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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
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A 2017 Hulu TV series based upon the novel The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood. Elisabeth Moss stars as Offred, the eponymous Handmaid, a rare fertile woman enslaved by the theocratic government to produce children. She is a slave to Commander Waterford, an important member of the regime which now runs the Republic of Gilead, a theocratic fundamentalist state that replaced the United States. Samira Wiley, Joseph Fiennes, Yvonne Strahovski and Alexis Bledel are in the major supporting roles of the series.

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The Handmaid's Tale contains examples of:

  • 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.
  • Acceptable Feminine Goals and Traits: Gilead is big on enforcing these, with the wives spending a lot of time knitting. 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.
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  • 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.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The series fills in a lot of the details on events which were only mentioned by the book. Among them are what happened prior to the regime taking over, and Ofglen's fate after she's taken away. 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. Here he's played by Joseph Fiennes. The same goes for Serena Joy, who is not described as attractive, but worn out and having to use a cane. Yvonne Strahovski plays her here.
  • Adaptational Heroism: At least in comparison to the original book, courtesy of character expansion, when Serena Joy affords some, even if obsolete, genuine pity for Offred at times.
  • 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.
  • Adapted Out: Cora, the second Waterford Martha, is absent in this version.
    • She returns in the second season as Commander Lawrence's Martha. In fact, her name might merely be a Shout-Out to the original novel.
  • Adult Fear:
    • Trying to escape an oppressive regime with your family, then having your husband seemingly shot, daughter taken, and being made into a sex slave... Before that, having your baby kidnapped in the hospital.
    • Handmaids are forced to bear children, but have no legal rights to those children. Janine is clearly heartbroken over the fact that her newborn daughter was handed over to her Commander's Wife immediately after birth.
    • The flashback of the regime taking over is disturbing. One day, seemingly out of nowhere, all the women find that their rights have been cut off; losing access to their money, being fired from their jobs, being monitored by heavily armed men.
    • Finding out a friend and colleague is not only dead, but murdered because he was gay, while knowing you may be next as a lesbian. Then being forcibly separated from your family when trying to flee into Canada, since the state has declared your marriage invalid and is keeping you as a breeding slave.
    • Even if you do manage to escape and find refuge in Canada, there is still the possibility of getting separated from your family members as Luke and the other American refugees proved when they held up pictures of their loved ones trapped in Gilead in the protest against the Waterfords. Made even worse when you either don't know what happened to said loved ones, know that they've been killed, or know that they're alive but also exactly what they're being subjected to (such as a female friend or family member of yours being made a Handmaid and forced into ritualistic rape), are powerless to stop it, and all you can do is wait to be reunited with those who you may very well never see again.
  • Affably Evil: Fred and the other Commanders typically act civilly and courteously, despite running a theocratic dictatorship that rapes women and hangs homosexuals.
    • Aunt Lydia is kind and motherly to the handmaids under her care, but if they take one step out of line...
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • An Arm and a Leg:
    • Women reading is punishable by them losing a finger.
    • Warren Putnam undergoes the surgical removal of his hand as punishment for his sins.
  • Armor-Piercing Response: 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.
  • Arranged Marriage: 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 – Economics: Gilead having risen out of a devastating war, being deep in a fertility crisis, a completely restructured society, and having no apparent industry, technology, trade,or commercial sector seems to be surviving just fine.
  • As the Good Book Says...: The fundamentalist regime naturally is very fond of doing this (though as Offred recognizes, they do it quite selectively).
  • Baby Factory: This is the purpose of the Handmaids.
  • 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 Hannah, threatening harm to her if the baby's life is endangered.
  • Black Comedy: The only variety of comedy that exists.
  • 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).
  • Blatant Lies: Offred claims she consented to being a Handmaid and that she's happy when the Mexican ambassador asks, though later in private she reveals the real facts.
  • Book Burning: Some workmen are seen burning books and paintings in the city after Offred and Moira escape.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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: Afflicting Mrs. Castillo's home city, that she describes as a place where no babies have been born for half a decade.
  • 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.
  • Color Motif:
    • Handmaids wear red, symbolizing menstrual blood, and serving as a Shout-Out to Mary Magdalene.
    • Wives wear blue as a Shout-Out to the Virgin Mary.
  • The Conspiracy: Fred was part of one that led to Gilead's creation. It's a group, while their exact size is unknown. He proposed 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...
  • Crapsack World: Gilead, especially the Colonies.
  • 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 lesbian relationship with a Martha.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: The "particicution", in which a supposed rapist is beaten to death by the Handmaids.
  • 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 homosexuality.
  • 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.
  • Dead Guy Junior: June and Nick's daughter Holly is named after her presumably deceased grandmother.
    • 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.
  • 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 (possibly 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.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
    • 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.
    • 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 of 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 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.
  • 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. It doesn't take.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Played for Laughs when Commander Lawrence yells this at June and Emily as he's helping them escape.
  • Ear Ache: June cuts the tag from her ear with scissors as part of going on the run.
  • The 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.....
  • Electric Torture: The Aunts' shock batons are used for this purpose. 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 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 Muslim's what they hide).
  • 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.
    • 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.
  • Evil Reactionary: As in the book, the Republic of Gilead takes this to an extreme. Their regime explicitly echoes that of the Puritans, from the 1600s.
  • The Exile: Luke and other American emigres who fled to Canada. They had to flee persecution and cannot go home. A "Little America" has been set up in Toronto by the refugees.
  • 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 by having one of her eyes removed (offscreen, thankfully).
  • Face Death with Dignity: Eden and Isaac, but especially Eden.
  • 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.
  • Fate Worse than Death:
    • Being sent to the Colonies, where people clean up toxic waste until their skin falls off 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 normal woman, 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...
  • Fetish: The Handmaids are this to some of the Commanders such as 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.invoked
  • 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 is found in a relationship with a Martha, 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • This trope is averted when her tongue is removed and she bombs a meeting of Commanders in a new RED Center.
  • 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.
  • Heteronormative Crusader: The regime is run by these, with homosexuality 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 by a clitoridectomy.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • 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 but 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.
  • 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/sex 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.
  • 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.
  • Kill ’Em All: The regime deals with protesters by just shooting them.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: Fred can't get it up for the second "ritual", possibly because he's become closer to Offred.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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 Jewish 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 authorities certainly don't recognise 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.
  • Mixed Ancestry: Offred's husband Luke appears to be mixed race in this series (their daughter Hannah is too).
  • 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 theorized in the book). His wife is officially Serena Joy Waterford, 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. June's last name turns out to be Osborne. Nick's is revealed to be Blaine.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Oppressive States of America: Part 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.
  • 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)
  • 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 due to the fact that 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."
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 misogynist. 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 (perhaps due to this) it's all we know of her past.
  • 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.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Of all the horrific things about Gilead, institutionalized rape is by the far the most terrifying.
  • "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.
  • 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."
  • 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. Same goes for Serena Joy and the Commander in "A Woman's Place."
  • Romantic Two-Girl 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.
  • Run for the Border: Offred 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.
  • Sanity Slippage: Janine. After having her right eye torn out, she's quickly and utterly broken down, and never recovers.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Secret Police: The Eyes of God.
  • 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 concieve 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 with 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.
  • Shaking Her Hair Loose: Offred does this before having sex with Nick. (Handmaids must wear bonnets at all times.)
  • 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.
  • Society Marches On:
    • The series appears to have done away with the blatant white supremacy in Gilead as described in the novel. Not only did they want babies, the goal was white babies, with black people being "removed to North Dakota" (quite possibly getting killed there). In the novel, Moira was white, while African-American actress Samira Wiley plays her in the series. We see some photos of black Commanders and Wives in the clinic. No one thinks anything is odd when Moira impersonates an Aunt, either. There are some black men among the Guardians and common workers too.
    • The series also so far removes the criticism of radical feminists present in the original book. In the book, Offred's mother was a radical second-wave feminist who believed that all men were sexist and also that pornography should be banned. In the feminist community there was fierce debate about that point of view, however nowadays it's more of a fringe belief. Additionally, since the series received a Setting Update to the 21st century, it wouldn't make sense temporally for Offred's mother to be a second-wave feminist (since the second wave started in the 60s, and at this point Offred's mother could've been born in the early 60s). When she's finally introduced in season 2, she is a feminist (who takes Offred to feminist rallies as a child), but not an extremist like her book counterpart.
    • Serena Joy's pre-Gilead profession is changed from ultra-conservative televangelist to Blonde Republican Sex Kitten political pundit/author (in the vein of Tomi Lahren or Ann Coulter), reflecting the decline in the relevance of televangelism during the 2010s.
  • 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 despite the fact that 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 armed goons 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.
  • 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."
  • Swiss Cheese Security: the security in Canada was very light 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?
  • 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, and Joseph Lawrence for the Commanders.
  • 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.
  • You Are Number 6: At their trial Ofglen and her female lover are referred to by a string of numbers preceded by their class.
  • Your Cheating Heart:
    • Ofglen is married with a son, but has an affair with a Martha — most likely because she never expects to see her wife (who managed to escape to Canada with their child) again.
    • In the past, June was having an affair with Luke and eventually asked him to leave his wife for her. He did.
    • Fred cheats on his wife by having sex with June outside the Ceremony, where it's considered legitimate for them, and apparently did the same with the first Offred. Janine's Commander also did this with her, promising that they and their baby could be a family together, though of course that didn't happen.
    • June is cheating on her husband with Nick. Initially she thought her husband was dead, but she is continuing the affair even after learning that he's alive. She's also carrying Nick's baby (though not entirely by choice).
    • Eden cheats on Nick with Isaac. Both her and Isaac are sentenced to death by drowning for adultery.
  • 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 any use 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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