The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale

Hulu’s award-winning adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s seminal work is rich in both imagery and messaging as it tells the tale of Gilead, a theocratic state carved from the ashes of a war-torn America. Our protagonist is Offred, and this is, indeed, her tale.

 

If you’re interested in watching all of our recap videos in order, here’s the link to the YouTube playlist. If you’re looking for an individual episode, the links are in each caption. We also produced two supplementary videos: Dr. Hinson explains capital punishment, and Dr. Donnelly shares her theories on why they’re called Marthas.

 

As our good doctors are both avid consumers of fiction, as well as experts on narratives of imprisonment and religiosity, we wanted to take the space to discuss each episode. Below you’ll find links to our coverage. Want to join the conversation? We’d love that – contact us here. 

Season 1

Episode 1: Offred

In this episode, we’re introduced to Offred (played by Elisabeth Moss – who will always be Zoey Bartlet in our hearts) and we begin to see the world of Gilead.

 

Dr. Donnelly lays out similarities between fundamentalist groups in the US and the Sons of Jacob, and the manipulative (and inaccurate) use of religious language. Dr. Hinson talks through the layers of imprisonment present in Gilead, and the power of Offred’s internal monologue.

Episode 2: Birth Day

Offred and Ofglen go shopping, Ofwarren has her baby (or not her baby, depending), and we learn that the Commander really likes to play Scrabble.

 

Dr. Hinson discusses the differentiation between Handmaid’s and Wives during the birthing ceremony, and Offred’s first step toward resistance by refusing the cookie. Dr. Donnelly has some thoughts on the incorrect use of religious language (again) and the audacity of blaming women for not getting pregnant.

Episode 3: Late

We finally get some insights into Gilead was created, learn a new phrase for the LGBTQ community – “gender traitor”, and see exactly how closely menstruation is monitored.

 

Dr. Donnelly goes on a wee rant while analyzing the concept of ‘gender traitors’ and Dr. Hinson talks through the system of social control that the wonderful lads of Gilead have implemented. They both express their horror at the idea of losing the right to work and own property, and explore the concept of being ‘culturally asleep’ to the goings on in the world.

Episode 4: Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundurom

Offred discovers a message carved into the closet, we learn about an aborted escape attempt involving Moira and June, and get trained on The Ceremony.

 

Dr. Hinson puts on her Professor hat to analyze small means of individual and collective resistance (through carving in the closet and sharing food). Dr. Donnelly teaches us the true meaning of Bilhah in the biblical context and explains the btruel purpose of communion as an act of resistance.

Episode 5: Faithful

Serena Joy offers Nick as an alternative sperm donor, we learn how June and Luke met, and hear about the Mayday movement.

 

In this recap/analysis, Dr. Donnelly talks about the lack of intimacy or love in Gilead and her problems with June/Offred as we learn about her relationship with Luke. Dr. Hinson explores the portrayal of sex in the episode, how the Handmaid’s are imprisoned in their bodies, and how June’s reclamation of her body through climax is a massive act of resistance.

Episode 6: A Woman's Place

The Mexican Ambassador comes to town and we learn so much more about Serena Joy, and subsequently, the mental beginnings of Gilead.

 

In this video, Dr. Hinson expresses anger and some small sympathy for Serena Joy’s role in making her own prison and Dr. Donnelly talks about the concept of domestic feminism in religious ideology. Both visibly upset with Serena Joy and the fact that Gilead is giving women to Mexico in a trade deal, The Good Doctors struggled through this one.

Episode 7: The Other Side

We see what Luke has been up to since he was separated from June and Hannah, plus some other details of life for those resisting Gilead.

 

They discuss what we learn about Luke, and the journey from America to Gilead, how people escape, and what happened to laypeople. It was a good reminder that not all men are the Commander, and gave us all some much needed hope.

Episode 8: Jezebels

The episode takes us to Gilead’s secret brothel, which is of course called Jezebels, where we meet up with Moira again! Serena Joy also gives Offred a significant gift, but not necessarily a nice one.

 

In this video, Dr. Hinson rants about and explains how much the men in power have constructed a system of control that suits their own needs and desires. She also expresses sympathy for a broken Moira, feeling the true weight and limitations of her imprisonment. Dr. Donnelly rails on the use of religious language to create a decidedly un-Christian nation and their manipulation of the real religious power of sex.

Episode 9: The Bridge

We follow the story of Jeanine (Ofwarren/Ofdaniel) to it’s tragic conclusion, Moira resists resisting but comes through in the end, and Serena makes an unpleasant discovery.

 

In this video, Dr. Hinson talks about performativity and ritualization (an anthropologist’s two favorite words) and explores how they are necessary for maintaining and reinforcing social control. Dr. Donnelly walks us through the dehumanization of all people in Gilead, the theater (performativity) of ‘honoring’ Janine and our collective heartbreak at the inevitability of her jump.

Episode 10: Night

In the season finale, Moira heads North and Mrs. Waterford gets the blame and lashes out. June gets a dose of hope which leads to some serious repercussions.

 

In this video, Dr. Donnelly rants (academically) about the continued blaming of women (for all things) and bad theology from Aunt Lydia (even though we love Ann Dowd). Dr. Hinson is back on the resistance train – breaking down the power of giving prisoners uniforms and the use of fear and intimidation as a means of control.

Season 1 Recap

There was A LOT in Season 1. If you’re looking for a brief refresher of the overarching narratives, this video is for you. 

Season 2

Episode 1: June

The handmaids are gathered in Fenway for quite an event, we meet a pregnant handmaid in chains, and June escapes! 

 

In this video, Dr. Hinson walks us through ‘freedom to’ vs ‘freedom from’ as the overarching message about power and control, and discusses several key moments of resistance. Dr. Donnelly argues that there is no room for the New Testament in Gilead and talks about Moses, the hippocratic staff, and new symbols of redemption (through the womb).

Episode 2: Unwomen

We head to the colonies where everything is awful, June hides out in the offices of the now-defunct Boston Globe, and we see more of Emily’s story. 

 

This episode was dark, both literally and metaphorically, so they had a lot to cover. Dr. Donnelly shares her thoughts about the prayers in the episode, both old and new, and hints at an upcoming video explaining the Marthas. Since the bulk of the analysis fell into Dr. Hinson’s wheelhouse, join her as she tries (and fails) to contain her nerd joy. Covering June’s traumatic process of reintegration and the symbolic power of objects, Dr. H had a lot of fun analyzing this episode.

 

*Editor’s Note: After filming, Dr. Donnelly found this article that explained (perhaps) that Unwomen is the name given to the women sent to the Colonies, it also has some fascinating analysis of the colors used in the show.

Episode 3: Baggage

June makes friends and influences people, after which she’s captured because of course she is. We also check in with Moira and Luke up in Canada. 

 

Recapping and analyzing ‘Baggage,’ The Good Doctors share their skepticism (thanks, Lost) about Season 2, and talk about their theories of Gileadan geography and timelines. Dr. Donnelly reminds us about the biblical history of Jacob (and Leah, and Rachel, and Bilhah), explains June’s role in her own redemption and it’s connection to her continued resistance, theorizes on what ‘the right kind of Church’ means, and breaks down Aunt Lydia’s problematic religious language. Dr. Hinson wraps up a few key points from Episode 2 about the necessity of a daily routine, and ritual practices, as a means to survive imprisonment, and asks some questions about why they are keeping all the old signs from Boston.

Episode 4: Other Women

Offred ends up back at the Waterfords, there’s a “baby shower” for Serena that gave The Good Doctors the creeps, and everything remains awful for June’s emotional state as Aunt Lydia is the Queen of Guilt. 

 

Dr. Hinson started off by explaining the symbolic potency of clothing and names in resisting imprisonment, the (sometimes devastating) psychological impact of imprisonment, and the processes of de-individualization and disassociation we see in this episode. Dr. Donnelly was given a wealth of material in this episode. She talks us through the significance of the Celtic hand-fasting ceremony and the meaning of covenants. She explains the use of religious language in the episode and introduces Dr. Hinson to the teachings of the 14th century Christian mystic Julian of Norwich.

Episode 5: Seeds

Y’all, this episode. Child brides, comatose June, weddings in the Colonies… we had so much to say that we had to split it into two videos.

 

In Part One: Dr. Donnelly gives us the brief synopsis and turns the mic over to Dr. Hinson. Dr. Hinson talks through larger lessons from the season, the idea of ‘freedom to’ and ‘freedom from’ in imprisonment studies and in Gilead, mechanisms for survival and love as the ultimate form of resistance. She hopes that this foundation will help us all understand what happens in the rest of the season.

 

In Part Two:  Dr. Donnelly becomes Pastor Donnelly to talk through her wealth of experience with Evangelical culture, purity culture, and all the Biblical references made in this symbolically rich episode. Wondering about the origins of the child-bride ceremony? She’s got your answer.

Episode 6: First Blood

We spend more time with Eden, Fred continues to be the worst, and we get some flashbacks with Serena. 

 

Unlike Episode 5, Drs. Donnelly and Hinson didn’t have a whole lot of academic analysis on the content of ‘First Blood.’ Instead, they provide an extended recap with bits of analysis thrown in. Dr. Hinson talks about June’s pregnancy as an opportunity to assert power and control, to resist. They both whinge about Fred’s hypocrisy and throw out more theories about the founding of Gilead. Dr. Donnelly talks more about purity culture, and puts on her youth pastor hat for poor wee Eden.

Episode 7: After

There’s some fallout from the explosion in the last episode, which sadly Fred survived. There’s some upheaval in Gilead leadership, which Serena further manipulates. We also get to see some old pals, and head to Canada for a wider view of how truly awful everything is. 

 

This episode was clearly more about advancing the plot than offering any large thematic content, so Drs. Donnelly and Hinson talk through a longer recap. Dr. Donnelly shares her thoughts on death rituals and expresses her frustration at Aunt Lydia’s horrible theology. Dr. Hinson carries more of the academic weight by discussing the significance of names as a theme in this episode, particularly for the imprisoned women of Gilead.

Episode 8: A Woman's Work

Women are, in summary, just the best. Well, with the exception of Serena. Maybe. With Fred in the hospital, Serena and June team up to keep Gilead running. Baby Charlotte/Angela gets really sick. Fred continues to be the worst.

 

Most of this plot fell directly into Dr. Donnelly’s wheelhouse, so Dr. Hinson took over the recap duties – mentioned the symbolism of doors representing spaces women were and weren’t allowed into and then handed over the analysis to Dr. D! Dr. Donnelly spent considerable time unpacking the complexity of Serena Joy and talked through the more sobering elements of this episode. She also broke down further scriptural inaccuracies (shocking) in Gilead. Both Doctors deeply felt the storyline of women who are abused and suppressed, as they know this has happened, is happening, and will happen around the world, and they are grieved for all that suffering (mostly in silence).

Episode 9: Smart Power

Commander Waterford and Serena head to Canada for diplomatic talks, and some stuff. goes. down. 

 

In this episode, which had a lot, Dr. Hinson takes over the recap, and talks through the importance of names and the few bits of resistance. Dr. Donnelly puts on her Pastor hat to explain all the religious language, biblical references, and justification used for the Gileadan regime. She also has some words of Scripture for our Commander Waterford.

Episode 10: The Last Ceremony

June goes into false labor, then gets raped, then gets to see Hannah, and finally gets abandoned at a giant manor house in the middle of a Massachusetts winter with no neighbors! Par for the course.

 

In this shorter recap and discussion of Episode 10 ‘The Last Ceremony,’ The Good Doctors are a bit raw from just watching the episode and due to the difficult and sensitive nature of the content, measure their responses and analysis. Suffice to say they have many thoughts about the events that unfold.

Episode 11: Holly

The Waterfords fall apart, we spend a lot of time in flashbacks, and Elizabeth Moss earns her Emmy (we hope). 

 

This episode didn’t hold a lot of theoretical content for Drs. Donnelly and Hinson, but Dr. Donnelly discusses the inner-workings of the Waterford’s fight and Dr. Hinson unpacks the emergence of June’s ‘prison identity’ in her labor flashbacks.

Episode 12: Postpartum

There’s some issues over Holly/Nicole not eating and June’s milk not coming in, but all anyone is going to really remember from this episode is Eden and the swimming pool. 

 

Dr. Hinson didn’t have much from an imprisonment narrative, so she takes the recapping duties while Dr. Donnelly bears the brunt of the analysis. She talks about why Eden made the choice she did and unpacks the religious symbolism of Serena’s end scene Bible quote.

Episode 13: The Word

June discovers Eden’s Bible, Serena (suddenly?!) realizes that she has to advocate for girls to be taught to read in Gilead, everything goes pear shaped with Emily, the Marthas are amazing, and then June makes a decision we don’t agree with. 

 

Dr. Donnelly explains why Eden is the real hero, and Dr. Hinson talks through the confusing turn on names in the episode. The rest of the video is mostly rants and ravings about the seeming lack of direction and disjointed character turns.

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