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A Structural Breakdown of The Handmaid Tale’s First Season

By June 30, 2017 No Comments

Episode 9 – The Bridge

Teaser

The handmaids line up in a double row (symbolically forming a bridge) for the communal leaving ceremony of Ofwarren. Likewise, the bridges and divides between the handmaids and the commanders’ wives form this episode’s thematic centerpiece.

Act One

Commander Putnam’s wife and her handmaiden Offwarren argue in the leaving ceremony over the giving up of her baby. She flees, catching the attention of Offred who makes her intentions known to aid with the revolution. After, Ofwarren is transferred to Ofdaniel as a new handmaid. The commanders’ wives discuss the handmaidens while they play with Ofwarren’s baby.

Act Two

A handmaid with the Mayday movement speaks to Offred about obtaining a secret package from Jezebels. Offred then launches a plan to get back to the hotel with Commander Waterford. As Nick drives them to the hotel, there is considerable tension between all three.

Act Three

Later, Serena learns of commander’s absence while sewing baby boots. Ofwarren participates in a new ceremony and forcefully kicks her new commander off her. Events then shift to Offred with Commander Waterford in the hotel room before Moira appears.

Act Four

Nick reveals to the hotel cook that he has feelings for Offred while Offred tries to enlist Moira to help obtain the package. Unfortunately, Moira’s resilience seems all bust lost. The commander returns home to Serena’s newfound knowledge of his infidelity. The next morning, Serena wakes up Offred and the pair hurries to the town bridge where Ofwarren is moments away from attempting suicide with her baby. Offred attempts to intervene but is unsuccessful. The act ends on a cliffhanger as Janine is taken to the hospital and we learn that her suicide attempt has failed.

Act Five

Commander Putham is taken away for his infidelities and Offred receives a package from the meat market. The package is from Moira – a glimmer of hope. The episode ends with Moira with blood on her hands. Having killed a client, she dons his clothes, and gets into his car to escape. These are moments of victory for Offred and Moira. Moira’s fighting spirit has returned and she is taking back her power as an example for Offred.

Episode 10 – Night (Season Finale)

Teaser

The final episode begins with a flashback of the handmaids in training at the Red Center. Offred is once again tortured with a cattle prod by Aunt Lydia: ‘Humble yourself in the eyes of the Lord”. This fundamentalist corruption of religious verse/doctrine and the use of violence and torture by the state as a form of control forms a theme in this season finale episode.

Act One

The handmaids march in formation. Offred dreams of the Mayday movement, noting that the handmaids’ red-colored uniforms serve to unify them as a revolutionary force. Soon after, Serena attacks Offred, confronting her with the dress worn at Jezebels. Offred bleeds from Serena’s blows and Serena makes her take a pregnancy test. The result is positive. Offred has flashbacks of Luke and her earlier pregnancy. Serena then confronts Waterford about his affair with Offred and reveals to the commander that the baby isn’t his.

Act Two

Offred reveals to Nick that she is pregnant and he immediately concludes that he must the father. We also learn that Moira has escaped to Canada. Serena then takes Offred to see her daughter Hannah, now in the care of an upper class couple. Offred attempts to make contact with Hannah but the car doors are locked so they cannot reunite. This escalates to a terrible blackmail attempt: ‘As long as my baby is safe, so is yours’ Serena says to Offred.

Act Three

The previously disgraced commander Warren Putnam confesses his sins to a Gilead tribunal. Putnam’s wife also asks for the harshest punishment and his arm is amputated. Offred also goes to Commander Waterford to protect her daughter from Mrs. Waterford. The commander asks of Offred’s pregnancy: “Is it mine?”. “Of course”, Offred answers. The commander replies, “You do that so well”. Waterford knows Offred is lying.

Act Four

In her room, Offred opens the package obtained by Moira, revealing letters of handmaids talking about their various plights. Moira is shown in Canada, taken in as a refugee. Serena sets up a crib for the upcoming baby and Waterford attempts to make amends with her. Offred wakes up to bells tolling for a salvaging. The question becomes, “for whom do these bells toll?”

Act Five

A salvaging ceremony of the handmaids takes place in snowy weather. The handmaids are told to pick up rocks for a stoning and Janine is brought in. Who will cast the first stone? A handmaid refuses to stone Janine and one of Gilead’s army members violently cold cocks her. Offred follows the previous handmaid’s example and all of the handmaidens follow, leaving the salvaging, and walking with Offred, united in their symbolic victory. Moira is shown reuniting with Luke in Canada while Nick comes to take away Offred for her transgression. He tells Offred not to worry as Offred is taken away in a van. The episode ends with Offred’s inner dialogue and season finale cliffhanger: “Whether this is my end or a new beginning I know not”.

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The first season of The Handmaid’s Tale series heralds new possibilities for serialized television, fulfilling novelistic ambitions and exploring deeper themes, symbols and complex narrative arcs split into various parts. Structurally speaking, these ten teleplays suggest ways in which novelistic and episodic storytelling can join together to offer expanded levels of authorial vision in the television landscape.

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Ray Uzwyshyn is a screen and television writer, playwright and writer currently living in San Marcos, Texas.

 

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