Handmaid’s Tale finale: another TV experience best watched drunk

When The Handmaid’s Tale debuted on screens last year, serious critics urged us to watch and serious feminists urged us to accept its urgent message: men are mostly deadshits. As the season 2 finale approached last month, producers urged viewers to purchase its range of Handmaid-themed wines. These were not received well and were found by critics and fans to diminish this TV drama. Then, the season 2 finale itself emerged and was found by critics and fans to diminish this TV drama.

Although I was disappointed to have neither wine nor Gilead-branded fentanyl on hand for the finale, I was not disappointed by the finale itself. This was, in my view, the perfect conclusion to a middle-brow stinker which has offered from its first moments all the astonishing feminist insight of a talking arse-crack, or, this thing I found feasting on the corpse of the Washington Post headlined—and not inappropriately—with Why Can’t We Hate Men?

Sure, “we” can hate men. We can believe that men are bad in all nations and everywhere about five seconds away from herding us like heifers into titty death farms. We can hold that the most totalising explanation for all the world’s problems is a cross-cultural militia of dudes and we can believe that their class, kinship or faith is no match for their maleness, an identity that unseats all. We can be racist, universalising toddlers whose trans-national or anti-imperial understanding extends no further than our Little Miss Naughty crayons with which we write our Inspiring Memoirs about how much we hate men. What we cannot do, however, is hope that this whumpingly thick shit will fuel anything more transformative than a night in with the girls.

There is more than personal anxiety that presses populations into servitude. There is always more than religion/misogyny that organises a society.

If The Handmaid’s Tale had not been lauded by nearly everyone, including its star and the author of the novel on which it is based, as an Entirely Believable Story About The Eternal Dead Shittedness of Men, perhaps we could enjoy it for the cheap and masochistic pleasure it provides. But, no. Mossy had to go on about how an entirely patriarchal form of social organisation not only could happen but was happening so “Wake up!”, and Maggie Atwood had to publicly congratulate herself for creating scenarios that were “way too much like history” when filmed. Oh, fuck off. Fuck off, but, before you go, show me when in “history” an imperial power abjured all its imperial power because it felt a bit religious one afternoon.

Look. I really don’t mind a bit of speculative fiction. Those Hunger Games films were pretty good and if we are prepared to overlook the enviably wholesome appearance of Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss, we can say that this future “could happen”. A future whose materials have become so scarce over time that it demands the imposition of feudal order on the many by a propagandising few? I can buy that late-capitalist nightmare. An environmentally decrepit future where all the produce looks to be farmers market fresh? Try again with tubes of space food, you dullards. And then maybe just give one episode in twenty-three to a little femsplaining about how the USA beat late capitalism, an old infatuation with liberalism and many, many gun owners to become a theocracy in what I estimate to be about three months.

I mean. Seriously. Banks take longer to cancel one’s credit card than they did to shut for this theocratic revolution. And if you think, like Whoopsy in The Guardian does, that “personal anxiety about masculinity underpins this world’s politics”, don’t ever attempt a degree in International Relations. While it is entirely true that “this world’s politics” are ostensibly governed by actual deadshits, it is actually true that the mechanisms of the world have quite a bit to do with lending institutions and are fairly opaque. Entirely opaque to the lady who chooses the “toxic masculinity” explanation for all relations between nation-states. China as an emerging power! Sino-US war! Iran’s nuclear ambitions! It’s all about personal masculine anxiety blah blah blah.

Star and scientologist Elisabeth Moss may call upon the many to “wake up!” and smell the misogyny that runs the world. Margaret Atwood may take her shithouse understanding of a Gulf State revolution and apply it to the world’s most complex and powerful political economy. The world will remain entirely impervious to these persons, and to all persons who select just one explanation for the relations between people and things. There is more than personal anxiety that presses populations into servitude. There is always more than religion/misogyny that organises a society.

Ooops. I did intend to “recap” the season 2 finale. Here you go: someone raped someone, we are reminded that Rory Gilmore of The Gilmore Girls was subject to clitorectomy back in season 1, thingy who married the chauffeur is executed, some guy wishes out loud that wage labour was still a thing, we are touched to learn that Offred/June is a really great mum. Yes, a lady will do anything for her precious baby.

What an arse-crack of a drama whose twofaced flatus stinks worse than the ladies’ pages at Fairfax. This is purportedly a show about how defining women in terms of their reproductive ability is “toxic”, yet here we are expected to dab our dainty lady eyes every time brave little Lizzie looks like she’s about to have a nervy in close up then finds the nurturing earth goddess within. I haven’t seen anything that valorises motherhood this hard since I last attended mass.

Seems to me that hating entire categories of persons while failing entirely to describe the actions of these persons within larger frameworks is for dicks.

Why hasn’t anybody chopped Offred’s wicked fingers off? Serena Joy lost a pinkie for suggesting to Commander Deadshit that girls be permitted to read the bible, yet a handmaid who has fled several times, banged the chauffeur and hidden in an attic with a firearm remains digitally unhindered. But this is just the least of the incongruities in a slipshod universe whose finale—get this—brings stupid Offred to the stupid Commander’s house after being banished AGAIN because—seriously—her stupid mother’s milk is required for the stupid new baby. (Stupid new baby is Nicole, a name as biblical as Karen.) Now, I am prepared to cop that these bible boys prefer real rape to the artifice of handmaid insemination, but has nobody heard of a wet nurse?

After some raping and torturing and one maybe two executions, Offred has the opportunity to escape the theocracy and meet Oprah, who is the president in exile. But, because she’s a mum, ergo naturally good, she forgoes the chance to win a new car. Not every religiously liberal feminist approved of this choice and blah blah blah surprise, maybe this shit show was just trying to sell us something popular and marketable like wine after all. Maybe it’s not righteous to hate men with all the intoxicating power of all herstory?

I never thought so. Seems to me that hating entire categories of persons while failing entirely to describe the actions of these persons within larger frameworks is for dicks. The Handmaid’s Tale, if viewed as anything but a bit of a giggle, is also for dicks, but I’ll tell you what’s not for dicks: Aunt Lydia. Sure, she refers those with nonconforming sexualities off for clitoris surgery and is handy with a truncheon, but I cannot help but sympathise with an older lady who has had it up to pussy’s bow with nonsense.

As I have advised in other television criticism, this program is almost certainly best viewed drunk and would certainly be improved by a drinking game. Take one shot for each “Under his eye”, a short draught of beer every time Mossy looks so fierce girl in closeup and pour three fingers of gin distilled in the empty vessel of liberal feminism and give them to Aunt Lydia.

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38 responses to “Handmaid’s Tale finale: another TV experience best watched drunk

  1. I didn’t even know there was a second season of this until I stumbled on this article, so I watched it. All I got out of it was yet another middle class liberal…

    https://youtu.be/J1rBZIzr49k

    President Oprah rang true. Gilead discarded currency, so it made sense for her to emigrate. A girl’s gotta make a living.

    And I did have a wry chuckle that the only working class character we meet – the bread truck driver- describes himself as stupid. Course it turns out he’s a Muslim (everyone say awwww! and tear up for diversity)

  2. It was a shocker. God knows what kind of masochist I must be sticking with it til the end. But so glad it did end. But, wait, there’s more….another series! I’ll sit that one out, thanks.

  3. What Gulf State revolution is behind ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’? Presumably Helen is referring to Iran, which had its Islamist revolution five years before Margaret Atwood began writing the novel. But Atwood, writing in 2012, pointed to Puritan New England as the inspiration: “The deep foundation of the United States—so went my thinking—was not the comparatively recent 18th-century Enlightenment structures of the Republic, with their talk of equality and their separation of Church and State, but the heavy-handed theocracy of 17th-century Puritan New England—with its marked bias against women—which would need only the opportunity of a period of social chaos to reassert itself.” In this view, Atwood was very much of her generation. Barry Humphries, for example, blamed the spectre of “men in big black hats” for the failure of his Dame Edna shows to catch on in America. (I thought he meant Orthodox Jews, until I realised that the Pilgrim Fathers were still drummed into schoolchildren of his generation). Margaret Atwood also disclaims the sci-fi label, quite correctly in my view, since the book has little connection with either science or science fiction themes, although one may see ‘The Day of the Triffids’ as an immediate literary antecedent. Nor is the book to do with the future. What it represents is the religious right of the 1980s seen “as it really is” in the mind of the liberal left. That is the only perspective in which any of the book makes sense. But it also means that it is a kind of living fossil from the liberal left of the Reagan years.

  4. I couldn’t make it past the first 20 mins of the first episode of season 2, even though I was OK with season 1. It was just a major downer from the first minute. It drowned in it’s own gravitas.

    Glad I never watched it, and the review feels fair and balanced, I mean the whole thing was just indulgent wrongness from the get go in my opinion, though I am a deadshit.

  5. More Handmaid’s Tale, Helen? For a show you profess to hate, you seem to spend a lot of time watching it. I look forward to the third season, when Hillary Clinton turns up as a guest star.

    1. Yeah Frank…..HRC is appearing as Nurse Ractchet, the character on which she has modelled her public persona.

  6. Gee the blokes are really copping it in this world of females on top. The only saving thought is that Scientologists are both male and female, which does prove that imbecility is shared between the sexes (surely not equally).

    I was ready to forgive the Musk Rat anything when I watched his Falcon heavy rocket boosters back themselves down onto the launch pad and stand to attention…..BUT his latest effort in the Wild Boar Thai rescue with his 6 foot long Subway has me again deep in thought.

    Could the Musk devote himself to building a rocket vehicle which could transport all the Scientologists back into the tail of the Comet from which their great leader sprang?

    After all we have already visited a comet and got lost in the doggy bone shape and infinitesimal gravity.

    Just think of Cruise, Moss, Travolta and kindred others floating away into the tail after being spawned from a giant Musk rocket vehicle….rather like Slim Pickens riding the bomb out of the ’52 in that unforgettable scene from Dr Strangelove.

    Could be a mini-series in the idea…… yes??

    1. Me too. I guess i do that crazy thing of switching of my brain and just go along for the ride when I watch TV.

  7. Thank you Helen for articulating some of what I hated about this second series. I watched the last two episodes under some deluded idea that I had to “see it through”. Some years ago I gave up on finishing bad books, now I need to do the same for pseudo-intellectual TV series. Anyway, it’s just another version of torture porn. And I’m done with it.
    It doesn’t even valorise motherhood that well – sure June wants to save her older child – but she abandoned her nursing baby. And couldn’t she have done a better job of saving Hannah from outside Gilead? And how about all the Marthas who risked their lives to get the selfish bint and her baby out? What does she think will happen to them?
    Rather than focusing on one heroic woman, it is a lot more interesting the way extremists and narcissists eventually trip themselves up. A working knowledge of history and psychology would have cooked up a much more interesting story.

  8. Terrific, refreshing and overdue piece and alas one that in this environment had to be written by a woman.

    I hated the original book (inflicted on us as part of the school curriculum), not only for its barely average standard of writing, but particularly for its daft and weirdly obsessive characterisation of every single male figure as either cruel, stupid or a combination of both. I do wonder about the public likely response to a novel in which the sexes’ roles here were reversed…

    Atwood clearly had a major personal axe to grind in contriving this scenario and appeared to have got it out of her system decades ago. How delighted she must be to find such fertile and no doubt profitable ground for her dross in today’s ‘All Men Are Evil’ era.

    It has become seriously tiresome and I pray for a return to simple level-headedness and mutual respect between sexes.

  9. I already hated the book, never thought Atwood was a sixties feminist, just a cluey woman knowing what would sell: horrible old barren women being the camp torturers of innocent young women, for a commander. Complete with the young hero and the glory of motherhood.
    Come off it! I am sure she is paid handsomely for a ridiculous series, which is going way beyond the inferior book, but will be viewed as the last word on what is really wrong with this world, just so we look away from capitalism’s (hopefully) last stand.

  10. I just think that Elizabeth Moss is overrated as an actress. She’s wooden and her character is totalling unconvincing, as Helen Razer points out – how does she survive intact when everyone else around her is being killed or maimed? Also have now read the book and disapprove of departures from the original story. What’s happened to the best friend who ends up in a brothel? How can Atwood write a novel that ends so differently and then allow a tv series that disregards the novel’s ending?

  11. Yeah it’s fictional and should be enjoyed as such, though extreme at times, it draws parallels to current attitudes and behaviours from certain groups in society. Certain situations that have happened and are happening right now in our very real world… Gender pay gap, hate for the LGBTQ community–which manifests in so many ways, anti abortion laws-right now in the USA the fear of Roe V Wade being repealed is very real, and that’s USA forget Ireland where its only just been made legal. Let alone the hundreds of cases of women being raped, and forced to keep the resulting child due to archaic biblical references and general bullshit please note the bible was written by men… Social commentary regarding women’s place in the world and our roles within it is important, and to see it in an extreme way such as the handmaid’s tale allows us to see the albeit minor toxic attitudes and behaviours reflected and used in our every day life,

  12. HURRAH!! Finally. Thank you thank you Helen for telling it like it is. At least Season 1 was half-entertaining dystopian fantasy escapism. But could Season 2 possibly bang its stupid one-note drum any louder??? Infuriating all the way. And I’m a girl.

  13. “show me when in “history” an imperial power abjured all its imperial power because it felt a bit religious one afternoon.” – the English Civil War? The 30 Years War when the Holy Roman Empire (see, it’s right there in the name) literally destroyed itself and killed half or more of its own population over religion (and had waves of anti-female witch-burnings to boot)? The Ming Dynasty retreat from foreign trade and conquest because it was against Confucian principles? Ashoka’s embrace of Buddhism? Byzantium’s civil wars over Iconoclasm, which played a big part in losing them control of Egypt and southern Italy? I would have thought you’d be a bit more aware of the role of religion in history.

    1. Um, The English Civil War, that struggle between Paliamentarians and Royalists was a Religious war? That’s novel.

  14. Dear Helen,

    If you needed proof that some men are deadshits come to the Somme, where my wife and I are right now.
    There can be few places more dystopian than this. The dystopia, of course, is that of Australian tourists
    (Including us) vainly attempting to re-imagine the horrors of World War One.

    Love your touchas!

    Respect

    James Gillard
    &
    Suzanna Barnes-Gillard

  15. Its interesting the lens with which you use to make sense of THT. Personally I don’t see in it any critique of male /female relationships, rather I view it as a cautionary tale about totalitarian thought – whether the impulse for totalitarianism comes from secular or (in this case) religious origins. And I also see in it some comments about how humans so often seek their own forms of slavery. But I guess the male/female culture wars are topical at the moment. I guess also that we see what we want to see.

  16. “The world will remain entirely impervious to these persons, and to all persons who select just one explanation for the relations between people and things.”

    This is the real virus of our day that I’m worrying is blowing up what remains of humanity’s intellect. There’s nothing left to read on MSM that hasn’t been infested with the inability to position whatever one’s pet problem is within something larger.

    But of course it’s not possible to have this view of a decrepit MSM now because Trump also shares it, ergo spot the liberals dashing madly to start defending WaPo, just like they’re rushing to get behind the words of intelligence agencies that have been proven to lie, and lie, and lie.

    Thanks for filling my eyelungs with something that’s not that sort of torpid shit. I can’t stand it at the moment, watching all those American liberals baying for Trump to give into the Russiagate narrative fostered by neocon elites hungry for some nuclearing because their hatred is bigger than their understanding. Retreating to books and tea and sanity.

    Sorry, went off script from TV show to Russia summit. I guess I’m on one track myself at the moment. Disease of the age :)

    1. “that hasn’t been infested with the inability to position whatever one’s pet problem is within something larger”

      Nice line Sue.

  17. Uh, no, it’s a s – t-o -r-y; based on a n – o – v – e – l. And it’s dystopian (waste of time to spell that out for you) fiction. Judge it on its merits not through the lens of your smartypants, look-at-me-aren’t-I- clever pseudo intellectualism tinged with sad envy that you could neither write nor produce or act in (even if you were a Scientologist – now there’s an irrelevant non-sequitur for you) something so good.

    1. Helen probably is capable of writing a more than decent feature or TV series but because the premise would satisfy all accepted standards of common sense, it would never get funding in Australia.

  18. Good God, Helen. And I thought I was the only one who disliked this asine piece of arsewipe of a series. Thanks so much: I feel vindicated and loved your criticism, even the scatology. This series reminds me of that silly young woman who writes books about hating men and gets street cred for doing so using vulgar language. As a sixties feminist who did the hard yard for years in very male-dominated industries (mining, agriculture and politics) where women can be subject to all forms of abuse and exclusion, let alone rotten pay imbalances, I think I know a thing or two about capitalism and patriarchy from experience. I can still discriminate between those men and others I have known, incling my sons.

    1. The second series is nothing short of boring, tiresome and an annoying occupation of prime time space. It’s so boring that I refuse to even grasp the message, if any at all.

  19. Hi Helen,

    What a great, venomous review. I agree that the “this is happening now” stuff is over the top and trying to make it a feminists creed is silly. But hey, it’s a sci-fi/dystopian future story. Sure most of the guys are arseholes and many of the women (Serena, auntie) complicit but that’s just in Gilead – Canada seems fine.

    The entire premise is totally unbelievable but (other than the very disturbing violence) it’s a fun story – sort of a female hero “Death Wish” with a very long opening scene (assuming the enraged June is going to wreak havoc on Gilead in Season Three.)

    I have to say I cheered when the commander’s meeting was blown up (nothing like garnering sympathy for terrorism), disappointed when June’s rapist commander survived and pretty impressed when Rory Gilmore offed auntie.

    But who knows, maybe I’m just a middle aged (or to be more exact, old) smug white codger who enjoys dystopian fiction. I just want to see June ride into town a la Westworld with a nuclear weapon, kill the bad guys and free all the Handmaids.

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