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A Structural Breakdown of The Handmaid Tale's First Season

by ScreenCraft on June 30, 2017

Episode #1 - Offred

Teaser

The series opens with Offred fleeing with her husband and child into Canada. This prologue introduces the theme of escape along with the oppressive atmosphere of this dystopian world.

Act One

The central cast of the Waterford household is introduced, along with another handmaid named Ofglen. Offred narrates events, offering insight into her inner world. The future is conveyed through costume/set design and narration, not high budget special effects. Flashbacks of an earlier world start to occur. The past is referenced through the presence of current technology (i.e. Tinder, Uber etc.).

Act Two

This act is presented largely in a flashback that establishes Offred's earlier days at a handmaid’s school in which an overseer named Aunt Lydia cattle prods independent young women into submission. The handmaid Ofglen has her eye removed as punishment for her bad behavior. Offred also catches a glimpse of an old friend subjected as a handmaid. The conflict is immediately established as one of basic survival.

Act Three

We witness the ceremony that defines the purpose of the Handmaids. Commander Waterford tries to impregnate Offred while she lies in the lap of his sterile wife, Serena Joy. In flashback, Moira tells Offred to pull herself together. Nick, the driver, is established to the audience as a potential glimmer of hope. Later we witness a 'salvaging', a group ritual killing of a rapist, carried out by the handmaids.

Act Four

Flashback: Offred and Moira jog. Later, at a coffee shop, Offred’s credit card balance is renounced - seemingly out of the blue. The origins of this dystopian nightmare will be shown primarily through flashbacks like this one, each from the perspective of Offred.

Act Five

Offred is driven by her will to live for her daughter, Hannah. In the final moments of this episode, she reveals her true name, ‘June’. We see that she has not yet completely shed her previous identity

Episode #2 Birthday

Teaser

The episode begins with a surrogate scene of Offred, Commander Waterford and his wife Serena. The subjugation of women in this world is established here as this episode's central theme.

Act One

Ofglen and Offred’s friendship is further defined as they shop for their commander's groceries. There is a continuing aura of mystery surrounding the driver Nick. Can he be trusted?

Act Two

Offred is examined by a doctor for signs of pregnancy. The question of Commander Waterford’s fertility comes up. The birthing mansion is introduced with different classes -  handmaid’s (surrogates) and Commander’s wives (the upper class).

Act Three

A handmaid named Ofwarren gives birth to a beautiful baby, but the baby is immediately taken away and given to the commander’s wife. This is the worst case scenario for the mother. In a flashback, Offred remembers her own baby being almost stolen at the infertility epidemic’s beginnings.

Act Four

Later that evening, Offred experiences a quiet moment of hope with Nick, and the commander over a game of Scrabble. Waterford recognizes her as more than a breeding machine: Offred’s literacy is emphasized following her victory. Female literacy is not allowed in the dystopian society where women's rights have taken huge steps backwards.

Act Five

Offred wishes to share her moment of victory with her Ofglen over their morning errands, but we shockingly discover that another handmaiden has taken Ofglen’s place.

Episode #3 Late

Teaser

This episode begins with Offred’s speculation on what might have happened to Ofglen.

Act One

The origins of Gilead are introduced in flashback. Offred is let go from her job and her credit cards are frozen by the government. In the present, we begin to wonder whether Offred might be pregnant with Commander Waterford's child.

Act Two

A conflict between Serena and Offred develops, which further develops the role of the handmaids as breeders. We experience a false high as Offred tells Serena that Janine thinks her commander is in love with her. Meanwhile, Janine bites her Commander's wife and renames her baby with a name of her own choosing.

Act Three

Nick betrays Offred. As a result, she is tortured and interrogated by Aunt Lydia with an electric cattle prod. The interrogation revolves around Ofglen, who she accuses of being a 'gender traitor'. Later, there is a trial for Ofglen followed by a hanging of her lesbian partner. Offred tells Serena she is not pregnant, sending Serena into a fury that ends with Offred locked in her room.

Act Four

Nick mentions he was wrong for not driving away. There is blood on Offred’s towel revealing that she is not pregnant. Flashbacks show the slow dismantling of gender equality. Offred remembers protests turning ugly. She reflects on the necessity to fight like Moira. These reflections represent a small moment of triumph as Offred begins to accept that she must not surrender herself to her role as a victim.

Act Five

Gender circumcision of Emily (Ofglen) occurs. This appalling demonstration serves only to empower Offred, who knows she has no choice but to fight.

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