American viewers love dystopias that are just eerie enough. In Gilead, a totalitarian theocratic state, reproduction rates are plummeting and women at-large are having trouble conceiving children. The answer to this problem is to institute child-bearing slavery. Elizabeth Nolan Brown, Marianne March, Tess Terrible, and Natalie Dowzicky unpack this controversial and timely television show.
00:03 Natalie Dowzicky: Hi and welcome to Pop N’ Locke, I’m Natalie Dowzicky. In the “nevertheless, she persisted” era, I am joined by Elizabeth Nolan Brown, an associate editor at Reason, and two of my colleagues here at Libertarianism.org. Our senior producer and resident doula in training, Tess Terrible, and our marketing manager, Marianne March. Thanks for joining me, everyone.
00:23 Tess Terrible: Thanks for having us.
00:25 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: Hi.
00:25 Marianne March: Hello.
00:25 Natalie Dowzicky: So, imagine this: Reproduction rates are plummeting and women at large are having trouble conceiving children. And the Republic of Gilead, a totalitarian, theocratic state that replaced the United States of America, the answer to this problem is to institute child-bearing slavery. Heaven forbid, women aren’t popping out babies as frequently as possible, right? The few women who can conceive in Gilead, are forced to reproduce on behalf of the elite who cannot. They are called “handmaids”. There are many elements, layers and clap-backs to The Handmaid’s Tale that we will unpack, but what the show does an impressive job of is developing ruthless characters like Aunt Lydia, while showcasing resilient and calculated characters like Offred, also known as “June”. The show really is unique in its time. But what is probably most concerning is that this future dystopia that looks a whole lot like the 1600s, is all too real feeling. I couldn’t help but think, “What if… ” while I was watching many episodes.
01:23 Natalie Dowzicky: So, let’s start out there. Were there any scenes that stuck out to you guys as particularly eerie because you could realistically see this happening, or maybe tweaking some parts of the scene and then you could see it happening, or scenes that simply stuck out to you?
01:36 Marianne March: Off the top of my head, it wasn’t particularly eerie. But the scene where June is at the hospital and the nurses critiquing her parenting for sending her to school, that was so close to reality. I see mothers being shamed all the time and I don’t think that’s totally out of…
01:53 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: Yeah, that’s… And that scene is for people who don’t watch the show, especially the first season, but throughout the three seasons, it goes back and forth between June’s life now in the Republic of Gilead, this dystopian society, and then it goes back to her time before that. A lot of it, just right leading up before hand, and that’s the scene she mentioned with the kids. And I was also gonna say, a scene from that period of time. Because I think that’s the most frightening when we get into the actual established Gilead, it’s too out there for now. But you see these things in the time period they have leading up that are very scary. And I think the biggest one for me was the… It was in the first season, there was a season with… A scene with protesters. And they were out just… And there was the line of riot cops there with their horses and their shields and all their crap, and the protesters were shouting but not being violent.
02:41 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: And you’ve seen… And the cops start shouting back and you’ve seen this scene so many times in the past few years, especially… But just over and over again. I’ve been there during that thing. We expect… Even if the cops get rough and maybe go out of bounds, we don’t expect them to just let loose. And all of a sudden, one of the cops fires out a bullet and then they all just start firing out bullets in the scene, and they start just gunning down the protesters, and June and her friend have to run away, and all of them are running away and people are just literally getting shot. And I think that really sticks out because that isn’t even necessarily a big systemic thing. It’s just sort of… If one cop loses his head and fires and then other people start, and that’s sort of how it looked like. But then, it was a thing you couldn’t go back from. You can’t go back from that when that happens as a society.
03:28 Tess Terrible: I think the show’s creators do a really good job of blurring the lines between our world that we’re watching handmaids and the… Not their present day, but what used to be the present day that looks a lot like what… The time we’re living in now. I remember one of the first episodes includes a flashback where June is first realizing she’s pregnant with her baby, Hannah, and she’s trying to get an Uber. And when she said she was trying to get an Uber, I was like, “Oh my God.”
04:02 Tess Terrible: And yeah, I’m from Boston. So, just hearing her say stuff like, “Oh, I need to take the train to Boylston.” or something like that… And even when her and all the women stop working when they institute the law that no woman can work anymore, it’s really interesting to see that there’s not… Her office that she’s working in that they show in the flashback that she’s working in, it looks like a normal office that many of us have been in. I think the show’s creators make that purposeful parallel to our world to say, “This could happen here. This isn’t… We’re not that far separated from the world they’re living in.”
04:53 Natalie Dowzicky: I think particularly for me, and I’m gonna jump ahead to season three, but one of the scenes that really stuck out to me, partially ‘cause I really like the character of Aunt Lydia. I can’t say I really like her, but I really like character and her character development. But was when we were finally getting background on her, which for the first two seasons, I was like, “Where… She’s essential to the story, where is her background at?” But I was… I really like how they developed it into a sense that we’re looking at her as a teacher, which that definitely could fit the mold of her personality now. You can see how she’s very bossy and authoritative. But she’s an elementary school teacher, I think, third, fourth grade-ish, and she really cares for her students and is interested in making sure they… The one student, the parent, his mother was late picking him up from school, and the mom didn’t have dinner ready for him and they were having a conversation, and Lydia was like, “Oh, you can just come over to my house.” She was really trying to engage and make sure her students were well fed and had parents that were looking out for them. But at the same time, I guess… We didn’t get a time span, but shortly thereafter.
06:07 Natalie Dowzicky: But as the teacher was deciding that his mother was not fit enough to take care of him and have a careful watch over him, so she was like… She had reported it to authorities, and the child was taken away from the mother, and I think that was kind of the line where you’re like, “Oh, I had an expectation of how this relationship was”, and then you can quickly see how we got to Gilead after that, so I think that was one of those scenes for me it was like, “Oh there’s just these small things that are lining up and then that’s making it even more”… Gilead seem even more like they are just a bunch of small steps, and then all of sudden we had… Yeah. [chuckle]
06:46 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: Yeah, not possible. It shows you how people… The two sides of sort of this Christian charity idea. Aunt Lydia started off trying to be like, “Okay, this mom maybe isn’t doing the best with this kid”, ‘cause they show her sort of having a retreat or whatever, but I understand and I’ll empathize with her, and I’ll try to help out directly on my own and then versus I’m just gonna call in some authority to deal with this, which is…
07:06 Tess Terrible: Yeah, it’s just almost harrowing in a way. What a normal liberal progressive society they live in, that looks a lot like our own society in the United States. I think Handmaid’s very purposely showcases a lot, a very diverse cast. Individuals that are representative as gay. June herself was in an interracial relationship, and so we see what looks very similar to our version of normal and even looks quite pleasant. She has her best friend, she has kind of a cookie mom, she has a great marriage with this guy, and she was able to have a child in an era that child bearing has become quite difficult. So I think it kinda relaxes you in a way and it kind of tricks you in saying, “Oh, this is a good moral society, where individuals have their freedom and they have rights”, and kind of tricks you into not seeing the trickle down of what brings us to Gilead.
08:21 Natalie Dowzicky: I think this would be a good time to talk about what brought us to Gilead. What, whether it be a mindset, or how did they create this republic, so they call it, [chuckle] into what we see in the show? In my opinion, a lot of it is religion-based, using religion Puritanism as a form to control people. But I was kind of wondering how you guys thought we got to Gilead from the background scenes we see of what is seemingly today’s world are not far from it.
08:57 Marianne March: Well, it seems to be that it happened in inches. That it was a slow progression of first, there was more involvement of state actors in the people’s lives and judging people as parents, and then when the scene we saw where June loses her job and all women lose their jobs, and it seems that there’s a turning point at some point and a war. There’s allusions to a crusade, and given that there’s so few people. I mean, the United States today is hundreds of millions of people and that sized population just doesn’t work in this narrative. So there had to have been great loss of life at some point and I think when the dust settled, there was a theocracy in place.
09:40 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: I think it’s interesting, it obviously is a fundamentalist religious society, but they don’t just harp on that. They don’t just make them, these sort of one dimensional or almost… I don’t think they make them feel like it’s a political allegory for now. And I think that was more… I haven’t actually read the original book, but I think that was more when the book was written in the 80’s, like the fundamental religious televangelists and stuff, Tammy Faye Bakker were just all part of… Were much more mainstream back then and I think that was more plausible that that would be a thing, so now I like that in the show they combine that religious fundamentalism but also with other things.
10:17 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: Like, one of their big things is environmentalism, because apparently in this society, they say that all sort of… They don’t really actually explain well, but a lot of the environment is just crap, and they’re trying. And so a big part of this sort of, we’d say conservative I guess, but they’re also what we think of as progressive in many ways, and there’s a scene in the last season where Fred is driving through the countryside and talking about how it all used to be crap but because they’ve instituted all these environmental, these really strict environmental measures, they’ve been able to turn that around and that’s a whole part of their society too.
10:49 Natalie Dowzicky: I think another thing that’s interesting, at least from the standpoint of whether or not it was a revolution or this part of the United States seceded and now has Gilead, is that throughout the show there’s no apparent leader. So we have commanders who are all on various levels, but there’s no one person calling the shots which I find a bit interesting, partially because in an authoritarian society, much like this one, usually you have a leader who is embodying some sort of ideals, but most of all the ideals we get are mainly through religion or a variety of ceremonies and practices. But there’s no one person dictating that, which I think makes it an interesting dynamic from a leadership perspective, but also makes me kind of question how much buy-in there is. If you’re following an idea versus following a person, it’s kind of harder on the lower levels of society for there to be buy-in if they don’t know what they’re following, essentially.
11:55 Tess Terrible: Yeah, we talked a little bit before the show about how religion plays into it, and I have read the book, and I think Margaret Atwood is a little bit more critical of religion in the book than they are in the TV show, and I say that because there’s several times in the show where June is monologuing, and we hear her VO, her voice over, and she’s saying prayer in her head and so I think the show kind of has that balance of any philosophy, any religion can be turned into an authoritative regime and that’s dangerous if it falls into the wrong hands, but I don’t think the show at all demonizes religion.
12:43 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: No. There’s that beautiful scene where they’re doing the baptism…
12:46 Tess Terrible: Yeah. Oh my gosh, yeah.
12:47 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: And they contrast that with the Gilead version of religion, but…
12:49 Tess Terrible: Yeah, totally. I think there’s so many elements of the show that captivate religion as a beautiful part of someone’s life but it has unfortunately been interpretated into a much more demonistic entity in this world.
13:11 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah, and almost utilized as, to manipulate people. I think nother thing, you would be remiss not to see all of the Biblical references throughout the show, which is another really cool aspect of the show, but not necessarily integral to the show. For instance, you have the Jezebels who are working in a brothel. There’s a lot of nods to various parts in the Bible, for instance, the ceremony. When a commander, and he has a wife who cannot get pregnant, so they have a handmaid who will get pregnant on her behalf and carry her husband’s child so that this family can have a child and essentially, it’s rape. And they call this the ceremony. But before they start the ceremony each time, the commander cites Genesis 30, which is the story about Jacob and his barren wife, Rachel. And essentially, their handmaid, Bilhah, is able to carry a child to term for them on their behalf. So there are a lot of instances of references. But it’s not necessarily all that integral to the show. If anything, feminism and womanhood are much more integral to the show in the way the show is carried out.
14:30 Tess Terrible: Yeah, I’d love to talk about feminism and womanhood because the second, I read somewhere that the second season, the theme of that was motherhood. And I thought that was really interesting. And re-watching the second season, I could really see that with Serena trying to be a mother. Offred, June, reflecting on her time as a mother and what she’s willing to sacrifice for her children. And there’s a episode titled, Women’s Work, which is really interesting. And it encompasses the theme that in this society, and as a lot of people that identify as feminist would say, women lean on each other for support in a lot of difficult instances and that’s the foundation of a progressive society.
15:26 Natalie Dowzicky: So why don’t we back up for a second and explain what the role of women in this show is or in this society, just so everyone has a clear picture. So women are essentially categorized certain ways, for lack of a better word. And it’s usually denoted by what they’re wearing. And essentially, there are, each of them have plain dresses or plainer outfits of a certain sort. I’m sure you’re familiar with, especially if you’re listening to the show, I’m sure you’re familiar with the red dresses associated with handmaids. And then there are also Marthas, who are the housekeepers, cooks that are, wear duller outfits.
16:09 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: Yeah.
16:10 Natalie Dowzicky: A greenish tone.
16:10 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: An ugly grayish green, yeah.
16:12 Natalie Dowzicky: There are also upper-class wives here dressed much like…
16:16 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: Lovely teal.
16:17 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah, lovely teal. And they give off a 1950s vibe, 1950s, ’60s. And their hair is usually very well-kept. And then there are econowives, which are the lower-class catch-all. They don’t really have much agency to them. And then we have prisoners or the unwomen who are wearing rags. They are working, like Elizabeth alluded to earlier, they’re working in this toxic waste land in the colonies that…
16:49 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: Colonies.
16:50 Natalie Dowzicky: We don’t get much explanation of how that came about or what happened. We have the Aunts, like I was talking about Aunt Lydia earlier, who essentially oversee, train and discipline the handmaids. So essentially they’re going, turning against their own, women. And then there are Jezebels, which I also touched on earlier, who work in these secret brothels that the commanders go to as well. And they are wearing what is forbidden clothing, so clothes that we’re currently wearing, essentially.
17:25 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: Yeah.
17:25 Natalie Dowzicky: So does anyone have any initial thoughts on what the role of women is or have an issue with them being categorized in a way that they’re seemingly all the same?
17:36 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: I was, just to start, ‘cause you were just talking about the Jezebels. It’s really interesting that the Jezebels, which are, they’re the sex workers of this. They’re the whores. They have to stay. They can’t leave this building. They have to be there. But like you said, they can wear their own, or they can wear regular clothes. They are allowed to drink and smoke cigarettes. They’re allowed to listen to music. When they have the character, and I’m blanking on her real name, but June’s best friend.
18:01 All: Moira.
18:02 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: Moira.
18:02 All: Yes.
18:02 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: When they have her go there for the first time, she’s talking about how, hey, at least she has most of her day to herself because she’s allowed to do… They’re allowed to do what they want. They don’t have to clean or cook or whatever. But then at night, they have to just go and entertain these people. And essentially, they’re not sex workers. They’re sex trafficking victims really, because they’re being forced into this. They have no choice but to do it. But it’s interesting because I just think in a lot of societies, historically, women, courtesans back in the day actually got more rights. They were allowed to read and get an education. But also then, they were put in this special class where no one could actually treat them respectably. And it’s just interesting, these trade-offs that in real life and in this show that they have, where it’s like, okay, well, sometimes women are allowed these certain freedoms but only if we put them aside as some other kind of woman who’s not really a normal woman.
18:52 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah. And they also allude to, throughout the show that the way that women were perceived and treated before, what I interpret as now, for us, was just un-kosher and just, the women are disrespectful. And they, essentially in this new society, put women who are able to have children up on a pedestal. So they can do wrong but essentially, because there are so few that can conceive children at this point they kind of like… Almost idealized them, but they don’t treat them that way.
19:29 Marianne March: They treat them like cattle, basically.
19:32 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah. Exactly. They treat them like cattle, but it’s a way they value them. It’s…
19:35 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: Benevolent sexism is I think what they call this a lot.
19:39 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah.
19:39 Tess Terrible: When we see the flashbacks for Serena Joy, we see her as a very prominent author and she goes on her diatribes about what she calls domestic feminism, which I’m not sure if I can completely articulate, do you guys remember this?
19:54 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: Yeah, ‘cause it’s definitely a thing that you hear, especially in the ’80s and ’90s but still from conservative women today, which is, yeah, this idea that the true way that women can be empowered is by having to take away all these dangers out in the real world and all this stuff, but if they’re the ruler of their home that’s where women are really called to lead. So it’s sort of making… Same thing is with the Handmaid, sort of making an empowerment out of being trapped I guess, but…
20:20 Natalie Dowzicky: But at the the same time, the handmaids have no power over their family. The children they have aren’t theirs. They get ripped from them right away so that they can go to the wives and the commanders, which there’s another interesting link to, a lot of hinting about events that are going on today that we see kind of highlighted in the show, but I really think another interesting part of looking at the women is some have this unquestioned devotion to this, I’m gonna call it a cause. So the aunts or the wives. Their buy-in is so strong and I don’t know if that’s because they’re looking at like, “Well, at least I’m not a Handmaid”. I don’t know if that’s their point of view, but I struggle because you do see scenes where they question, “Oh I’m not so sure about this”, but they never seemed to come to fruition.
21:16 Natalie Dowzicky: It’s just frustrating to watch especially ‘cause quite a few scenes with Aunt Lydia towards the end of season three when there’s a handmaid with bars over her mouth or metal so she can’t talk, and June looks at Aunt Lydia and was like, “Is this really what you want? Do you want the handmaids not to be able to speak now?”, and Aunt Lydia’s like, “Well, no, but… “. So I think it’s troubling that there’s such unquestioned devotion on behalf of the women.
21:48 Marianne March: I do think it’s about a loss of status. It’s much better to be a wife and it’s maybe even better to be a Handmaid than to be a Martha depending on how you look at it, but then to your point, Elizabeth, maybe being a Jezebel has its advantages ‘cause you do get your day to yourself. The clothing is so interesting to me because it’s so logical, it makes sense. If you’re going to segment society, and it’s impossible to tell if somebody’s fertile just by looking at them, so let’s put them in a red dress, it’s gonna be easy to spot and with the wings, they’re not gonna be able to see us, but we can see them, and I think that by making the people wear certain clothes, it’s politicizing everyone’s bodies, it’s not just the handmaids or the Jezebels.
22:31 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: I think Serena Joy you brought up earlier, she’s probably my favorite character. She’s the most fascinating and because she had this whole high power career but she was also one of the people who ushered in and really helped usher in Gilead. It kind of reveals as the seasons go on, more so than her husband, all the ideas, everyone credits to her husband actually were pretty much hers. And she kind of wanted this society, but then there’s so many great scenes where it’s like, when the society actually gets realized and she finds out how few rights she’s gonna have it’s not what she wanted, but then she has to sort of convince herself that it was. I always think of that meme, “I never thought the wolf would eat my face said the man who voted for the wolves eating faces party”. And I feel like that’s what you have with a lot of the wives in this thing too, which is like they kind of… They went all in on this idea without realizing maybe what it meant, but now they’re stuck with it and so they have to convince themselves and even be more harsh sometimes to the lower class women than the men are because, to really set themselves apart is, no, I’m not that kind of woman.
23:32 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah. While we’re on the topic of womanhood, what do we think this show says about motherhood? ‘Cause going off of Serena Joy, so like Serena… When June/Offred was their Handmaid, all Serena wanted was a baby, and that’s all she ever talked about, and she was very excited once June/Offred was pregnant. But what is it… And there’s a detachment that goes on as well. So what do you think the show is trying to say about motherhood?
24:04 Marianne March: I wonder about Serena Joy’s actual desire to be a mother, or if it’s maybe just a craving of love in any form. The only times we ever see her smiling are when she’s holding a baby, the time that her husband lets her drive and I think those are the only times I can remember her smiling. But as June points out to her in the latest season, she doesn’t… June doesn’t think that Serena Joy is even capable of being a good mother, that she…
24:33 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: Yeah, she’s not nurturing.
24:33 Marianne March: Yeah.
24:34 Natalie Dowzicky: Or maybe she doesn’t even know what it means to be a good mother at this point because her sense of reality is just so warped.
24:38 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: Well, if we think of the ideas she was apparently writing these books, and advocating for all this when this whole infertility crisis has started and she’s totally an alpha woman, right? She totally needs to be, even within this society, whatever the rules are, she needs to be the best at it. So it’s kind of like there was a whole thing where a lot of women couldn’t have children. It was almost like a status thing I feel like for her. Not that she’d put it like that. The character thinks that she just loves children and motherhood is what women should want so she wants it, but it almost seems like maybe there was an element of… She was infertile, she felt bad about it because she felt like that’s what she was supposed to do and so she pretty much constructed a whole society to get over that.
25:14 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah, I could see.
25:15 Marianne March: Yeah, I wonder if she’s actually infertile though or if it’s just the husband.
25:20 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: Yeah, we don’t know that actually.
25:22 Marianne March: Because in this society men can be infertile.
25:25 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: I think the first season… It appears at first that she is the infertile one and then we learn later that yet it’s… Her husband definitely is, so maybe she’s fine, but…
25:32 Natalie Dowzicky: I think it’s also, if you contrast Serena Joy with June for instance, all of June’s motivations are about getting her daughter Hannah, keeping her safe, then when she has the new baby Nicole, it’s about getting her out of Gilead, and then towards the end of Season three, it’s about getting all of the children out of Gilead and trying to save as many as possible. So she is very driven by… I don’t know if it’s, I don’t know if it’s motherhood, per se, but she’s very driven by the feeling that the handmaids in particular, the ones who brought these children into the world, and she feel some sort of responsibility to get them out of this like horrific scenario essentially. And one of my…
26:15 Natalie Dowzicky: One of my favorite scenes actually was from the first season and it’s when the… I guess the Mexican ambassador came and June is having… June Offred is having a conversation with her and literally explaining very explicitly what’s going on in this… In Gilead, the torture, the rape, all that kind of stuff and the ambassador sits there and essentially it was like, “Well, there hasn’t been a baby born in Mexico for six years,” and that’s essentially telling June well, I don’t care what’s going on here, we need babies born and it goes… It cuts back in the Mexican ambassador was like… June had overheard that they were trading the women for chocolate and June was like… Or the Mexican ambassador was like, “Oh my country is dying,” and June just responds, “My country is already dead.”
27:07 Natalie Dowzicky: So I thought that was a very interesting contrast and what was even funny about that was the Mexican ambassador was a woman. So she’d had no… It seems like no sympathy, no remorse for the situation that was going on and you think in… A logical person would have sort of like, “Oh my gosh, I had no idea. I’m sorry.” But I thought that was one of the more interesting scenes in part partially because the one essentially that had a choice to stop this horrible regime was a woman and she didn’t see an error with it because she thought her problems are just so much bigger than the problems…
27:42 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: I think that’s one of the most realistic parts too like the way that government leaders would respond if we had this sort of crisis. Everybody’s really progressive and woke or whatever when things are great. But as we have scarcity of resources in this case, childbearing women I think that’s not… That’s one of the most realistic parts and I don’t there’s actually that many realistic parts of this show but…
28:02 Natalie Dowzicky: Right. Right. I think more so that there’s a lot of parts that make you think. You’re like hmm… This could be… Or even the… ‘cause Canada becomes a big part of the show too.
28:14 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: Yeah. Yeah. Canada is like the neutral zone.
28:14 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah, ‘cause Canada and even… I can’t recall a certain scene from the Canadian leader right now but I know quite a few times they were like, they’re not necessarily condemning what’s going on in Gilead which is kind of troubling, they’re just kind of trying to calm the waters and they let the commanders come visit and when they’re harboring June’s child who’s also Serena’s child in theory, they don’t necessarily want to give up who’s housing the child but at the same time that they just don’t wanna create waves. So you said it’s a neutral zone but at the same time, then they’re like essentially bi-standards, right?
29:01 Tess Terrible: So one thing that we’re seeing more and more on the show is the lives of individuals after they get out of Gilead. At the end of season two, we saw Emily who is one of June’s friend leave Gilead to go to Canada and she was declared asylum status there and how kind of messy their lives are after. I mean, you can… We kind of expect it to be this warm fuzzy happily ever after reunited with their families and it’s all wonderful again but it’s not that way and I recall, there’s an episode in season two where Offred June is suddenly and unexpectedly reunited with her daughter Hannah and I listened to an interview with the producers and they said that for that scene they decided to consult a refugee counselor to talk about what do these reunification processes look like? And we have heard a lot in the news that reunification is not like I said a happy ending all the time. It’s quite messy and usually the kids and they show this in the show are completely traumatized and they don’t know this person that is embracing them and hugging them and crying for joy.
30:22 Tess Terrible: And we see that with Hannah and I think with our current refugee problem in the United States and Immigration crisis, I think the show is making that very clear parallel to where we are in this current day. We see this with Emily when she’s reunited with her wife and son. It’s very uncomfortable, nobody knows how to act and more has this great line that she says to her that’s not really about happily ever after, it’s just about what happens after and that’s been something I’ve been thinking a lot about and I can see a lot of that in the season. The show creators and the writers really trying to make us take a second look of what’s happening in our current day and see the parallels between what’s happening in the show and what’s happening in our country.
31:10 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah and I also think it’s interesting ‘cause I also haven’t read the book but the book was written in 1985, I’m pretty sure and I think if… And we got past the book by… Once season one was over, the book was over so… Atwood still was a producer of the show. She was doing a lot of heavy-handed consulting and such so that it represented what she thought the book would have represented nicely. But I think it’s interesting that we’ve taken something from 1985 but there are some significant parallels. Just the fact that we’re taking… We’re ripping children out of mother’s hands can be directly related to some of the stuff that we have going on in the border and I think… And that was even more prevalent when those scenes were happening in the show and I think I was reading something earlier this week about how they’re claiming that wasn’t intentional but [chuckle] I’d like to think it was somewhat intentional.
32:14 Natalie Dowzicky: But I think a larger question is, do you think this show is successful as a show because of the… Because of when it aired essentially, because of the political climate it entered. How many… I know when I… A few years ago when I was an intern on the Hill, I can’t tell you how many people were protesting in these outfits, and, I think some people took it rather seriously thinking that we were already living in this world but, I’m wondering if the show would be as successful or make as many people think if it wasn’t set in today’s political climate.
32:52 Marianne March: I think today’s political climate makes it maybe more successful than it would be but, I think that our culture loves a good dystopian novel. It was “The Hunger Games” a couple of years ago, I lived for that. And, I think now there are… We have seen legislation around people bearing children, women’s bodies… So, I think that part fits and probably makes it more poignant for people. But going back to what we were talking about with the refugee status of the people escaping Gilead and going into Canada. One poignant moment for me when Emily escapes is, that she doesn’t even realize that she’s made it to Canada.
33:30 Marianne March: The men with guns approach her, and she’s still fearing for her life and then, she realizes that she’s in Canada. She didn’t even realize that she’d crossed the border. And the same thing happens with Commander Waterford when he’s arrested for war crimes… Perhaps not war crimes but for crimes against humanity. And, just the fact that they didn’t realize that they were in a different country, ‘cause there was no wall. [chuckle] I thought that was poignant. [laughter] And then the process that we see Emily go through where she is receiving what appears to be really good healthcare and even mental health care and, that I thought was interesting and pointed.
34:08 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: I think, all the things that everyone has brought up here, obviously there are many parallels or things that the impulses that we have now in our society you can see how they also informed Gilead. But this is one of the things that… The number one thing I would stress to people about this show is if you think that you don’t wanna watch it because it’s this heavy-handed political allegory, that’s not true. It definitely stands up on its own as a piece of entertainment. I was really reticent to watch it in the first place, because of all those handmaid protesters who were usually just sort of going over the top in their parallels they were drawing.
34:41 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: And to this day we still see so many people just drawing over the top parallels, and I think that’s really… Maybe that has attracted people to the show, but I think it’s also put a lot of people off the show because they think they’re gonna find something anti-Trump or anti-religion or anti-Republican or just whatever. And it’s… It’s never had to be handed in those capacities. I don’t think at all… I don’t think it’s necessarily intended… It was started before Trump was even elected. It wasn’t ever intended to be that. They definitely play with things that are going on in the news, but, it definitely just works as a great piece of literature, a piece of entertainment, a piece of dystopian TV.
35:12 Tess Terrible: I’ll push back on that just a little bit by saying, Margaret Atwood has said before that everything that happens in “The Handmaid’s Tale”, the book to women has happened some time previously in history. I do think it was released in a very interesting time period. Again, I think it… And I’ll agree with Elizabeth, I think it stands on its own as a piece of television and entertainment, entertaining show, but, I do find that the creators and writers tend to lean a little bit on the political climate around us.
35:52 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah. I think so too. And I think, once they saw… ‘Cause I think the big protests that were happening where people were dressing up like handmaids happened between Season One and Season Two. So once they saw the response there, I’m sure to them it was like, “Oh, this is like… This is a money maker right here,” and they’re like, “How many more things can we shove in?” You know what I mean, so how many more parallels are… I don’t even call them parallels, most are like nods. They nod to certain things that are… Yeah, and they… They’re nodding to certain things that are going on. But, I still think regardless it would be a successful dystopian… We like… Maryanne said we love dystopias, we love almost science fiction, we’re not really sure on the environmentalism part but, we love stories like that.
36:36 Natalie Dowzicky: So, I think another kind of way people are consuming this show is like a coping mechanism. But, I was just reading people’s reactions ‘cause I was just curious, but different people were saying, and they were saying, “They were using it as a coping mechanism, when they read the book.” So, they were using it as a coping mechanism 34 years later for an administration they never imagined would happen. And mind you then I stopped reading this article. But, the fact of the matter is, I was like a coping mechanism for what? I just couldn’t see… I couldn’t… Like you said, like besides it, if you think Gilead is what is happening or we’re on the verge of, it’s just not true, and it’s certainly not a reason not to watch the show. But, yeah.
37:24 Tess Terrible: I think that’s crazy.
37:25 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah.
37:25 Marianne March: But…
37:26 Tess Terrible: And I’ll say, we had talked about before the show the fact that… Was it Kylie Jenner?
37:31 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: Yeah.
37:32 Natalie Dowzicky: Yes.
37:32 Tess Terrible: Kylie Jenner had… I can’t believe we’re talking Kylie Jenner.
37:35 Natalie Dowzicky: Oh, I loved this.
37:36 Tess Terrible: Our producer’s shaking his head out and…
37:40 Marianne March: Had a Handmaid’s Tale theme party…
37:43 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: I thought this was hilarious.
37:44 Tess Terrible: And I was just like, “What?”
37:46 Marianne March: [37:46] ____ like cocktails.
37:47 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: I was so happy. There was punch. Yeah.
37:50 Tess Terrible: Yeah, and it was like… Seriously?
37:52 Marianne March: And they all dressed in red with the wings. Yeah.
37:55 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: I don’t think she’s doing that as a commentary, so it’s probably not there but, it’d be hilarious if it was commentary. I wanna dress as Serena Joy for Halloween just because I realized Justin was the handmaid. It’s like she’s the villain and so… It’s more fun but…
38:06 Natalie Dowzicky: Let’s get… That’s kinda raising an interesting question so you… Do you think… Who do we think is the villain here? Or who do we think…
38:13 Tess Terrible: Oh, it’s so hard to say.
38:14 Natalie Dowzicky: Right. So she said Serena whereas I…
38:15 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: She’s a villain, I guess that’s what she’d say.
38:18 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah. Or like… ‘Cause I think… In a lot of aspects there could be multiple people who are the villains from…
38:25 Marianne March: Even June.
38:26 Natalie Dowzicky: Even June. Right. So, what made you think of Serena as one of them?
38:31 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: She’s clearly one of the villains. She is one of the architects of this society and everything. She’s also just directly abusive to June for much, especially of the early show. But, I think… My two favorite actors are her and the guy that June ends up living within the last season with… What’s his…
38:49 Marianne March: Commander…
38:49 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: Lawrence.
38:49 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: Commander Lawrence played by Bill, okay. Anyways…
38:53 Natalie Dowzicky: Very famous actor.
38:54 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: Yeah, very famous [38:55] ____ none of us are remembering right now his name. But both of those characters seem to have some regrets about how Gilead has panned out even though they were both instrumental in it becoming a thing in the first place and so actually neither of them are full villains or full good characters and I think that makes them the most interesting characters that they have this mix that’s always sort of prevalent.
39:17 Natalie Dowzicky: When they introduced Commander Lawrence and I was especially towards the end of the third season, I thought he was an interesting character from the perspective… They’ve painted him as the architect right?
39:29 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: Yeah he’s made up the Gilead economy, the architect of the Gilead economy.
39:33 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah. So he’s the architect, he’s like the man behind the scenes making sure this is how the republic is gonna work and he refuses to take part in the ceremony until it’s absolutely clear that he’s kind of going against the own rules that he made partially because his wife is mentally ill to some extent. It’s unclear what exactly is wrong with her. But it’s very interesting how June calls him out. So she’s like you’re the one who constructed all of this and you don’t even believe… You don’t believe it. And he was like well it’s what we had to do. It was almost like he was saying it was beyond my control and I was just sitting there, I was like, “Wow this guy is just full of crap.”
40:23 Tess Terrible: You just made me think of like… Well, it looked good on paper June. Looked like everything was gonna be okay here.
40:31 Natalie Dowzicky: He doesn’t seem as villainous to me as some of the other characters partially because we haven’t seen him torture anybody or hang anybody. We haven’t seen that but… Like you just said, on paper he should be the most nefarious because he’s the one who created the whole thing. But I think he quickly realized which is also interesting that he had made a mistake. He had… Or made many mistakes ‘cause now it’s like trapping his wife as well because, once she can’t get medicine she can’t get out. But I think he is gonna have a bigger role the next season I would assume. But I just think how they’re developing is quite interesting considering you would expect the architect to be very gung-ho and like, “This is how things should be done.”
41:15 Tess Terrible: Yeah.
41:15 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: As libertarians I feel like there’s a very libertarian lesson in his character because exactly like he’s just sort of like a bureaucrat who’s sitting there on paper not thinking of how it affects people’s lives and then when it does affect his own life negatively it’s like, “Oh crap, I was wrong about this,” but I think we… That’s a real life parallel we see all the time in many different ways.
41:34 Marianne March: He’s a frustrating character for me because we see goodness in him, you see that he loves his wife, he helps Emily escape, he tried to help June escape, but then he shames June by making her wait on him in front of all the other commanders and he’s not a holy fool. He knew what he was subjugating women to and so as much as I empathize with parts of his character, I just wanna smack him.
41:55 Natalie Dowzicky: Same.
41:57 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: But you talked earlier about the ceremony and how they do that whole thing. They talk to tell the Bible story beforehand and I forget who said it but there’s a scene where one of the people with Fred and all the people who made up the rules of Gilead and they were talking about how do we get the wives to buy in into this? How do we get the wives to buy into us having sex with other women? And raping other women.
42:15 Marianne March: Well, why does it always lead to that angles?
42:17 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: And he brings up that Bible thing and he’s like, “Oh we’ll tell them this.” And I remember the line, he said the women will eat that up. And it’s kind of interesting ‘cause it’s like that’s now one of the allegedly holy religious parts of their ceremony. We see that scene where it’s like actually they just made that up to sort of…
42:34 Tess Terrible: Okay, this is gonna be incredibly unpopular decision and it’s not what I think. This is what I think Margaret Atwood is thinking. The villain in the story is like all men. I think there’s a very, very strong all-men theme, even though we see several men in this story with many redeeming qualities. I think June’s wife before Gilead was a total prince. But that being said, I’m not sure if there is villains in this story other than it’s more like there are people that have made several bad decisions and people that have made less bad decisions but each person is a product of the decisions they’ve made in this world. So I’m not sure and I think the show works really well that way to not give you a clear mill and even earlier when we started Aunt Lydia who seems to be all well-intentioned, I can see her just kinda have gotten caught up in this system and she’s a very persuasive person so she ended up in this role. But that’s kind of how an authoritative regime starts. It’s a very trickle down one inch at a time kind of thing and maybe that’s what makes the show so scary is that there’s no clear black and white, it’s a lot of gray that ends up to where we are in Gilead.
44:00 Marianne March: The victims are made to be complicit and I think it’s maybe the first episode of the first season where we see that the handmaids are responsible for executing somebody accused of a crime and they’re made complicit and that happens over and over again and…
44:13 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: Yeah, they have the handmaids stone people convicted of rape and maybe other crimes but that was the scene. They’re like this guy is a rapist, everybody stone him.
44:20 Marianne March: Well, the last episode of the first season when the handmaids revolt and they refused to stone Janine, it’s such a visceral moment because they’re holding the stones in their hands and they’re just stones that you can hold in your hand. They’re about palm size and just thinking about the physical reality of what happens when you stone somebody, you’re throwing rocks at somebody. That is a crazy way to… It’s just crazy.
44:49 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah. I think, kind of another side point, I was just thinking, we were talking about how authority and regimes like this are created/continue on, I think part of it is they don’t want the handmaids to feel like they’re innocent in all of this, so, ‘cause if you’re having someone in oppressive regime like this think they’re innocent, they’re gonna run to Canada and like “Look what all these people are doing.” But, in a way, making them execute people, or making them participate is, from an outsider’s point of view, they’re gonna be like, “You were there too. Why didn’t you do this?” So, I think it’s almost intentionally making them guilty.
45:31 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: And making them… I mean, the whole thing is set up on people snitching on each other and stuff.
45:35 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah.
45:35 Marianne March: Yeah. And also, perhaps an outlet for their rage. In one of the early scenes, when the handmaids are made execute a man, we see the look on June’s face where she is, she’s into it. She is ready to commit this violence, and that’s one of the scary parts, for me.
45:55 Tess Terrible: Yeah. I wanna piggy-back off of that. And I think this past season, Season three, they did play on that theme a lot. What does captivation, what does living in this type of society do to a person’s psyche. And, again, I believe it was kind of commenting on current day of we’re seeing people being held at the border. What does being captivated, being held, and really bad conditions do to an individual, when you deprive them of just essential rights?
46:34 Natalie Dowzicky: Alright, so we’re gonna play a little game of who said what.
46:38 Marianne March: Ooh, I’m ready.
46:39 Natalie Dowzicky: I picked some of my more favorite quotes, and we’re gonna try and figure out who said them, and it’s bonus point, if you can figure out who said, when they said it.
46:49 Tess Terrible: Are we racing?
46:51 Natalie Dowzicky: No, we’re not gonna race. We won’t race. Alright, first one. I know this must feel so strange but ordinary is just what you’re used to. This may not be ordinary to you now, but after a time, it will. This will become ordinary.
47:04 Tess Terrible: Aunt Lydia?
47:06 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: Yeah.
47:06 Natalie Dowzicky: Ding, ding, ding. [chuckle] Yeah. So, Aunt Lydia said this pretty early on in the first season, when they’re in the Red Training Center.
47:16 Marianne March: In the Red Center?
47:17 Natalie Dowzicky: The Red Center, yes. And I was kind of wondering, I wanted to look into the statement more so because why does it seem like so chilling?
47:26 Tess Terrible: Oh. Yeah. I’ve got goosebumps right now, if you to saying that. I don’t know, I think just… I think it makes you look at your own, politics aside, whatever space you’re living in right now, and what is my ordinary? It’s very, I don’t know.
47:42 Natalie Dowzicky: And essentially, there’s a top down power creating your new ordinary in this case.
47:48 Marianne March: I think it’s scary because it speaks to how adaptable people are, and even to terrible situations. And we do pretty much see that Lydia is right. There’s not many people actively resisting in their day to day lives.
48:01 Natalie Dowzicky: Alright, next one. So far, all you’ve offered me is coconuts and treason.
48:08 Tess Terrible: I have no idea.
48:10 Marianne March: Can we have a hint?
48:12 Natalie Dowzicky: She is one of the villains, sometimes.
48:15 Tess Terrible: Serena?
48:16 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah.
48:16 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: Is that when she’s being offered to go to Hawaii?
48:19 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah. Remember, she was being offered to leave Gilead when she went to… Was that when she was in Canada?
48:25 Tess Terrible: In Canada.
48:26 Marianne March: Oh, yeah. That’s when we find out that the United States still exist, but it’s just Alaska and Hawaii.
48:30 Tess Terrible: Yeah. [chuckle]
48:30 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: And Chicago? There’s, they’re always talking about the resistance fighters in Chicago. Chicago is still a US outpost.
48:38 Natalie Dowzicky: Woo! Way to go, guys.
48:38 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: It’s like, you can go to Chicago, Hawaii or Alaska. Definitely not Chicago.
48:40 Natalie Dowzicky: So, someone already said this quote earlier today, but, everybody’s talking about happily ever after, but there’s just after.
48:49 Natalie Dowzicky: I think it was Tess, or…
48:51 Tess Terrible: Moira.
48:51 Natalie Dowzicky: Moira, yeah. And we talked about that earlier. Another one. It’s their own fault. They should have never given us uniforms if they didn’t want us to be an army.
49:00 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: June.
49:00 Marianne March: Oh, yeah. Great line.
49:00 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: Yeah. I was gonna say that earlier, when you were talking about the different color of clothes. Yeah, that’s one of my favorite lines.
49:05 Tess Terrible: Yeah, me too.
49:07 Natalie Dowzicky: Alright, next one. Blessed be the Froot Loops.
49:10 Tess Terrible: Janine?
49:12 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: No, it’s the woman who never speaks, up in Canada once they crossed the border, and she hasn’t said anything until finally she’s just eating Froot Loops one day and she uses their slogan, which is Blessed Be the Froot…
49:22 Marianne March: Yeah, I love it.
49:23 Natalie Dowzicky: So, she’s… Her name is Erin, and I thought it was just funny ‘cause they always talk about “have a blessed day, blessed be the fruit”. Like you were just saying, I could not stop laughing when she said that, I was like, “Alright, this is good commentary in here.” Alright, last one. The world can be quite an ugly place, but we cannot wish that ugliness away, we cannot hide from that ugliness.
49:46 Tess Terrible: That could be so many people. That’s hard. I don’t know.
49:51 Natalie Dowzicky: I’m just gonna give it to you. It was Aunt Lydia, and I believe it was in the second season, when June started to be a bit more combative, but I thought, I just thought that quote was more interesting ‘cause it was, at this point and she was like, “Well there’s nothing we can really do about it. We’re gonna face the ugly head on and we’re not gonna try and fix it.”
50:10 Natalie Dowzicky: Alright, so, after this discussion, we have decided that this is actually not how the United States is, and it is in fact a dystopia, and it might not be all that positive a dystopian, but at the very least it makes us think and it provides very very good entertainment. And on that note, we’re just gonna go around and say who our favorite character was, and well, the show is still ongoing and we do not have any spoilers for the new season this far off. Sorry. [chuckle] We’re gonna go around and say who our favorite character is and why. Marianne?
50:45 Marianne March: My favorite character is Janine. I love that she just can’t help but be honest sometimes, and she seems, ironically, the most sane, because she realizes like, “No, this is crazy, this is still crazy, it hasn’t gotten less crazy.” And I just… I’m not a mother, but her devotion and her just desire to be with her child is touching.
51:10 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: I guess I said earlier already. Serena Joy and Captain Lawrence, the weird half-villain characters, but Moira is also great. Moira is routinely fun and just kind of… She provides something good in there, too, a lot. I don’t like June very much. June’s probably my least favorite character. Is that terrible?
51:25 Marianne March: Why?
51:25 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: I don’t know, that’s…
51:27 Marianne March: That’s a whole other hour. [chuckle]
51:28 Elizabeth Nolan Brown: Yeah. [chuckle]
51:29 Natalie Dowzicky: Well, I think part of that too, I’m not a big June fan either, but I think they made her intentionally not a captivating character. She’s clearly not Katniss, if we’re looking at other dystopias. But which makes us… Which helps us to focus on the other characters as well. I think my favorite character is Moira. I also think she’s a good reminder of not only resistance, but of like today’s world. I think there are quite a few times where I’m like, “Yeah!” When she’s like, “You guys are crazy.” I like how she is brutally honest and still seems to have a not brain-washed…
52:10 Marianne March: When she confronts Serena Joy when Serena Joy is so excited to see her daughter, and she’s June’s daughter, and she just lets her have it. I love it.
52:17 Natalie Dowzicky: Yeah, same. I like that personality.
52:20 Tess Terrible: My favorite character is actually Rita. I love the Marthas. I think I’m so excited to learn more about the Marthas and their underground collective of sneaking around and smuggling babies out of the country. I think there are really interesting bunch of characters and I’m excited to see them develop in future seasons.
52:50 Natalie Dowzicky: The Handmaid’s Tale may seem scary and oppressive. As you heard, it succeeds as a TV show because it really makes you think, as all good entertainment does. It’s important to close on the note that the world really has gotten better for women, even if you may doubt if it has. Thank you for listening to Pop N’ Locke. Follow us on Twitter @popnlockepod and subscribe to us on iTunes. We look forward to unraveling your favorite TV show or movie next time.