachery" (i.e. homosexuality) — swift punishment will follow, including but not limited to amputation, genital mutilation, or forced labor in the post-war wasteland of the "Colonies."

Fertile women who were not in compliance with Gilead's laws prior to the takeover have been forced to become Handmaids, as taken from the Biblical tale of Jacob, Rachel, and Rachel's handmaid Bilhah. Each Handmaid is owned by a Commander, and is thusly named after him: Ofjoseph, Ofmathew, Ofdaniel. Once a month, the Handmaid will be ceremonially raped by her Commander in hopes of siring a child. If the child lives, the Handmaid will wean them and then be sent to the next Commander. If too much time passes with no pregnancy, the Handmaid will be sent to the Colonies.

The story follows Offred (played by Elisabeth Moss), the Handmaid of Commander Waterford. Separated from her husband Luke and daughter Hannah, Offred—real name June Osborne—is now surviving day-to-day under Gilead's oppressive regime. However, she eventually finds out that there may yet be hope of escaping Gilead.

Major supporting roles include Samira Wiley as Moira, Joseph Fiennes as Fred, Yvonne Strahovski as Serena Joy, Alexis Bledel as Emily, and Max Minghella as Nick.

The series premiered on Hulu in April 2017. The series quickly exploded in popularity, and a second season released in April 2018. Due to the original novel being covered in the first season, everything from the second season onward is Adaptation Expansion. A third season released in June 2019. A fourth season came out in April 2021—production halted soon after its beginning in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and resumed in September 2020. The fifth season began releasing in September 2022, alongside the confirmation of a sixth and final season.

The Handmaid's Tale contains examples of:

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  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The series seems to be set not very far off, with the flashbacks in what's apparently present day. Tinder, Uber and Craigslist are mentioned. Luke is explicitly stated to have been born in 1980.
  • Aborted Arc
    • Episode six of season one ("A Woman's Place") reveals that Gilead is planning to sex traffic fertile Handmaids to Mexico as part of a "trade deal." To top that off, it also seems that at least some of the Mexican dignitaries were spies for the American Government in Exile. So far, nothing came of these story threads and the trade deal has not been mentioned since, not even in the episode where the Waterfords visit Canada to discuss Gilead's international relations.
    • After the bombing of the second season, an overzealous Commander is introduced that institutes even tougher security measures. It almost seemed that they were getting ready to introduce him as a bigger bad only to have him arrested at the end of the episode he appears in and is not mentioned again. Not only that, the same bombing had killed Commander Pryce (Nick's superior), causing Nick to worry what will happen to him, but that is the only time this is addressed.
    • The beginning of Season 3 implies that June is getting ready to start her own resistance cell of Mayday, personally hand-selecting women, who were going to be sent to the colonies, to instead be spared to become Marthas, based on their individual skills. There is also a heavy implication that these Marthas are going to be part of/connected to Lawrence's house staff. It turns out that, offscreen, these women were actually distributed to jobs throughout Boston, and June never tries to use them for help. One of them later appears and helps June, but this is nothing but pure luck, and none of the others come into play.
  • Abusive Parents: Serena's mother is emotionally abusive, revealing personal details about her daughter's troubled marriage to outsiders, being unwilling to listen to the reasons why Serena's marriage deteriorated and actively encouraging her to go back to her husband. She is shown to be more concerned with Serena's social status rather than with her happiness and well-being.
  • Acceptable Feminine Goals and Traits: Gilead enforces the view that the men are meant to be the breadwinners of the household, while women the caretakers. A lot of the traditional housework is reserved for lower class women, and the wives have female domestic servants (known as Marthas in Gilead) to do it for them. Wives are encouraged to knit as a pastime, and young girls are raised learning how to knit, embroider, make preserves, etc.
  • Actor Allusion:
    • Moira at Jezebel's is going by the name "Ruby". Ruby is the name of Daisy's cat in Girl, Interrupted, whom Moss' character adopts at the end of the film.
    • Commander Winslow's wife Olivia shares a first name with Detective Stabler's partner from Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
  • Actually, That's My Assistant: During the dinner with the Mexican representatives, Offred greets the ambassador's assistant: the ambassador is actually the woman behind him. She doesn't take any offense, though she misses that Offred is stunned to once again see a woman in a position of power.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The series fills in a lot of the details on events which were only mentioned by the book, such as what happened before the regime taking over. Season One ends where the book did, with Offred being taken away, so Season 2 and onwards is original to the series. The series also looks at the pre-Gilead backstories of Offred, Luke, Commander Waterford and even Nick.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: The Commander is older with gray hair and not at all attractive in the novel, whereas here he's played by the handsome Joseph Fiennes. The same goes for Serena Joy, who is not described as attractive, but worn out and having to use a cane. Here she's played by the very beautiful Yvonne Strahovski.
  • Adaptational Diversity: The novel The Handmaid's Tale has an all-white cast because the Gilead regime was explicitly white supremacist and had all black people Released to Elsewhere; the Hulu adaptation dispenses with this aspect in order to avoid Monochrome Casting. A number of significant roles (Moira, Luke and his and June's daughter Hannah, Nick, Rita) are played by actors of color; there are also actors of color among the smaller roles and extras, especially the Handmaids and Marthas. In addition, Ofglen (named Emily in the series) is shown to be a lesbian, which isn't mentioned in the book (although Moira being a lesbian is book canon). We also see some black Commanders, Wives, and Guardians (though in the background mostly).
  • Adaptational Heroism: At least in comparison to the original book, courtesy of character expansion. Serena Joy remains a villain in the original novel, while in the Hulu series she's a victim of a Heel–Face Revolving Door. She shows genuine pity for Offred and even helps her a few times, but then reverts to her old ways of abusing her not long after. By Season 3, it's clear that she's now solely motivated by "her" daughter, i.e., the child she forced June to conceive with Nick. She betrays Fred to the Canadian police in exchange for visitation with her, but at the expense of forcing June to act in Gilead's campaign to get baby Nichole back.
  • Adaptational Job Change: In the original novel, Serena was a former televangelist, but in the series, she is a former conservative political pundit and author in the vein of Ann Coulter or Tomi Lahren.
  • Adaptational Sexuality: Ofglen is a lesbian here and was in a same-sex marriage. Her sexuality is not mentioned in the book at all.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Even though she has more Pet the Dog moments with Offred than in the original novel, Serena Joy is also portrayed as much more vicious, cruel, and vindictive than her book counterpart.
  • An Aesop: The show has a bunch of morals that recur throughout the series:
    • When oppressors like Aunt Lydia, Serena Joy, and even Commander Waterford show a 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 religious extremism hurt men as well. As we see with the man who tries to help June escape, male life is pretty cheap and slight infractions of the rules seem to be punishable by mutilation, shooting or hanging. In addition to this, they create thorny power imbalances. Even if Fred Waterford is unhappy with his lot, he still has the power to exploit Offred and faces less repercussion for his actions. Also, no matter how much Nick is hurt by Gilead and might be a good guy, Offred calls him out on his obliviousness towards 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.
    • No one has to fit a narrow definition of the perfect survivor or victim. This is demonstrated best by how beaten Janine, Emily, Lillie, and Moira are broken by their experience and have their own way of coping. It gets heavily emphasized by June's complete surrender to her Offred identity.
    • Even if many of the Wives don't agree with the more extremist aspects of Gilead and they're lower on the caste system than Commanders, their "moderate" visions of Gilead are still dangerous ingredients.
  • Affably Evil
    • Fred and the other Commanders typically act civilly and courteously, despite running a theocratic dictatorship that rapes women and hangs homosexuals (among many other atrocities).
    • Aunt Lydia is kind and motherly to the Handmaids under her care, especially Janine, and says several times that their safety is her priority. That said, she will also beat and torture them if they step out of line, including but not limited to having their eyes removed or sticking their hands onto open flames.
    • June's torturer in Season 4 is always very polite to her and acts solicitous of her wellbeing even when torturing her.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Flashbacks show Luke calling June "Junebug" and their daughter "Hannah Banana".
  • Age Lift: The Commander is older, probably middle-aged at least in the novel. In the series he's played by 46-year-old Joseph Fiennes. Serena Joy is also described as being older. Here she's played by Yvonne Strahovski, who's the same age as Elisabeth Moss, playing Offred.
  • Agony of the Feet:
    • As punishment for helping Moira escape, June's feet are whipped into pulp (the fate that befell Moira in the novel).
    • For sneaking into the MacKenzies' house to see Hannah, June's feet are beaten bloody, and she's forced to scrub the floor without interval afterward. She doesn't care though.
  • Alternate History: The first episode shows the birth rate had plummeted in 2015 to catastrophic levels. While the US birth rate has fallen, it's still only slightly below replacement levels (and in the real world, this is more due to societal changes where people choose to have children later, or not at all, rather than having pollution cause an epidemic of miscarriages and stillbirths, although the former was blamed as well). This explains the "present day" being not far in the future after this. It is later shown that June gave birth to Nichole in 2017, when the TV series began. She also says her previous child Hannah was taken away five years before, setting the coup which led to Gilead in around 2012. It's contradicted however by a Boston Globe headline about the attacks, dated as September 15, 2014, showing these took place shortly before.
  • Amputative Sentencing: One of the punishments enforced by Gilead is removal of limbs. Women reading is punishable by them losing a finger, then a hand if they continue. Even a Wife like Serena is not spared this when she reads the Bible in front of a court of Commanders. Warren Putnam also undergoes the surgical removal of his hand as punishment for his sins. Note that Serena is implied to have had her finger removed painfully, while Putnam's amputation was done while he was medically unconscious, further emphasizing Gilead's double standard in their punishments.
  • Arc Words: More like 'arc word', and it's a subtle one, but "Hi". In the mandated pious courtesy of Gilead, Handmaids only ever greet each other with scripted call-and-response exchanges or mindless recitation of such: Praised be. Blessed be the fruit; may the Lord open. We've been brought good weather. Whenever a character is free enough to greet a loved one openly, regardless of the relationship between them or the intensity of the current moment, the greeting is nearly always a simple, humanity-affirming "Hi".
  • Armor-Piercing Response: Being one of the most, if not the most eloquent characters on the show, Serena's occasional run-ins with this trope tend to be the kindling to moments of character development (or at least humility, however temporary).
    • While attending a summit in Canada with Commander Waterford, Serena is confronted by a representative of the American Government in Exile, who offers her a chance to escape Gilead and even have her own child. Serena makes a weak attempt to counter him.
    Serena: I have a child on the way.
    Mark Tuello: That's not your child.
    • When June is trying to convince her to do what's best for Nichole, forcing her to confront the inevitable horror of her future as a girl-child in Gilead. This is what prompts her to petition the Commanders for the right to literacy for women, and she gets maimed for her trouble.
    Serena: My daughter will be raised properly. She will understand the word of God, and she will obey His word!
    June: She cannot READ His word!
    • When Serena is trying to convince Luke to tell Nichole who she is, when she grows up.
    Serena: Every child has a right to their own story!
    Luke:: And what role did your husband have in that story?
  • Arranged Marriage: In the new Gilead society, young girls are married off to new Commanders when they reach their teenage years. Nick is given a 15-year-old wife as a "reward" for his good work. In reality this seems to be more of a power play by Commander Waterford, as well as a way for Serena Joy to crush Offred's spirits.
  • Artistic License – Biology: Thankfully played straight. Gilead has a habit of hanging dead bodies everywhere. Hanging bodies don't stay nearly that clean. Once all the bodily functions shut down, there's a lot of leaking. Later, comes something known as the "seaweed effect."
  • As the Good Book Says...: The fundamentalist regime cites the Bible as the source of all of their laws (though as Offred recognizes, they do it quite selectively), and authoritative Gilead figures like Commanders and Marthas often quote Bible verses as explanations for their deeds. Fred cites a passage from the Bible shortly before he whips Serena Joy for reading, as though he has to.
  • Baby Factory: The purpose of the Handmaids is to provide children to the Commanders of Gilead. Their fertility is only thing keeping them from being shipped to the Colonies for not abiding by Gilead's ways prior to the takeover.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Waterford was part of a coup that took over at least part of the United States, stripping women of their rights. Once women's place is firmly established in the home and they're not even allowed to read or write, he finds himself now utterly lacking any emotional connection in his marriage, and pathetically turns to Offred - the woman he's enslaved - to get some form of intellectual stimulation. Serena, his wife, who also supported the coup, is clearly unhappy with her lot as well. For instance, she wrote in defense of their values, but not only is her book no longer read, but as a woman herself, she is forbidden from reading completely.
  • Blackmail: Serena takes June to see her long-lost daughter Hannah, threatening harm to her if June does anything to harm the baby she's pregnant with, which Serena plans to claim as her own.
  • Black Comedy: Largely the only variety of comedy that exists in the show as characters make dark jokes about their current situations.
  • Black Market: Unsurprisingly one is revealed to exist in Gilead. Not only are alcohol and various illegal drugs traded, but also cosmetics and pregnancy tests. Nick provides drugs to a Martha working in the brothel, with her giving him dirt on the customers in return (they also have a casual sexual relationship). Commander Lawrence also offers some contraband to Ofjoseph: birth control pills.
  • Body Horror: Be female and read a book; that's a finger amputation. Talk too much, and Gilead will pluck out the person's eye. Infidelity is handled with getting a hand amputated at best (usually death). Too important to kill, but still causing trouble? Genital mutilation. Standing up for someone results in tongue removal or getting your mouth literally wired shut. Then there's DC. Every Handmaid's mouth (as well as several Marthas' mouths) is wired shut.
  • Book Burning: Some workmen are seen burning books and paintings in the city after Offred and Moira escape. Season 3 reveals that paintings from before the takeover are sold on the black market for high prices—June offers Commander Lawrence's collection of books and paintings as payment for a plane for the escape plan.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: June's mother is right that she should have been more politically conscious and prepared more for the downfall of the US, and June was at least underestimating her own intelligence. June is also right that it isn't safe.
  • Break the Cutie: On a systematic level. This happens to every single Handmaid, to varying extents. Life in Gilead could take the happiest, most well-adjusted woman alive and turn her into a half-crazed mess only focused on surviving. And in the case of Janine and Emily, sometimes not even that.
  • Break the Haughty: Fred and Serena in Season 4 and 5
  • Breeding Slave: This is the Handmaids' role, to provide children for the Commanders.
  • Broken Bird: Janine starts out as tough and smart-mouthed, but the mistreatment she goes through at the reeducation center wears her down until she snaps. Every Handmaid is like this, to some extent, but poor Janine gets it the worst. Her prior trauma likely contributed to her mental breakdown. A group of boys gang-raped her when she was young.
  • Bury Your Disabled: Presumably this is true, since we hardly see any people with physical, mental, or developmental disabilities in Gilead. The finale "May Day" in Season 3 had a truck full of disabled people (including children) led somewhere wretched, probably execution.
  • Bury Your Gays: Justified by the fundamentalist regime. Homosexuality is a capital crime, and we see one man was hanged for this on the Wall. They even brought back the pink triangle symbol of the Nazis to designate it. However, any lesbians who are fertile get exempted, and will even be spared the death sentence if caught having homosexual sex, though with surgical "modifications" if necessary.
  • But Not Too Evil: In the original book, Gilead was racist, sexist, militarist and generally they fulfilled every possible negative stereotype of the Right-Wing Militia Fanatic to the maximum extent. This adaptation actually amplifies the regime's misogyny, or at least the attention it receives, but seemingly omits the racism, even showing the system actively promoting higher black birthrates. Unlike the above examples (The Handmaid's Tale being a million miles from kid friendly in the first place) this change was made for pragmatic reasons, as the makers reasoned that a society built around plummeting birth rates could ill afford to deport fertile women based on racial grounds. They also have black people in their ranks and are fine with interracial marriage (this is also practical in that it allows the show to avoid Monochrome Casting). Still, a disproportionate number of black people are in low-ranking positions and almost all Commanders are white. Remember this is in Boston, a city which is about 25% black. It indicates that black members of the regime are in a secondary position overall. The only explicit racism is one white Commander and Wife who refuse to have Handmaids of color though.
  • Child by Rape: All of the children the Handmaids give birth to, as they're slaves who have no say in the matter.
  • Childless Dystopia: It's afflicting Mrs. Castillo's home city, that she describes as a place where no babies have been born for half a decade.
  • Children as Pawns:
    • Serena is even more in the habit of blackmailing June with access to Hannah in the series than she is in the book, even going far enough to let her know where Hannah lives.
    • Baby Nichole, Nick and June's baby, becomes a pawn between Serena and June during June's pregnancy and after she gives birth.
    • Commander Waterford's funeral is being broadcast around the world. Serena parades Hannah and even gives her a forehead kiss in front of the cameras, knowing June will be watching.
  • Color Contrast: Naturally the deep red of the Handmaids' dresses is contrasted with the blue-green worn by the Wives, and the faded green of the Marthas. More generally, the settings are mostly composed of blue, green and yellow elements that all make the Handmaids visually stand out (June lampshades this in Season 3's "Mary and Martha" when she points out in the narration that it makes them easier to catch).
  • Color Motif:
    • Handmaids wear red, the color of the blood that defines them: menstrual blood, the bloody nature of childbirth; red is also the "sexiest" color, associated with sexual immorality and prostitution, as well as the image of Mary Magdalene. That particular shade of red is used because it's flattering to all skin tones, so every Handmaid will look "her best" in her uniform regardless of her complexion.
    • Wives wear teal as a Shout-Out to the Virgin Mary. In the books, it's a true blue, but the show adds a touch of green to set it against the particular shade of red used for the Handmaids. Fred even calls it The Teal at one point.
    • Boys and girls wear blue and pink, respectively, for obvious reasons.
    • Season 5 introduces the lavender-clad "Plums", young women in training to be Wives who are either attending or have completed their domestic arts education. The color is halfway between the soft pink of their childhood and the vivid blue of their future, but the audience is introduced to the idea fully as Hannah stands at Serena's side, creating an air of Purple Is Powerful and Graceful Ladies Like Purple.
  • The Conspiracy: Fred was part of one that led to Gilead's creation. It's a group, whose exact size is unknown, but had cells all across the United States. Fred proposed that they commit false flag attacks on the Congress, President and Supreme Court. This was agreed to, and they succeeded.
  • The Coup: The regime which created Gilead seized control of the US by false flag attacks that quickly brought down the government, which they blamed on terrorists. This was used as an excuse to suspend the Constitution, declare martial law and then much more...
  • Country Matters: Janine calling Mrs. Putnam a cunt, despite Offred's warnings to Janine not to act up. The offense isn't the word, it's that talking back or disrespecting the Wives can get Janine killed or sent away to the Colonies. However, later in that season, Offred calls Mrs. Waterford exactly that to her face whilst she's delivering an epic "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
  • Crapsack World: Gilead, especially the Colonies. Failure to abide by Gilead's many conservative laws can result in mutilation at best and public execution at worst. All women are considered second-class citizens, with even the highest-ranking unable to read. The series itself focuses mostly on the plight of the Handmaids, fertile woman who are forced into sexual slavery to produce children.
  • Creator Cameo: Margaret Atwood appears as an Aunt slapping Offred's face in the first episode.
  • Crippling Castration: A rare female example. Gilead sentences fertile lesbians to "redemption", aka clidorectomies, to cure them of their "perversion". This is done to Ofglen/Emily after she's caught engaging in a relationship with a Martha. But only if it's a lesbian Handmaid; any other woman who is unable to bear children and considered to be a "gender traitor" is immediately put to death.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: The "particicution", in which a supposed rapist is beaten to death by the Handmaids (other versions specify that the man is actually a political dissident. The TV series leaves it to your imagination).
  • Darker and Edgier: If that's possible for source material that was already pretty dark to begin with. Janine gets an eye ripped out for sassing the Aunts at the reeducation center, and Ofglen is also subjected to female genital mutilation after she's 'reprieved' from being executed for having sex with a woman. This also just comes by default of the series continuing after the original book's end, meaning we get to see even more of Gilead's heinous acts.
  • A Day in the Limelight:
    • Luke, who hasn't gotten a lot of attention before, has an entire episode devoted to his story once he was separated from June and Hannah, "The Other Side".
    • "Jezebels" has a bit about Nick's life before Gilead and how he got involved with The Sons of Jacob.
    • "Unwomen" has parts about Emily's life up to the point of the Gilead takeover.
    • "Unfit" features a series of flashbacks about Aunt Lydia's background.
    • "Milk" shed more light on Janine's past, and her experiences with birth decisions.
  • Day of the Jackboot: After simultaneous false flag attacks on the US Supreme Court and Capitol, martial law is declared. Before people know what is happening, it's been declared illegal to employ women, with them being escorted from their workplaces by armed black-clad men. When protests occur, they're simply gunned down by the same thugs, as the Sons of Jacob take over, creating a theocracy.
  • Dead Guy Junior: June and Nick's daughter Holly is named after her presumably deceased grandmother, but June later decides to call her by Serena's choice: Nichole, which is potentially a reference to (the still alive) Nick.
  • Deadly Euphemism: "Common mercy" and "particicution" are used as terms for two kinds of public execution, with "salvaging" for executions as a whole.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Serena Joy begins to treat Offred much more nicely when she finds out Offred's period is late, even going so far as starting work on a much nicer bedroom for Offred. Before the reveal, she seemingly opens up to Offred about how happy having a child will be and how much she and the Commander had tried for a baby in the past. Naturally, once she finds out Offred had her period... it's right back to business-as-usual.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: As with the book, the series is full of this since it involves an officially misogynistic and homophobic fundamentalist regime taking over the United States. They push the clock back so far that even reading is now forbidden to women.
  • Den of Iniquity: Jezebel's, one of the few establishments left in Gilead where prostitution is permitted, but only to entertain the men. It passes itself off as a Smoky Gentlemen's Club to make itself seem respectable in the face of the country's own moral hypocrisy.
  • Determinator: The brutal punishments meted out to second-class citizens has a habit of forcing various personality types to their logical extremes. This is one of them. When they hit this stage, they often become master manipulators, killers, or simply just don't give up hope. Everyone who makes it to Canada is essentially this. Those who remain in Gilead longer, despite opportunities to leave, like June, are going to keep trying out different approaches to their personal objects despite any risks.
  • Didn't Think This Through: This happens a ton with the people who wanted Gilead - the flaws continue to be revealed as time goes on. They all seemed to assume they would be the exception to the rules. It hardly ever turns out that way, and in the instances where its true, it doesn't stay that way.
  • Disappeared Dad: We don't really find out what happened with June's father. He never appears in the scenes of her past, only her mother does. As the only thing she says about him is he was a Catholic (while she's watching a church being demolished), and the regime hangs them, the implications are dire for his fate.
  • Divided States of America: It seems Gilead only controls a portion of the former U.S., with a civil war being fought in other parts. We know Gilead includes New England and the Mid-Atlantic, given mentions of Maine, New York and D.C. being part of it, and the series taking place in Massachusetts. Yet Offred mentions that Anchorage is the capital of "what's left of the United States," and that there are "two stars on the flag," suggesting that Alaska and another state (most likely Hawaii) are run by another government that is the U.S.'s true successor. If there is fighting in Florida and Chicago, that suggests that there are even more new governments clashing with Gilead. It's hard to piece together much, given the limited information the women of the series receive besides Ofglen, due to her membership in the Resistance, and the lack of trust that the regime instills in its citizens, making them reluctant to discuss politics. Rebels control most of the border areas of CONUS as well as the West Coast, Vermont and Florida.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Everything in the book Atwood wrote, from the Puritan dress, to military rule, to enactment of religious law, to the violent subjugation of women, has happened, is happening, and likely will happen again. She built Gilead from factual events when she wrote it back in the 1980s. As seen below, history marches on and not a lot has changed. History doesn't repeat, but it rhymes...
    • The Republic of Gilead strongly resembles Islamist Afghanistan and Iran in a number of features. Most notably in the status of women, but even the method of hanging by crane, plus the bodies being publicly displayed, echoes Iranian practice. There is also the strong resemblance to Puritan forms of dress with the Handmaids, as Atwood was inspired by the theocracy they established. It takes place in Cambridge, MA, with the bodies hanging from the Harvard Wall and a Catholic church at Harvard Square being demolished, appropriately for where the Puritans once ruled (even Harvard University was started by them).
    • Atwood has said in numerous interviews that everything in Gilead she took from something a real human society did, and so far the series' additions have been consistent with that (for example, what happens to Ofglen at the end of episode 3 is basically female genital mutilation (FGM), which is still distressingly common in African countries as a way of keeping girls "pure").
    • In a flashback, the homes and businesses of "gender traitors" in one town have been vandalized by having their windows broken and homophobic graffiti painted on them, reminiscent of Kristallnacht.
    • The idea that the Handmaids were first enslaved for "serious" crimes, then less and less serious, until they could be taken for any little thing, echoed the Magdalene laundries, where women who got pregnant out of wedlock were sheltered and used for labor. The practice perhaps began as punishment for prostitutes but came to include pretty much any woman that was "improper". In some cases, their children were adopted to other families. One of the last Magdalene laundries was located in Waterford, Ireland - Fred's surname thus seems to be more than mere coincidence.
    • The male "Babies of Gilead" being dressed in lederhosen is no accident.
    • The airport scene in Emily's flashback of attempting to flee pre-Gilead Boston is reminiscent of the immediate aftermath of Executive Order 13769 (aka the "Muslim ban") in January 2017. In the background can even be spotted "Free Legal Help" signs like the ones immigration lawyers used at airports affected by the ban.
    • The flashback of Serena Joy getting heckled by college students in "First Blood" is reminiscent of the protests against appearances by alt-right figures on college campuses such as Milo Yiannopolous and Richard Spencer. Several protesters even have "Resist" signs.
    • The Colonies are visually similar to Nazi concentration camps where prisoners were forced to work, particularly the women's camp of Ravensbrück.
    • College professors and other intellectuals were executed for the most part. This is reminiscent of Pol Pot's genocide against intellectuals during the Khmer Rouge.
    • Commander Joseph Lawrence being referred to as "the architect behind the colonies" is reminiscent of Adolph Eichmann being "the architect of the Holocaust". Interestingly, despite this, he appears to be a member of Mayday.
    • Despite Gilead being a misogynistic hellhole, women like the Wives and Aunts are complicit in female exploitation and oppression. This doesn't sound too ridiculous with real-life reports of women willingly flying to Syria in order to join the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, drawn with promises of status and purpose to their lives even if it boils down to Stay in the Kitchen much like Gilead. They also approve the sexual enslavement of "infidel" women like Yazidis and Christians just like Handmaids are picked from "women that lost their way" (adulterers, prostitutes, lesbians, etc.), with one infamous ISIL pamphlet justifying this activity being allegedly written by a jihadi bride similar to Serena Joy's book "A Woman's Place", which served as inspiration for the Sons of Jacob to shut out women from any positions of authority or being in control of their lives..
    • The detention center Lawrence shows June is little more than a packed warehouse of standing-room-only cage-cells inside a building resembling a meatpacking plant, borrowing imagery from the horror stories of ICE detention facilities in 2019. Later, women are shown being herded through gates and chutes like cattle or pigs to slaughter.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Gilead treats the Handmaids like they're lower than dirt, so when they get the chance to bite back, they bite back hard.
  • Domestic Abuse: Commander Fred Waterford whips his wife Serena Joy for stepping out of her assigned role as a Wife in the theocratic Republic of Gilead during the time when he was incapacitated. Given the androcentric nature of the religious society, this trope is basically a given.
  • Double Standard: June's husband is blase about her bank account being shut down as he tells her she can just use his, not understanding that although they love and trust one another it means a horrific loss of independence for her.
  • Dramatic Irony: In Season 2, June simply can't convince Eden that Nick isn't a gender traitor, because she can't tell her that they've been sleeping together.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • The first Offred hanged herself because she couldn't take it in the house. The second Offred uses this as an incentive for Fred to let her go outside again.
    • Janine. After being gaslit by Commander Putnam into thinking that he loved her and would run away with her, and then being separated from her newborn daughter, Janine attempts to commit suicide with said daughter by jumping off a bridge into freezing water. It doesn't take, as June convinces her to hand the baby back, and a boat saves Janine when she hits the water.
    • Serena Joy attempts to drown herself in Season 3, but changes her mind and doesn't go through with it. She also stands motionless after she sets her bed and house on fire, only managing to move after June drags her out.
    • June is essentially put into isolation after Ofmatthew's mental breakdown, wrought on by June and the other Handmaids turning against her. Spending (implied) months with no one to talk to and never being allowed to leave the room results in a Sanity Slippage that has her trying to kill the comatose Ofmatthew and later Serena Joy. The doctor that later treats her says she has suicidal tendencies, which she denies—but as he points out, her actions will result in nothing but her own death.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Played for Laughs when Commander Lawrence yells this at June and Emily as he's helping them escape.

  • Ear Ache: All Handmaids have tags painfully inserted into their ears as a means of identifying them if they try to escape. In the Season 2 premiere, June bloodily cuts the tag from her ear with scissors as part of going on the run, but sadly it's replaced later.
  • Eiffel Tower Effect: As with seemingly anything taking place in Boston these days, there's the obligatory scene at Fenway Park. However, this scene is significantly more disturbing than watching the Red Sox — it's used in a mock hanging to punish defiant Handmaids.
  • Electric Torture: All Aunts carry around electric prods to punish Handmaids that step out of line, or goad them into spilling information. Season 2 reveals they are also used by the overseers in the Colonies.
  • Equal-Opportunity Evil: The novel's version of Gilead is a white supremacy, which sent all black people to "national homelands" in North Dakota and presumably removes other racial groups too. In the series it enslaves women of all races as Handmaids and Marthas, and also shows black people among not only Commanders or Wives, but also some Guardians, the internal security forces of the regime. They're also fine with interracial marriage, since the problem which June and Luke face was over him being formerly married to another woman (as the regime doesn't legally recognize a divorce unless it was for a wife's adultery) and Omar (the black worker who helps June) is openly married to a white woman (while secretly being Muslims). However, it's also shown that at least one Commander and his wife have requested only white Handmaids, so it's not like racism has gone away entirely.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Played with, according to Gilead's twisted ideals.
    • Serena Joy's occasional glances at Offred and the manner in which she tries to de-stress after the Ceremony suggest she might have a smidge of empathy of Offred's plight but is too stuck in egotistical delusion to even acknowledge it.
    • Aunt Lydia believes her beatings and mutilation of the Handmaids is absolutely necessary for the future of Gilead, and becomes upset when Serena Joy bans any disfigured Handmaids from the state dinner, because she believes that all of the Handmaids had earned the privilege.
    • Offred's glance at Aunt Lydia's seemingly knowing expression suggests that even Aunt Lydia is appalled by the prospect of Handmaids getting trafficked to other countries.
    • Aunt Lydia also doesn't seem particularly thrilled with the Handmaids in Washington, DC getting their mouths wired shut.
    • Though it doesn't stop her from doing it, Aunt Lydia starts to cry as she steels herself to sentence Janine to death by stoning. She also steps in when the guards try to physically punish the Handmaids for their refusal.
    • Serena is absolutely devastated and traumatized during Eden and Isaac's execution. She also becomes infuriated after a Martha gets shot on the street by a trigger happy Guardian.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Commanders and their Wives seem to genuinely love and care for their children, despite the reprehensible methods by which they were born.
  • Evil Reactionary: As in the book. Gilead's laws and culture are all based on extremely fundamentalist Biblical beliefs. Part of their "reason" coming from global pollution and the birthing crisis—the propaganda in the Red Centers mention how the world decayed under human use, and as seen in Serena Joy's book, that women are not fulfilling their "biological destiny" by birthing children. The regime also punishes LGBT people by death, commands all women to be second-class citizens, and forces all Handmaids into sexual slavery...again, to make the world "better." Their regime explicitly echoes that of the Puritans, from the 1600s.
  • Extreme Mêlée Revenge: Aunt Lydia is stabbed in the back, punched in the face, pushed over a bannister onto the stairs below, then kicked down the stairs and beaten savagely by Emily when she finally has enough of her snide attitude.
  • Eye Scream: Following Matthew 5:29, Janine is punished for sassing Aunt Lydia by having one of her eyes removed (offscreen, thankfully). This is the tipping point of her Sanity Slippage.
  • Face Death with Dignity: After being discovered trying to elope, Eden and Isaac are sentenced to death by drowning for the sin of adultery (as Eden was then married to Nick, again by Gilead's edict). Eden is given one last chance to confess, but she instead bravely raises her chin and declares that God's love is forgiving. It's one of the only instances of facing death with dignity on the show, and committed by a teenage girl, no less.
  • Fake Kill Scare: As punishment for declining to stone one of their own, the Handmaids in Cambridge are hauled inside a baseball stadium where they're subjected to a mock mass hanging.
  • False Flag Operation: The regime slaughtered Congress and blamed it on terrorists, which gave them the pretext to suspend the Constitution, then take over.
  • Fan Disservice: While there is plenty of nudity, the circumstances surrounding the scenes are distinctly un-sexy. Examples include: Janine walking around topless during her Sanity Slippage, Serena Joy stripping to her underwear to look at the welts left by Fred whipping her, June stripping naked to painfully give birth to her child, and generally everything the audience gets a glimpse of among the Jezebels.
  • Fate Worse than Death:
    • Being sent to the Colonies, where people clean up toxic waste until their hair, teeth, and skin decay away from being poisoned and they finally die.
    • While her lover is executed, Ofglen survives due to her fertility. But you don't need a clitoris to get pregnant...
    • Just plain being a Handmaid is considered this, considering how many are Driven to Suicide to escape their condition like Offred's predecessor, Janine, Lillie and June herself tries it. One Econowife, Heather, says that she'd sooner die than become one which becomes tragic when she becomes a Handmaid after her husband is discovered helping a fugitive June, being a crypto-Muslim and having a son, therefore fertile. Also consider that after they are no longer of use, they will be sent to the Colonies...
    • Season 4 introduces a hybrid of both the Colonies and Handmaid fates: the Magdalene Colony, in which Handmaids will toil for hard labour while still being raped by Commanders. June gets a momentary Heroic BSoD when hearing of this while Lydia has a wicked smile on her face.
  • Female Misogynist: Many of the Wives and Aunts, especially Serena, fought to create a society that makes all women second-class citizens who are barred from reading, having jobs and for Handmaids, are forced to bear the children of the Commanders.
  • Feminist Fantasy: Not only is the main character a woman along with most supporting characters too, but the series also revolves around women's issues. Most particularly is bodily autonomy, since the Handmaids are breeding slaves, though also other rights which women have gained (at least in part of the world). They struggle both to resist and survive under a misogynist regime that's horrifically oppressive, in which the smallest freedom is denied for them. Given that many issues in the series have come back into prominence with a number of US laws curtailing many reproductive rights, actual American feminists have even taken up the Handmaid motif to protest while wearing their garb.
  • Fetish: The Handmaids are this to some of the Commanders (like Fred) and also customers at the brothel (they have prostitutes dressed as them there). Plus women kissing each other, and many forms of dress from the old days which we see them wear too. There's also a brief moment where a man kisses a woman's arm stump, implying he's fetishizing her amputated limb.
  • Fingore: As punishment for publicly reading from the Bible before the council as part of her plea that they let girls do this, Serena loses a finger.
  • Flashback: A number of these show Offred's life in the past, prior to the regime taking over with her family and Moira.
  • Forced to Watch:
    • After Ofglen's relationship with a Martha is exposed, the soldiers force Ofglen to watch as her lover is hanged. Because Ofglen is fertile, she's spared, though subject to a clitoridectomy.
    • In the first episode of season 2, Offred is put through this by Aunt Lydia: she is spared torture for refusing to stone Janine because of her pregnancy, but has to watch her fellow Handmaids go through it.
    • Also in season 2, when Commander Waterford discovers Serena went behind his back to get a former-doctor-turned-Martha to examine the Putnam's baby, and also involved Offred when she stepped in for him while he was hospitalized, he makes Offred watch while he whips Serena, because her pregnancy means he can't punish her physically.
  • Frame-Up: Serena has Nick frame Ray Cushing after he starts looking into June's escape too closely, to get rid of him.
  • Freedom from Choice: As with the book, "freedom from" is extolled by Aunt Lydia to the Handmaids over "freedom to" in the "days of anarchy" before Gilead.
  • "Friends" Rent Control: As refugees in Canada, the main characters occupy fairly large, well-kept houses in the suburbs of Toronto, which in Real Life are absolutely unachievable for the average middle-class earner. One possible explanation might be the real estate market plummeting due to the population crisis.
  • From Bad to Worse: A common theme of all the flashbacks. It seemed inconceivable that normal American life could end up as Gilead in such a short time period.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Aunt Lydia was once just Miss Clements, a kind teacher very concerned with children's welfare. There's little hint how she became an Aunt, but presumably it's due to this concern being pushed toward extremes with the fertility crisis and adopting the Sons of Jacob's beliefs as a result. The start, it seems, was having a boy taken out of his mother's custody due to what Lydia saw as inadequate parenting, as well as Lydia being rejected romantically by a man she admired.
  • The Fundamentalist: The regime which runs the Republic of Gilead. Even their law is based directly upon the Bible.
  • Gaslighting: Janine may be delusional, but her delusions were undoubtedly fed by Warren. In a moment of clarity, she publicly calls him out on it.
    Janine: You said we would be a family!
    Warren: She's not well.
    Janine: I was well enough to suck your cock! I did every fucked-up thing you wanted. All the freaky shit she'd never do, because you promised me we would run off and we would be a family!
  • Girl on Girl Is Hot:
    • Some of the brothel's customers clearly feel this way, as we see one having sex with a woman who's kissing another at the same time while others watch.
    • Both Luke and Commander Waterford bring up the possibility of June and Moira having sex.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion:
    • The fundamentalist regime certainly thinks so, blaming abortion (among other things) for the current demographic crisis. A former abortion doctor is also seen hanged from the Wall later by Offred and Ofglen.
    • In the Season 4 episode "Milk", flashbacks to Janine's life before Gilead zig-zag this trope. A few years after having her son, Caleb, she got pregnant again by accident. She planned to have an abortion, being as she was an unmarried diner waitress, the father was her on-again-off-again boyfriend who was implied to not be ready, and she would not be able to raise two children alone. However, when she went to a crisis pregnancy center, the person who met with her was a Holier Than Thou woman who twisted the perspective to make abortion sound worse than it was. She told Janine about the process for vacuum aspiration, leaving out that Janine is too early for that, and adds that she can become infertile if the process fails. Spooked by this, Janine decides to get a second opinion; this time, an actual doctor is completely honest with her and prescribes her abortion pills for her early stages. She also tells Janine straightforwardly that crisis pregnancy centers actually manipulate women to keep unwanted pregnancies. Imagine how shocked and conflicted Janine must feel after this.
  • Good Old Ways: Along with retrograde gender roles, Marthas are expected to cook everything from scratch and all food comes from organic farms. In the latter case it may also be inspired by the fear of environmental toxins, so that they no longer use artificial pesticides.
  • Government Agency of Fiction:
    • The fictional DCBS stands in for the Canada Border Services Agency, the acronym and emblems can be seen in several scenes where Gilead refugees are welcomed to Canada.
    • The International Tribunal for War Crimes which is prosecuting the Waterfords. It is associated with but distinct from the International Criminal Court, and seems to be similar to the tribunals held for war crimes in Rwanda and Yugoslavia.
    • Averted in the flashback of Emily/Ofglen trying to flee to Canada with her wife and son. The agents that prevent her from boarding the flight are wearing clearly marked ICE jackets.
  • Government in Exile: The US federal government has been forced to relocate after the coup in DC, declaring the new seat of power to be Anchorage, Alaska.
    Serena: So you're from the embassy?
    Mark: No, but I am a representative from the American government.
    Serena: Which American government is that?
    Mark: We're still a nation. Smaller than before, but we still yield some power.
  • Groin Attack:
    • Ofglen, being fertile, is spared the death sentence for homosexuality and sentenced to "redemption", which apparently entails a clitoridectomy, since this way she won't feel any sexual pleasure again.
    • Later, she kicks her Commander in the crotch after he collapses with a heart attack after the Ceremony.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: This appears to be a hallmark of Gilead's security forces. Multiple episodes appear to have established them as quite incompetent, considering they allowed a suicide bomber to attack the Commanders in Season 2. Not to mention that they allowed June to escape twice in Season 4, once from the van carrying June to a Magdalene Colony, and the second on a boat trying to return to Canada, with June in front of them the entire time. See Swiss-Cheese Security for other instances of this incompetence on a broader scale.
  • Happiness in Slavery:
    • Plenty of the Handmaids play this part, not daring to speak explicitly of their plight in public or be punished.
    • In particular, the second Ofglen says she's happy with her lot, because she was a drug-addicted prostitute before. Now at least she has somewhere to stay every night, plenty of food, and people she insists do care about her, though it's still open to interpretation if that's a rationalization and coping mechanism. She still balks at stoning Janine. Later this trope is averted when her tongue is removed and she suicide bombs a meeting of Commanders in a new Red Center.
    • June's new partner in season three, Ofmatthew, is seemingly very pious and happy with her status, although hints that she may be less so in the season when she reveals that she is now pregnant again with her Commander's child (number four!)
  • Heavenly Blue: The Wives wear blue in honor of the Virgin Mary.
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: Serena practically defines this trope. She spends the entire series flip-flopping between aligning to Gilead and its dissidents.
  • The Heretic: All members of the resistance groups are heretics according to the Republic of Gilead, and punished for this, not anything else. That's because, officially, there isn't a resistance.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Luke tries to hold off the soldiers while June and Hannah run, with just a revolver. He's quickly shot but manages to survive and escape into Canada.
    • The Season 3 finale has June and the Mayday women distract the Guardians from the children who they're rescuing by throwing stones at them, resulting in some being shot. June leads a Guardian into the forest after this by running from him, resulting in her being shot by him in the back. She plays dead and shoots him when he comes to check her non-fatally, forcing him to radio the all-clear, then shooting him dead. Her Handmaid friends take her away for help on the next day.
  • Heteronormative Crusader: The regime is run by these, with same-sex relations punishable by death and called "gender treachery". Only fertile lesbians are spared, out of necessity, and being caught carrying on a lesbian affair is punished with a clitoridectomy.
  • Homophobic Hate Crime: Systematic in Gilead. LGBT people are called "gender traitors" and can be executed, with the exception of those women who are fertile, in which case they become Handmaids. However, if lesbian Handmaids have affairs with other women, they may suffer clitoridectomy as punishment. Even prior to this, such crimes rose with the Sons of Jacob's resurgence, as a gay professor was murdered with the same label of "gender traitor" on a placard around his neck. While on the run June also comes across a ghost town with the same graffitied on homes and businesses of LGBT people near broken windows.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: The second Ofglen was a former prostitute who views (or rationalizes) her current station in life as an improvement from her previous life and chides Offred for straying from acceptable behavior by speaking with the former Ofglen/now-Ofsteven for self-preservationist reasons. That said, she ushers Offred away from the scene of Ofsteven's joyride for her safety and gives her some assuring words before they part for the day. She is also the first one who speaks out against stoning Janine to death, knowing she will probably be punished for it. Having had her tongue cut out, she later warns her fellow Handmaids as best she can before she charges into a room full of Commanders at the opening of the new Red Center and sets off a bomb in a suicide attack.
  • Hope Spot:
    • After Offred reveals what Handmaids really suffer to Mrs. Castillo, who listens with compassion, it seems that for a moment the deal with the Mexican government won't go through. However, Castillo then says they have to, mentioning her home city where no babies have been born for half a decade.
    • June is on the plane heading to Canada and just as they are about to lift off it is gunned down.
    • In 'Late' June remembers in the days when Gilead was just asserting its' power taking part in a mass protest against their oppression of women. But the marchers are simply ruthlessly gunned down by Gilead's soldiers, civil disobedience helpless against a regime that is quite prepared to kill all who oppose it.
  • Hypocrite:
    • Fred and the other officials who visit a brothel, despite being fundamentalist Christians who condemn this. He excuses it by saying "We're human."
    • In "Milk" Steven laments the fact that Handmaids are used as sex slaves, but he has no problem trying extorting sexual favors from Janine and June in order to let them stay.
    • In the first episode, “Offred,” Aunt Lydia is training the Handmaids to endure monthly ceremonial rape. Then during the Particution, she says, “the penalty for rape is death.” She then tells the Handmaids that she’s there to protect them.

  • I Die Free: This seems to be the motivation behind Ofglen—now Ofsteven—stealing the car and going on a "joyride" that includes running over a military officer. Season 2 reveals she was not killed but sent to the Colonies, to suffer a Fate Worse than Death.
  • Illegal Religion: Being Catholic or Jewish is apparently a capital crime now. We see a priest hanged from the Wall, along with a man wearing a Star of David symbol. Catholic cathedrals are demolished. Later on, June hides out with a family of closeted Muslims, finding they hid their Quran and prayer rug while they make a point of attending church to publicly fit in. The man, Omar, is hanged with the green crescent and star symbol of Islam, indicating this is illegal as well. We can surmise all religions except the official one of the regime are banned and punishable by death.
  • I'm a Man; I Can't Help It: Waterford offers a variant of this as an explanation as to why Jezebel's exists.
  • Improvised Weapon:
    • Moira uses a piece of the toilet tank in her room as a knife. She stabs the man who's with her using it, and then takes off in his car.
    • June stabs Winslow repeatedly with a pen after he attempts to rape her in Jezebel's, before bashing his head in with a decorative statue.
  • Insistent Terminology: June's boss in the flashback says all his female employees are being "let go", not "fired". In the present time she's beaten by Aunt Lydia because she calls Emily "gay", not a "gender traitor". In another flashback, June keeps being called "Mrs. Bankole" (her husband's surname) despite saying her name's June Osborne. It's an ominous sign of the change happening, as it was once standard for women to have their husband's name.
  • Irony:
    • In the past, June was the 'other woman' in Luke's marriage with his wife. Now, she's the official concubine/breeding slave in Fred and Serena's marriage.
    • Rape is officially a capital offense in Gilead, a nation where institutionalized rape and brutalization of women is the core of their society.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique:
    • Aunt Lydia was quite clearly beaten (and probably starved, as her face is more gaunt) during her "interviews" by the Eyes of God.
    • In Season 4 June is tortured by water boarding and having two friends of hers killed. She breaks after her daughter is threatened.
  • Kangaroo Court: Ofglen and her Martha lover's trial lasts about five minutes at best. All the prosecutor does is swear they're guilty, and the court rules they are before sentencing them both. There is no defense counsel at all.
  • Kubrick Stare: June makes one at the camera as she roped into appearing in the Waterfords' appeal for Nichole's return from Canada, clearly infuriated as her fists clench.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: After all the shit Aunt Lydia put Emily through, she finally gets her comeuppance with a knife to the back and a kick down some stairs.
    • Commander Winslow none-too-subtly presenting himself and groping Fred during a pool game. See, it's not fun when you're the one being harassed, is it, Freddie?
      • Winslow also meets his karmic end while attempting to rape June, a former editor, when she stabs him repeatedly... with his own pen.
    • Fred being arrested in Canada for war crimes. He looks terrified and helpless, like so many of the innocent people he made feel that way during the rise of Gilead.
    • The Marthas and Handmaids throwing rocks at the Guardians while trying to get all the children to the plane. Janine being the one to throw stones at Guardians, reminiscent of the Salvaging where the Handmaids were asked to stone Janine.
  • Let the Past Burn: The trauma of being beaten by Fred, losing her finger at his hands and giving away Nichole so that she can have a better life culminates in Serena burning the Waterford house down.
  • Letting Her Hair Down: All of the women keep their hair up regardless of status, with exceptions for occasions such as when the Handmaid is giving birth, in which case both the Handmaid and the wife keep their hair down. Serena also lets hers down when she visits Canada.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: Fred can't get it up for the second "ritual", possibly because he's become closer to Offred.
  • Love Triangle: Although Luke isn't aware of the fact at first, June has a relationship with Nick (first forced, but then willingly), and he fathers her second child. She expresses genuine feelings for both. Luke is pretty understanding in the circumstances, as they're separated by force and she's clearly desperate to have something that offsets her terrible existence.
  • Luxury Prison Suite: The prison cells the Waterfords are held in after being arrested by the International Tribunal for War Crimes look more like Scandinavian hotel suites than a prison, complete with minimalist furniture.

  • Malevolent Mutilation:
    • Ofglen's genital mutilation in episode 3.
    • The extremely graphic and clinical presentation of Commander Putnam's hand amputation is also extremely difficult to watch.
    • Serena's finger is amputated as punishment for reading the Bible before the council.
    • Averted for June during her torture sessions - she comes very close to having one of her fingernails pulled out, but manages to stop it from happening by sharing (false) information.
  • Marital Rape License: Gilead clearly does not deem it rape if a man is having sex with his Wife or a Handmaid, their consent be damned.
  • Mercy Kill:
    • Hanging is referred to as "common mercy" by the court, implying they think it's this (for homosexuals at least) in their view. Given the terrible conditions we see, some might even agree with them. Or it could simply be that it's still preferable to "particicution" (i.e. death by mass public beating).
    • June is tempted to do this to Natalie/Ofmatthew when she's in a persistent vegetative state, being kept alive until her baby can be delivered, although Janine stops her.
  • Metaphorical Marriage: Kit and Fiona are two women sent to work themselves to death to colonies and they are in a relationship. Kit is very weak, on the brink of death, and Janine organizes a wedding for them. The ceremony is presided over by another prisoner, Sally, a female rabbi. It is their last moment to find happiness before Kit dies. The next morning Kit's body is buried in the graveyard. Gilead ruled all same-sex marriages void and the state certainly doesn't recognize such unions as legal, but the wedding ceremony was very meaningful to all who witnessed it.
  • Mistaken for Gay:
    • Fred finds out that June had a past with Moira and arranges for them to meet in Jezebel's when he visits again, thinking they were lesbian lovers. June corrects this, though, and Fred lets them have some time together anyway (he seems oddly okay with the idea they were lovers in the past, despite echoing the usual anti-gay stance of the regime by calling Moira "degenerate").
    • Eden thinks that her new husband Nick is a "gender traitor" because he won't have sex with her; however, this is actually because he has problems sleeping with a 15-year-old and is in love with June.
  • The Mole: Nick is an Eye of God (i.e., part of Gilead's intelligence service), but also with the resistance. Joseph Lawrence is a Commander, though he too gets revealed to be working with them. The first sign he's a good guy is his refusal to rape Emily as part of the Ceremony. However, he still acts harshly to June (especially while his fellow Commanders are there), though it may be an example of Good Is Not Nice or so they won't get suspicious.
  • Monumental Damage: When June visits Washington D.C. with Serena and Fred, she sees that the Washington Monument is no more, replaced by a huge cross. The statue at the Lincoln Memorial has been half destroyed, and left that way.
  • Mood Whiplash: A downplayed one where a younger Fred Waterford and Serena Joy are about to enjoy a movie, partaking in a regular casual leisure as ordinary Americans do, then Fred picks up his phone to receive the news that the planned attacks are happening and the couple blithely agree it's for the world's best interests and proceed to watch the film.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Serena seems to be shifting to this from her previous Be Careful What You Wish For realization when she witnesses Eden and Isaac weighted down and thrown into a swimming pool to drown.
  • Named by the Adaptation: The Commander's last name is never given in the novel. Here it's Waterford (as one theory in the book's epilogue had it). Offred's name from before is June (also implied in the booknote ). His wife is officially Serena Joy Waterford, with Joy being her maiden name, rather than "Serena Joy" being her stage name from her days as a televangelist, and which in the book it's said Offred possibly made up anyway as a spiteful nickname. Ofglen's real name turns out to be Emily Malek. June's last name turns out to be Osborne; her husband, Luke, has the surname Bankole, as does their daughter, whose first name is Hannah (it isn't revealed in the book). Nick's is revealed to be Blaine. Aunt Lydia's is given as Clements.
  • The Needs of the Many: Fred justifies what the Republic of Gilead does based on this, saying they wanted to make the world better, but that never means better for everyone—it's always worse for some.
  • Never My Fault: Women are blamed for the fall in birthrates due to their wickedness, promiscuity and subsequent lack of fertility, but when Offred goes to see a doctor for a checkup, he claims that most (if not all) of the Commanders are also sterile. Later, Fred refuses to take responsibility for his affair with Offred, blaming Serena for causing temptation.
  • Non-Uniform Uniform: Deconstructed in the background. The individual Handmaids' and Wives' dresses all have the same silhouette and distinct color, but to achieve the same silhouette on different body types, there are subtle differences between them. While pregnant, Offred even wears an ordinary sweatshirt in Handmaid red while Emily's red uniform dress is fitted across the back, and while the svelte Mrs. Waterford and Mrs. Putnam have high, loose ribbon collars and sleeves, a more full-figured Wife shown later in season 2 has a sleek teal jacket with a band collar to create the same elegant shape. Perhaps tellingly, the Commanders wear a true military uniform.
  • No Periods, Period: Averted. Rita and Serena take an uncomfortably keen interest when Offred's late, since she's there to have a baby. We later see the blood on Offred's panties when she finally gets her period.
  • No Woman's Land: The Republic of Gilead, where woman cannot own property, work, read or write, or do anything else freely, and effectively have no rights now. If fertile, they're turned into a Handmaid - a breeding slave. Others are Wives, or Marthas (domestic servants), or even prostitutes at government-owned brothels like Jezebel's. The unlucky ones are sent to the Colonies for a slow death from radiation poisoning as they clean up toxic waste. Flashbacks show scenes of the process of women losing their rights, where Offred's (then June) credit and debit cards stop working, and all the women are fired from their jobs under the eyes of armed guards.
  • Oppressive States of America: Most of the US has been replaced with the Republic of Gilead, a brutal fundamentalist dictatorship. The series plays with the shock value of watching book burnings, the Eyes, church destruction, etc. take place on location in Boston and Cambridge, MA. Even before Gilead is created by a coup, the United States was heading in its direction, as evidenced by the gradual eroding of women's rights seen in flashbacks.
  • Original Position Fallacy: Discussed in The Handmaid's Tale. When the Mexican ambassador makes a state visit to Gilead in one episode, she notes that before the revolution Serena Joy Waterford wrote many books defending Gilead's brand of far-right extremist Christianity. Gilead, of course, forbade women's education and literacy on religious grounds, which means there's no one to read Serena Joy's books anymore and Serena Joy herself is mostly stuck at home bored out of her skull. She initially dismisses this, but it eats at her and leads to her having a nasty falling-out with her husband that carries into season 2.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Rita reveals in conversation with Serena that her nineteen-year-old son died serving in "the war" (presumably the one Gilead is fighting against the rump US). All Serena can offer is a weak expression of gratitude for his sacrifice.
    • Janine's son is revealed to have died in a car accident (although June can't bear to tell her, since her sanity is already precarious).
  • Out with a Bang: After the Ceremony with Emily, her new Commander dies from a heart attack.
  • Quote-to-Quote Combat: The Gilead regime is a far-right Christian fundamentalist theocracy that governs based on quote mined Bible verses, and Aunt Lydia often uses the line "Blessed are the meek" to chastise recalcitrant Handmaids. In the pilot, Offred remarks in her Internal Monologue that "they always leave out the 'for they shall inherit the Earth' part". The second instance is in the episode "Late", when Offred is being interrogated by Lydia and a member of the Secret Police.
    Lydia: Blessed are the meek, dear.
    Offred: "And blessed are those who suffer in the cause of righteousness, for they shall inherit the Kingdom of Heaven."
    Lydia: (gets enraged and starts torturing her with a cattle prod)
  • Passive-Aggressive Kombat: June engages in a lot of this by the third season, having learned when she won't be punished as she technically isn't breaking Gilead's laws or mores, or some other factor prevents it.
  • Persecuted Intellectuals:
    • Offred notes that all college professors were sent to the Colonies (a slow death from radiation poisoning) or... we don't get to hear the rest, but presumably killed. They spared Ofglen because she was fertile. We later learn that a prostitute was once a professor and (judging by Moira's story) was given the choice of working as this or going to the Colonies.
    • When Emily meets a Wife who was sent to the Colonies, the Wife assumes that she was sent there for that reason and tells her that she opposed the "university purges" because "getting an education doesn't make you a sinner." Emily doesn't correct her assumption until right before she kills the Wife.
    • In the second episode of season 2, Offred encounters another version of this while hiding in the offices of the Boston Globe. All their desks are filled with their personal things, as if they never left. When she goes to the basement of the building, she finds nooses, bullet holes and human-sized bloodstains, suggesting they were all assassinated by the Gilead regime.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • Deconstructed. Whenever the Wives are showing bits of kindness to their Handmaids, such as Serena Joy handing Offred a cookie, it's clearly just to stoke their own egos. Also, Serena's excessive kindness to Offred later is because Offred might be pregnant with a child she could claim as hers, and it's implied she took Offred out to parade her supposedly pregnant Handmaid around.
    • The deconstruction of momentary kindness can also be found in the domineering, shock-prod-wielding Aunts, Aunt Lydia in particular towards Janine. Lydia sincerely congratulates and comforts Janine during the communal ritual of Birth Day. Later on, Aunt Lydia becomes genuinely dismayed after the disfigured Handmaids are barred from the fancy dinner with the Mexican delegation. Lydia protests that the disfigured Handmaids (mutilated under her own command) had earned recognition and rewards after all the pain they went through. Aunt Lydia is also genuinely horrified at Janine's suicide attempt, gets June to help talk her down, and is distraught at Janine's bedside later on.
    • The Wife of Emily's new Commander does seem to be genuinely nice — she offers to fake being sick, so that Emily doesn't have to be put through the Ceremony this month. However, as Emily points out, "You can't be sick every month." Also, in the Lawrence household, both Eleanor and Joseph despise the ceremony, only participating when the Waterfords, Aunt Lydia, and Commander Winslow force them to do so - June is the one who manages to get them through it, having experience with disassociation.
    • Despite backing an ideology that is patriarchal in the extreme, Fred tries to let Serena speak before the council planning the coup. They unsurprisingly refuse.
    • Serena gives Offred a wind-up ballerina from her childhood as a gift, which is a bit touching. However Offred notes it's oddly appropriate, as she's a girl in a box herself, wound up for other people.
    • When Commander Lawrence is dragging Emily to her execution, he tells his wife he loves her and begs her not to get involved. Said wife also tells Emily she'll miss her and that she never got to say goodbye. A few minutes later, when he's jamming out to the radio in his car, when a tearful Emily begs him to turn it off, he does so without hesitation. Surprise, surprise! Turns out he's actually with the resistance.
    • The doctor who is overseeing the brain-dead Natalie's pregnancy is surprisingly kind to June after she's injured when attacking Serena Joy with a scalpel, due to her Sanity Slippage from having spent months on end being made to kneel in prayer in Natalie's hospital room. Serena surprisingly also declines to tell any other authorities about June's attack.
  • Plot Armor: June does have to endure numerous mental and physical ordeals, but by Season 3, and despite all the ways she's defied Gilead, she's yet to suffer any physical mutilations that the regime has become known for dealing out. Compare Janine's eye being torn out for talking back to an Aunt, Emily's genital mutilation for her affair with a Martha, Ofglen/Lillie's tongue cut out for speaking out against a stoning, and Serena's Joy's finger cut off for reading. Neither does the regime simply decide 'enough is enough' and send June to the colonies as an Unwoman. The armor starts to crack when June is captured and tortured, but she still manages to escape before being sent to a breeding colony.
  • Police State: The Republic of Gilead. Black-clad soldiers are constantly patrolling the streets, and secret police vans snatch people off the sidewalk. In a flashback to the rise of Gilead, they respond to the women's rights marchers with machine guns and mortars.
  • Pragmatic Villainy:
    • The creators mentioned that the reason the adaptation dropped Gilead's white supremacist ideology was because in a situation where infertility is rampant, the regime would require them not to discriminate against women on the basis of ethnicity and need all child-bearing women to fulfill their goals.
    • Gilead also spares lesbians, female intellectuals, and politicians if they are fertile, but in the case of fertile lesbians, they subject them to an alternative punishment instead if they get caught having sex with women.
    • Climate change is also mentioned to be very rampant in the series to the point that there is no snow in Boston now during the winter. The Gilead regime took steps to combat climate change, from limiting their industrial production to war production to cutting carbon emissions by 78% in three years and establishing an "entirely organic" agricultural model. This is more or less to do with the fact that climate change can have a negative impact on fertility rates and Gilead hopes reducing the climate change effects can boost their fertility rates. In fact, it's said that the widespread sterility is a result of "environmental toxins", making this a top priority.
    • Gilead is also willing to help other nations establish their own Handmaid programs, as evident with their "trade deal" with Mexico that basically involves sex-trafficking.
  • Prayer of Malice: June prays desperately for Natalie and her baby to die so she can be free of her forced penance with them, which has caused her severe torment.
  • Pseudo-Romantic Friendship: Moira and June are an adult version. They're so close, a couple people mistake them for lovers (though Moira being gay probably adds to the confusion). They even tell each other "I love you" more than once. However, they're just very close friends.
  • Public Execution: "Salvaging" is this. The Handmaids carry out the death sentence against a rapist by beating and clawing him to death. This is also called "particicution". Subverted when the Handmaids refuse to stone Janine, at June's instigation.
  • The Purge: Pryce has Nick and other plainclothes Eyes getting dirt on the Commanders to root out corrupt ones, including Fred.

  • Race Lift:
    • Moira, Luke and Offred's daughter are white in the novel (and movie adaptation). The TV series makes Moira black, and the others mixed race.
    • Along with having Handmaids who are women of color, quite a few of the regime's military enforcers are shown to be black men. In the novel, the Gilead regime is officially white supremacist as well as heavily misogynist. All black people (called the "Children of Ham") are "resettled" in North Dakota.
  • Rape as Backstory: Janine was gang-raped in a basement. Along with the fact that she had a son, it's all we know of her past (at least at first).
  • Rape as Drama: The Handmaids have no choice about serving the Commander sexually, having to undergo a ritual session regularly. The series also shows how this feels like a violation to Serena Joy as well, who has to endure the rape taking place in her lap.
  • Rape by Proxy:
    • Serena commands Nick to have sex with June. Neither is in a position to refuse. However, after this, they have a consensual affair.
    • Later, after suspicions grow of Commander Lawrence not performing the Ceremony, Fred, Aunt Lydia, Serena and Winslow come to his house with a physician at the time to verify it's been done. June and he are therefore forced to perform it, as otherwise they'll be punished (most likely with death).
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Of all the horrific things about Gilead, institutionalized rape is by the far the most terrifying. The use of rape as a theme gradually comes to deconstruct the trope by dicing the "special evil" up by degrees of violation; the Ceremony is a miserable, disgusting experience, but it's the least-miserable, least-disgusting form of it we see on screen. Offred's forcible rape to "induce labor" is treated as a corruption of something already inherently corrupt and a worse violation, as her pregnancy is otherwise her only shield against violence. Esther's repeated rapes by the men her husband effectively pimped her to is made worse by her youth and the fact that her status as a Wife saw her treated as even more consumable than a Handmaid for being the Commander's personal property, not a provider of a ritualized service, and when she does become a Handmaid, even that doesn't protect her. There are sex slaves dressed in the baby-pink girl-children's outfits in Jezebel's, which tells us there's a sexual demand for children among the Commanders, who strive to obtain children of their own. Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil and there are a lot of ways to make it very, very special.
  • Rays from Heaven: June is lit by a single light source above her head as she speaks during "Testimony". She is both metaphorically and literally in the spotlight, with the eye of Gilead ("Under His eye") and the eyes of the court on her.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
    • Short but succinct; in a flashback that shows the aftermath of the previous Offred's suicide to escape the poisonous atmosphere of the house, as her body is being carried away a quietly furious Serena Joy hisses at Fred: "What did you think was going to happen?"
    • Serena Joy hands this to Fred, after she finds out about his secret meetings with Offred. She also doesn't hesitate to tell him that Offred's pregnant, but the baby isn't his and will never be due to his stupidity and sterility.
    • Offred delivers a big one to Serena after Serena not only takes her to where her and Luke's daughter is being held and doesn't allow Offred to see her but also threatens her life if anything happens to Offred's unborn child or if Offred steps out of line.
      Offred: What is wrong with you? What is wrong with you? How can you do this? You're deranged. You're... you're... you're fucking evil. You know that? You are a goddamn motherfucking monster! Fucking heartless, sadistic, motherfucking evil CUNT! Fuck you, Serena! You are gonna burn in goddamn motherfucking hell, you crazy, evil bitch!
      Serena Joy: Don't get upset. It's not good for the baby.
    • Moira delivers an EPIC one to Serena at the end of Season 3!
  • Remarried to the Mistress: June and Luke's backstory. Luke cheated on his wife with June, and then left his wife and married June.
  • La Résistance: There is an underground network, fighting against the regime, called Mayday. Ofglen is a member until she returns from her imprisonment and mutilation, after which she is deemed "too dangerous." Commander Lawrence also seems to be involved with it.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: At least one of the resistance groups uses a suicide bomber against the Commanders (which results in more nearby Handmaids killed than them in the blast).
  • Right Through His Pants: The Commander keeps his pants on during the Ceremony, and Offred only pulls up her dress. This serves to underscore that the process completely lacks intimacy. When Serena Joy orders Offred to have sex with Nick in "Faithful," he also keeps his clothes on. But when Offred and Nick make love on their own, they both undress. The same goes for Serena Joy and the Commander in "A Woman's Place."
  • Run for the Border:
    • June and her family tried to flee across the border into Canada but got caught. Luke managed to get across later though, as does Moira.
    • Emily (Ofglen) tried to leave Boston with her Canadian wife and son once things started getting bad, but she was stopped at the airport since she was only a Canadian citizen by marriage and the fundamentalist government no longer recognized same-sex marriage.
    • In the second season, June flees again with Nick's help, but she's caught before getting on a plane to Canada.
    • Emily later successfully escapes to Canada with June's baby Nichole, and reunites with her family.
  • Sanity Slippage: Happens a lot in this series, mostly to the Handmaids.
    • Janine. After having her right eye torn out, she's quickly and utterly broken down, and never recovers.
    • Emily seems to have experienced something of one, following the trauma of undergoing clitoridectomy; she is shown to be capable of spontaneous acts of violence against authority figures in Gilead (e.g., her "joyride," poisoning the Wife in the Colonies, kicking a Commander in the groin after his heart attack, and brutally beating Aunt Lydia).
    • June undergoes this more than once, although she does recover both times. In season 2, she has a breakdown after she's captured after nearly escaping and discovers that both her fellow Handmaids and the family who helped her are being severely punished; she begins to get better when she realizes her baby has managed to survive both a lot of bleeding and a (possible; it's ambiguous) suicide attempt. In season 3, she's made to remain in the hospital keeping vigil over a brain-dead Natalie/Ofmatthew, who is being kept on life support until her baby can be delivered, and it's clearly taking a massive toll on her mental health. By the end of the episode, she is doing better, and volunteers to stay at the hospital with Natalie until she dies.
    • Natalie has one as a result of being shunned by the Handmaids for getting the McKenzies' Martha executed and then publicly shamed for having doubts about her pregnancy; it results in her going Ax-Crazy and attacking Janine before holding June and Aunt Lydia at gunpoint and then being shot by the Guardians.
    • Eleanor Lawrence has been undergoing one due to her apparent bipolar disorder and lack of access to medication. It gets worse after she's unable to get it through the black market culminating in her snapping and holding her husband at gunpoint after they're forced to go through with the Ceremony, although June can talk her down. She also goes on a manic tear to try to rescue children, and June talks her down again, albeit with more force.
  • Saved for the Sequel:
    • The brief subplot of a Martha being accidentally shot by one of the Guardians occurred in the original novel, but wasn't featured in the first season, which was largely based on it. It was later utilized, in a slightly different context, during the second season.
    • The concept of June recording secret messages onto a cassette tape disguised as a music mixtape was the main framing device of the novel but wasn't utilized in the first or second season of the show. June finally uses a cassette recorder to send a message to Luke in the guise of a mixtape in the third season.
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: Gilead is based upon an extremely harsh form of Christianity, and everyone is expected to remain pure and virtuous, but several of the Commanders blatantly flaunt the rules by indulging in banned pastimes, having illicit relations with their Handmaids and attending an elaborate, if tacky, brothel. It's unusual for a Commander to actually be punished for breaking the rules, even when caught.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Serena forges Fred's name on a transfer order to allow a Martha (who was once one of the world's top neonatologists) in the hospital for treatment of baby Angela after he refused. Fred whips her with his belt after he finds out what she did.
  • Searching for the Lost Relative: June spends the first season looking for her daughter, Hannah, who was taken from her when she and Luke tried to flee. She eventually learns that Hannah was adopted by true believers, though she never stops trying for a reunion.
  • Secret Police: The Eyes of God, who even the Commanders are afraid of. A couple of them are seen grabbing a man straight off the street in broad daylight, then stuffing him into a van. Nick was one, undercover as Commander Waterford's driver and tasked to spy on him. At the same time, he's a double agent serving in the resistance.
  • Sexless Marriage:
    • While the Commanders aren't supposed to have sex with the Handmaids outside of the Ceremony, it's unclear whether the same goes for their Wives. When Fred can't get an erection during one Ceremony, Serena Joy desperately offers to 'help him' via giving him a blowjob - which he rebuffs. Later they finally do have sex, after what has clearly been a very long time without.
    • Judging by both Nick and Eden and another Wife who'd gotten pregnant without a Handmaid, there seems to be almost a "grace" period after marriage to try and conceive without one, at least for Econowives, but the sex involves a special sheet with a hole in it. And if you take Serena Joy's conversation with Eden into consideration, they aren't supposed to enjoy it.
  • Sex Slave: It turns out Moira has become one of these after trying to escape from Gilead. She's stuck in a brothel along with a bunch of other women in the same situation. Her only other "choice" was the sure death of the Colonies. She tells June it's not so bad though, at least in comparison. The Handmaids themselves are not supposed to be this, but many like June and Janine get turned into them by their Commanders.
  • Sexual Extortion: In "Milk", the rebel leader who June and Janine meets makes it clear he'll only let them stay if one of them pleasures him. June tries to give him a blowjob but can't go through with it. Janine later does instead, offscreen.
  • Shaking Her Hair Loose: Offred does this before having sex with Nick (Handmaids must wear bonnets at all times).
  • Sheltered Aristocrat: Pretty much all the Gilead wives are varying shades of this. Serena is probably the worldliest, and she easily comes off as dense and childish for much of the story. Seeing one former wife explain to Emily she's in the colony for 'love' is like a hen complaining to a wolf about having access to too much food in the hen house.
  • Shout-Out:
    • An apartment door in Canada has the number 451. This is a reference to Fahrenheit 451—another dystopian novel.
    • While Luke's last name wasn't given in the novel, in the TV series it's "Bankole," the name of a main character from the similarly dystopian Parable of the Sower.
    • In "Bear Witness" after Lawrence allows use of his truck for June's extraction scheme, she sees the boatload of muffins from Marthas willing to participate.
    • June lying dying in the forest while the plane full of children and others escaping Gilead flies over her recalls the Grand Finale of Lost.
    • Janine and other Handmaids are scrubbing the floor at the Red Center. To cheer them up, she starts singing "It's the Hard-Knock Life" and they giggle and sing along.
  • Slut-Shaming: As part of the Handmaids' training, they have to group shame a young woman who was gang-raped, as she supposedly "led them on". This is particularly poignant since Offred is mentioned as writing about sexual assault in a flashback.
  • The Social Darwinist: In a meeting with the other Commanders, Joseph Lawrence cites Darwin himself in The Descent of Man to implicitly argue that women are inferior. Oddly, despite them being part of an ultra-fundamentalist Christian regime, no one appears to have a problem with this (most American fundamentalists completely reject evolution, and view Darwin as evil). It's unclear if he really believes this or is just making himself look good for the rest so they won't grow suspicious. Subverted though considering the book is about female superiority over males in the mate selection process. It was also edited by Darwin's wife and daughter before publishing (this may have been an inside joke from Lawrence).
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The series seems to be making this into a pattern at the ends of episodes. For example, the first two episodes end with Lesley Gore's "You Don't Own Me" and Simple Minds' "Don't You (Forget About Me.)" The lyrics and title are appropriate, but the upbeat tone is quite a contrast with the very dark content of the show. It even happens in-universe when Commander Lawrence puts on "Walking on Broken Glass" while driving Emily to what she thinks is her execution.
  • Spared by the Adaptation:
    • In the novel, Ofglen kills herself rather than be captured and interrogated about the Mayday resistance. Here she's arrested for homosexuality but escapes a death sentence due to being fertile. This is even though she seems to think she's been arrested for her political activities, citing what others in the resistance have told her about "how it goes," before seeing her lover also arrested and finding out the truth.
    • A curious example with June's husband Luke; in the novel his fate was left ambiguous, with Offred uncertain if he was alive or dead. In the series he survives his wife and daughter's capture and manages to get to Canada.
    • The same goes for Moira, whose fate was likewise left unrevealed in the book; she also manages to escape to Canada in the finale of the first season.
    • Janine's baby is revealed to be "a shredder" (physically deformed) in the book but is healthy in the series.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Eden and Isaac.
  • State Sec: The black-clad Guardians patrolling everywhere serve as these.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: The Republic of Gilead believes women should not work, nor own property. First, they froze all of the women's credit cards and bank accounts, then had them fired. When Serena Joy tries to draw on her publicist past and give Fred advice on how to deal with an Aunt who escaped to Canada and has sold her story, he quickly shuts her down and refuses to let her read the news story.
  • Sterility Plague: Birth rates in the US had plummeted to catastrophic lows by 2015. And of the babies that are born now, many didn't survive long past birth. This is apparently due to environmental toxins. The Republic of Gilead says it's only women who are sterile but the doctor Offred sees tells her most of the Commanders are as well.
  • Straw Misogynist: This is Gilead's hat. The regime's misogyny reaches cartoonishly self-destructive levels, with women banned from reading on pain of mutilation, going far beyond what even real-life Salafists or the Taliban have actually advocated. They have no rights, and those still fertile have been forced to serve as breeding slaves.
  • Suicide Attack: The new Ofglen commits a suicide bombing against the gathered Commanders at the opening of the Red Center, while giving her fellow Handmaids a warning for them to get away. However, more of them were in fact killed than Commanders nonetheless. This shows why bombings are generally a bad idea, even when the intended targets (like here) are what most would view as legitimate.
  • Suicide by Cop: Seemingly the intention of Ofglen/Emily/Ofsteven's "joyride."
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Nobody is spared from this. The female resistance within Gilead is constantly confronting false starts and setbacks. Those who escape, find themselves going through an extensive refugee process in another country. The wives of Gilead find themselves missing the freedoms they helped remove. The male elites have systematically angered everyone outside their narrow demographic, effectively painting massive targets on their backs for all non-state sanctioned acts of violence.
  • Swiss-Cheese Security:
    • Overlapping with The Guards Must Be Crazy, Gilead security appears to be struck with this at times. Despite the northern border with Canada crawling with Drones with attack forces intercepting various refugees attempting to cross into Canada, many of them successfully make it across, including Luke, Erin, Moira, and Emily (carrying Nichole). Not to mention Mark Tuello infiltrating Gilead and returning with the Waterfords, and Gilead allowing a plane full of children to leave Gilead.
    • This may have been enforced by Canada during the Waterford's visit in Season 2. No active guards were present around the Waterfords, considering the visitors were responsible for murdering and enslaving hundreds of thousands of relatives of people who were forced to flee up north. Plus, Luke being allowed to nearly an arm's length of the man who has enslaved and is systematically raping his wife. On the other hand, perhaps that's what the Canadians wanted, eh?
  • Sympathetic Adulterer: Both June and Emily have sex with other people while forcibly separated from their spouses. They are sympathetic given these dire circumstances, as neither knew whether they'd ever see their spouse again, plus they're likely desperate to have some intimacy rather than the ritual rape they suffer.

  • Talking Down the Suicidal: June has to do this with Janine as she's climbed up on the edge of a bridge holding her baby and threatening to jump, after the child had been taken away. June gets Janine to give her the baby, but after this, she jumps anyway. She survives, however.
  • The Theocracy: The fundamentalist regime rules the Republic of Gilead according to its own Biblical view, which is very harsh and twisted in favor of the male gender, particularly those in power.
  • Token Good Teammate: Serena Joy for the Wives, maaaaaaaaybe, as well as Mrs. Lawrence, and Joseph Lawrence for the Commanders.
  • Tranquil Fury: June shows this as she's forced to appear with the Waterfords in their appeal for Nichole's return from Canada.
  • Trauma Conga Line: This is naturally a part of the series. June is fired, stripped of rights, has to flee along with her family, separated from her husband, then her daughter, ritually raped each month, escapes, gets captured again etc. Of course, this also goes for other characters as well, like Luke and her fellow Handmaids.
  • Van in Black: These are everywhere, and anyone is liable to be suddenly pulled off the street and taken away.
  • Vasquez Always Dies: Of the group making a Run for the Border that rescues Luke in the flashback in "The Other Side", there's a nun, a gay guy, a rescued would-be Handmaid, and a tough-as-nails female Army brat. The Army brat is hit by machine-gun fire when the Guardians catch up to them at the Canadian border.
  • Villain Has a Point: Aunt Lydia is right that June can afford more defiance as she's pregnant, and thus they won't harm her (although they can make her life exceptionally miserable). However, she's also correct that the women who follow her example have no such protection.

  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: One could put forth a very good argument that Aunt Lydia is one of these. The other two primary antagonists, Fred and Serena Joy, are power-hungry and often self-serving. Aunt Lydia on the other hand just seems to thoroughly believe in the ideals of Gilead and in her own very twisted way believes everything she is doing is in everybody's best interest.
  • We Need a Distraction: When the Mayday resistance is rescuing children, the Guardians have been alerted to this and search for them. June and the others distract some on the road near where the children are by pummeling them with rocks, at the price of some being shot. Then later June leads another Guardian in the woods away from them, who shoots her in the back. She shoots him in turn after playing dead and then forcing him to give the rest an all-clear on his radio.
  • Wham Shot: Season 3, Episode 11 has some pretty significant ones. June kills Winslow. The Waterfords are lured into Canada and arrested.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: June wrestles with the agony of deciding which five women will survive the planned purge to the colonies. She picks a solid crew to assemble a resistance cell. Halfway through Season 3, they have yet to be introduced or even mentioned. Although one line of thinking would be that it is an investment to have five usefully trained Marthas out in service for the Resistance, instead of five meeker people that are willing to buy into Gilead.
    • At least one of them appears near the end of the season, making this a case of Chekhov's Gun instead. She helps June escape Jezebel's after killing Commander Winslow, and she and the other Marthas dispose of the body and clean up the evidence. It's not clear whether the other four women rescued are also working at Jezebel's.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Janine gives one of these to June after June proposes they Mercy Kill Natalie, who is brain dead but being kept on life support until her baby can be delivered. It works.
  • Woman Scorned: Commander Putnam's wife asked that he suffer the most severe punishment for carrying on an illicit affair with Janine. While couched in concern over the fate of his soul, it's not hard to read this as revenge after he cheated on her.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Too many examples to count.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The Season 3 finale shows a flashback where disabled children are seen being carted off somewhere (probably not good).
  • You Are Number 6: At their trial Ofglen and her female lover are referred to by a string of numbers preceded by their class.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Luke and other American emigres who fled to Canada. They had to flee persecution and cannot go home, due to facing enslavement or punishment there. A "Little America" has even been set up in Toronto by the refugees.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: The Gilead regime refers to all the resistance members as "terrorists". However mostly we haven't seen them really use any terrorist tactics, and the regime is the one that does. One exception occurred with the suicide bombing against a meeting of Commanders, which actually kills many more Handmaids than them, since most weren't able to get away from the blast in time.

"There's still going to be a lot of pain."